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Council tax may double on empty homes!!

Legislation for double council tax rate on empty homes announced

Empty homes / Shutterstock_58881677

The government has introduced legislation that would allow English local authorities to charge double the rate of council tax on homes left empty for years in an attempt to bring them back into use.

The powers will see local authorities able to levy additional charges on homes that have been standing empty for two years or more.

Funds from the premium can be used to keep council tax levels down for working families, said the government.

Local government minister Rishi Sunak said: “It is simply wrong that, while there are 200,000 long-term empty properties across the country, thousands of families are desperate for a secure place to call home.

“This new power will equip councils with the tools they need to encourage owners of long-term empty properties to bring them back into use – and at the same time tackle the harmful effect they have on communities through squatting, vandalism and antisocial behaviour.”

In England, there are just over 200,000 long-term empty dwellings, down from 300,000 in 2010. Since the 2013, the number has fallen following the introduction of powers that enable councils to charge a 50 per cent premium on council tax bills.

Grant Lipton, co-founder of developer Great Marlborough Estates, said the tax is a “stealth tax looking to raise revenue on an issue that does not exist”.

“As the government’s own data proves, the idea of ‘lights-off London’ is largely a myth, with high demand areas such as the capital having fewer empty homes than other places in the country.”

Lipton said the government should instead be focusing on “removing barriers to development”, including championing small developers, “tactical” green belt release and “rethinking of onerous contributions that may not provide what the community actually wants”.

Image credit | Shutterstock

LANDLORDS, GDPR AFFECTS YOU!

Why the new GDPR rules are important for landlords and a plan of action!

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and refers to the new Data Protection rules which will come into force on 25 May.

Now before you click away thinking “this does not apply to me” be aware that:

  • If you are a landlord it DOES apply to you (even if you just have one rented property), and
  • The fines for noncompliance are up to the larger of 4% of your turnover or 20 million Euros.

So if you get things wrong you could lose out big time.

The data in question is personal data. Information about people which if it got into the wrong hands could cause them untold damage. If you hold people’s data you are expected to look after it.

The new rules are a lot more onerous than the old and the deadline is creeping up on us. So if you are a landlord or a letting agent and have not started your preparation yet, here is a plan of action to help you.

  1. Make sure you are registered

If you are a landlord or letting agent – you should already be registered with the Information Commissioners Office. The Information Commissioner enforces the Data Protection rules.

Everyone who holds and processes (ie uses) data electronically needs to be registered.  There are very few exceptions and they probably won’t apply to you. If you are not registered, you need to get this done asap – check the ICO website here.

  1. Do a list of the type of data that you hold

So, for example, if you are a landlord or letting agent:

  • You will hold personal details about your tenants.
  • If you are a letting agent you will have details about your landlords.
  • You may also hold details about ‘prospects’ eg your mailing list, for example, if you regularly send information or promotional emails or letters out to prospective landlords or tenants
  1. Do a list of the places where it is held

For example, if you are receiving this post via email, then I will hold some details (your email address and maybe your name) on Aweber which is the software used to send most of the blog post mailings.  Or, if you have been subscribing for a long time, on Feedburner.

There will probably (particularly if you are a letting agent) be more than one place where you hold data – for example, your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, any separate service used to send out newsletters (e.g. Constant Contact or MailChimp), your accounts software, etc.

  1. Check that those places are GDPR compliant

If data is held online it should be on a secure site and be password protected. However, there is more to it than that. You need to contact your service to find out what they are doing.

Most of these services are fully aware of the new rules and should have a policy statement somewhere. Find out where it is and keep a record of it. Most reputable services will ensure that they are compliant by the deadline of 25 May.

But remember – if you input people’s data onto these services YOU are responsible for its safety as well as the service company.

  1. Check that you have permission from people to use their data in the way that you are using it.

For example, if Mrs A gave you her email address in connection with her application for a tenancy that does not necessarily mean that she gave her permission for you to send marketing mailings to her.

If you are using data from a purchased list to send out marketing emails you need to be very careful. Even if you created your mailing list in-house, it may be best to start again from scratch so you can be sure that you have everyone’s permission. This is what I am doing here.

Remember that it has to be an active ‘opt-in’. One of the purposes of the new rules is to reduce spam and unwanted mailings – so make sure that you can show that everyone on YOUR list has actively consented to get your mailings.

  1. Do a ‘privacy page’ on your website

This needs to set out in detail what you do with people’s data and inform people what they can do if they want to unsubscribe or get their data deleted.

My privacy page (still a work in progress) is here. Take a look also at the ICO privacy notice page here.

Once you have this set up you should link to it from all your mailings, particularly any automatic mailings.

  1. Appoint a Data Protection Officer

If you are a small firm or one-man band – this will probably be you!

The Data Protection Officer’s job is to monitor compliance, ensure that your employees are informed of their duties under the regs, and to be the first point of contact for members of the public contacting you about data protection issues, and also the authorities (i.e. the ICO). Generally, the Data Protection Officer will be responsible for compliance within your organisation.

They should be someone of reasonable seniority and have the authority to make any necessary charges.

If your organisation is quite large (or even if it is not), you should arrange for your Data Protection Officer to have suitable training.

Other things

Here are a few other suggestions.

Keep a diary or record of actions taken

Use this to record any work you do preparing for the GDPR so if the ICO contact you about a breach you can show them that you are taking it seriously.

Answer the ICO GDPR checklist.

You will find this here. Keep a record of your answers and review it from time to time. Maybe keep your answers as part of your diary. Again it will go to show the ICO that you are preparing as best you can.

Needless to say, take any action which is flagged up by the ICO checklist – do not assume that my checklist is the final answer! It is only a starting point.

Make sure that your tenancy agreements include suitable Data Protection clauses.

The Landlord Law tenancy agreements have had a separate Data Protection section for some time but I will be reviewing them again before May.

If you do not think you have adequate protection – get your tenants to sign a suitable form. I am developing one for Landlord Law members.

A few extra notes

  • You can no longer make a charge when people request a copy of their data, but you may be able to refuse in some circumstances (but check the law before you do so).
  • Although people will now have a ‘right to be forgotten’ they cannot require you to delete your data about them if they are a customer (where you will need to hold data for legal reasons)
  • Save where you need to retain information (eg for customers) y.o.u should make a practice of deleting information if it is no longer being used.

For more information

Please see the ICO website. My tips above are just a general guide and do not cover everything.  And remember – the new rules come into force on 25 May 2018.

NB A version of this article was first published in the Landlord Law Newsletter.

MARCH 12, 2018 BY TESSA SHEPPERSON

Consents and Regulations for Energy Improvements to Older Homes

 

EPC’s

If you own a Listed Building or a property within a Conservation area you should ask your local planning authority about what approvals you might need for energy improvement work, particularly if the building is listed or within a conservation area.

Energy improvement measures may require consent.

It is important to remember that various types of work to older buildings may require consent. Where historic buildings are designated – for example, as listed buildings or scheduled monuments – then listed building or scheduled monument consent may be required.

It can be a criminal offence to carry out work to a designated historic building without consent when it is needed.

In addition to these consents, planning permission may also be required for work to historic buildings and those in conservation areas.

You are strongly advised to speak to your local authority planning department or relevant advisory body if you are in any doubt about whether permission or consent is needed to implement an energy improvement measure, particularly if your building is designated or within a conservation area.

In deciding whether an energy improvement measure should get consent the local authority or other relevant authority will need to weigh up the need for the improvement against the impact of the measure.

They will prefer measures that are inconspicuous and do not alter the fabric of historic places.

See What Permission Might I Need? and Who Do I Contact? for more information.

Energy efficiency and building regulations

You may also need to obtain consent under Building Regulations. These set standards for how buildings must be constructed to achieve a minimum level of acceptable performance. They typically cover health and safety, energy performance and accessibility requirements.

Building Regulations only apply to new building work, and there is no general requirement for all existing buildings to be upgraded to meet these standards.

However, certain changes can trigger the need to comply – for example, if parts of a building are to be substantially replaced or renovated, or if there’s a change of use. The requirements don’t apply to normal maintenance and repair work.

Part L is the section of the Regulations that deals with energy efficiency requirements. 

Historic England has produced guidance, Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings – Application of Part L of the Building Regulations to Historic and Traditionally Constructed Buildings, to help prevent conflicts between the energy efficiency requirements in the Regulations and the conservation of historic and traditionally constructed buildings.

For further information see Building Regulations.  

Energy Performance Certificates

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is a legal requirement when building, selling or renting a property. However, there are exemptions for certain types of building and  since January 2013 listed buildings have been exempted from the need to have an EPC. (Please note, however, that if you want to take advantage of the Green Deal and you live in a listed building you will still need an EPC as it forms the basis of the assessment.)

See Energy Performance Certificates guidance.

An EPC is produced by an accredited Domestic Energy Assessor, who uses specialist software to turn data gathered on site into two ratings – one for energy efficiency and one for environmental impact. Each rating is on a scale of 1 to 100, banded into grades A to G, as illustrated above. The assessor also provides a list of potential energy efficiency improvements.

Being based on software modelling, EPCs may not always correspond precisely to actual performance. Recent research has shown that EPCs can significantly underestimate thermal performance in traditionally constructed buildings.

 

Related publications

Farmers, are you aware of the barn conversion regulations?

NEW:Barn Conversions Data Report

A new data report by Planning shows that, in the second quarter of 2017, the latest period for which figures are available, nearly two-fifths of prior approval applications under the agricultural-to-residential PD right were refused. While the refusal rate has come down from late 2014, when it neared 60 per cent, it has remained at about 40 per cent since the second quarter of 2015. In comparison, the average refusal rate for all types of PD prior approval applications stood at just 19 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 – less than half the rate for Class Q applications – and has remained at about the same level for the past three years.

For rural lobby groups, the figures – which also show a slight dip in the number of prior approval decisions in the most recent quarter – are a source of concern. They lay the blame squarely at the door of councils, who they say do not support the PD right. “They will make any excuse they can find,” says Fenella Collins, head of planning at the Country Land and Business Association, which represents rural land and business owners. Suzanne Clear, the National Farmers Union’s senior planning and rural affairs advisor, says that the drop in decisions suggests there is a perception that because some local authorities do not support the PD right, it is therefore “not something farmers will do, even if they need more homes on their farm”.

But for Steve Ingram, president of Planning Officers Society, a local authority membership group, authorities are dealing with poor quality proposals. “Well thought-out proposals will be far easier to deal with and support than those which are not,” he says. “If local authorities are concerned about safeguarding the character of the countryside, it is totally right for them to challenge poor quality development,” he says. James Podesta, head of planning at consultancy Rural Solutions, adds: “This is one of those areas where people might think they can do it themselves. But if it’s an individual accessing the planning system themselves, the application might not have the technical details required.”

What all commentators agree on, however, is that the complexity of the rules governing the agricultural-to-residential PD right is an issue. While other PD categories tend to have a limited number of prior approval criteria to test applications against, applicants using Class Q have to face many more potential pitfalls, including six prior approval tests and a series of conditions. “The matters on which prior approval is required are more draconian,” says Collins. Clear adds that recent NFU research found that farmers felt it more difficult to get permission through Class Q than other agricultural PD rights. “The amount of information required was in excess of what would be required in quite a few planning applications,” she says.
The new Planning data report, which analyses nearly 450 local authority Class Q refusal notices (see table, below), found that the most commonly-cited reason for refusal – given in half of cases – was on siting and location grounds. The next most commonly-cited reason, mentioned in 35 per cent of refusal notices, related to structural integrity – the right only allows works that are “reasonably necessary” to facilitate such conversions. In third was a test relating to the use of the site. The right does not apply where the site was not solely in agricultural use at the cut-off date of 20th March 2013 or, if earlier, when it was last in use.

But data on appeals shows that, despite the high refusal rates, planning inspectors are not disproportionately overturning councils’ decisions. An analysis of a sample of Class Q appeal decisions collated by Planning’s sister service DCS over the three years since the right was introduced shows that, on average, 31 per cent of agricultural-to-residential prior approval refusals are overturned on appeal. In 2017, 35 per cent of the 31 appeals logged so far were allowed. Though higher than the 24 per cent of minor housing appeals allowed in the first quarter of 2017/18, the figure is lower than the 38 per cent for major housing appeals in the same period.
Some of the prior approval criteria have led to confusion and disagreements between applicants and authorities. But over time, following the publication of revised guidance and a series of legal rulings, the picture has become clearer, experts agree. An early battleground was the location of the building, with a number of prior approval applications being knocked back by authorities on the grounds that sites were too isolated. But guidance published in March 2015 made clear that, should an agricultural building be in a location “where the local authority would not normally grant permission for a new dwelling”, this is not a “sufficient reason for refusing prior approval”.


Another area of confusion has been structural integrity, with Class Q applicants required to prove that the works required to make a building suitable for a new use would not be so extensive that the process constitutes a rebuild rather than a conversion. Podesta says that there’s a “subtle difference” over whether a proposal amounts to a conversion or a rebuild. “If you have four poles and a roof, are you converting it or rebuilding it?” he muses. This issue came before the High Court last year in the Hibbitt judgement, which experts say has made it much harder for agricultural buildings with few structural elements to win approval for conversion to housing. Ingram says that the case “has done a lot to help arguments about what is a conversion and what is a rebuild”.

Figures show wide variations in local authorities’ attitudes towards Class Q conversions. According to the new Planning data report, some authorities, including Reigate and Banstead in Surrey, West Lancashire and East Hertfordshire, have very high refusal rates of more than 75 per cent (see table, below). In a statement, East Hertfordshire Council said that it was initially of the view that many of the proposals could not be supported due to an “inconsistency between the regulations and government guidance” and that, to test this position, it had unsuccessfully challenged a related appeal decision in the High Court. “The ruling has now clarified matters and it is likely that approval rates in East Herts will be comparable with other areas in the future,” the statement said.
In a statement, West Lancashire Borough Council, which refused 83 per cent of applications in the three years to March 2017, said that it does not have a policy of resisting agricultural-to-residential PDR applications. However, it added that Class Q is very specific in terms of the conditions that need to be complied with. “Unfortunately, many of the applications received by the council have not complied with the legislation and consequently the council has had no option but to refuse them,” the statement said.

But in other districts, such as Eden, Cumbria, where only 10 of 177 decisions have been refusals, authorities appear much more receptive. David Wright, Eden District Council’s planning development manager, says that while the PD right is “at odds with its local plan”, the guidance is “quite clear on what is considered acceptable and what is not”. In Eden, Wright says, a lot of the barns are robust enough to be converted to residential properties. “We would much rather see them maintained and used for generations to come because they have become part of our landscape,” he adds.
With plans in the pipeline for the government to relax rules further to allow conversion of agricultural buildings with a floorspace of up to 750 square metres to a maximum of five new dwellings, arguments over barn conversions are likely to rumble on. But for Ingram, such proposals should really be subjected to the rigour of the planning process, so that they can be properly scrutinised, the local community engaged, and occupancy conditions imposed to ensure rural workers and local people benefit. “We live with bad planning decisions for a very long period of time,” he says.

If you have a barn and are considering using Class Q permitted development rights, call Helen at Appledore Lettings 01548 853555.

Get the VALUE ‘Feeling’

Landlords, when you deal with your agent do you get the feeling they are offering you VALUE?

Ebook banner

They may VALUE your business and property but WHAT is it that YOU as a Landlord, value?

Good tenants, rent on time, property management, etc, any good agent should do that!

But what sets an agent apart? What do agents give you that you VALUE?

What about up to date knowledge on compliance and the new data protection legislation? Of course you expect your agents to know all of this information at their finger tips but keeping abreast of the plethora of changes this government is throwing at agents, it is pretty hard work and can be a considerable expense, paying to keep staff updated, but this gives landlords security and peace of mind, adding to that feeling of VALUE.

Can you discuss, exit strategies with your agent and can they offer solutions for you particularly for ‘staged’ exits? Has your agent got Rent to Own in place? Guaranteeing you a rental income with a sale at the end, with internal property maintenance as a additional comfort? Would that give you a feeling of ‘Value’?

How about, advice on how to build your portfolio? Do you know which properties will give you the least void periods? Which areas are always popular? Do you know which part of your investment area gives the best yields or ROI? Do you know the statistics of the % of BTL properties V Owner occupier? Does your agent? Would this kind of information make you  feel that you were getting value?

 

Planning on making alterations to your property?

Do you need planning or building regulations consent? Do you know the rules for development in a conservation area or for Listed Building consent? No? Does your Agent know the basics? If the answer to that one is YES then you should feel the ‘Value’ oozing from your agent!

Project Management!

Which are the best contractors for the job? How long will it take? Do you have to move the Tenants out to do the work? Who will oversee the daily management of the project? Can Your agent assist with this? If they can then that definitely counts on the Value stakes!

Funding?

So with the changes to the EPC legislation coming in April 2018, are you all sorted? Can you raise  your EPC to the minimum of an ‘E’ rating? Could you do with some financial assistance? Can  your agent access the financial assistance required? If they can, then you have hit the ‘Value Jackpot!‘ Congratulations!! You must truly feel the Value your agent is providing.

If you are NOT getting that Value feeling, come and talk to the Appledore Team! We know the meaning of VALUE!

Landlords Funding Assistance!

 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy (BEIS) have recently published their guidance on the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015 (MEES Regulations).

The MEES Regulations set out a minimum standard of energy efficiency for privately rented property, being an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of at least E. Property falling below that standard, i.e. F or G means that:

a) from 1st April 2018, landlords are restricted from granting new tenancies, or renewing, or extending to periodic existing leases: and

b) from April 2023, landlords cannot continue to let the property without carrying out works to improve the EPC of the property to raise it’s rating to at least an E or, alternatively, registering an exemption where one applies.

When is an EPC required?

Usually, the landlord or letting agent is required to make an EPC available to the prospective tenant.

An EPC may not be required in a number of circumstances, such as temporary buildings, buildings used as places of worship, buildings due to be demolished and protected/listed buildings.

BEIS have clarified the status of exception relating to listed buildings, stating that some listed buildings may be exempt from the EPC requirements but NOT all. An EPC will not be required only in so far as compliance with the EPC requirements would unacceptably alter its character of appearance.

Exemptions:

In limited circumstances, an exemption may apply to the prohibition on letting a sub standard property. The landlord will need to provide details and evidence of the exemption to a centralised self-certification register (the PRS Exemptions Register).

Some of these exemptions may include where the energy efficiency measures would reduce the market value of the property by more than 5%, or where consent is legally rehired to undertake the improvement works (i.e. from a lender, planning authority or superior landlord) and where that consent is not forthcoming.

The exemptions will usually only apply on a 5 year temporary basis and it must be noted that any exemptions claimed y a landlord will NOT pass to a new owner or landlord upon the sale or transfer of the property. Therefore any new owner must either carry out the improvement works to raise the EPC to the minimum standard or, if they intend to continue to let the property (as sub-standard) must register an exemption where one applies.

An enforcement authority may impose financial penalties of up to £5000, or 10% of the rateable value of the property whichever is the greater (to a maximum of £50,000) where the landlord has been in breach for less than 3 months. Where the landlord has been in breach for 3 months or more penalties increase to £10,000 or 20% of the rateable value (to a maximum of £150,000).

Will this new legislation affect you and your property?

We may be able to assist you. We currently, and for a limited time have access to funding to help you improve your EPC rating.  Funds are available for replacement boilers, loft insulation and a raft of other improvement measures. For more information please call the office on 01548 853555.

Landlords, Rent to Own – Savings plan!

We have just been approached by a landlord to find him a good buy to let with the sole intention of finding a Rent to Own. What are the advantages of this?

  • Buy a property at todays value and have a RICS valuation, with a buy to  let mortgage (there are some excellent deals around at the moment for buy to let products).
  • Ask the RICS valuer to estimate the price for say the next 5 or 7 years.
  • Take on a Tenant buyer who then pays the rent for the next say 5 or 7 years
  • Sell on the property in 5 or 7 years at the pre agreed RICS projected valuation at a profit.
  • Collect rent for 5 to 7 years (or however many years you have opted to have the agreement period).
  • Not only do you have capital growth in the property from the date of purchase to the point of sale, you also have a constant rental income for the fixed period with no voids.

Come and talk to us to show you how this can work for you!

Landlords can save money using Agents.

Landlords Can Save Money Using Agents

An insurance company has recently carried out research across the market and claims that on average landlords can save up to £2,000 per year if they contract letting agents, when compared to those who prefer to deal directly with tenants.

The company says that landlords working with a good and reliable letting agent on average save £1,910 per year. The main savings are made by having less void periods and a higher rental income secured by their agent. Apparently landlords who deal with tenants direct save an average of £159 in monthly costs. The significant advantages of using an agent are because of their local knowledge and strength in achieving higher rents for their ‘clients’.

The survey asked landlords who took part the main reasons for using a letting agent and 50% said the biggest benefit was their local expertise, 41% said being able to enjoy the feeling that they did not have to worry about the property as it was in a ‘safe pair of hands’.

Managing director of property specialist, Allison Thompson, said: ‘There is a misconception among some landlords that a successful letting agent will not add value to your investment. This is not true, as the figures show landlords who work with letting agents enjoy a significantly higher return. The marketing power of an established agent gives your property the best chance of being rented by a quality tenant as soon as it goes on the market.”

She continued: “Some DIY landlords understandably struggle to bring a home to the attention of prospective tenants and suffer lengthy and costly voids as a result. However, a good agent will not stop at finding a great tenant for your property. They will also offer support with legal matters, repairs and maintenance, avoiding rent arrears and minimising risks, all of which can help to reduce overall costs and provide you with ultimate peace of mind.”

Extract from PIMMS.co.uk May 11 2017

Energy poor efficient homes.

Landlords warned about looming ban on poor energy efficient homes

Once poor performing buildings are identified, landlords can improve their rating through a few ‘quick win’ energy efficiency measures if not already put in place

Property management specialist, Lee Baron, is advising residential landlords to check the energy efficiency of their property portfolios and take simple measures to boost the efficiency of any poorly performing property, before they become illegal to let.

From the 1st April 2018, it will be illegal to rent a property with a new lease or renewal of an existing lease that falls below a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of an E. The regulations then apply to all existing leases after April 1st 2020. If the property falls below this EPC rating, it would be deemed ‘substandard’ and illegal to rent.

The impact for landlords of having an illegal property are serious, with enforcement by Trading Standards which can impose a fine up to a maximum of £4,000.

Steven Room, Head of Residential Development at Lee Baron, advises: “Landlords can act now to avoid being slapped with a hefty fine. The first step is to ensure properties have a valid and up-to-date EPCs that take account of any changes and improvements made to a building. Once poor performing buildings are identified, landlords can improve their rating through a few ‘quick win’ energy efficiency measures if not already put in place.

Once landlords have their properties assessed, they can schedule in boosting energy efficiency to coincide with any maintenance and redecoration work at the end of the tenancy. Although there is cost and effort involved, energy efficient properties will have greater appeal to investors and this will reflect in improved values.”

Top tips to boost energy efficiency:

1

Most of a building’s heat is lost through poor sealing of doors and windows and through poor insulation in the roof and walls. Checking and renewing or adding new window and door seals can eliminate drafts, while insulation, if missing in attics can be installed or existing insulation thickened to reduce heat loss from roofs. Cavity wall insulation should also be considered, but this can be disruptive to install.

2

Installing low energy lighting – LED spots and/or compact fluorescent lights, which fit into existing light sockets are quick and easy to install.

3

The installation of modern compact combi boilers which are considerably more energy efficient should also be considered.

4

Consider installing a smart meter. You can see the effect of reducing energy immediately via your smart energy monitor which will help you to make better choices and start saving money. Plus you’ll receive accurate bills without submitting a meter reading as your smart meter will send us regular and accurate readings of your energy usage automatically.

Courtesy By Warren Lewis

Would you like to own a barn conversion in rural Devon?
Well this is our first Rent to Own property.
Purchase price £300,000.
Rent £850 pcm under the scheme.

Period to be determined.

Decorate to your own tastes and improve!
Please call the office to discuss.
01548 853555