Barbara Townsend 22/06/2016

I am sure that we are all fed up with hearing and reading about the EU Referendum. I recently saw some information that I thought might be interesting to my Student clients especially those studying the sciences.

Most people are under the misapprehension that European scientific funding if dependent on being a member of the EU.  Its not. Research is a global activity.  Britain is, for its size, probably the worlds leading scientific country.  We have less than 1 per cent of the worlds population but 15 per cent of the most highly cited scientific papers and more Nobel prize winners than any other European country.  Our biggest science collaborator is America.  The only EU universities in the worlds top 20 are British.

The main science funding programmes such as Horizon 2020 are open to European countries not just to EU members.  The particle accelerator at CERN actually crosses (beneath) the border between an EU and a non EU country.  Cern gets less than 2  per cent of its budget from the EU.

An argument for staying in the EU is the amount of jobs that are linked to our exports to the EU which apparently counts for one in every 10 jobs, approximately 3 million jobs.  Over 200,000 UK businesses trade with the EU which also creates jobs in the UK. Can we afford to lose even half of these jobs?  How many small businesses will go under if we leave the EU?  The UK gets £66 million of investment every day from EU countries which is more than we pay to be a member of the EU.

According to EasyJet, as a result of Britain’s membership, the cost of flights have plummeted.  If we leave the EU, we may need visa’s to enter other European countries which would affect our freedom of travel and our ability to fund any travelling that we do.

I will probably be adding to the for and against arguments prior to the EU Referendum.  One thing is for sure, we must all use our vote because what happens next will affect the foreseeable future for all of us….

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Building to Rent

Barbara Townsend 16/06/2016

Developers and investors have written to the housing minister, Brandon Lewis, proposing a 3 point action plan that could see more than 250,000 extra homes built for rent.  The Better Renting Campaign letter signed by 11 companies says that Build to Rent – where corporate’s build clusters of homes that are let rather than sold, could help the Government deliver on its pledge to build 1 million homes by 2020.

This letter claims that traditional house builders are at full capacity and that support for corporate landlords could bring £50billion of new money into this sector.

They are asking ministers to set aside an agreed proportion of public land for Build to Rent development.  Council and public landowners could generate long term rental income from buildings or land allowing them to fund under-pressure public services.

The group also calls upon Chancellor George Osborn not to apply an additional 3% stamp duty to professional Build to Rent developments.  Last December, Osborn promised to only apply this tax to buy to let investors but subsequently reversed this pledge.

In the North East, Yorkshire & East Midlands, the Build to Rent sector will be receiving a boost from Regeneration Specialists Sigmas who are setting up a partnership with Keepmoat.  They plan to deliver over 5,000 units by 2021.  Construction on the first site is due to commence this summer.

Keepmoat built 4000 homes in 2015.

Why aren’t developers talking to the authorities in the South West where more homes for rental are desperately needed?…

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Referencing your Agent/Landlord

Barbara Townsend 09/06/2016

Despite typically having to pay for the privilege of having background checks on themselves, most renters don’t carry out checks on their potential landlords or agents, according to a new survey.

The survey of 1000 adult renters reveals that renters in London are the least likely to research a potential landlord.  The reason given is that due to the highly competitive nature of the lettings market in the capital means that renters cannot afford the time to do the research before accepting a property.

Across the UK only 20% of those surveyed did any sort of check on their landlord/agent before agreeing a tenancy; in London that figure is only 8%.

One in five renters believe that if they use a letting agent, they do not need to carry out any checks either about the agent or the landlord. Of those who have researched a potential landlord, 43% say that they have found some useful information.  Only 18% of those who found negative information and of these more than half said that it influenced their decision to rent from that person.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this survey is that tenants should check who they are renting from and it is easier to check whether an agent is reputable than a private landlord.  Credit checks do not reveal very much about private individuals except to reveal if they have county court judgements and are solvent which is invaluable information for an agent or landlord but not much use to a renter.

Both renters and landlords can check whether their agents are ARLA registered (meaning they have a professional body to answer to).  If they are SAFE agents (which means your money is protected) and also their trading record.  Are they new to the industry? How long they have been trading? Their website should reveal a lot about them.  By checking these facts and using a reputable agent, both landlords and tenants can be sure of the best possible experience when renting out or renting a property….

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“Send in the Sheriffs” – Again!

Matt Townsend 02/06/2016

Watching that programme ‘Can’t pay, we’ll take it away’ (I know, I’ve written about it before but I can’t help myself!), I was amazed to see the condition of the houses that the High Court Officers went to.  One house in North London was occupied by lots of people who were clearly not the tenant.  I ask myself how did the Agent let the house get into this state?  Did they not inspect the house regularly and why was the tenant allowed to run up such huge rent arrears?  Where were the council who enforce safety standards?  The Agent was clearly an amateur who just collected the rent for the owners.  Even a drive-by would have given him a clue into the type of tenants that were in the house.  A regular inspection is a necessity when renting a property.  Too much can happen (as seen in the programme) if a property is just left without inspection.  Vigilance is the key.

Some landlords think a letting agent is an unnecessary expense and that they can do it themselves/have a friend manage it.  However, what they forget is that by using a reputable agent, they minimise the chance of all of the above happening.  An agent should have knowledge of the law, know when they can issue notices and what they can issue notices for i.e.. sub-letting, non payment of rent, breaching a tenancy agreement (if one is actually in place).  Most of this knowledge is acquired over the years and the fee you pay to the managing agent is for this knowledge.  I don’t suppose you would go to a plumber when you needed to have a tooth out – would you?

Anyway keep watching the programme – I will so that I can dissect it! Remember a Letting Agent could save you a fortune in the long run and peace of mind has no monetary value….

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Energy Performance Ratings

Townsend Accommodation 26/05/2016

From April 2018, the Government is introducing legislation  that the minimum Energy Performance rating must be E.  Any property with a lower rating (F downwards) will not be able to be let.  This time frame looks generous but in view of the fact that the Government Green Deal Scheme which offered loans and grants to landlords to fund energy efficient improvements was axed in 2015 due to low take up. A new scheme is due to come into effect in 2017.  All agents should be watching for the details to help their landlords to at least reach the minimum requirement although it is also a good idea for landlords to do the same.  For example, a simple thing like changing all light bulbs to low energy alternatives is sometimes enough to lower the rating.  Obviously loft insulation is another fairly simple measure that can help.  There is plenty of information on the internet regarding insulation requirements which is helpful to landlords.

The Residential Landlord Association is lobbying for more time before this minimum E rating comes into force as they quite rightly, have warned that landlords will pass the costs onto tenants via rent increases.  The RLA estimate that 18% of houses were built before the introduction of cavity walls in 1919.  These houses will be difficult, if not impossible to insulate and if possible, the cost will be high. Landlords will be required to improve properties although the tenants will benefit from the energy saving measures.  Obviously, more readily available and widely publicised funding could be the answer if these improvements are to be made.

The Government has already introduced too many anti-landlord measures including restricting mortgage relief to the basic rate, increased rates of stamp duty and the loss of wear and tear depreciation for furnished properties.

Its about time, the powers that be realise that only by providing more social housing will the housing problems be solved in this country.  The answer is not to penalise the people who are doing their best to provide rental property without which, many more people would be homeless, what is the EPC Rating of a cardboard box?…

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Get Real!

Barbara Townsend 19/05/2016

I read an article in Landlord News which reported that a local politician from Southend has called for rent caps to be introduced on private rental properties let to tenants on housing benefit. This made me think of the bigger picture rather than just Southend’s problems.

He suggests that London Borough Councils which has high rents are struggling to find affordable private rentals for homeless people and are sending these people to Southend as rents are cheaper.  Private rentals in London often exceed the housing benefit cap of £26,000 per year.  The councillor believes that private rents should be capped to those charged in the social housing sector.  If they are, no private rentals will be made available.  What planet does this man live on?

What a ridiculous idea!  Very few landlords rent property out of the goodness of their heart.  Most buy houses with a view to receiving an income/pension. Unfortunately, very few philanthropist organisations like Guinness Trust and Peabody Estates exist any more.

The local authorities have the obligation to house people who cannot afford to buy their own property.  By capping rents, the effect will be that the private market dries up and more people will be forced into bed and breakfast accommodation, paid for by the tax payer.  Private rentals find their own level with  ‘supply and demand’  governing that level.  Despite the government meddling over the years with the housing benefit levels, property for the unemployed is in short supply unless rundown, below standard properties are utilised and it is against the law to let these properties anyway.

Housing Benefit is a very emotive issue for landlords and their agents.  In my experience (40 years and counting) the benefit never matches the rent, it doesn’t matter which part of the country the property is located.  This leaves the tenant with a ‘top up’ payment to make which is rarely affordable so therefore not made. In fact until the tenant is 2 months in arrears, the local authority refuses to pay the rent directly to the landlord/agent, Apparently, the idea is that the tenant takes responsibility for their own finances.  When asked why it is not illegal for the tenant not to use the housing benefit to pay their rent, I was told that the money was not specifically for rent!  It is obvious to me why lots of landlords say no to housing benefit recipients.

The only answer, in my opinion is to build more social housing.  Stop selling off council houses which are never replaced. Building new homes creates a demand for goods which spread out to the whole economy.  If I can see it, why can’t the powers that be see it?


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Stamp Duty Land Tax

Barbara Townsend 12/05/2016

Higher Charges for Landlords:

The UK Government introduced higher rates of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) on the purchase of ‘additional’ residential property in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from1st April 2016. Throughout the UK, these proposals mean that purchasers face an additional charge of 3% on the purchase of most buy-to-let property or second homes. There will be a blanket exemption for purchases with a total consideration of less than £40,000 but the additional 3% charges will then apply to the total purchase price of any property in excess of this amount and not just to the excess over £40,000,

The higher charges will only apply to residential property and are targeted at anyone purchasing a second, or subsequent, residential property. In other words, the higher charges will generally be payable on any purchase where the person making the purchase already owns one or more other residential properties. The one major exception to this is where the new property is intended to become the purchasers’ main residence and is replacing their former main residence which has been sold within the last 3 years. The purchase will be exempt from the higher charges.

Married couples and civil partners are treated as if they were one individual for the purposes of the higher charges. So a husband buying a rental property would still be subject to the higher charges if his wife owned their main residence. The higher charges also apply whenever any of two or more joint purchasers already have another residential property.

I expect someone will find a loophole!…

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About Time!

Townsend Accommodation 05/05/2016

Following intense lobbying by ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents), the Housing Minister Brendan Lewis has sent a letter to all local authority Chief Executives stating that if a tenant has been served a valid Section 21 Notice, the local authority should not advise the tenant to stay until the bailiff arrives.

He writes: ‘The statutory Homelessness Code of Guidance, which local authorities are required by law to have regard to, is clear on this matter. It says that housing authorities should not, in every case, insist upon a court order for possession and that no local authority should adopt a blanket policy in this respect. Unless a local authority has very good reason to depart from the statutory guidance, then they should not be placing households in this position”.

It will be very interesting from an Agent and Landlords point of view, to see whether the local authority actually takes note of this letter. Without fail, the local authority tells everyone who has been served a Section 21 Notice for whatever reason, to stay put until the possession order is granted by the county court and the bailiffs are instructed. Not only is this distressing for the tenant, it is a travesty for the Landlord who, if following the correct procedure, is not allowed their property back at the earliest opportunity. It makes a mockery of the Housing Act which is the law of the land and in place to see that both landlords and tenants are treated fairly. Prior to 1988, landlords were reluctant to let property because it was almost impossible to take the property back or even increase the rents. In theory, this should have changed after 1988 and it did in part, but tenants are increasingly protected and the local authorities, who are obliged by law to help the homeless, just put off the fateful day when the tenants become their problem.


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“Send in the Sheriff”

Barbara Townsend 28/04/2016

I expect most people have watched or heard of the popular TV programme “Can’t pay, we’ll take it away”. This is where the High Court Sheriffs serve writs on people who, in lots of cases, have not paid their rent. After watching this programme, a landlord came into my office demanding that I send in the Sheriff to a tenant who owed £1200 in rent. We were already in the process of serving the tenant with a Section 21 Notice giving them the statutory 2 months’ notice to end the tenancy because of the rent arrears. I explained this to the landlord who was adamant that the Sheriffs would go into the property and remove the tenant. The whole story, which the TV programme fails to mention is that the landlord has already had to go through the Section 21 Notice period, and then when the County Court has given them the Possession Order, decided to go to the High Court to get it enforced. This action is rarely necessary and it is cheaper to pay the County Court Bailiffs to enforce the Possession Order. Going to the High Court is very expensive and is in addition to the County Court Fees which the Landlord will have already paid. The companies that work for the High Court and provide the Enforcement Officers are expensive with a minimum charge of £600 per visit whether or not they recover any monies or possessions. Although this charge is added to the monies already outstanding, in my experience, it is impossible to collect. If a tenant has rent arrears, they usually have no source of income and may have large items of furniture, electrical goods and cars on hire purchase. If this is the case, the Enforcement Officers cannot remove goods to the value of the debt and once again, the Landlord is out of pocket for their fees. If they are able to collect any monies owed, they charge a percentage of the monies collected on top of their fees.

The conclusion that I have drawn is although the programme makes interesting viewing, it is sketchy on the details and information needed by landlords to make an informed decision. I believe that the best course of action is to employ a reputable agent with the correct knowledge needed to guide a landlord through the due process involved in gaining possession of their property. This is definitely a cheaper alternative to “Sending in the Sheriff’!…

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For Your Information

Student Properties for 2017 are advertised on our website. Please DO NOT go to the properties without an appointment.

All Properties are available from the 3rd July 2017, unless otherwise stated.

All Tenants are subject to a non-refundable £150 application fee. Booking to view student properties is available after 3rd Jan 2017, for viewings to start early Jan 2017.

At the start of your tenancy

Once you have completed your student tenant detail form and paid your non-refundable application fee for a room in a student property we will raise your tenancy contract and send this to your stated guarantor for signature. The contracts should be returned to us by the date stated in our letter to your guarantor. We will hold the contracts until the date of commencement. Please ensure you are aware of your contract start date.

On the day your contract starts you should come to our office to sign the contracts and collect your keys to the property. This should be between 10.00am and 5.00pm.At this time we will require your first rental payment. Rental during the months of July, August and September (where applicable) may be paid monthly on the 1st of the month. Thereafter rental payments should be made quarterly in advance on 1st October, 1st January and 1st April. Payments may be made by bank transfer (details of our account are as stated on the letter to your guarantor), debit card payment, cheque or cash. Any returned cheques will be charged at standing banking charge rate. Any late rental payments will be subject to a charge of 6% per annum as stated in the tenancy contracts.

If you are unable to visit our office on the day of your contract starting you may come in on any weekday thereafter between 10.00am and 5.00pm. You must however arrange to make your rental payment on the day of your contract start. Please note that it is not our policy to post or issue keys on your behalf as all contracts must be signed by the tenant on the day of key issue. Student tenants are exempt from paying council tax but in order to qualify an exemption certificate must be provided to the council tax office if required. If you are a first year student you will not be exempt until your course actually starts and should therefore be aware that you will be liable for council tax from when your contract starts until the start of your course. Similarly, if you change course, starting a new course in the new academic year the council will not consider you exempt again until your new course starts.

How to secure a room?

Rooms may only be secured by the payment of a non-refundable application fee of £150. This can be paid by cash or card at our office or by card over the phone or bank transfer(please call 01326 315000 for details).

New Student List For 2016/2017

We will be releasing our list of properties available for the academic year 2015 / 2016 during the first week of January 2016.

For properties available now, please click HERE.