With so many new student blocks opening or being built around ‘Station Square’ (soon to be renamed 'Student Central') is it time that we stopped worrying about all the minor details and ask the big question – will these new halls kill small business in Southsea? Could they be the death knell for the University itself?
Let’s get the minor details out of the way 1st….
In addition to the fact that we already provide homes for nearly half of the population of Portsmouth*, local landlords once again raised money for the homeless and took direct action after our Christmas party, distributing the leftover food from the hotel to people in need around the city. We also raised money on the night which we are making arrangements to ensure is used to provide food to the homeless by a local charity.
Comments from our distribution volunteers and more details…
At the recent meeting of the HMO Licensing Governance Board we learnt about the large number of empty properties currently in the city, the attempts to ensure student halls have to meet the same regulations as we do, enforcement action on another local letting agent and were warned to take rubbish disposal more seriously.
There were also discussions about what replaces HMO licensing next August…
This time of year can be tricky, I look back over the changes of the last year and see that progress has been made but there is a nagging doubt, is progress a good thing? Is progress even progress? Am I barking up the wrong tree perhaps and should my focus be more personal, less business-y? Is my life ebbing away as I chase shiny pennies? Self doubt creeps in and I need a fresh start!
Did you know that 75% of the high rise residential blocks in Hampshire can be found in Portsmouth? Did you also know that 85% of those blocks in Portsmouth are privately owned? And as new regulations post-Grenfell are created that could mean big problems for freeholders, landlords, leaseholders, tenants and service providers.
Some of the examples we heard at this months Additional (HMO) Licensing Governance Board meeting…..
If a visiting worker stays in your property for 12 months is it a tenancy? What if he booked and paid for it via Airbnb and has the ‘holiday let’ contract that service provides? What if he goes home to his main residence in say, Manchester, every weekend? And if he is sharing the property with 2 fellow workers does that make it an HMO?
There is no easy answer to any of these questions and different cities answer them differently. Short-term rentals in Greater London are subject to a planning restriction, which makes the use of residential premises as temporary sleeping accommodation a “material change of use” for which planning permission is required. New York are more stringent and state that owners or tenants cannot legally rent their apartments out for short periods (less than 30 days) unless they are also living in the property. Elsewhere, many rentals are expected to pay hotel or tourist taxes. In Portsmouth any issues have yet to result in regulatory changes but some people may be surprised by the existing regulations which already apply in this area…
Portsmouth City Council (PCC) has ignored our input (detailed last month here) and with immediate effect, introduce a range of measures to reduce the volume of HMO's in the city and to stop existing HMO's being improved and developed.
Deputations from our members highlighted concerns about the legitimacy of an immediate introduction, the damage the new space requirements will cause preventing HMOs sold or taken out of HMO use being replaced by new HMOs. Our survey showed the city would lose 100 current HMO rooms if the current 6.52 sq m proposal was implemented. This new legislation states a 7.5 sq m minimum room size - only on new applications - but it is hard to imagine the impact this would have if widely enforced and the increase in homelessness that is likely to result. But our deputations were to no avail as councillors were unanimous in their desire to see these changes pushed through.
For full details, read on...
So how hard is it to turn a regular flat into a Serviced Let? The switch in mindset from money-saver landlord to generous host is the hardest part to overcome, the rest is just a matter of shopping!
Whilst we are pleased that Portsmouth was not in the vanguard of Universal Credit (UC) and Portsmouth and Cosham are now scheduled for 'ful service' from September 2018 and Gosport and Havant for November 2018, if you can see past the implementation problems it does have benefits..... (& thanks to Mark Sage at PCC for some of this information).
For example, for landlords who have been used to working with HB, one positive aspect of UC is that there won't be breaks in the claim that often happened under HB, when people moved in and out of work, and didn't always get their HB claims in on time. Also, it appears that those for whom direct payment is already in place will not need to be re-justified when they transition to UC.
The other improvement for landlords is a simple mechanism to recover rent arrears direct from benefits, which landlords can request at the same time as they apply for direct payments. (Not many landlords are currently recovering rent arrears from income benefit payments. But this is only available for arrears in a current tenancy, not a previous tenancy.) And rent arrears are recovered at quite a high rate, which helps to reduce arrears much more quickly, although that obviously impacts on the tenant's living costs budget.
At our last member meeting Jon McDermott talked about planning and several times, mentioned CIL payments and each time, someone asked what a CIL payment was….
This short article attempts to explain what they are and why they are so important.
In response to the campaign by certain councillors to reduce the spread or update of HMO's, we raised the following key points:
Last month we included the PDPLA response to the consulation on the Local Plan 'Issues and Options' document (see it here). In clarification, Councillor Luke Stubbs, deputy leader of PCC, responded: "Just a quick comment on the local plan and infrastructure. Much of what most people would include as infrastructure is outside of the control of local government (hospitals, doctors, new schools (although not the expansion of existing ones), the A27, railways) and so unless central government departments are willing to make commitments - and they're not - this cannot be considered in the local plan."
He went on to add,
Long standing PDPLA Committee Member Joan Goldenberg had this published in 'The News' (Portsmouth local paper) this month:
I am fed up listening to what awful people we landlords are and in particular the current campaign denigrating student landlords. How landlords have ruined Portsmouth bringing in students to the private residential areas, taken cheap housing away, overcharge and are the cause of traffic problems.
What landlords have actually done is buy dilapidated Victorian Houses, where the original residents made a jolly good profit, updated and improved them, from their own resources, and provided jobs for local businesses and business people and provided housing for students where there was none as the university numbers grew. Local builders, plasterers, painters, electricians, gas and central heating engineers, roofers were all kept busy and owe their living to the influx of landlords improving and providing much needed - but not only student - accommodation. Various industrial units have popped up, servicing the needs of these building trades.
The Upper Tribunal (UT) has held that insurance charges made by a landlord of a block of flats (the flats) were not payable by the tenants, as they were not "reasonably incurred". (This item shared with us by John Saulet of Saulet Townshend LLP)