This month PDPLA chair, Martin Silman and vice-chair, Alwin Oliver met with Fiona Bell, Head of Estates at the University of Portsmouth to discuss the outlook for the student housing sector, the number and quality of halls being built, the role of private sector landlords and some of the concerns our members have raised.
Portsmouth have started a consultation to update the local plan which is the basis upon which all of their detail strategies and plans are formed. So if the local plan states, just for example, that there will be no zoos in the city, then anyone wanting to open a zoo will find it almost impossible to do so. Zoos may be a banal example, but the plan does state how many new houses could be built, where and of what type. It will update current plans and strategies on HMO's and student halls - so if you are a student landlord particularly, you do need to respond or ask us to include your views in our response. The consultation runs until late September, so do take the time to let us know your view please.
In the 1830's most people had a landlord and most people lived in squalid, overcrowded conditions - so not surprising that landlords were not seen as 'good people' by the masses. But why has that not changed? With all of the regulations in place to ensure that good standards are maintained and management is professional and with so many people investing in 1 or 2 properties to supplement or support their retirement, you would have thought attitudes would have changed by now.
It is believed that, for the first time in the UK, a letting agency has been successfully prosecuted under consumer protection legislation for granting "sham licences" to tenants. Our friend and supporter, John Saulet of Saulet Townsend sent us the following details of this story...
Licensing of HMO's in Portsmouth comes to an end next year, but if Portsmouth City Council were to follow the example of Brighton, the existing license scheme would be continued and extended to cover all HMO's in the city and selective licensing would be introduced in Portsmouth south (PO1, PO4 & PO5) ensuring that ALL landlords in the area need to be registered.
In our July members meeting there was much discussion between members and with guests, Bruce Lomax from PCC, John Stewart from the RLA and PCC Housing Cabinet Member, Cllr. Jennie Brent about the sort of world we would like to see when HMO Licensing ends (or is continued) next year, whether the Landlord Accreditation Scheme has a role and if so, how it could be improved and also what the PDPLA would need to do if we are to better manage ourselves and thus avoid further regulation.
For details of the meeting and some of our conclusions, read on...
Many of you will have seen the successful, primetime TV series on the BBC 'The Week The Landlords Moved In'. In the first series successful landlords moved into their own properties for a week and lived as their tenants did and whilst most were good landlords, it was surprising how little some of them realised about the way their tenants lived in their properties.
For the 2nd series, the BBC are looking for more landlords to participate and they have stated that they want to explore more about some of the costs and challenges we face as landlords. Are you interested in taking part?
If so, read on....
One of our members may need legal defence against Gosport council regarding an unpaid Section 106 agreement on a property he purchased 4 years ago. The developer was supposed to pay but since going into receivership and not paying it the council are now chasing our member for it or threatening to put a charge against the property if he does not pay about £6000 within 28 days.
Much has been said on the subject of Fire Safety of late and we all agree its importance - but do we know precisely what the law is, who enforces it, where to get guidance, who is responsible, how to do a fire risk assessment or what is required in terms of alarms and detectors?
Two key points you need to understand - firstly LACORS is just a guide and it has not been updated for nearly a decade since the group which wrote it was dissolved. Secondly, HHSRS is pretty subjective even on a good day and these two resources form the basis of all Fire Safety activity - so the onus is really on you to ensure you have minimised the risk of fire and maximised the likelihood of survival for your tenants. Now read on for our quick guide on the topic, pulled together for us by ex-chair Julian Clokie….
Recent tax changes caused the RLA to describe the taxation of landlords as 'one of the most hostile tax regimes in the world". After analysis of a number of similar countries we can confirm the truth of this assertion...
The urban future of Portsmouth was the title of a breakfast conference this month hosted by the University for local leaders, industry and alumni to discuss the strategic view from the council and the 'University Masterplan'.
There were some distinguished speakers and some bright ideas - but when you focus on what was proposed for Portsmouth, the bad news was that the picture above is wholly inappropriate, there were no new ideas and some very tired proposals totally lacking in cohesion were wheeled out once again.
It is unfortunate that we ran out of time at our AGM and had to reschedule the discussion on Fire Safety. This will now take place as part of our September members meeting - everyone welcome, attendance free, as always.
In the interim, and in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, there are some simple steps we should all take to ensure our properties remain as fire safe as is possible. Firstly, don"t rely on Fire Regulations or the advice of local authorities - we have many times advised that student landlords ignore the University advice on Fire Alarms as it is based on LACORS which is out of date and advocates solutions which are less safe than we recommend. In addition, we hear this month that PCC"s Director of Housing left his role without serving notice, alleged by some to be related to the fact that "MORE than half of the city"s tower blocks were missing, or did not have, a valid fire risk assessment" as reported in The News.
That article went on to state, "The information - contained in a council report - emerged as work got underway to remove the cladding from Horatia House and Leamington House in Somers Town after tests found it was a fire risk. Councillor John Ferret, chair of the governance & audits & standards committee said "There looks to be a systematic failure to carry out basic fire risk assessments. It will now be the job of the committee to take into account why this was allowed to happen and that we make sure everything is done to remedy the situation." Of the 39 tower blocks owned by Portsmouth City Council that are six storeys or over, testing before the blaze confirmed that seven blocks of flats were missing a current fire risk assessment and 15 had an expired assessment. Figures contained in a report for the council"s governance, audits and standards committee also revealed that of the 712 council-owned properties, which are five storeys or lower, analysis found that 280 did not have an assessment date, with 171 properties overdue a review."
As landlords, we have to be responsible for the safety of our tenants - LACORS and HHSRS are bureaucratic minefields that both need to be abolished and replaced by guidance which is fit for purpose in our view - but until that happens, there are a few things you should think about to ensure your tenants are as safe as possible....
This month the trade association for inventory clerks called for regulated inventories to become compulsory in the UK lettings market. Not a particularly sensible suggestion and definitely not based on an impartial view or any sensible data, but in the current political environment, even some of the daftest ideas seem to have a habit of growing political capital and becoming 'policy' - so it was not surprising when one of our members decided enough was enough and she had to make a plea for LESS not MORE regulation.
In her response, she stated "We are becoming increasingly tired of the knee-jerk reactions by Government" and went on to say, "PLEASE ask the government to stop trying to regulate everything Landlords (and Agents) do without properly investigating the pros and cons." All very sensible in our view, but to see why she has come to these conclusions and some of the supporting information, please read on....
A much more balanced month for PCC planning than it was last - some decisions overturned on appeal and some confirmed. Obviously we are focused on the private residential lettings which come before the committee but in our area of focus, as usual all of the activity appears to be conversion of existing HMO"s of one type or another to larger HMO"s. A logical outcome of the Article 4 direction which is having the effect of increasing density of HMO dwellers in areas with HMO"s rather than reducing them as was intended.
Read on for specific cases….
Speaking to the Milton Neighbourhood Forum this month Bernie Topham, COO at the University of Portsmouth explained to Milton residents the University's decision to close their student accommodation at Furze Lane.
The closure appears to have been forced upon them due to the large number of private halls rooms being built around the city. The plan was always to keep the 600 units of accommodation at Furze Lane as they were needed along with the Greetham Street, Zurich House and Catherine House developments if the University was to meet its target of being able to offer halls rooms to all first year students. However, additional new developments mean that many more rooms than are needed for 1st years, even if the Milton site is closed, will be available.
The PDPLA has historically paid £10 per member per year for DAS tax investigation cover, Legal Defence cover and a very general legal advice plus various other minor services tied up with small print.
The RLA are now giving us more extensive tax investigation cover for no extra fee. This was perceived to be the most useful element of the cover, especially as HMRC are now more interested in landlords so this could be of use to any of us.
The question is, do we need to retain the legal cover? (With the duplicate tax cover as this comes as a package)
At the AGM there was a unanimous vote to end the cover and save over £2000. Therefore, unless significant members who were not at the AGM object, we will not renew the DAS policy.
This means that some of you are no longer automatically covered for some risks which we know will be important to a small proportion of members - so we urge you to check the details below and decide whether you need this cover or some additional cover or, in your situation, these are acceptable risks that do not need insurance.
As a small 'not for profit" member organisation with just 2 part-time staff and 10 volunteer committee members, the PDPLA has had a very busy year. With 10 member meetings, a Christmas Social, 12 newsletters and all of the associated administration and organisation we would have been busy - but in addition to all of this we have successfully affiliated with the RLA and outsourced a portion of our admin overhead to them and we have successfully and effectively argued the case of our members both locally and nationally.
We have explained, educated and railed against the unfair tax changes forced upon landlords, we have been active in guiding and informing much new legislation both directly and indirectly - as the PDPLA, we have written formal responses on at least 6 consultations about proposed legislation and we have actively participated wherever we have believed it will benefit our members.
The PDPLA always considered itself a friend and partner of the University of Portsmouth (UoP), our members provide many of the 12-15 thousand student rooms in the city which UoP depend upon to exist, without us they would have very few students and similarly, we have been keen to continually improve standards and facilities to ensure that UoP is successful as many of our businesses depend upon it.
However, this dynamic was always likely to change with the addition of 7-8 thousand new rooms in student halls, mainly in the 'student square' district that is developing around Portsmouth and Southsea station.
Over the past few months, UoP have stopped attending any meetings attended by the PDPLA and have not answered a number of questions we have put to them on matters important to our members. We suspected that we had become '2nd class' partners and all of their resources were being expended on the new halls providers, which is understandable, but there were also rumours about the Uni's own halls in Furze Lane, Milton.
Whilst UoP have yet to respond to our enquiry, we have had it confirmed that the UoP halls in Furze Lane will close in June next year - so this years admission will be the last. Our expectation is that the Uni bus service will also stop or be severely cut back, which will significantly affect those with properties along its route, as large numbers of students currently choose to live near Goldsmith Avenue / Fratton Bridge simply because of the free bus service.
We changed the format for our monthly meeting in May and invited all of the then announced candidates for Portsmouth South to come and talk to us about their parties views on the Private Rental Sector.
We met sitting Conservative MP Flick Drummond, ex-council leader and Liberal Democrat Gerald Vernon Jackson plus local Labour leader Stephen Morgan who announced he was a 'hustings virgin' and Ian McColloch from the Green Party.
Attendance was good but surprisingly, many were new (and welcome) faces from the RLA, the NLA and the SLA. Our own members apparently did not have time or interest which is a shame and a missed opportunity.
After losing 5 appeals as reported last month, the April planning meeting was more careful than previously about the request to change a small HMO in Manners Road into a larger HMO, concluding that, "a decision be deferred to allow further discussions with the applicant".
The May planning meeting will discuss this application again as well as an almost identical one in the same road and two C3 to C3/C4 (family use to mixed family or HMO) applications, one in Victoria Road North and the other in Jersey Road. There is also a 'small HMO' to 'large HMO' in Queens Road, Fratton.
One application that is not being reviewed this month but which will be of interest to some members, is the application for a 20 room student hall by the John Pounds Centre in Portsea.
The team at East Hants District Council (EHDC) are looking for landlords to provide accommodation. The support they provide is much more extensive than larger local authorities appear willing to provide - including protection against rent arrears for the whole duration of the tenancy, rather than just the 1st 6 or 12 months as is the case in Portsmouth.
East Hants is an odd shaped patch from Liss across to Bordon and extending up in the direction of Guildford. As such, much of the area is on the Guildford LHA rate which is about 30% more than Portsmouth so will be appealing to landlords looking to invest in new developments in Liss, for example, where 2 bed properties are most needed according to EHDC.
The offer should also be appealing to landlords with existing property available within the PDPLA area as the EHDC can place potential tenants up to 30 miles away
The RLA have launched their 2017 manifesto in response to the snap election.
It sets out coherent proposals to improve the private rented sector for both landlords and tenants and they are calling on the political parties to support the growing private rented sector as it works to meet unprecedented demand.
The RLA"s 6 Achievable Priorities For Making Renting Better
1. Boost the supply of new homes by bringing unused land and empty properties into use for private rental homes, coupled with positive taxation policies that promote growth.
2. Establish a new specialist housing court to deliver quick and cost effective justice to help landlords and tenants to enforce their rights.
3. A fairer approach to welfare reform for landlords and tenants, giving tenants claiming Universal Credit the choice of having rent paid direct to their landlord, and speeding up the claim process.
4. Effective enforcement against criminal landlords through guaranteed long-term funding for local authorities, backed by a system of co-regulation for the majority of law-abiding landlords.
5. Support landlords to improve energy efficiency in private rental homes for the benefit of tenants and the environment.
6. Create a new deposit trust for tenants enabling them to transfer deposits seamlessly between tenancies.
PDPLA Chairman, Martin Silman was briefly interviewed on the BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast programme in a discussion on inflation earlier this month. In preparation, he surveyed senior members of the PDPLA and came to some surprising conclusions.
Yes, inflationary pressures from cost increases will have a significant impact on future rent increases but there are 3 other factors which may have a more significant impact on future rent levels:
1. Letting Agent Inflation
2. Battery Farming of Students
3. Recent Tax Changes
The UK population is now just over 65 million, having grown by over 500,000 in just one year - 2014. The number of households in the UK is now 27.1 million, an increase of a shade over 7 per cent since 2006, about the same as the increase in the population level in that same period.
The most recent projections say the UK population will reach 77 million by 2050, though this does not account for whatever the impact of Brexit might be.
But you have to dig down into the actual demographics to assess the real impact on housing demand / supply on specific segments of population in the future.
A tenant of one of our members is doing some market research amongst landlords as part of a new product development project at a security products manufacturer. She said, "We are collecting feedback from landlords for a manufacturer who is potentially developing a product or service that allows landlords to keep their properties safe and in good shape. Responses to this survey will be used as part of this market research only and will be kept strictly confidential within the business."
The survey is quite short and there is a £100 prize draw - so we do recommend you take it, more details here....
Not a game of football, but the outcome after 5 planning decisions where appealed.
To be fair to the planning dept., their officers recommended each of the applications were approved but the planning committee, after hearing objectons from NIMBY residents, decided to ignore the advice of the professionals and to go ahead and reject the applications. In each case, the applicant appealed and on review of the specific case, the inspector upheld the appeal and granted the application.
The Havant Landlord Group keeps its members up to date with the latest trends, rules and regulations affecting property landlords in and around Havant Borough Councils patch.
Last week it was a 'Trends' evening as the group met at the Wheelwright's Arms in Havant to hear about Serviced accommodation or SA as its fashionably known.
27th January saw PDPLA"s best ever presence at the University of Portsmouth student housing fayre held in the Student Union, with 8 landlords represented.
The PDPLA "team" amounted to no less than 14 people, the majority wearing our distinctive "no agency fees" shirts.
We are also now the largest stand at the event, placed strategically at the entrance to the bar/restaurant area - if you let to students, this is the place to go to get their attention.
The PDPLA has been supporting the Joint Council For The Welfare of Immigrants in their bid to highlight some of the problems the 'Right To Rent' legislation has created.
Their research showed that a British 'black minority ethnic' person without a passport was ignored or turned down by 58% of landlords. Whilst we cannot condone this, it is understandable while there is such a shortage of accomodation available - as a landlord, when faced with 3 or 4 potential tenants, one of whom does not have a British Passport - do you consider them equally, or simply decide to save time and money by avoiding the need for 'Right to Rent' checks and associated delays and simply consider the other candidates? Especially if you risk a criminal record or even imprisonment if you make a mistake and house an illegal immigrant.
The full text of JCWI's release here....
Back in October we reported our success in convincing PCC to stop selling the register of HMO landlords addresses to anyone who asked - full details here.
A number of members have queried whether PCC have reneged on this agreement as the members concerned have continued to receive 'cold call' letters from potentially rogue letting agents. As below, PCC have confirmed that they have not sold our adresses to anyone since the change was agreed.
Over the past few years, many local councils including Portsmouth and Havant have run schemes where local homeowners, tenants and landlords could get cavity wall insulation installed at no charge. This was primarily funded by the 'eco" charge on household utility bills with top up or seed funding (often as little as £50 per property) paid by the local authority.
It sounds too good to be true - a pot of money, freely available to improve the quality of our houses.
Well, in many cases, it was....
We never expected a headline like this in our newsletter! But a new TV show is looking for properties that need extreme cleaning - so whilst we are all proud of the condition in which our houses are handed over to tenants, if you have one that is no longer that pristine, tenanted or not, help may be at hand.
Read on for more details....
At our January members meeting our Vice Chairman Alwin Oliver regaled members with his experience using electronic signatures - he talked of massively reduced printing costs, zero postage, major time savings, improved audit trails and same day responses on guarantor paperwork.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill has passed its final stage in the Commons and will now head to the House of Lords.
The bill passed through both the report stage and third reading in the Commons last Friday, with cross-party support, government backing and a little help from Portsmouth and District Private Landlords Association.
Action Fraud have sent us the following which will be important for many members:
Payment diversion alert
Fraudsters are emailing members of the public who are expecting to make a payment for property repairs. The fraudsters will purport to be a tradesman who has recently completed work at the property and use a similar email address to that of the genuine tradesman. They will ask for funds to be transferred via bank transfer. Once payment is made the victims of the scam soon realise they have been deceived when the genuine tradesman requests payment for their services.
The RLA and the PDPLA are separate and distinct organisations. The RLA provides a national voice and a wealth of support from standard contract documentation to help lines, high quality magazine and community forums. The PDPLA provides representation on local issues and face to face meetings with speakers covering the whole range of the private rented sector - from accounting to vermin control, stopping at building works, contracts, damp, evictions, fire safety and every other letter in the alphabet along the way.
The affiliation of both organisations means that membership of either one automatically entitles individuals to access the benefits and services available from both organisations.
At our regular meeting with Portsmouth City Council Private Sector Housing (PCC) we learnt that they are still finding unlicensed HMO"s (3 more this month plus another 21 'Section 257" properties), most of which have been in existence since licensing was introduced nearly three and a half years ago, and of the 3,200+ that have been identified, only just over 2,900 have been licensed.
This is not a criticism of PCC - just confirmation of how hard it is to find the landlords that don"t want to be found or to get the message to those landlords who may only have 1 property and who do not participate in local associations or CPD activity.
Amongst the good news this month, enforcement actions on those who do not comply with licence conditions continue, raising the overall standard of housing in the city by removing or improving the worst.
This month planning permission was given for another 256 student hall rooms, bringing the total number of planned new student halls in the area to 10.
The new hall will replace the Co-op Bank and Music Room in Commercial Road with a 19-storey tower, adding to the student zone which is growing around the town station which some now call 'Station Square" - Greetham St, James Watson Hall, Margaret Rule Hall plus new developments at Isambard Brunel Road, Zurich house and Surrey Street - bringing the potential halls places up from just under 3,000 a year ago, to somewhere nearer 8,000.
We have asked the University several times what they see as the optimum number of halls rooms but have yet to get an answer - our view is that they probably need around 7,000 to ensure they can provide rooms for any 1st year or international student who wants one, but it is interesting - whilst developers used to build halls 'to order" and in return the University would guarantee a certain level of occupancy, this has changed with so many developers getting in on the act, the University actually objected to this new tower at the planning meeting on the grounds that they had not been consulted.
A letting agent has been sentenced this month for safety breaches after a self- employed builder suffered first and third degree burns to his face, hands, neck and chest. Do you as a landlord, know when you are liable for any injuries sustained by a tradesman you employ?
Our renewal process has changed!
Over the past year, the committee has been working with the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) to agree a scheme whereby members of either organisation could benefit from membership of both organisations.
You may remember that we put the concept to a member vote at the start of this year and PDPLA members voted 5 to 1 in favour of affiliation.
The PDPLA Christmas Party was well attended by members and guests this year, in its new location at The Royal Beach Hotel in Southsea. Around 100 members and leaders of local charities and the city council joined to celebrate another year over and to raise money for local homeless charities.
This year we decided to raise funds for Two Saints, who provide a great deal of support to help the homeless back into housing and also, The Roberts Centre which offers a range of services for the most vulnerable including several which help those who have dropped out of the benefits system to get back into it. Apart from enjoying the food, the excellent magician and the Christmas music, members raised over £400 for our chosen charities from a series of events on the night successfully organised as previously by PDPLA member Charlie Cherry.
Our 2nd 'Landlords Breakfast' will be at 8.30am (until about 10am) on Wednesday January 11th and it will again be held at Watkins and Faux on the seafront (in the Southsea Tennis Club pavilion opposite the D-Day Museum and the Blue Reef Aquarium).
All local landlords and prospective landlords are welcome, whether or not they are members of the PDPLA or the RLA.
This is an informal networking event, allowing you to meet and chat to like minded individuals - and if you have a current problem, we will be surprised if one of our more experienced members does not have some input that will help.
Most landlords assume that gas safety checks are like MoT's and if yours is due on say, September 1st then getting the checks done in August will be fine - whilst this is true, what most people don't realise is that gas safety checks are due 12 months after the previous one, so getting it done early does not preserve the current renewal date but brings it forward!
After over a year of negotiation, the PDPLA and the RLA will affiliate. Both organisations will still be separate and independant entities, but from January 1st 2017, any member of the PDPLA will also become a member of the RLA and any RLA member in the Portsmouth area will become a PDPLA member.
If you plan to issue a Section 8 'Notice to Quit' you need to make sure you are using the new form prescribed by the government. It changed on 1st December and has been updated to reflect the new ground, 7b, introduced in the Immigration Act 2016.
In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond announced that tenants can no longer be charged fees associated with the arrangement of a tenancy. This appears to include the cost of referencing, inventories and the like - so if you have charged for anything of this nature in the past when letting a property, you will now no longer be able to do so (depending on the precise wording when this becomes law).
This is obviously a vote winner - no one enjoys handing over hundreds of pounds to an agent for no apparent benefit and outlawing it, on the surface, appears to please many and cost nothing.
Unfortunately, there are costs involved. Landlords will need to increase rents to recover these fees during the term of the tenancy, tenants will have to pay more as the increase will stay with them for the life of the tenancy rather than just the 6 or 8 months it takes to recover these costs and the higher rents will feed through into an increase in the 30th percentile rent level which Housing Benefit is based upon, so the government will see its £25Bn Housing Benefit bill increase accordingly.
We had a panel of finance experts at our November members meeting organised for us by Carol McFadden of Abacus Financial Options.
All of the presentations from that night and some of the supporting materials are available in the members area of the PDPLA website.
A motion at a recent Portsmouth City Council 'Full Council' meeting was raised to 'further limit the growth in the number of new Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO's).'
The logic, in our view mistaken, is that Portsmouth has enough HMOs and allowing more will not be popular or beneficial. It is true that with 7,000-8,000 new student halls rooms being built, the mix of housing usage in the city will change - but to assume that properties will switch from student HMO usage to family ownership is misguided. For those that have HMO's, their property values will continue to be at a significant premium (currently 30%+) to comparable non-HMO properties due to the constraints imposed by the council - so measures such as this will ensure properties with an HMO designation retain that designation and landlords let to whichever alternative type of HMO tenant they can best cater for.
Some will move to 'serviced accommodation' and high end professional lets, others to the more vulnerable (moving the problem recently reported in Waverley Road across the rest of Southsea) and the vast majority will stay with students as we still expect to see a need for homes for around 10,000 students in the Private Rented Sector in Southsea even if all of the planned student halls are built.
We could have chosen a better day for our first breakfast event, being the morning after the US election and one which saw a cold, wet and windy day in the UK - but those who attended enjoyed a good breakfast and discussed a wide range of topics from late paying students and whether to sell or keep a particular flat with a lifetime tenancy to the life expectancy of a landlord and how that should be factored into ones overall business plan.