Facing unprecedented demand earlier this year, Alan Boswell Insurance (the PDPLA preferred provider due to their industry beating comprehensive 5 star cover) withdrew their rent guarantee insurance but the good news is that it is back and is simpler than before... 

It has long been the bane of local student landlords that our taxes have increased annually every year since George Osborne 1st became chancellor in 2010, while at the same time, encouragements for student halls providers have reduced or removed their taxes in almost equal proportion, creating a very unfair playing field. It is now apparent that student halls providers have found a new ruse and many don't even pay Corporation Tax.

Friend of the PDPLA and mortgage advisor, Carol McFadden followed up on last months guidance to landlords where students have asked for rent holidays with the following comments about the availability of 'payment holidays' for Buy To Let mortgages.

During the pandemic, which student religiously stayed in their room, built themselves shelving for books and created a small office in which to work, studied hard and in the process, not only developed a whole new branch of mathematics but also came up with the basis of a theory which could shape the thinking of future physicists for centuries in the future?

There has been concern among many of our members as student tenants ask for contracts to be cancelled and rent to be waived. As many members have mortgages to pay and they rely on the residual income for their pensions, any rent reduction puts them in a very difficult position financially. The good news is that none of the agencies involved support these requests – the University, the government, local MP's and others are all saying that students need to sit tight and pay their rent if at all possible. We look at who is saying what and where you can go for advice or guidance should you be affected.

The problem: As soon as an HMO property drops below the C4 threshold it becomes a C3. No planning permission is required to go in this direction, but you will need it to go back to C4.

Hopefully members have received the email outlining our efforts to coordinate the availability of short term accommodation, whether for those self-isolating or recovering, for key workers or the homeless.  If you missed it, we reproduce it here. 

We know many landlords have lost a room in Portsmouth after applying for a Mandatory HMO licence when the new rules came in last October. This is typically a 5-bed going to a 4 or similar, due to communal space not meeting PCC's very high requirement (compared to every other council in the country).

If this is you – what have you done with that room? For many, we know it is just wasted as a separate 7 or 8 square metre room in a property where the inhabitants do not live as a cohesive group has no value. The individuals often use the communal kitchen but take food to eat in their room and don't use the rest of the house except, obviously, the bath/toilet facilities as required.

One issue we are finding is that unbeknown to the landlord, one or more of the tenants decide it is a 'wasted room' and they let one of their friends live there….

Thanks to Alwin Oliver and his team at Flats In Southsea for allowing us to share this advice which they produced for their own landlords, tenants and contractors 

Subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament, landlords and agents will need to ensure electrical installation inspections and testing are carried out for all new tenancies in England from 1 July 2020 or from 1 April 2021 for existing tenancies.

The Government has produced The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 which state that landlords must ensure every fixed electrical installation is inspected and tested at least every five years by a qualified person. The Regulations also state that a landlord is required to obtain a report of the results of the inspection and test, supply it to each tenant within 28 days and retain a copy until the next inspection is due.

Obviously, in the current environment, these plans may be delayed but the key point, that many people overlook, is that an electrical inspection checks an installation meets CURRENT standards and these standards change and become more rigorous every year – so if your property has not had a major electrical upgrade in the past 10 years, it will probably need one now and that will mean major disruption for your tenants. 

Portsmouth has released a draft of its strategy aimed at achieving an active and well-functioning Private Rental Sector which works fairly for all. Read on for an overview of the strategy and its aims, written by Portsmouth's Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Darren Sanders.... 

iHowz (formerly the Southern Landlords Association) have summarised some very useful advice for landlords on everything from how do you go about Gas Safety inspections when a tenant is self-isolating to what are the new rules on eviction. (Thanks to iHowz for allowing us to share) This has been updated with links to the NRLA webinar and information on this topic.

Later this month, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act fully comes into force. What does that mean for landlords? From March 19th tenants will be able to sue for compensation for issues such as mould and damp.  

Some years ago, Portsmouth City Council (PCC) enacted an 'Article 4 Direction' requiring planning permission for new HMOs. This overrides the usual permitted development rights a landlord has to use a normal residential property as either a non-HMO, (C3 use class i.e. family type residence) or an HMO occupied by unrelated sharers (C4 use class). There are many HMOs that do not have or require planning permission as they have been in continuous HMO use since November 1st 2011 when the Direction commenced.

The planning enforcement team are currently writing to landlords asking them for proof of continuous use - do you know what you need to do?  Have you kept records to show how your property has been used?

At our meetings this month, we had representatives from Portsmouth, Havant and East Hants all keen to find landlords to work with in their efforts to reduce homelessness. Watch the video of the session with Portsmouth and Havant from our February 2020 members meeting and read on for details of the working group that Portsmouth wants to put in place to better understand what is important to us as landlords. 

 At our January 2020 meeting our main speaker was Andrew Waggott, from Portsmouth City Council (PCC) working with us to help us understand what is available now and trying to work out how we make the PRS in the city greener and more energy efficient. We also discussed the PCC proposals to get more people from the housing list into the PRS and had a discussion on HMO Licensing in the city.  We have produced short (and long) videos of the event for those who could not attend.

At this months Housing Cabinet meeting Councillor Darren Sanders and other cabinet members supported proposals to widen their bond scheme and the use of a community bank to provide low cost loans, with the aim of getting people off of the housing waiting list and into homes in the private rented sector.   

(This is the topic we discussed at our January member meeting, watch that here

As ​government funding for local authorities has been progressively cut, councils have tried to maximise their council tax income by going after student landlords for payment for every day a property contains a non-student or is empty. Our screams of victimisation have been ignored, though we have had a little success in ensuring that student halls get the same treatment as small private landlords.

However, it appears students are now getting upset and the government may well take action as a result.

The 31st January 2020 deadline has been and gone and you have not yet filed your tax return. Time got away from you or maybe you did not realise that you needed to complete one until now? Whatever the reason you need to be aware of the following;  

New regulations will soon come into force requiring landlords of all property types to have a current electrical certificate but as seems unfortunately normal of late, the precise requirement, any exemptions and the timing is not yet clear. As a result, there may be a rush as July approaches…

After 18 months gestation, we are pleased to announce the PDPLA website has now been completely renewed. Hopefully members will just notice some style updates and minor improvements but under the covers we have jumped 10 years to modern technology with everything changed from the servers on which it runs right through to the tools used to create the content….  

PDPLA members have raised nearly £2,000 over the past 2 Christmas’, all of which has been donated to the Society of St James to help the local homeless. It is debatable whether this type of support can end homelessness, and more on that next month, but there follows a thankyou and Christmas update from SSJ. Thank you to everyone who has donated at one of our events or on our JustGiving page:  https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pdpla2018

We have many members who are unhappy with PCC’s rules on communal space in HMO’s – the rules seem to have grown over the past 10 years in an attempt to provide a basis to reject HMO’s which are seen as ‘too densely developed’ by councillors and local residents. We are now at a point where PCC ask for more communal space than any other council in the country (and in many cases, 2 or 3 times more than most councils).

It was thus somewhere between shock and amusement that we heard PCC had lost a case where they tried to stop a very small flat from being let.

Portsmouth is consulting on a draft strategy - 'Energy and water at home - a strategy for efficiency and affordability for every household in Portsmouth'.  It looks at how the council can work with others to make homes more energy and water efficient and ensure residents can afford their bills - as we own 1 in 4 of the houses in the city, we will be most affected, so do make time to think about how you will make your properties more energy and water efficient and what help you need, then complete the questionnaire - because if you say nothing, you have no reason to complain if in 2 or 3 years time you are faced with significant bills to bring a property up to a new standard or have to replace or upgrade something you only just invested in.

The strategy is pervasive - obvious things like insulation and reduced water usage but also more futuristic options to get us to near zero carbon status, such as time of day energy tariffs and micro-anaerobic digesters - so do read the summary or attend a meeting if nothing else.

A Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number is required by all sole traders, partnerships and limited companies in the UK. It’s unique to that individual or organisation and remains unchanged forever.

You will also need a UTR if you have other forms of income or expenses that require you to file a Self-Assessment tax return.

If you don’t have a UTR, you won’t be able to submit a Self-Assessment tax return, plus, you may open yourself up to heavy penalties.

So, to help reiterate the importance of UTR numbers and how to correctly acquire your own, we’ve asked Mike Parkes from GoSimpleTax to shed some light on their role in tax return submissions.

As we approach the mid-part of the 21st century, is it time to consider providing 21st century properties for our tenants? We know many were built in the time of Queen Victoria, but as landlords each property faces a continual cycle of upgrade, refurbishment and renewal - so as part of that, should we be considering Smart technology, leading edge energy solutions and maybe, even reconfiguring the way people live?

In support of the new strategy for the Private Rented Sector which may justify Selective Licensing for all landlords in the city - Portsmouth City Council are asking for your views and those of your tenants. It is simple, two page survey (for landlords, slightly more for tenants) and we worry that unless enough people make their views clear, too small a sample may lead to conclusions we are not happy with in the months ahead. So do click the link, do complete the survey and do add comments outlining your views on the need for more or less regulation and what challenges or problems concern you most - it will only take a couple of minutes and could help avoid the many hours and £'s that Selective Licensing will cost you if introduced later this year.

At our November member meeting we had a short discussion on the use of Property MoT’s. Is it yet more bureaucracy or might they be useful? It is interesting that the Labour manifesto proposes to mandate Property MoT’s – could this be one area where local landlords agree with an aspect of the Labour Party housing policy?

We actually suggest that we may need to go further and should be thinking about offering Tenancy MoT’s…

As we head toward the final days of the election, the RLA have perfectly summarised the 6 things that every landlord wants from the new government:

  1. Boost supply to meet demand
  2. Support vulnerable tenants
  3. End the Right to Rent
  4. Improve Justice for Tenants and Landlords
  5. Root out Criminal Landlords
  6. Reject All Forms of Rent Controls

In a well articulated statement they demand a more positive approach to the Private Rented Sector, read more here....

After the October PDPLA meeting, I attended the Full Council meeting of Portsmouth City Council and subsequently the Housing Cabinet meeting on 21 October to oppose proposals put forward by Cllr Cal Corkery to introduce selective licensing for all rented properties in the city.

There was a time when every major town introduced licensing schemes to control some perceived problem in the private rented sector, Portsmouth introduced Additional Licensing in 2013 to solve ‘problems’ with HMO’s in the south of the city for example.  Now those schemes have come to an end, various councils have tried and failed to introduce follow on or different schemes and many are failing to get the necessary approvals – Brighton, Stoke and Hounslow are the 3 examples we look at here…

The Home Office have updated their guidance to landlords on how to perform checks for nationals of of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA who have entered the UK through eGates and do not have an endorsement in their passport to evidence leave to enter the UK.

 

Whilst the Tory pledge to get rid of Section 21 does not appear likely to be implemented anytime soon, we still worry as both Labour and the LibDems have similar policies. To that end, we have been actively collecting data and participating in consultation activities - for example, this month PDPLA Vice Chairman, Alwin Oliver, submitted a collection of case studies and suggested alternatives such as a new Housing Court styled on the Canadian solution - PDPLA members can see it here in the members area.  Highlights follow…

Committee member, Jonie Goldenberg had the following thoughtful piece published in the Portsmouth News this month:  "The Corporate Landlords do a hard sell - and I am not surprised at £200 per week per room for student accommodation equating to £10,200 per unit for the 51 weeks in the 256 unit high rise, earning in the region of £2,600,000 per annum for the company Prime Student Living. Multiply that by the number of new Halls that have been built. 'A nice little earner'. By a company who has not come up with the goods on time and sees fit to axe students' contracts without a thought of the associated problems faced by many first year students and their families. They will think twice about coming back to Portsmouth University. This is also not the first year this has happened."

A number of members have complained to us as PCC have asked them to confirm that they test fire alarms weekly. Please note - as a Landlord you DO NOT need to test fire alarms weekly. In fact, it would be an intrusion on the privacy (and the 'entitlement to QUIET enjoyment") of your tenants if you did. Read on for the current situation…

Whilst HMRC are making positive noises about the progress of MTD, those businesses which pay VAT had to start submitting quarterly returns this year.  Of the one million businesses affected, nearly one quarter missed the August 7th deadline to submit their 1st return.

With so much demonization of landlords in the press and new regulations and standards being imposed almost daily - you would think rogue landlords had been publicised and regulated out of existence, but we would argue that politicians and journalists are focussing all of their efforts on the wrong landlords, which is why they are not seeing any improvements. We could go further and say that the local council is working with, condoning and encouraging the worst rogue we have come across….

So, let"s start with what, actually, is a rogue landlord?  And then, we suggest what needs to be done

We were interested to see BBC coverage of a new website which allows tenants to rate and review their landlord. The site

https://www.marksoutoftenancy.com/ has all the disadvantages of other ratings sites and probably does little to allow customers/providers to make better informed choices. What is also missing is the ability to 'rate and review" tenants.

We have a number of members who are very concerned that conditions are being placed on HMO licences and occupancy numbers are being reduced. There are many 5 bed properties applying for the Mandatory HMO Licence that they need which are being given a 1-year licence on condition they are reduced to 4 bed HMO"s after that - we are told by a PCC employee that this has happened to at least 130 properties in the city - easy money for PCC as they take the licence fee and then change the house such that it does not need a licence. These conditions do not apply elsewhere and this is forcing up rents in Portsmouth in relation to neighbouring areas. It is also leaving rooms empty at a time of housing crisis.

Tony stood in for Alwin as our representative on the Fair Possessions Coalition last Friday. Did he not know there was going to be a train strike? Fortunately, the  prospect of a strike had put off regular travellers and the journey was a joy. Anyway, with research showing that 84% of Section 21 repossessions are due to tenant arrears, most of the preconceptions about the need to abolish Section 21 seem to be misplaced. Here is his summary from the meeting in London:

Last week the RLA and the NLA announced that the 2 organisations are to unite to create a single organisation.  As a local organisation looking to both organisations in the past for national representation - the new organisation, to be called the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) looks compelling.  Combined they will have a single voice when representing us and they will have 80,000 members who own and manage half a million properties. 

All PDPLA members are also members of the RLA and therefore benefit from the tax protection insurance that they have in place for all members.

However, if you operate as a limited company, you need to check that you are covered.

While PDPLA Committee member, Tony Athill, was in London at the Fair Possessions Coalition meeting hosted by the RLA he took the opportunity to discuss Licensing.

It was agreed that landlord representatives need to demonstrate how licensing schemes are not a cure all that will rid the sector of ill-informed and criminal landlords. The representative from ARLA (agents association) is also a Local Councillor and he supported the PDPLA view that we need to educate our local politicians. We have a plan. …….

Following on from last months item, several members of the PDPLA attended a follow on meeting aimed at briefing Penny Morduant MP ahead of a meeting with the Housing Minister.

There was much discussion at our July meeting about the Natural England concerns about new residential development in the Solent area being likely to increase nitrates in the harbours and thus harm wildlife. As a result, almost all new developments are being refused planning permission for fear of prosecution for breaching the Natural England guidance. As mentioned then, we were represented at a meeting with the council to discuss options and have subsequently been copied on a number of documents explaining the situation, sent from PCC to the Secretary of State.

Relevant extracts are included below...

Before Brexit and Donald Trump, there was a belief in the Western world that politicians strived to do the right thing and made decisions in line with their manifesto to improve the lot of their constituents. That all changed in 2010, when no party won a majority of the seats in Parliament and left with a coalition, the workings of government suddenly became clear.

The bad news is that Portsmouth appears to be no different, based on the recent attempt to introduce Selective Licensing….

As reported at our July member meeting, the PDPLA supported a number of members with appeals against licensing decisions of PCC.  These properties were all approved for HMO licences under Bruce Lomax's regime but rejected when they requested the same approval for the same number of people under the new Mandatory Licensing regime.

We won appeals on 3 topics, but lost on one and unfortunately that was the one topic with the most cases.

If you are planning to create or change an HMO, one of the biggest challenges can be getting the necessary planning approvals.  We increasingly see councillors worrying about potential issues which, if they received correct advice from council officers, they would know were not an issue. In an attempt to help you avoid some of these issues, we have drafted a simple guide to help you - if you have views, comments or additional experience, do please let us know.

After losing so many appeals because they rejected applications for HMO's which met the conditions in Portsmouths  existing HMO SPD (Strategic Planning Document), the team at PCC are trying to rewrite the rules to give them grounds to reject more of the HMO applications which come before them. 

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