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There’s plenty of properties available that, with a little TLC, have the potential to make wonderful homes. However, there are a few things to bear in mind before you pop the lid off the first tin of paint. Check out our top tips for renovating your rental!

Make sure you understand your target tenant

Depending on the type of property that you have purchased, you may be looking to renovate for very different target markets. For example, if you own a house within a catchment area of a great primary school, chances are you may get a lot of interest from families with young children. Tenants like this are likely to be looking for a property with a bath in the bathroom, rather than an all-singing-and-dancing power shower.

Before you start any work, making sure you do this research thoroughly could save all your hard work being in vain. Failing to hit the mark with your tenants could leave you with a perfectly polished property that nobody wants to rent, so it is important to get it right!

Prioritise work that will make the biggest difference

If you have a property which has a front garden space, but is on a road with bad parking availability, consider applying for a dropped kerb and creating parking space in the front of your property. Whilst garden space is great, parking is a huge priority for many!

Something that always hits the mark is a great looking kitchen and bathroom. Fresh and clean spaces, in neutral colours with great appliances are always popular with tenants, and can really add pounds value to your property’s rental rate.

Finally, clean and neutral décor is a good way to finish your project. Easy-to-clean flooring and a simple colour on the walls allows your prospective tenants to walk in to your property and envisage their lives translated onto your blank canvas. Bright colour schemes and punchy prints may be your preference at home, but in a rental property you have to appeal to as many people as possible, so keep the bold design choices for your own home!

Work out what you are prepared to do yourself

Undertaking a renovation project is a lot of work, and depending on the nature of the jobs that need completing, it can be a hefty workload to take on yourself.

Whilst decorating and simple gardening jobs can be tackled by a keen DIY-er, any skilled jobs are better managed by professionals. There’s nothing worse than attempting a job yourself only to not quite get it up to scratch and have to budget for more materials and a specialist to come in and put it right!

Also, make sure you take into account the time it takes to renovate a property. Whilst you may imagine that you can fit this project into evenings and weekends, it may be more cost effective to pay a professional to come in and get the job done quickly. The sooner it is complete, the sooner your property will be ready to let and start earning you a rental income. If you think you might take six weeks to oversee the project yourself, versus one week with a contractor getting the work done, consider how much potential rent you would lose with that five-week difference.

Make sure all work is compliant

Time and cost aside, no matter how competent your DIY skills, there are certain jobs that you should definitely call in the professionals for.

Also, as every landlord knows there is plenty of landlord legislation that you need to comply with, and renovating gives you perfect scope to make sure that your property is ticking every legal box.

If you are looking to install new gas or electrical elements in your property, you should make sure that these are fitted by a fully registered and compliant engineer, and that you have the fitting certificated. More details on your requirements regarding gas safety are available here.

Also, with renovations underway you could consider making upgrades to your property’s green credentials. There are plenty of changes you can make, from simple tweaks such as pipe lagging, to hefty switches such as new double glazing, that all count towards making your property more energy efficient. Of course, if you do make any changes, don’t forget to update your EPC to reflect the upgrades! Details of how to do this and why it’s so important are available here.

Be practical, not personal

Don’t forget that your property is a business, and whilst you want to make sure it looks as great as it can, you need to be savvy about the choices you make.

Expensive fixtures and fittings can be more of a curse than a blessing, with complex controls and fiddly features providing potential confusion for tenants, and high cost for you to replace should they go wrong. Whilst you want your new tenants have a great home to be proud of, bear in mind that you should replace any fixtures and fitting like for like should they go wrong, so don’t leave yourself open for hefty cost further down the line if and when a pricy item needs replacing.

Similarly, think carefully about big items like floor coverings. Whilst you want to be sure that your property is welcoming and stylish, with a rental property it does pay to think a little more about the practicalities than if you were looking at carpeting your own home. If you chose to fit fluffy white pure wool carpets throughout your home, you could insist on people removing shoes, and ban red wine from entering the building – however this isn’t an option as a landlord! A more forgiving option, that is easily cleanable, or replaceable without breaking the bank, might be a more sensible choice.

Find the perfect match

When your property is perfectly polished and ready to rent, the next step is making sure that it is on the market as quickly as possible. After all, you want to find the perfect tenant to appreciate all your hard work!

Here at Howsy, we understand the importance of finding the ideal match for your property. Schedule a call with one of our team today, to discuss how we can help match your pristine property, with a tenant who will love it as much as you do!

Schedule your call here today.

It’s an exciting day here at Howsy towers!

We are delighted to announce that we have acquired online letting agency Upad from liquidators, and are excited to be relaunching the much-loved brand.

The acquisition sees Howsy taking on a number of Upad’s assets, including the company name, contracts and operating platform.  

The news of Upad’s sudden closure at the end of last year came as a shock to everyone. The organisation was closed following founder James Davis suffering a health scare, and we were saddened to see such a vibrant business in our sector close its doors.

With such a strong reputation for excellent customer service and an industry leader in the online rental sector, we were keen to ensure that this did not signal the end for Upad, and began the process of acquiring the firm’s assets.

Why have Howsy bought Upad?

We are keen to build an unrivalled rental platform, utilising seamless technology, highly skilled staff and a bank of rental-know-how to offer bespoke solutions to landlords across the UK. Upad’s technology delivers some fantastic solutions, and their loyal customer base represents a cross-section of UK landlords who we hope we can continue to deliver a great service to.

What does it mean for Howsy customers?

Upad was one of the founders of the online letting agency model, alongside Urban.co.uk who we also acquired at the end of 2019. Working together with existing Howsy teams, these purchases allow us to offer a great tenant find option, tailored to suit the needs of today’s landlord.

We’re over the moon that a number of Upad and Urban.co.uk experts have joined the Howsy team and are providing us with the benefit of their knowledge in this particular sector of the rental market – what they don’t know about finding your perfect tenant just isn’t worth knowing!

Of course, this addition to the family doesn’t change the Howsy you know. We will still continue to provide end-to-end property management services, combining cutting edge technology with round-the-clock personal support to make sure that every element of your rental journey is taken care of.

What does this change mean for Upad customers?

Day-to-day, there will be no changes to the Upad that existing customers know and love. All of the technology and features you have come to expect will all still be in place, only to be backed up further by the round-the-clock teams here at Howsy.

All of the great features you look for when finding a new tenant are still available, with the option to seamlessly move onto a Howsy management plan if you are looking for a more end-to-end solution.

As a larger team, we hope that we will be able to continue Upad’s vision in driving innovation for landlords and tenants, and make a real change to the private rental sector.

Looking forwards

2020 is shaping up to be an exciting year, with lots of positive news to come.

We are always keen to hear any thoughts on how we can change things to make them work better for our landlords, and urge you to get in touch with any ideas. There’s no better feedback!

As we move into a new year, plenty of us make lots of resolutions. Gym memberships soar, healthy food fills our fridges and exciting new hobbies fill our time.

However, as a landlord starting a new decade, what are the key rental resolutions that you should be making, and making sure that you stick to in 2020 (and beyond)!

Property maintenance

The newly announced Renters Reform Bill focuses heavily on improving standards of accommodation for tenants, with large penalties for landlords who do not provide properties that are safe and healthy. Whilst the majority of landlords obviously would never consider providing sub-standard living accommodation, this legislation is designed to crunch down on the few rogues that give the industry a bad name.

Winter weather can wreak havoc on property maintenance, so to ensure that your property is maintained and ticking all the letting legislation boxes, there are a few vital points that you need to remember:

  • Make sure all heating and hot water is well maintained and in full working order. The cold winter months are miserable enough without adding a boiler breakdown into the mix.  
  • Everyone wants to come home to a warm toasty house at this time of year. If the radiators in your property need bleeding, they won’t be getting up to temperature, and your tenants will be feeling very chilly. A few minutes per radiator is all it takes to remove any air-blockages.  
  • Damp in a property is one of the most common tenant complaints, and is often much worse in the winter when windows are kept shut against the chill. But managing ventilation in the property, with airbricks or extractor fans will help minimise the risk of damp and mould causing havoc in a home. You can read more top tips on how to manage mould here.
  • Rain, wet leaves and damp, chilly nights are a recipe for disaster when it comes to blocked gutters, leaks and potential damp. Making sure the exterior of your property is maintained and kept clear of debris is a (damp and messy) but necessary winter maintenance job that can pay dividends.

Refresh your contracts

As we woke up on January first, plans to clear cupboards, refresh wardrobes and declutter the day-to-day started to form. But why should you stop at the physical? Now is a perfect time to have a long hard look at all the contracts that are overseeing your landlord life, and question whether they are still working well for you.

As your letting lifestyle changes, you may find that your current letting agent no longer delivers the requirements that you are looking for. You may have decided that you want to take a more active role in 2020, or even want to take more of a back seat, and be looking for an agent that allows you to do just that.

But can you make the decision to switch?

You are perfectly within your rights to make the decision to end the contract with your existing letting agent, should you decide that there is a better option for you elsewhere. The contract that you have in place is a legal agreement, so there are steps that you have to take in order to exit the contract correctly, however it absolutely can be done.

You can read more about how to make this change here, or speak to a member of the Howsy team, who will be happy to offer you advice on the process. Give us a call today on 0330 999 1234.  

Get your paperwork in order

In the land of lettings, a clean and concise paperwork trail is key. Making sure you have all the relevant documents in order is very important.

As part of your rental resolutions, going over all the documentation relating to your property, from gas safety certificates to right to rent forms and making sure they are all in date and nothing has slipped will stand you in good stead for the year ahead, and help you plan your key dates and ‘to-dos’ for the coming months.

Understand tax changes

2020 is a big year for tax changes, and some of them are likely to have a real impact on landlords. Whilst not exactly a resolution, identifying tax changes that could directly affect your bottom line is something that is important to understand.

Back in 2015, changes were announced surrounding tax relief on mortgage interest payments and fees, as well as fees and interest on any loans to buy furnishings for properties, with plans for the changes to be phased out over a five-year period.  These changes were introduced in the tax year 2017/2018, with claimable relief being reduced to 75%, then down to 50% in 2018/2019, 25% in 2019/2020. By the final stage of the change, tax year 2020/2021 (which starts in April), landlords will be unable to claim any tax relief on mortgage interest payments at all.  

From then, landlords will only be able to subtract a flat 20% tax credit on any interest payments from rental income when filing a tax return.

In addition to this change (which has been five years in the pipeline) there are significant changes to Private Residence Relief being introduced, which is bad news for any landlords looking to sell a rental property.

Currently, if a landlord wants to sell a rental property that was once their home, they are able to claim Private Residence Relief for all the time that they personally lived in the property before letting it to tenants, plus an additional 18 months after moving out. This means that landlords have the potential to claim up to around £40,000 in Capital Gains Tax relief upon the sale.

Come April, this final 18-month period will be reduced to just nine months – cutting the available period in half. The landlord also has to be able to prove that they were living in the property at point of sale to be eligible to claim.

Additionally, the period for payment of the Capital Gains Tax bill will change from January 31st in the year after the sale, to just 30 days after completion.

Be environmentally aware

Many people have made new year’s resolutions to be more environmentally aware, and it’s certainly a great way to start a new decade.

For landlords, there is even more reason to be highly aware of the green routine, as any every residential property will be required to have an EPC rating of E or above from 1st April 2020, including those with existing tenancies.

The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) were introduced in March 2015, but came into force on April 1st 2018, when in order to legally grant a new tenancy, renewal or extension to a tenancy, the property had to have an EPC rating of E or above. Landlords were encouraged to make relevant changes to their properties to boost their EPC rating to avoid a hefty fine, however there are a number of exemptions available should it be impossible to crack the rating ceiling in your property.

Full details of MEES, simple changes that you can make to your property to boost your rating, and a full list of exemptions can be found here.

Change your thinking around deposits

No matter whether it is 2020 or 3020, making sure your property is properly protected has got to be high on the list for most landlords.

Following the introduction of the Tenant Fees Act back in the summer of 2019, deposits are a hot topic. As part of the changes, come June 1st 2020, landlords will only be able to take a security deposit equivalent to five weeks’ rent (or six weeks’ when the annual rent exceeds £50,000).

Landlords with existing deposits held with schemes will have to reduce the amount held by this date, and failure to do so can be a pricy mistake – with fines of anything from £5,000 to £30,000 expected.

There is no doubt that there is a lot to consider, and there is plenty to go wrong. With deposits being removed, returned, re-registered – it’s a recipe for disaster! However, there is another way…

Here at Howsy, we think it’s high time that deposits were turned on their head. Despite the five-week cap being introduced last year, the average deposit still sits at over £1,000 (£2,000 in the capital!) – a huge sum of money for tenants to stump up and often the barrier for great tenants to get their foot on the private rental ladder.

We’ve launched an innovative new system destined to change the way deposits work for everyone. Replacing the outdated lump sum payment with a small monthly fee paid by the tenant (or household), the insurance-based scheme guarantees a simple, stress-free system for the landlord, and a financially seamless option for the tenant.

You can read more about Howsy Club here.

Manifesto promises have been made, rumours have been rife, but the Queen’s Speech today confirmed that new measures are being introduced to make big changes the private rented sector. Housing is devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so these changes will only impact landlords and tenants in England.

What are the plans?

The Renters Reform Bill has been designed to introduce a ‘package of reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective rental market’, with an emphasis on:

  • Improving security for tenants in the rental sector, delivering greater protection for tenants and empowering them to hold their landlord to account.
  • Strengthening the rights of landlords who need to gain possession of their property when they have a valid reason to do so.
  • Improving the experience of those living in the private rental sector and the affordability for tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next by introducing a new lifetime deposit.
  • Improving standards in rented accommodation, driving out rogue landlords and helping to professionalise the sector, with all tenants having a right to redress if their rented properties are not safe and healthy.
  • Professionalise letting agents, to the benefit of tenants and landlords.

The main points

There are a few key elements to the bill, which could see major changes within the rental industry. One of the most notable, which has been a talking point amongst landlords, tenants and politicians for years, is the confirmation that no-fault evictions via Section 21 will be abolished. This will mean removing Section 21 from the Housing Act 1988 and reforming the grounds for possession.

Further to this change, another major reform is to the remaining possession legislation, Section 8. The act notes that landlords will be granted more rights to gain possession of their property through the courts when there is a legitimate need for them to do so, and a reform of the current legislation will be undertaken to facilitate this (you can read more about the current legislation and process here). A pledge has been made that the current court process will be improved, making the possession procedure simpler and faster, so landlords can regain possession of their property sooner should they need to under new legislation.

The government are also looking to introduce a new lifetime deposit scheme, enabling tenants to ‘port’ their deposit with them from property to property, only having to supply one deposit and transferring it to the next property when they move.

Whilst a transferable deposit would alleviate the pressure tenants face with regards to finding a deposit whilst their funds are still tied up in an existing property, raising a deposit in the first place is still a big ask for many. Here at Howsy we’ve turned the idea of deposits on their head with Howsy Club, a revolutionary scheme designed to remove the need for up-front funds from tenants, whilst still providing peace of mind and protection for landlords. You can find out more here.

The lettings world is peppered with phrases that can be confusing.

However, failing to understand the meanings behind rental regulations can land you in hot water, so don’t let key phrases get lost in translation.

Our comprehensive A to Z of the ‘Language of Lettings’ gives you a complete guide to the top phrases you need to know, helping you get fluent in landlord lingo!

A

Agent: Someone like Howsy, acting on behalf of the landlord who may be involved in the letting, rent collection, management

Arrears: Money left unpaid by a tenant after the date given in the tenancy agreement

Article 4: An Article 4 direction is a planning change which can be placed on an area, which means landlords will need planning permission if they hope to change a property from a Class C3 dwelling (standard ‘one family’ home) to a Class C4 dwelling – an HMO.

AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy): The most common form of tenancy arrangement. An assured shorthold tenancy offers the landlord a guaranteed right to repossess his/her property at the end of the term stated in the tenancy agreement. You can download a Howsy AST template here.

B

Break Clause: Usually included within a tenancy agreement, a break clause will usually allow either landlord or tenant to give written notice at any stage after a particular date or period of the tenancy, thus terminating the tenancy earlier than the end of the original fixed term.

Buy-to-Let Mortgage: A type of mortgage specifically designed for people buying a property with the intention of letting it out. Applicants are subject to the same level of testing as residential mortgages.

C

Council Tax: A local authority tax, which is usually the responsibility of the resident to pay, except in the case of HMO’s where the responsibility usually falls to the landlord.

Covenants: Rules and regulations governing a property, contained in its Title Deeds or Lease.

D

Deposit: A pre-agreed amount of money taken by the landlord or agent for security against damage to a property. The landlord or agent must protect the deposit with one of the official Government-backed schemes within 30 days of receipt and should supply anyone who has contributed to the deposit with all of the scheme’s prescribed information within that same window. At the end of the tenancy the tenant has to be notified of any deductions.

Duty of Care: An obligation to provide the correct advice regarding lettings and ensure the well being and safety of those who may visit the property.

E

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC): An EPC is a document showing a property’s energy use and typical energy costs, with ratings ranging from from A (best) to G (worst). It is a legal requirement for every rental property to have one, and no property can be let without a rating of E or above. You can find out more here.

F

Fair Wear and Tear: Fair wear and tear is damage that naturally and inevitably occurs as a result of normal wear or aging. Worn carpets, faded soft furnishings, décor needing a refresh are all issues that naturally occur in the course of daily life lived in a property (just like in your own home), and would be classed as fair wear and tear. It is unlikely that a deposit scheme would grant deductions based on these issues.

Fitness for Human Habitation Act: A piece of legislation created in 2018, that ensures landlords provide a property fit for human habitation, and gives tenants powers to take legal action against landlords for failing to adequately maintain a property.

Furnished / Part-furnished / Unfurnished: A fully furnished rental property generally includes all white goods and basic furniture (sofa, dining table and chairs, beds, wardrobes). Part-furnished usually includes white goods and large furniture, such as beds and wardrobes, Unfurnished is usually completely empty, with the potential to remove these should the tenant choose. Unfurnished is usually completely empty.

G

Gas Safety Regulations: The landlord must ensure that a gas safety check is carried out prior to a let and then annually after that. An authorised registered engineer must carry out the check and a copy of the record must also be given to the tenant within 28 days. More details are available here.

Ground Rent: The annual fee levied by the leaseholder to the freeholder.

Guarantor: A tenant may sometimes require someone to guarantee that they can pay their rent. This person is called a guarantor. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay the rent on behalf of the tenant if they are unable to meet payments, this is usually agreed in writing when the tenancy agreement is signed.

H

Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS): HHSRS is the risk-based rating system used by local authorities to assess the safety of a home when they attend to inspect. It is based on 29 hazards, ranging from damp to excess heat. You can find full details of HHSRS here.

HMO: House in multiple occupation, refers to bedsits or flats which normally offer a self-contained room with either cooking facilities in the room, a shared kitchen or shared bathroom and toilet facilities. Under the Housing Act 2004 it will cover any property occupied by more than one household that is a converted building even if the flats are not self-contained.

Household Insurance: An insurance policy that protects against loss or damage to the property caused by fire, natural causes or acts of vandalism. Most tenancy agreements require this to be taken out by the tenant.

How to Rent Booklet: This government produced guide designed to help tenants understand their rental rights and responsibilities, must be issued to tenants before the start of a tenancy. Failure to issue this document (along with a gas safety certificate and EPC) could mean that a landlord is unable to evict their tenant using a Section 21 notice should they need to. You can download the How to Rent Guide here.

I

Inventory: An inventory is a detailed report of the condition and contents of a property when your tenant takes it over. This document, which can include images and video, is referred to at the end of the tenancy as a guide to any changes to the condition of the property, and can be used to evidence any damage or change in condition.  The Deposit Adjudication process usually relies on a good inventory as evidence of the prior and current condition of a property when awarding deposit deductions, and without one you risk not being able to claim any deductions should you need to.

J

Joint Tenants: If more than one tenant is named on a tenancy, the tenants are considered joint tenants.

Joint and Several liability: If your tenants are joint tenants, they have joint and several liability for the tenancy. This means that all or any tenants can be held equally responsible for any damage or rent arrears caused by any of the named tenants.

L

Lease: A legal document by which the freehold (or leasehold) owner of a property lets the premises or a part of it to another party for a specified length of time, after the expiry of which ownership may revert to the freeholder or superior leaseholder.

Leasehold: Land or property held under a lease.

Legionella / Legionnaires’ Disease: Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella. You can read more about landlord responsibility here,

Licensing: HMO licenses are a key requirement for landlords who own HMOs, a mandatory license for large HMOs (five or more people living in two or more households) or an additional licence for a small HMO (three to four tenants living in two or more households). Selective licensing schemes are also in operation in some parts of the UK, which apply to all landlords within a geographical area. Check your local council website for details of any licensing schemes active in your area.

Let Agreed: Let agreed is the term used when a landlord is in discussions with a potential tenant, who they hope will be the perfect fit for their property. Negotiations/referencing will be underway, and the property is likely to not be being viewed by any further potential tenants. You can read more here.

M

Management: there are plenty of options available for landlords, but more and more are choosing a fully managed service, like Howsy’s, to make sure every job is done and there is no stress! A fully managed option ensures that every step of the way your property is maintained, your rent collected and your tenants looked after. At Howsy, we find you the perfect tenant, deal with every bit of paperwork, oversee every legal requirement and handle maintenance issue for you – management at its most effective. You can find out more here.

Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES): Since April 2018, MEES rules mean a landlord cannot renew or grant a new tenancy if their property has an EPC rating of F or G. The minimum standard is likely to rise further from it’ current E rating to a D by 2025 and a C rating by 2030. There are a number of steps landlords can take to make changes to their EPC rating to comply with MEES, further details are available here.

P

Peppercorn Ground Rent: A nominal periodic rent usually paid annually.

Periodic Tenancy: Once the original fixed-term of a tenancy has expired, (unless a new fixed-term is decided upon), all tenancies automatically roll over onto periodic tenancies. A periodic tenancy continues indefinitely until either the landlord or tenant gives notice.  There are pros and cons to a periodic tenancy, read more about them here.

Prescribed Information: This refers to information which must be provided to anyone who has contributed to the deposit within 30 days of the deposit having been received. It includes: the amount of the deposit, the address of the property, the name, address and contact details of the administrator of the tenancy deposit scheme, and the name, address and contact details of the landlord and tenants and any third parties who have contributed to the deposit

Public Liability Insurance: Insurance which covers injury or death to anyone on or around your property.

R

Referencing: Referencing is a series of checks looking into a tenant’s financial, employment and renting history, assessing viability to take on a property. Usually undertaken by a referencing agency, these checks can also be carried out on the tenant’s guarantor, to clarify their financial suitability to take on the responsibility of guaranteeing the tenant’s rent.

Rent Guarantee insurance: An insurance product available to landlords designed to provide cover for if your tenant defaults and fails to pay the rent.

Right to Rent: All private landlords in England have a responsibility to carry out right to rent checks on anyone over 18 living in their property. The check is designed to ensure that the individual has a legal right to be living in the UK.

S

Section 8: A section 8 notice is a document used to terminate an AST when a tenant has breached the tenancy agreement. More details on how a section 8 notice can be used, and the procedure can be found here.  

Section 21: A section 21 notice is a no-fault eviction notice with a two month notice period, which can be used when there has been no breach of tenancy agreement. There are plans for Section 21 notices to be scrapped in a bid to make renting more secure for tenants, leaving landlords reliant on Section 8 notices if possession is required.   

Section 13: A section 13 notice is the notice required to be served if a landlord is looking to increase rent and has not included details of the increase in the tenancy agreement.  

Stamp Duty Land Tax: When an individual purchases a property in the UK, they pay stamp duty. Landlords purchasing a property to let pay an additional 3% stamp duty on top of the standard rates, however properties valued at £40,000 or less do not attract the surcharge.

T

Tenancy Agreement: A key document, your tenancy agreement is key to ensuring the safety of both landlord and tenant. Outlining the requirements of both parties, as well as information about the property, the document provides all the vital information needed to help ensure the tenancy progresses smoothly. You can download a free tenancy agreement template here.

Tenant Fee Ban: Introduced on June 1st, 2019, the Tenant Fee Ban legislation came in to force in England in a bid to clamp down on unfair charges being levied against tenants. Landlords and letting agents are no longer able to charge additional fees that are not ‘Permitted Payments’ under the new legislation. You can read more about the act here.

Y

Yield: Profit from a property calculated as a percentage of its value.

Z

Zero deposits: As part of the Tenant Fee Ban, a deposit cap of five weeks was introduced. Many landlords were keen to explore alternative methods of protecting their properties, and helping keep the price of renting down for tenants. Howsy is passionate about revolutionising the rental market, and has a great scheme designed to turn traditional deposit methods on their head. Howsy Club provides all the security of a traditional deposit for landlords, but with no upfront cost for tenants. There’s loads more great features too – you can find out more here.  

What is a legionella risk assessment?

A legionella risk assessment is a test that you can carry out on the water systems in your property to test for Legionnaires disease.

Legionnaires disease is an infection of the lungs, a form of extreme pneumonia, which is often contracted though inhaling infected droplets of water. Whilst uncommon it can be very serious, and for the elderly, young children, or those suffering with prior health conditions it can even be fatal. Symptoms include a bad cough, severe chest pains, feeling feverish with a high temperature, and flu-like symptoms. The bacteria, which is found in infected water, can land a victim in hospital, requiring heavy antibiotics treatment for up to three weeks.

What is the prime location for the bacteria?

A hot or cold water system can provide a perfect a host ground for Legionella bacteria, who need an optimal temperature of between 20°C and 45°C and ‘food’ (rust, sludge, biofilm) in which to thrive. The bacteria dies at temperatures over 60°C.

Any size system is able to play host to these critters, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you don’t have huge lengths of pipework and massive water tanks, your property is immune.

Is it a legal requirement to have a legionella risk assessment?

It is not a legal requirement to carry out a specific test for legionnaires disease – the HSE does not recognise a Legionella Test Certificate, and landlords are not required to have one.

However, a landlord does have a few legal requirements surrounding these pesky bacteria that they must abide by in order to keep on the right side of letting laws.

Duties are placed on landlords under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA), the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

Specifically, Section 3(2) of the HSWA 1974 states “It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”

Landlords, under Section 53 of the HSWA 1974, are regarded as being self-employed and tenants, residents and visitors fall into the class of “other persons (not being his employees)”. Landlords may also be regarded as ‘persons having control of premises’ as described in Section 4. These duties include carrying out a risk assessment (or arranging for someone else to do so) to assess for conditions that can encourage the spread of Legionella, and subsequently mitigating or controlling such conditions.

There are legislative requirements with regards to general water supplied to a rental property too. A landlord has a responsibility under the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) to keep the supply of water (and gas/electric) in good repair at the property. You can read more about your general landlord responsibilities here.

Who can perform a risk assessment for legionella?

You can.

There are plenty of organisations that will carry out the test for you if you are not feeling confident about doing it yourself. But do make sure that they provide you with clear documentation about what they have done, and when they did it. This forms your paper trail of evidence, so should you ever have to prove that you carried out due diligence in looking after the water systems in your property, you have documents to prove everything that you did.

How do you do it?

The assessment is relatively simple, but it is good practice to make sure that results and procedures are documented to prove what has been done, and when.

You should make sure that you note down:

  • Who is carrying out the assessment, and what steps they are taking to complete it.
  • Any significant findings.
  • The dates in which the check is carried out, and any further actions needed (and subsequent dates of action).

It is a good idea to carry out the basic test at the start of every new tenancy, and during periodic inspections. If you are scheduled to attend your property for gas safety checks or for maintenance visits, it’s a great idea to see if you can schedule a test in at the same time.

All you need to do to carry out the assessment is:

  • Identify whether any water is stored or re-circulated as part of the system (particular areas of risk include water tanks, rarely used shower heads and long runs of pipe work that contain warm water.
  • Identify whether the water temperature in some or all parts of the system is between 20°C – 45°C, with any ho water being stored in tanks at over 60°C .
  • Are there any ‘food sources’ available within the water system, such as rust, sludge or biofilms. These could be present if a tank lid is ill-fitting, for example.  
  • Is it possible for water droplets to be produced and, if so, whether they could be dispersed – showers and air-conditioning units are among the worst offenders.
  • Identify whether there are there any parts of the water system that are used infrequently. Guest bathrooms or air-conditioning units that are not used during winter months, for example.
  • Identify whether any of your tenants or their regular visitors more at risk due to age, health or lifestyle, and could they be exposed to any contaminated water.

You can download a guide to carrying out the risk assessment here.

How can you prevent legionella risk?

As well as carrying out regular risk assessments, there are ways in which you can help prevent the risk of legionella in your property in the first place with a few simple steps.

Key steps you can take include:

  • Avoid water temperatures that aid the growth of legionella bacteria
  • Remove lengths of redundant pipework and keep your system as short as possible, giving water less space to stagnate within internal pipework.
  • Make sure water systems are kept moving, and encourage your tenants to utilise all water sources in the property – water left in a guest showerhead can be a perfect breeding ground!
  • Flush the entire systems prior to letting the property. Make sure you run all taps and showers for a short while, to run all stagnant water through the system.
  • Ensure all standing water tanks are well sealed and no external matter is able to enter the system.
  • If you are installing a new water system, consider instant water heater options, such as combi-boilers and electric showers over water storage solutions.  

What is a Section 8 notice?

A Section 8 notice, also known as a Section 8 Possession Notice, is a document issued to a tenant when a landlord wishes to regain possession of their property.

So-named because it is outlined in Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, the notice can be issued to a tenant who has breached the terms of the tenancy agreement, or when certain circumstances surrounding the property have changed, rendering the original terms of the tenancy agreement void.

Not to be confused with the other possession notice – Section 21 – serving a Section 8 notice does not guarantee that possession will be granted. 

When can a Section 8 notice be served?

In order to issue a Section 8 notice, a landlord has to specify the reason that the eviction must take place.

The grounds for possession are outlined under Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988, fall into 2 main categories, mandatory and discretionary. 

Mandatory Grounds: If a notice is served on the basis of one of these grounds, a court must serve possession to the landlord.

  • Ground 1: The landlord requires possession of the property in order to use it as their main residence. This is only relevant if the landlord can prove that the property was their main residence prior to the tenancy starting.
  • Ground 2: If the property has a mortgage, the mortgagee is exercising a power of sale
  • Ground 3: The tenancy has a fixed term of no more than eight months, and the property previously used as a holiday let and is to be returned to the status of holiday let.
  • Ground 4: The tenancy has a fixed term of no more than twelve months, and is let as student accommodation outside of term time. Written notice that this may happen must be served before the tenancy begins.
  • Ground 5: The property is owned by a religious body and they require possession for Minister of Religion.
  • Ground 6: The property requires redevelopment/significant building works, requiring the demolish or reconstruction of the whole or a substantial part of the property. The tenant must either have denied on a variation of the tenancy to allow such works, or it be impractical to remain in the property whilst works are carried out.
  • Ground 7: If the tenant ‘inherited’ the tenancy following the death of the original tenant, and is not named on the original tenancy agreement. The notice must be served within twelve months of the death of the named tenant
  • Ground 7A: The tenant has been convicted of a serious offence, or breached an Anti-Social-Behaviour-Order (ASBO), in the property, against a person residing in the locality of the property, or against the landlord.
  • Ground 7B: If the landlord receives correspondence from the Secretary of State that the tenant is disqualified as a result of their immigration status from occupying the property under the tenancy.
  • Ground 8: The tenant has failed to pay more than eight weeks rent in the case of weekly payments, two months in the case of monthly payments or one quarter in the case of quarterly payments.

Discretionary grounds: If a notice is served on the basis of one of these grounds, the court has the right to choose whether or not to issue possession.

  • Ground 9: Suitable accommodation of the same type and quality has been offered to the tenant and refused.
  • Ground 10: The tenant has accrued some rent arrears but by no more than eight weeks in the case of weekly payments, two months in the case of monthly payments and one quarter in the case of quarterly payments.
  • Ground 11: Whether or not any rent is in arrears on the date on which proceedings for possession are begun, the tenant has persistently delayed paying rent when it is due.
  • Ground 12: The tenant has breached any of the terms listed in the tenancy agreement (other than that of rent payment).
  • Ground 13: The condition of the property has deteriorated due to neglect or damage by the tenant, or another individual who the tenant has sublet the property to.
  • Ground 14: The tenant is has engaged in activity that has caused a nuisance to visitors, neighbours or other tenants.
  • Ground 14a: For use only by social landlords/charitable housing trusts. If the property is occupied by a couple and one of them leaves due to violence, or threats of violence form the partner (or partners family) who is also living in the property.
  • Ground 15: The condition of any furniture listed on the inventory has been sold, or deteriorated due to misuse or damage by the tenant, or another individual who the tenant has sublet the property to.
  • Ground 16: The property was let to the tenant as a condition of their employment but the employment has now come to an end.
  • Ground 17: The tenancy was granted on the basis of false information provided by the tenant or one of their referees or guarantors.

How long is the notice period for a Section 8 notice?

The notice period that a landlord is required to give to their tenant after issuing a Section 8 notice varies depending on the grounds in which the notice was issued.

  • Ground 1: Two months
  • Ground 2: Two months
  • Ground 3: Two weeks
  • Ground 4: Two weeks
  • Ground 5: Two months
  • Ground 6: Two months
  • Ground 7: Two months
  • Ground 7A: At least a month
  • Ground 7B: Two weeks
  • Ground 8: Two weeks
  • Ground 9: Two months
  • Ground 10: Two weeks
  • Ground 11: Two weeks
  • Ground 12: Two weeks
  • Ground 13: Two weeks
  • Ground 14: 24 hours (If used without Ground 7a. If combined with Ground 7a, a month)
  • Ground 14a: Two weeks
  • Ground 15: Two weeks
  • Ground 16: Two months
  • Ground 17: Two weeks

If a combination of ground 14 and ground 7a are used, the notice period is 24 hours.

How do you serve a notice?

A Section 8 notice is an important document, and you must be sure that you serve it correctly, and be sure that your tenant has received it, in order for it to be valid and the repossession of the property to proceed. You can download a Section 8 notice to complete here.

Be careful to make sure that the tenant’s names and address are completed exactly as they appear on the tenancy agreement, and you are sure to list all of the grounds under which possession is being sought.

If you are using the grounds of rent arrears, make sure the exact figures are noted, and up to date. It is a good ideal to send detailed rent schedules to your tenant (not too often, it could be classed as harassment) outlining outstanding balances and upcoming payments due. Keep a record of all correspondence and try to ascertain in writing the reason for the arrears, and confirm that they are not due to any dispute with you.

A copy of this document should be completed for every tenant, any guarantors that are associated with the tenants (more details of guarantors rights are available here), and the court. You also need to keep a copy for yourself.

Once complete, you need to make sure your tenant receives a copy of the notice. You can deliver this in a number of ways:

Hand delivered

If you choose to hand deliver the form, take an independent witness with you to clarify that the form has been delivered. Your witness should must be over 18, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and in sane mind. They may have to appear in court later in the process, so make the aware that this may be required. Ask your witness to sign and date a document stating that they accompanied you to the delivery, and witnessed you serving the notice.

Also, take a photograph of you serving the notice at the property. Some digital cameras offer timestamping on images, or there are downloadable smartphone apps that offer this facility, so make sure the image is time stamped too.

If you are able to obtain a signature from your tenant acknowledging receipt of the notice, this is ideal.

First class post

If you cannot, or do not want to attend the property, you can also serve the notice by post. Take the document to a Post Office, where the counter staff can issue you with a certificate to prove that it has been posted, and on which date. Do not use ‘signed for’ postal options.

Don’t forget that you should also serve a notice to any guarantors who are linked to the tenants.

Applying for possession

Once the notice has expired (timeframes above) you can then apply to the court for an order to evict your tenant. The order will also demand that any outstanding rent is paid (if this is the grounds specified) and the tenant may be required to pay the costs associated with the court application.

At this stage, you need to complete the following forms:

Form N5: Claim form for possession of property (download here): This form outlines the ground that you are using. You should complete one copy to be submitted to court, and one copy for each tenant (and any guarantors), and one for you. 

N119 Particulars of Claim for Possession (download here): this form should be used to tell a court why you are seeking possession, for example if a tenant hasn’t complied with tenancy terms  – this is where you give additional information about the tenancy.

N215 Certificate of Service (download here): this form tells the court which documents you served, who you served them on, and when, where and how you served them. It will be used when applying for the final possession order.

Once complete, you can apply to the County Court most local to the property for a hearing. This will cost £355. Take all competed forms, along with any supporting evidence such as witness statements and rent schedules/correspondence. There, the court administrators will prepare a Notice of Issue (Form N206), providing you with a case reference and hearing date. This is usually about six weeks, but can be longer in large towns and cities.

A letter will be sent to your tenant summoning them to court, which they have 14 days to respond to. During a hearing, a judge will examine the evidence provided and decided whether to grant possession of the property.

If the judge is satisfied with your case, you will be granted a Possession Order, giving your tenant a set amount of time to vacate the property. If they fail to do so, court instructed bailiffs can be instructed on your application.

A Suspended Possession Order could be awarded in the case of justifiable rent arrears. If the tenant agrees to pay off the arrears over a set period, the judge may suspend possession, on the basis that payments are made. Should the tenant fail to keep up with repayments, the landlord could reapply to the court and the order would be likely to be granted.

A judge may choose to adjourn a case should they determine that further evidence is needed to come to a satisfactory conclusion, or if the breach is not serious enough to justify a Possession Order.

Proceedings can be Dismissed if the judge deems that the notices have been served incorrectly, lack supporting evidence or the situation is complete. In this instance, the tenant could claim costs against the landlord.

If the judge feels that there is no defence, they could call a summary judgement, and save the cost of the trial by not even bringing the case to court.

What is the difference between a Section 8 and a Section 21?

Both Section 8 and Section 21 notices can be used to serve notice on your tenant, however, that is where the similarities end.

Unlike Section 8, a Section 21 notice is a ‘no fault’ notice, and can be served on your tenant even if the tenancy agreement hasn’t been breached, or property circumstances haven’t changed in any way. As long as the application for the notice is valid, and you have fully complied with all landlord legislation (correctly handling deposit procedure, maintenance and associated paperwork – more details available here) your tenant is unable to defend against a Section 21 notice, and you will be able to gain repossession of your property.

A section 21 cannot be issued until four months into the tenancy, however a Section 8 can be issued as soon as the breach of tenancy agreement has occurred, or in the case of rent arrears, once there are two months monies outstanding. Breach notice periods range from no notice required to two months’ notice.

A Section 21 notice cannot be used to recover any unpaid rent. You can choose to make a separate claim for unpaid rent once you have your property back in your possession at any time within six years.

However, due to the fact that this notice can be used to evict people from their properties when not at fault, a Section 21 does have a two-month notice period. Your tenant will be notified of the date in which they must vacate the property, and if they fail to do so the process can be elevated to court, whereby the court can issue a possession order and an eviction is carried out by court bailiffs.

What is let, or let agreed?

Let agreed is the term used when a tenant and landlord are proceeding with the process of checks, referencing and paperwork that takes place before progressing to the signing of the tenancy agreement. Here at Howsy, we aim to turn this information round in between three to five working days, so it isn’t too long to wait.

During this period both parties have committed to proceeding with the agreement, but no legal documents have been signed, so there is no legal come back if it doesn’t go ahead for any reason.

However, it is generally agreed that neither party will be exploring other options (landlords usually won’t be showing the property to other prospective tenants, and tenants are usually committed to this property) whilst this stage moves on.

Can let agreed fall through?

Let agreed can fall though, and there may be a couple of reasons that this could happen.

From a tenant’s point of view, they may decide that the property is not for them, or they may not pass referencing checks. The landlord may choose to explore options with another potential tenant, or to hold off letting the property immediately. Whilst frustrating, until a tenancy agreement has been signed, neither party has any legal recourse if this happens.

Is a tenancy application form legally binding?

No, a tenancy application form is simply a method of supplying data to an agent or landlord to process an application. All data will be held in the correct way as per GDPR, but supplying it does not give any rights to the property.

When does a tenancy agreement become legally binding?

A tenancy agreement becomes legally binding as soon as it is signed by all relevant parties – the landlord/s, and all tenants. There are certain elements that it is vital that a tenancy agreement should include, such as:

  • The names of the tenant/s
  • The names and contact details of the landlord/s (or UK representative)
  • Full address of the property being let
  • The start date of the tenancy
  • The length of the tenancy
  • The rent payable
  • The date rent is due
  • Details of the deposit protection scheme

Unlike some contracts, there is no cooling off period with tenancy agreements. As soon as all parties have signed the document, it is legally binding and all parties have agreed to comply with the contents.

Your tenancy agreement is the legal document that keeps you and your tenants safe as you enter into the tenancy. Make sure you are using a document that is watertight. You can download free a Howsy template here

Can a tenant or landlord change their mind before signing a tenancy agreement?

Yes, until all signatures are on the tenancy agreement, there is no legal binding contract.

However, when a tenant has undergone referencing and details have been finalised, it is not great practice to pull out of an agreement, so it is best to voice any concerns early if you have any doubts.  

Is an unwritten tenancy agreement enforceable in court?

It is possible to enter into a tenancy agreement without a written contract, but this is a VERY BAD IDEA!

A verbal agreement is a form of contract, however if the agreement hasn’t been written down in any way, there is no evidence from either party of the terms which were agreed on. This leaves both landlord and tenant in a very vulnerable position should the tenancy ever need to be ended, or the tenancy ends up in court.

It will be nigh on impossible to prove what was agreed, so a judge will have to draw conclusions on any disagreements based on evidence available. It is unlikely that you will have gathered evidence over the course of a tenancy, so any case is likely to be fairly weak.

Does let agreed mean a property is no longer available?

A let agreed property is still theoretically be available, but it does usually mean that there is a tenant undergoing checks with a view to take on the property.

If you are a tenant looking to find your perfect property, and you fall in love with a ‘let agreed’ home, don’t stop your search on the off chance – there may be a slim hope that the property will become available, however you don’t want to hang your hopes on this!

The Howsy team are delighted to announce that we are the proud winners of the 2019 LIS Award for Best Online Agency.

The award, presented last night at the National LIS Awards, recognises the hard work and dedication delivered by the entire Howsy team, and we are honoured to receive it.

Up against some stiff competition, our nomination underwent a tough grilling by the judges – a panel made up of some of the biggest names in the property world – before an online voting system was opened to the public to choose their winner. A huge thank you to everyone who voted for us, we really couldn’t have done this without you!

‘I couldn’t be prouder of the entire team, this is an incredible achievement and one that we have worked really hard for,’ said Calum Brannan, CEO of Howsy.

‘Every member of the Howsy team is passionate about providing the very best support possible to our landlords and tenants, and I am delighted that this dedication has been recognised with such an exciting industry award.’

‘As well as the recognition from such a prestigious judging panel, it means a huge amount to us all that so many of our customers took the time to vote for us. We’ll definitely be back at the LIS Awards next year, ready to defend our title!’