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Housing Association to take development to the Planning Inspectorate

Residents of a small housing estate in Coventry must go back to court to keep their privacy after a housing association plan to appeal against the decision which refused their plan to demolish garages and replace them with houses. Whitefriars was refused permission in August to build three houses in Wyken.

At the time residents were delighted with the decision after they had fought for almost three years to stop the plan, which they feel would increase traffic, block out light and most importantly ruin their privacy. Whitefriars plan to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate which will consider whether to overturn the decision of Coventry City Council’s planning committee.

Ann Love, who has campaigned against the plan, said “I can’t believe it. Its four months since the decision was made and we’ve been given just three weeks to make representations. We thought it was over. We’re tired of fighting; I don’t think many of us have got much fight left in us. We’ve got to write to the Secretary of State with our grievances and send copies to the inspectorate in Bristol. We’re just so disappointed and disgusted with the way Whitefriars are continuing to try and push this through. The traffic in the close has actually increased since the decision was made in July.”

Whitefriars Housing is Coventry’s largest social landlord and has thousands of properties which are all protected with landlord insurance. They are also one of the country’s most successful post transfer social housing organisations. A spokesman for Whitefriars Housing said they were disappointed at the original decision which stopped them providing three new, three-bedroom homes, which would be offered at affordable rents to three families who are on low incomes. With a growing demand for affordable housing in the city, Whitefriars believe housing those in desperate need of shelter should be a priority.

Boscombe rented properties to be subject to inspections

Council officers in Boscombe will be working with the owners of all kinds of rented accommodation in the area to see if improvements are needed and how quickly they can be carried out. There are in excess of 1,300 privately-rented properties which have been identified as being below standard in what is the most deprived area in the south west.

The inspections will begin later this month in a bid to improve standards and the council will be advising private landlords about providing their tenants with adequate heating, access to amenities, and making sure that their property is well maintained. The council want to send a clear message that it will not be acceptable for tenants to live in properties that are well below the acceptable standard. Residents recently launched a petition calling for an increase in inspections and they are delighted that the council is taking action. The local council want to work in partnership with local landlords to help raise the standards of living conditions for Boscombe residents. Many of Boscombe’s rented homes are owned by Dave Wells Properties who protect all of their dwellings with buy to let insurance as a matter of course, and keep an on call maintenance team at the ready. The company has welcomed the initiative.

Steve Wells, of Dave Wells Properties, said “We are well aware of these inspections, which are part of Bournemouth council’s work to regenerate Boscombe and improve standards. We’ve had dialogue with Bournemouth council already and this is an initiative that we welcome as we are continually investing in and improving our properties.”

A spokesman for Boscombe Area Regeneration Group said that Boscombe Spa and Gardens are a wonderful example of what can be achieved with the right level of investment and community commitment, and that dialogue between all concerned parties will foster better conditions for everyone.

Proposed merger will affect 70,000 tenants

Synergy Housing and Aster Group are holding merger talks that would create a 26,000 home social landlord. It is believed by both groups that merging will deliver a much improved service for what would be a combined 70,000 customers across Southern and South West England.

The organisations, who between them employ over 2,000 staff, say they intend to discuss the details of the merger with all tenants, local authority partners and the regulatory authorities along with the stakeholders. The merger of the two social landlords will provide financial savings of around £8m during the first five years. It will also boost their joint borrowing capacity and give them better options for funding.

Both organisations feel the main objectives from the merger will be to make sure they have the future resources and funding to continue for many years while providing a service to meet the tenant’s needs. They also anticipate making savings on such things as property insurance and maintenance bills. Synergy and Aster will spend the next six months developing the proposal and if all goes well the merger will happen in autumn 2012.

Synergy Chief Executive, Graeme Stanley, said “Synergy and Aster are very similar organisations and are passionate about the same things, in particular ensuring that tenants and customers are at the heart of our business and delivering services locally. This proposed merger would provide exciting opportunities for both our customers and staff. If we come together we’ll be a major provider of housing, care and support in the Central South and South West. We’ll be able to have more influence and strength to change and improve things for our tenants and other customers.”

Buy to let investors set for a good year

A well known online letting agency is forecasting a good year for property investors but warning them to get ample landlord insurance as they forecast rents will rise but so will rent arrears.

Upad were one of the first online letting agents in the UK and have seen their business grow massively in the last couple of years. There cut price fees have seen landlords rush to use online advertising as opposed to traditional methods, and at a time when tenants are crying out for good accommodation, Upad founder James Davis predicts 2012 will be a great year for residential landlords across the country. He explained: “There are a number of things we predict to arise in the UK Buy-to-Let market in 2012, namely that we will see first time buyers struggling to get on the ladder even with a deposit as banks will require an ‘uber’ credit rating, despite lending at 6%+.

“In addition, we also estimate that interest rates will stay at around 0.5% then fall lower by Q3 while the not unlikely collapse of the EU in Q2 will force banks to shut up shop as they won’t have cash reserves to lend. However, on the flip side, most landlords do have cash reserves, pensions, savings and equity in the homes they have access to, and falling house prices next year will mean that those with cash will be able to snap up good deals from distressed sellers.”

Other experts in the sector broadly agree with Davis although most believe London will once again outstrip the rest of the country when it comes to higher rental achievements. Almost all experts anticipate rental arrears will soar as tenants lose their jobs or find cuts in housing benefit leave them unable to find their rent which will mean landlords will rely more and more on information available when they select tenants for their properties.

Students are still being taken in by property scams

Students who are looking for a place to stay while they study are being warned about a scam in which they are fleeced before they even see the property.

The NUS (National Union of Students) have confirmed that the number of students being taken in by adverts posted on the internet where fake landlords demand a deposit is increasing. The problem has been made worse by the high number of students who are seeking private accommodation and this is pushing many of them on to unregulated websites.

The NUS spokesman said: “The fraudulent landlords who post the adverts require prospective tenants to transfer money as holding deposits without visiting the property – or to prove they have money in order to rent by transferring money to a friend and sending proof.

Fraudulent adverts most often appear on free advertising websites as there is no cost to advertise the fake property. The easiest way to avoid being victim to these scammers is to use your common sense – if the price or location looks too good, then it probably is.”

That advice does not always work with students who are not familiar with the area, particularly overseas students. It is these overseas students that do not realise that £75 per week for a property in Russell Square, London is unbelievable. They will pay a holding deposit which they will never see again. The advice from the NUS is: do not pay a holding deposit, rent or any money without first visiting a property. All universities will have a list of recognised landlords who will have to comply with all legislation and property insurance demands, and they will remove any landlords who behave unscrupulously. Both the NUS and the universities are quick to point out that the vast majority of landlords are legitimate and trustworthy but should be asked to prove their legitimacy.

Rate a tenant website launched in Croydon

A controversial system to rate tenants and help landlords select the correct type of clientèle for their properties has been launched in Croydon.

The scheme devised by local landlord Steve Hanbury will invite other local landlords to rate their tenants on a number system which will enable local buy-to-let investors to inspect the tenant history of prospective customers. The scheme will rate good tenants on a 1 to 5 basis with those not considered quite so good rated between 6 and 8. Landlords rating tenants between 6 and 8 must provide evidence as to why they rate them so badly. The ratings will be put on the website for those registered to see and tenants will be able to contest their rating if they feel it is unfair. Tenants will only be rated when they leave a property.

Mr Hanbury explained: “We have got a portfolio of some 50 properties, mainly in the Thornton Heath area. We have had good tenants but also not-so-good tenants, which means we have lost huge amounts of money in the past. There are websites which set out to identify bad tenants – we are not one of those. We believe that tenants with a good rating under our scheme will be able to impress future landlords, which will make it easier for them to find a new tenancy when they need it.”

Tenant arrears are becoming more of a problem for many landlords as the financial downturn continues, and although a good landlord insurance policy can protect property investors to a certain extent it remains a worry for many. Local landlord John Cooke said: “I have not signed up to this website yet but can see its potential. The last thing any landlord wants is a bad tenant and spending a few pounds to avoid that is definitely worthwhile.”

Homeowners becoming reluctant landlords as property market stagnates

The number of “reluctant landlords” is on the increase as the amount of properties coming into the rental sector simply because they cannot be sold is threatening to flood the market.

ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents) say that during the third quarter of 2011, almost half (49%) of members surveyed reported a noticeable increase in the number of unplanned lettings as property owners are turning to the privately rented sector because they are unable to sell their home. In England, this trend was more noticeable in the North West and North East where respondents reported an increase in rental property coming onto the market because the home has been on the market for so long without being sold. Members in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also reported an increase. The only exception throughout the UK is Central London where the increase was only 17%. ARLA believe that this means some homeowners are having no other option but to become a landlord for the first time, many of them reluctantly.

ARLA report that the most likely types of home to be brought to market by a reluctant landlord are detached and semi-detached houses, while least likely are studio flats. They also suggest enlisting a managing agent who will be able to find and vet tenants as well as managing the property. ARLA also urge any property owner who has no experience as a landlord to get a landlord property insurance quote before committing to any one company.

ARLA President, Tim Hyatt, said “Letting a property is an excellent way of generating consistent income from your property, if the correct approach is adopted by prospective landlords. However, letting is an unregulated industry and there can be pitfalls for both landlord and tenant, including loss of monies. While we are, of course, happy to see an increase in the number of landlords, it is vital that every landlord – reluctant or keen – seeks expert advice before embarking on a rental arrangement. In particular, we would advise anyone considering renting or letting a property, to consult a licensed ARLA member.”

Dumfries Council vows to track down every single rogue landlord

A campaign launched by a Scottish Council to find landlords not signed up to local authority landlord registration schemes has resulted in 1,029 owners added to the register.

The Landlords Registration Scheme was introduced by the Scottish Government almost six years ago and made it an offence for a private landlord to rent a property without first being registered with their local authority. It was devised to ensure that tenants could be guaranteed their accommodation would be up to a certain standard. The scheme requires the landlord to have correct certification and buy to let insurance. At the start, around 1,350 private landlords did not hesitate to sign up to the scheme which is there for the benefit of both landlords and tenants.

There were many more unregistered, however, and this led to the council appointing a registration manager eighteen months ago. In that time the number of landlords registering has soared. Any private landlord who refuses to sign up faces a massive fine of £5,000 and the possibility of having their rental income seized under the Antisocial Behaviour Act.

A council spokesman said: “On August 17, 2010, the council’s resources committee agreed to establish a new post of HMO licensing/landlord registration manager to provide the necessary resource to develop a more rigorous monitoring and compliance regime. This decision was implemented, resulting in significant improvements in performance. At October 31, 2010, there were 3,616 approved landlord registrations in Dumfries and Galloway.”

When an application to join the register is submitted, checks are made to see if the landlord has committed any criminal offences such as fraud or violence. It costs £55 for a landlord to register and a further £11 for each property that they rent out.

Private landlords are not behind revamp of run down area

Private landlords in a part of Glasgow have surprised council leaders by not supporting a redevelopment plan for the area. Clune Park has suffered for some time from poor housing and poverty and it had been hoped that the owners of the properties would back the plan.

The regeneration plan would see over four-hundred homes demolished and rebuilt. However, flattening the properties and rebuilding would cost in excess of £15 million. A meeting was recently held with around twenty-five private landlords representing their interests as the owners of the majority of the vacant and tenanted properties. Although the great majority of the landlords revealed they had property insurance on the buildings, they were still worried they would lose out financially if the plans go ahead. Inverclyde Council officials and Ward 1 councillors also attended the meeting where all options to move the plans forward were revealed by the council.

A council spokesman said: “A full explanation of the strategy as set out in the regeneration plan was given and private landlords had the opportunity to question the officers and members on a wide range of topics arising out of the presentation on the plan. The majority of the landlords appeared to be very unsupportive of the plan, some of which are proposing to renovate their flats and suggest they would present renovation proposals to the council. It was agreed that private landlords would be kept apprised of progress as the plan is rolled out.”

A housing survey has been carried out showing both the occupied and unoccupied properties in the area. The council wants to identify whole blocks that can be issued with closing orders and demolished under housing legislation. Discussions have also been held with a social landlord whom the council would like to rehouse any tenant who needs to be moved out. The council has already committed £500,000 to the regeneration of the area.

Tenants set to benefit from NLA and council alliance

A County Council in the North East is joining forces with a national landlord organisation in a bid to improve the conditions for tenants living in private accommodation.

Northumberland County Council and the National Landlord Association (NLA) are to work together on an accreditation scheme for private landlords that should raise the standard of private housing throughout the area. Both parties already have voluntary schemes in operation and the best parts of both will be brought together to the benefit of tenants living in the homes.

The council scheme was purely voluntary and owners received accreditation if the property was free from category 1 hazards, had an energy performance certificate, electric and gas safety certificates and was protected by landlord insurance. The NLA scheme concentrates more on landlord development, whereby landlords are compelled to complete a foundation course on the day to day problems landlords encounter including taxation, legislation, and property management.

Tom Brechany, the councillor representing the housing Sector of Northumberland County Council, said “I am delighted to announce this partnership with the NLA, which is designed to build on the good work that the council has undertaken since the spring of 2010 to raise standards and recognise good practice in the private rented sector across the county. I look forward to hearing that the numbers of landlords and properties involved has increased even further over the next 12 months.”

There is no doubt the scheme should attract plenty of interest. Signatories will get free property advertising on the Northumberland Homefinder, council help with any tenant led anti-social behaviour problems, and a dedicated accredited landlords’ email address for use on all council related issues such as housing benefit and local housing allowance. The partnership will last for one year after which the agreement will be reviewed.