Access all areas?

Most residential leases include a clause that allows landlords access to flats, if it is for one of the reasons laid down in the lease. Simple enough you might think. Well, not necessarily, as the recent case of New Crane Wharf Freehold Limited v Dovener shows. The question raised here is whether or not a leaseholder who does not give prior permission for the landlord to enter their flat for a legitimate reason, is in breach of their lease.

The terms of the lease in question allowed the landlord access as long as the flat owner was given at least 48 hours’ notice. However, when the landlord gave a time and date to inspect the flat, he heard nothing apart from an email from the leaseholder stating that he wasn’t happy about the landlord entering his property. A second letter was sent, including a new date for entry to the property. Again, there was no reply.

The landlord took the case to the First Tier Tribunal, arguing that the leaseholder’s failure to answer his letters was a breach of covenant. However the FTT disagreed and ruled against the landlord. The reason given was that the lease did not specify that the landlord could only gain access after gaining confirmation that the time and date given was acceptable.

The landlord then appealed but the appeal failed too. Again, the reasoning was that there was no evidence that the leaseholder refused entry at the date and time specified by the landlord and so the leaseholder was not found to be in breach of the lease.

This is a technical point but an important one for landlords. There are two lessons to be learned here. First, when landlords want to access a property, they must think hard about the wording of the notice they issue.

And second, when access is required – and is acceptable under the lease terms – it seems that landlords should go ahead and try to gain entry on the time and date specified in the notice, regardless of whether or not they have received a response from the leaseholder. This is potentially time-consuming but any other approach may end up being even more so, as this landlord found out.

At Ringley we have our own in-house legal department. Our qualified specialists are always on hand to offer advice and help you navigate the complexities of leasehold law. So if you have any questions relating to your lease or any other legal matters, contact us at http://www.ringleylaw.co.uk

What will the flat of the future look like?

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Fancy a wind turbine on your roof? Well, in a few years’ time, according to Aldous Hicks from Recircle Recycling, you could be seeing them everywhere on the skyline. Climate change is making an impact on the way we live and in future we will be installing a whole range of eco-friendly devices in our homes to help reduce our carbon footprint and ramp up our ability to reduce, re-use and recycle products that we now just throw away. Here are some of Recircle’s favourites.

New storage batteries currently in development promise to unlock a range of in-home energy production methods. Batteries will then be able to store power at a local level and perhaps even distribute power across a community. But what will we use to generate power?

That could be solar tiles – which are a step up from the bulky panels we’re all familiar with because they are smaller and more flexible. They can be retrofitted onto any property with a roof, although the drawback is the low energy production they offer in less sunny countries. So in the UK, we may be stuck with solar panels for a bit longer.

Back to those wind turbines. Imagine fitting an attractive and super-efficient wind turbine on your roof that’s a piece of art as well as generating almost all the power needed. Take the Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine from Dutch tech firm, The Archimedes, shown above. The spiral design resembles a big rotating flower. At 80% efficiency, it is a forerunner of the high-efficiency turbines of the future.

Something really exciting is the bio-fuel synthesiser. Scientists are now working with microorganisms that can break down organic material and CO2, passing the energy straight into a battery. Food waste and human excrement will feed the machine, providing energy-free sewage treatment and no need for composting. Bio-fuel synthesisers will be fitted to our toilets and waste disposal pipes, turning our organic waste into clean energy.

But what about other kinds of waste? A closed-loop economy means processing products and packaging back into their original form, or equivalent. At the moment, we can’t do this because of the high cost and low-reliability of separating out different materials for recycling.

So ReCircle is working on a home and business appliance to do this. It will use a sensor to ensure different materials are never put together. This means the inherent material value is not lost due to being mixed with other different materials – the major problem with the current recycling system.

The near-pure used-materials are washed, ground or compacted to contaminant-free sized-reduced pure products ready for storage. The pure close-loop recyclable products will then be collected on-demand from buildings when the storage containers are full.

It may even be possible to combine technologies like a recycling appliance and a 3D printer, ensuring that everything you print can be reprocessed into future ‘ink’ to make more products. Individual homes and other buildings could instantly become closed-loop in themselves.



 

Section 21 changes: making them work

Yesterday’s blog looked at the problems that could be caused for the rental sector by the proposal to scrap “no-fault” Section 21 evictions.

The government proposes to effectively make tenancies open-ended while at the same time strengthening the rights of landlords who want to recover their properties by giving the Section 8 process more teeth. Getting this right will make or break the planned change in the law. Get it wrong and the government risks seriously damaging the rental sector – which is already struggling to meet the demand for housing.

The average time it takes for a private landlord to repossess a property via the current system is nearly four months, according to data from the Ministry of Justice published in Landlord Today this week. This is completely unacceptable. All landlords know that eviction of any kind is a last resort. And even official figures point to the fact that only 10% of tenancies are ended by the landlord, not the tenant. All other things being equal, they have a better investment with a long term tenant where there is no void rent loss and less move-in-move-out wear and tear.  But there are legitimate reasons why a buy-to-let landlord may need to evict someone when they have a change of circumstances and that situation must be supported by an efficient court process.

In Scotland, where court reform was rolled out prior to scrapping their equivalent of Section 21, the new regime seems to be working. So paying attention to Section 8 will be vital if the new regime is to be fair to landlords as well as to tenants.

Not surprisingly, there has been a strong reaction to the government’s plans from the lettings sector, with more than 6,000 people responding to the Residential Landlord Association’s survey asking what a post-Section 21 private rented sector should look like – a record response for the trade body. The RLA survey closes on Monday and the results will be used to respond to the government’s formal consultation when it is launched, so go to the RLA website at https://rla.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/possession-reform-ensuring-landlord-confidence-apr-may to have your say.

New building regulations are coming your way

The government is expected to publish draft legislation to deliver new post-Grenfell building regulations by the end of this month. The aim is to ensure that all new buildings, including high-rise blocks, are built to robust fire and life safety standards, reducing the possibility of a repeat of the 2017 tragedy. We hear the new regime could be in place by 2021.

According to press reports, the government is likely to set out proposals for new legislation before the end of May and, according to Inside Housing, certainly before 14 June – the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. The consultation period on these ideas will probably last around eight weeks.

The proposals will be based on recommendations set out in Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of the building regulations, which was carried out last year, and it is likely that included in the new regime will be:

  • a designated ‘dutyholder’ in every building, who will take on new responsibilities for building safety;
  • A new regulator will be set up to take responsibility for building safety; and
  • Changes to the current rules around building control. These may make it impossible for developers to choose their own building control regulator as they can under the existing regime.

The government is also expected to consult on ways to better engage residents in decisions about their building and address their safety concerns.

The proposal that will have the biggest impact on flat owners and their property managers is the introduction of the role of ‘dutyholder’ or in other words, a building safety manager. Block managers already carry responsibility for health & safety but Dame Judith wants a named individual to be held responsible for the safety of a building and its residents. This could be a property/building manager, a separate specialist or even – with the right training – an RMC or RTMCo director. Until the consultation is published, it is impossible to second guess the way this will go. But one thing is certain, fire and life safety is right at the top of the housing agenda. Whether block managers are in the frame themselves or will be responsible for working with another specialist, they must ensure their skills are bang up-to-date because residents will want to know they are up to the job.

Dangerous cladding will be replaced on private blocks – at last


Dangerous ACM cladding like the type used on Grenfell Tower is finally to be replaced on private blocks

Leaseholders in the 156 private blocks around the country with dangerous Grenfell-style cladding, received the good news last week that the government is to stump up £200 million to pay for it to be replaced. Building owners now have three months to access the fund. The row over who should pay for new cladding on private blocks has rumbled on for almost two years, since the Grenfell fire in June 2017 revealed the fatal flaws of ACM coverings on high rise blocks.

What it also revealed – to the public as well as to those already in the know – is the conundrum at the heart of leasehold: which is that he who pays the piper, doesn’t necessarily call the tune. Or in other words, the flat owners who pay the service charge are not always involved in the decisions that are taken about their blocks. This frequently applies as much to the placement of insurance and the appointment of maintenance contractors as it does to decisions around the specification of building materials. However, flat owners are not building experts. They have to rely on their property managers to do the right thing and involve residents in decision making wherever possible. It is important that they communicate the thinking behind the choices that are made, in order to ensure the best outcomes for residents as well as landlords.

When it comes to cladding – and other major building components – neither property managers nor residents have an input first time round. Those decisions are down to architects and developers who, in turn, must adhere to the building regulations. The choice of replacement cladding will now be under scrutiny from all sides and the government has already told the leasehold sector that the funding announced last week is “a one-time only offer”.  At the last count, there were 156 private blocks around the country still in need of remediation. With £200 million on offer, it’s not hard to do the maths. Price, as always, will be a factor in determining which products are most appropriate.

The other interesting point to note is that buried in the small print of the government’s statement are these words: “As a condition of funding, we will require the building owner to take reasonable steps to recover the costs from those responsible for the presence of the unsafe cladding”. So watch this space – this story isn’t over yet.

Solving the block safety conundrum

 

Safety is, of course, a key aspect of block management. But who should be responsible for ensuring the safety of residents? In the wake of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017, Dame Judith Hackitt was asked to carry out a review of the building regulations, putting safety firmly in the spotlight.

Sounds simple? It isn’t, as Andrew Bulmer, the CEO of the Institute of Residential Property Management pointed out in an article earlier this week.

Dame Judith Hackitt, chaired the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety set up following the Grenfell Tower tragedy
Dame Judith Hackitt chaired the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety set up following the Grenfell Tower tragedy

In her final report, Dame Judith proposes a named individual – a ‘dutyholder’ – should be ultimately responsible for the safety of a building. So far so good. That person should be the owner, she suggests. Holding someone to account seems sensible, so what’s the problem?

The difficulty with Dame Judith’s plan is the complexity of our leasehold system, with its matrix of different roles and responsibilities.

As Andrew explains, when the freehold is owned by the leaseholders or commonholders (see my 20th December blog on commonhold reform) through a vehicle such as a Residents Management Company, or Right to Manage Company, that means one of the resident directors will have to stand forward as the ‘dutyholder’ for the safety of the block.  The day-to-day responsibilities of the safe management of the building may be subcontracted to an agent but that dutyholder is ultimately responsible and could end up in jail if it all goes wrong.

Andrew foresees what he politely describes as “ lively” residents’ meetings as the directors try to decide between them who is prepared to take on that responsibility, or when the developer tries to hand over the completed site to the residents.

Yesterday, I wrote about Lord Best’s working group, which the IRPM sits on. The organisation has highlighted this ‘dutyholder’ conundrum and the leasehold reform team at the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government  is trying to find a way forward.  Any overhaul of a longstanding system is complex and “carries significant risk of unintended consequences,” says Andrew. He doesn’t envy the MHCLG in their task – and nor do I.

I have returned regularly to leasehold reform in this blog. Today’s post illustrates yet again why that reform is so badly needed and why the debate over it could go on for some time

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Property agents in the spotlight

 

Leasehold reform is badly needed to protect the public from rogue operators and to promote the reputation of professional property agents. After years of being deaf to the sector’s  problems, government is now listening and has set up working groups to look at the key issues.

Property agents could soon be working with a brand new set of rules.
Property agents could soon be working with a brand new set of rules.

The framework within which all property agents work is one of the areas being considered and block management is on the Government’s agenda. At the moment, anyone can set up in business as a property manager. You need no professionally-recognised qualifications and there is no industry-wide code of practice to safeguard residents. Chartered surveyors working as property managers are governed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyor’s professional standards. In this way they maintain their reputation and protect their clients’ interests. Property management companies which are members of the Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) must meet their trade body’s quality benchmark or risk losing their ARMA member status. And the Institute of Residential Property Management qualifies property managers to a standard that most employers recognise and respect. But there is no legislation in place to back best practice across the board and the sector is open to potential abuse.

All this could be about to change – for the better we hope. The Government has set up a Regulation of Property Agents working group chaired by Lord Best. It aims to come up with recommendations on mandatory qualifications, a code of practice and regulation of residential property agents, across sales, lettings and block management. The aim is for this new regime to be consistent across the whole sector. it would mean tenants, homebuyers and sellers could be confident they are getting a professional service from their property agents – and are being charged fairly for it.

The group will report back to government this summer, but it could be some time before new legislation – if this is the recommendation – is fleshed out and put to Parliament. So, in the meantime,  if you are responsible for appointing a property manager for your block, what should you look out for?

Well, qualifications are a good start. Using an ARMA member firm or one that employs RICS or IRPM-qualified staff (or both) ensures you have some comeback if your property manager doesn’t perform. ARMA and the RICS both enforce a complaints system on their members and the organisations themselves deal with problem members.

The other important aspect is experience. Does the property manager you are considering have other blocks on their books that are similar to yours? If so, contact their residents’ association if they have one, or try and find a friendly flat owner or renter who you can talk to. Find out if they are satisfied with the company’s performance.

Property management is a people business, so interiew several potential firms to find one you and your fellow residents will feel confident and comfortable working with. And finally, resist the temptation to go for the cheapest fee. Your block manager will be looking after your biggest asset – your home – so make sure he or she is properly qualified and will deliver the level of service you expect.

Housing complaints are about to get easier

 

Housing complaints will be easier to resolve in future thanks to a new Housing Complaints Resolution Service announced in January. The government has been taking a long hard look at leasehold in recent months. Its package of new reforms aim to make the property market fairer and more transparent. As part of this, the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire plans to set up the new housing complaints system to give dissatisfied homeowners and tenants somewhere to go for help. The idea is to create a single point of contact when they can’t resolve disputes over problems with their homes – such as repairs and maintenance.

Got a housing complaint? Resolving it could soon get a whole lot easier
Got a housing complaint? Resolving it could soon get a whole lot easier

At the moment the housing market has a number of different complaints bodies, depending on what type of property you live in. This can make it difficult to find out where to go and who to talk to. By setting up a single housing complaints service for all residents – no matter whether they rent or own their home – the government hopes to help people avoid battling with their landlord or builder to resolve issues on their own. The new service is also expected to make it easier to claim compensation where it’s owed. The Housing Complaints Resolution Service will be developed by a new Redress Reform Working Group made up of representatives from across the property market, working with industry and consumers.

At the moment, there is no obligation for landlords to register with a complaints system. This leaves  thousands of renters with no easy route to resolving a problem if their landlord refuses to act. In future, private landlords will be legally required to become members of a redress scheme – with a fine of up to £5,000 if they fail to do so. New redress schemes are also on the cards to make it easier to lodge complaints about freeholders in relation to the management of leasehold property, park homes and student accommodation.

In the meantime, the first port of call whether you are a leaseholder or a renter is your  management company. At Ringley we are always here to help. We offer a service guarantee and always strive to handle complaints quickly and efficiently. Go to our website to find out more.

Electric car charging: driving home the facts

 

Have any of the flat owners in your block got an electric car? If not, chances are they soon will. The government has announced a ban on new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040 to combat air pollution. At the moment the market for electric cars is still relatively small, but around 4,500 are being registered every month, so take-up is growing.

Charging points for electric cars are starting to be a familiar sight at supermarkets and petrol stations.  In future more of us will want to charge an electric car at home but if you live in a flat this could prove a challenge. Developers are starting to install charging points in new blocks as standard but block managers running existing developments will need to do their homework as demand from residents starts to take off.

Could you charge an electric car at your block?
Could you charge an electric car at your block?

A recent article in Flat Living took a look at the implications for people living in blocks of flats. The starting point is the lease. Residents are likely to need a license to alter from the landlord to install a charging point or points. Formal, written consent will cost around £650, which will need to be covered by the resident/s in question – assuming the landlord is happy to oblige.

Location of charging points and fair use of electricity supply also needs some thought. Some flat owners may have an allocated parking space or garage but the electric supply to that parking space is unlikely to be connected to their own electricity meter. Most leases allow for use of parking spaces without ownership. Again, this means tapping into the communal supply that is covered by the service charge. If only a handful of residents are benefitting from the electricity that is being used, this will likely be called out for being unfair. Again, it may not be possible under the terms of the lease.

The good news is that charging technology is developing fast. There are now options on the market that could help get around these problems.

Pay-as-you-go solutions using a cloud-based mobile app, mean that electricity use can be monitored and logged.  Flat owners could use this system to pay their costs back to the block on a monthly basis, so that residents not using charging points don’t end up subsidising those that do.

The other hurdle – installation costs – may also be partly covered by a government-subsidised grant from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV). This could offer up to £500 off the cost of purchasing and installing a home charging point using a registered installer, listed here.

Once upon a time, take-up of satellite TV and broadband installation in residential blocks raised similar issues. Now, whether you live in a house or a flat, most of us expect them as standard. Block managers should be prepared to deal with the questions that will be asked by residents about installing charging points – in 10 years’ time they will be standard too. If you have questions regarding your lease, about what can be recovered via service charges or would like to discuss a license to alter, contact Ringley Law.

Back build-to-rent, drive up quality

Build-to-rent is really gaining momentum around the UK. The number of build-to-rent homes being built across the country has increased by nearly 40% in the last 12 months, according to new figures released in January. Last month, a new build-to-rent developer, Core Living, hit the market with a target of 2500 new homes across the north of England by 2020. In Manchester, the 35-storey Angel Gardens – one of the biggest schemes outside London – is nearing completion and north of the border, planning has just been granted for some of Scotland’s first purpose-built for rent homes on Clydeside.

Over the last few months, the government has put the rental sector firmly in the spotlight. Ministers are determined to drive up standards for tenants and improve affordability and security of tenure. Locally, councils are being called on to clamp down on rogue landlords. They have been allocated funding to encourage them to do this.

This build-to-rent PLATFORM_ development in Bedford has its own yoga studio.
This build-to-rent PLATFORM_ development in Bedford has its own yoga studio.

But according to one developer, PLATFORM_, there’s a quicker and cheaper way to do this. Give more support to the build–to-rent sector, he says.  PLATFORM_ managing director Jean-Marc Vandevivare believes that another way of driving up standards – less costly for the taxpayer and less time-consuming for local authorities –  is to back the growth of the build-to-rent sector. Rather than using public money, BTR developers are using institutional funding to build thousands of quality homes. In turn this could drive improvements for renters.

Large-scale developers need to attract renters into their block rather than the one next door. They have a vested interest in excellence. The quality of build-to-rent homes varies but most are professionally managed, offer a sense of community, and provide a growing range of amenities that cater to modern day working and lifestyle trends.

The success of build-to-rent to-date pays testament to this business model. As the January figures show, build-to-rent is set to take an increasing share of the UK rental market and at Ringley we are committed to being part of this via our new brand Life by Ringley. With mandatory qualifications on the cards for property managers and a tranche of regulation on its way, as a professional property agency we are delighted to be offering management services to this exciting sector as it develops and expands.