Too many cars!

To play fair, you can only park as many cars as you have spaces for on site.  Stands to reason, and you would think everybody could understand that.  Visitors parking is scarce and often visitors have to park off-site.  

In this case an action was started against the owner of the property whose tenants were flagrantly breaching the rules, day after day, night after night.  And, not ine cat at a time – typically 3 or 4.  

Once the landlord understood that our Client was serious they used our action to start taking breach proceedings against their tenants.  This resulted in the tenants moving on and RingleyLaw’s costs being covered by the owner.   Hopefully, with getting better tenants next time, this owner will make sure their Agent is clear on how many spaces come with the property and also get a previous landlord reference!

Balcony fires – don’t take the risk

Is your balcony a fire risk? Following the fire in June that raced through a block in Barking via wooden-clad balconies, the government now has an advice note to block owners and residents. Balconies must not compromise resident safety by providing a means of external fire spread, it says.  Balconies must be included in fire risk assessments. If they contain combustible material then they should be removed and replaced.

Don’t try this at home…

So building owners need to understand the materials used in the construction of balconies on their blocks. This way they will be able to assess whether adequate fire protection is in place to resist a fire spreading both across and through the external wall.  But owners aren’t necessarily either fire or construction experts. So if there is any doubt over the materials used or the risk presented, they should seek professional advice from a fire safety specialist.

Revisions to the Building Regulations introduced in December address the risks posed by balconies. The new regulations require balconies on residential buildings over 18m high to be made of non-combustible materials. But balconies on existing blocks like the one in Barking, may be made from combustible materials, so it is vital for building owners to do their homework properly.

Property managers can play their part by setting out a few simple rules stating what can and cannot be stored and used on balconies by residents. Here’s our advice:

  • Don’t use balconies as storage areas – particularly for anything that might be flammable.
  • If balconies are used as smoking areas, make sure that cigarettes are properly extinguished and disposed of. The same goes for candles.
  • And most important of all, never barbeque on your balcony. A significant number of fires in flats start this way. Not only is it clearly dangerous but your block insurer will take a very dim view of any claim for fire damage resulting from an out-of-control barbeque.

Make sure residents know what is and isn’t acceptable – and why. Use the block newsletter, website, the AGM or a social get-together to drive this message home. And don’t forget anyone sub-letting. It could save a life.

Right to Manage – we show you how

The Law Commission has announced it will publish its review of Right to Manage in February 2020. In the meantime, if you live in a block that is thinking of RTM, Ringley has an E-Book that explains the process.

Find out how to take control of your block with our
step-by-step online guide

Right to Manage is the no-fault process that enables a group of residents to take control of the management of their block. Our step-by-step guide explains what you will need to do if you and your fellow residents want to go down this route. Under the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, there are four tests that your block needs to pass in order to qualify. These are:

  • Are there two or more flats in your block?
  • Are there two leaseholders willing to be directors of the new Right to Manage Company?
  • Is your block self-contained?
  • Do at least two thirds of residents hold long leases (ie they are not renting their flats)?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ you can go ahead and register your RTM Company. You will need to send out formal participation notices to the other residents and to your freeholder. You must also serve a claim notice on your freeholder and your managing agent telling them of your intention to exercise your right to RTM. If your freeholder disputes your claim you may need professional advice to deal with a counterclaim.

If your claim is accepted, you can go ahead and take control of your property. This will mean taking responsibility for maintenance, repair, collecting service charges and accounting, insurance and overall management.

These are not tasks to take on lightly. There is a reason why property management is undertaken by professionals and many RTM Companies, rather than manage their own buildings, employ a managing agent to do it for them. Under RTM, the choice of agent is theirs and residents are in control of their own homes.

As the law stands at present, a successful outcome is dependent on serving notices correctly and getting the process absolutely right. Ringley has years of experience helping flat owners to a successful RTM outcome. So download our E-book here and contact us today for more information. We’re here to help.

Fire safety – do you know the drill?

A devastating fire wrecked a block of flats in Barking at the beginning of June. No one died but the fire spread so fast that it could easily have led to loss of life, particularly as the residents reported that no alarms had sounded. Fire safety systems should always be regularly inspected and tested and – unless a stay put policy is in place – residents should evacuate the building immediately they hear the alarm.

Unfortunately, as fire risk specialists Lawrence Webster Forrest says in a recent blog, although the need for immediate evacuation may seem to be something of a ‘no-brainer’, studies have shown that people are reluctant to evacuate and are inclined to assume the fire alarm is a test or a false alarm. Clearly this is dangerous, so fire training in residential blocks is a must – and should be taken as seriously as regular inspections of fire safety equipment.

Do you know the evacuation plan in your block?

Thankfully most people have no experience of fires developing inside a building. This means they are likely to base their idea of how fire spreads on their experience of bonfires or other outdoor fires. But a fire inside a building represents an imminent threat to life. So in an emergency situation, evacuation must be completed as quickly as possible.

Property managers need to make sure residents know what to do and when to do it. This means helping them to:

  • familiarise themselves with escape routes, which may not be used on a daily basis.
  • Understand how to use exit devices on fire doors. These should be demonstrated and residents given the opportunity to operate one themselves.

It is important that residents know not to use lifts when the fire alarm has sounded. Also, everyone should be familiar with plans to evacuate neighbours with disabilities or who are particularly vulnerable. Knowing who is responsible for helping particular fellow residents could mean the difference between someone evacuating the block safely or being trapped in their flat.

So if you’re a property manager, make sure this is at the top of your list for your next residents meeting. And if you’re a leaseholder or tenant and don’t know what the evacuation procedure is in your block – ask. Don’t take the risk.

Luxury amenities – what gets your vote?

Today we thought we’d have a bit of fun. What added extras would persuade you to sign on the dotted line if you were buying or renting a new flat?

Developers are busy trying to attract buyers and renters to their blocks by offering a whole range of residential amenities. But some of them are frankly a bit dull, especially if you live in the middle of a town or city. Who needs a gym or a coffee shop when there are plenty to choose from just around the corner? And how many of us will use those treadmills anyway?  When you have the whole of London, Manchester, Brighton or Bradford to eat, drink and be merry in, your block operator is going to have to work a bit harder.

So what gives one block a genuine edge over another? A recent survey by CBRE put concierge services at the top of the list. Practical help with everyday tasks such as laundry, car hire and parcel pick-up and drop off is always popular. So are health-based amenities such as an on-site spa – with health treatments and nutritional advice ramping up more points than just providing a few rowing machines.

Some developers really are going the extra mile, so we did a bit of research to see if we could find some genuinely innovative amenities that would make any residential block really stand out from the rest.

It turns out the Americans really know how to live! Green space and healthy living are on offer at Staten Island Urby in New York via social spaces that encourage residents to get to know each other. The development features an urban farm, a communal gourmet kitchen and a rooftop apiary. The chef-in-residence (yes you heard that right) even hosts gourmet cooking classes and cocktail tastings.

If you prefer animals to people, another New York development features doggy daycare, a grooming spa, cat sitting and a visiting vet for poorly pets.

And in Miami Beach, a sharing room at the Ritz-Carlton Residences gives flat owners the chance to offload their pre-loved good quality items such as handbags, golf clubs and bicycles and ‘shop’ the room, taking what they want in exchange. Great for them, even better for the environment.

Sky Gardens at Wardian, London

Other innovative ideas we came across included an on-site aquarium; providing recording studios and other music-based amenities to allow residents to share their creative ideas; the ‘sky gardens’ and in-house gardening specialists on offer at Wardian in London’s Docklands look spectacular; and we even heard of one block featuring an adult treehouse. That’s certainly not for everyone.

The lesson here, is for block operators to use their imagination and deliver purposeful amenities that enhance living spaces and create community  – not just the same tired old gym.

Want to extend your lease? We’ll show you how to do it

Want to extend your lease but not sure how? We’ve produced a useful E-book to help you through the process.

A leasehold flat is what is known as a diminishing or ‘wasting’ asset. This means that over time, the market value of the property falls as the lease gets shorter. Once a leaseholder has 80 years or less remaining on their lease, they may find it has so little value on the open market that they are unable to sell it. But don’t panic – luckily, the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 gives all leaseholders who have owned their home for at least two years, the right to extend their lease.

Under the Act, you have the right to add 90 years to what is left on the existing lease at a ‘peppercorn rent’. This means that no ground rent is paid. For example, if your lease has 70 years left to run, your new extended lease would be for 160 years.

Lease extensions can be complicated and there are certain rules that need to be followed in order to complete the process successfully. Using a professional firm to help you makes sense, so click here to take a look at Ringley’s step-by-step guide.

The E-book talks you through the process, explaining each step in detail.  First, you will need to get a valuation so you can agree a price for the lease extension with your freeholder. The Leasehold Guidance Service is part of Ringley Chartered Surveyors, so one of our professionally qualified valuers can help, ensuring that you are able to settle on a fair price. Next, you will need to serve a notice on your freeholder, notifying them officially of your intention to extend your lease.

Then the deal must be negotiated and, again, if you can’t agree a price with the freeholder, we can help. Negotiations are carried out by a Ringley Director or an RICS-qualified surveyor and are charged at an hourly rate. If negotiations fail, we can take your case to the First Tier Tribunal for you.

Once you have settled on a price, our in-house legal department will then complete the legal work on your behalf.

So go online and take a look to find out more and then give us a call on
020 7267 2900 . Our friendly staff are here to help. And if you want to know more about lease extensions, the Leasehold Advisory Service also has plenty of useful information to help get you started.

Housing courts: time for a rethink?

When the government announced in November last year that it wanted feedback on the idea of setting up a specialist housing court, the Civil Justice Council gave it the thumbs down. Now however, the suggestion could be given a boost – because the idea of offering renters indefinite tenancies is gaining traction.

With the end in sight for Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, it’s becoming clear that if landlords aren’t to be seriously let down by the government there has to be a fast, effective route to settle disputes with tenants – and a housing court could be just the solution that’s needed.

Is it time for a new housing court?

Yesterday, housing charity Shelter released a report calling for England to follow Scotland’s lead and provide private tenants with indefinite security of tenure. In other words ”no-fault” evictions will no longer be possible.

The private residential tenancy rules introduced north of the border in December 2017 brought an end to fixed-term rentals, meaning leases will effectively be open-ended.

In Scotland the new laws have led to unprecedented security of tenure to private renters, but what about the rights of landlords? This week the Residential Landlords Association told Landlord Today, “the only reason the Scottish model has worked is because a properly funded and staffed housing court was established to cope with the dramatic increase in repossession cases needing to be heard.” So could it work in England too?

The RLA certainly thinks so. It believes that new housing courts would speed up the whole system, making it fairer and more transparent. And ultimately it would benefit tenants too because landlords are more likely to rent property – even on open-ended terms – if they know they can regain possession if something goes wrong. As the law now stands in England and Wales it often takes more than five months for landlords to repossess properties through the courts. That’s just not good enough. It must be time for a re-think.

Could commonhold solve the costs conundrum?

“Two years after Grenfell and this building is still covered in dangerous cladding.” This message was projected onto a tower block in Salford this week to draw attention to the second anniversary of the fire which tragically took the lives of 72 people and had devastating consequences for many others. Yesterday at a major property conference held in London, more than 750 block managers stood for a minute’s silence to remember the victims of the fire, who died two years ago today. Many others were directly impacted by the failings of the property industry and those who regulate it.

Two years to the day since Grenfell and the cladding scandal rumbles on

A fitting tribute to those who died would be for the government to say that all dangerous cladding has been replaced across the country. This is not the case. Removing and replacing Grenfell-style and other flammable cladding has been much too slow. The whole exercise has become tied up in knots as the industry tries to work out who should pay for the work. The government has finally come up with funding to help get the job done but the problem at the heart of the cladding scandal – for private blocks at least – is the leasehold system itself.

Owners of leasehold buildings are not legally responsible for paying to replace dangerous building products with a safe alternative. This falls into the category of repairs and maintenance, which leaseholders must pay for via the service charge. Many current owners have bought blocks from the original developer several years down the line. They weren’t involved in the original specification or the build. Institutional investors own large portfolios of residential blocks, many of which may have changed hands several times. Hence the endless arguments and delays that have dogged the sector post-Grenfell. Leaseholders may hold the moral high ground but they are still obliged to foot the bill. Some building owners have taken the decision to do the decent thing and pay up. Many are still fighting their corner.

But there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The Law Commission is supporting the expansion of commonhold as an alternative to the antiquated and often unfair leasehold system. Adopting commonhold would mean developers selling flats outright rather than maintaining their interest in the building or selling it on. The residents form a commonhold company and all responsibility for operation and maintenance of their block is in their hands alone. No more division between owners and residents and total transparency around costs.

In tandem with the government’s plans for a new, enforceable building safety regime in residential blocks, this could make all the difference. It won’t help those who have had to resort to projecting slogans onto their blocks to raise awareness of their plight, but could it work for future flat owners? We will have to wait and see.

Has leasehold backfired on you?

Yesterday the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation to find out whether people are being treated fairly when buying their home. It hopes to identifying potential breaches of consumer protection law in the leasehold housing market.

Ongoing concerns about the fairness of some leasehold contract terms have turned the spotlight on the sector, with the press frequently reporting on people being stung by costly fees over a long period or finding themselves unable to sell their homes due to onerous lease terms.

In response, the CMA will be looking at two key areas:

Potential mis-selling: have people who have bought a leasehold property been given the information they need to fully understand what they are taking on? This might include, for example, the requirement to pay ground rent over a certain period of time, or whether they have an accurate understanding of how they can buy their freehold.

Potential unfair terms: are people having to pay excessive fees due to unfair contract terms? This will include administration, service, and ‘permission’ charges – where homeowners must pay freeholders and managing agents before they can make home improvements – and ground rents, which in some cases can double every 10 years.

The CMA is writing to developers, lenders and freeholders asking them to help the consumer authority understand more about how leaseholds are sold and managed, and the terms their contracts contain. The CMA also wants to understand the impact of this on homeowners. So it is calling on people to share any experiences that may be relevant.

If the CMA thinks that a company’s practices are misleading – or that its contracts contain unfair clauses – it could take action to force that company to change how they operate. Responses are needed by 12 July, so if you would like to share your experience of the leasehold market, click here to find out how to have your say.

What should be the new PM’s property priorities?

The names are in. Theresa May stepped down as the UK Prime Minister on 7 June and 10 MPs are now in the running to be the next leader of the Conservative party. These include a couple with housing credentials: ex-housing secretary Sajid Javid and ex-housing minister Dominic Raab.

So what do people want to see for the property industry from the new PM and his or her new cabinet? Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, told the press that he is backing Michael Gove for the leadership. He said that the new Prime Minister needs to take a more interventionist approach to housing. And Conservative Lord Gary Porter, said that finishing off reforms to the Right to Buy is “top of his list” of priorities. He said it is crucial that Right to Buy discounts stimulate demand, and that capital receipts are kept by councils and reinvested in stock.

At Ringley we have our own wish list – and a few questions that we would like to see answered once the new PM is in place.

Do London and the South East have lessons to learn from the successful delivery of build to rent in the north of England?

First, we would like to know why Build to Rent is being most successfully delivered in the north of England? This is great news for northern towns and cities but we’d also like to see the government coming up with an effective policy to resolve housing affordability issues in London and the South East.

Also tied to affordability, we would like to see some thought given to whether space planning for residential property should be based on floor plates or volumetric planning?  This would allow for smaller, cheaper units but could include sleeping decks and other imaginative solutions to maximise the use of space. We would also love to see a new planning blueprint for high streets, so that we get uniformity in change of use, not the existing mess of different rules that effectively devalues properties.

Beyond property, other key priorities as we see it, are to:

  • create care incentives for families to take more responsibility for looking after their own elderly relations;
  • shorten degrees to a standard two years not three, to make higher education more affordable and get people work ready; and
  • increase the flexibility of apprenticeships and enable them to start on a one-day-per-week basis from age 14 for those not taking 8+ GCSEs, so that young people are work ready, not work shy.

We would also like to see more employers encouraged to take on apprentices as we do at Ringley.

These are some of the areas we would like the government to pay attention to but we’d love to hear your ideas too, so please leave a comment below.