Why we say NO to cancelling rents!

Cancelling rents would be disastrous for landlords and investors says Ringley Group MD

Cancelling rents for private tenants without reimbursing landlords would be “stealing from people’s pension pots” says Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring in response to demands for more radical policies to help renters.

More than 4,000 Labour party members recently signed an open letter backing cancelling rent as a policy. The letter argued Labour’s five-point plan to help renters, which included extending the evictions ban by at least six months and giving tenants two years to pay back rent arrears, did not go far enough. Meanwhile, the London Renters’ Union and others are calling for rent strikes, claiming renters are having to choose between food and paying rent.

The government’s ban on evictions has been extended until August 23rd, which has calmed fears that thousands of tenants could lose their homes if the ban wasn’t extended.

However, Mary-Anne firmly believes that cancelling rents in the private sector would punish hundreds of thousands of pensioners, as well as risk halting the current appetite from UK pension funds who are investing billions into creating new high-quality homes for rent. The most recent English Private Landlord Survey estimates there are at least 1.5m landlords in England alone. Of those, nearly half said they invested in rental property to supplement their pension and approximately one-third are retired.

This means if a rent cancellation was to be introduced, at least 500,000 retired landlords would see their rental income wiped out entirely. This would also dramatically reduce rent revenues for pension funds, many of which have suffered losses from retail and office investments and rely on income from property to match their liabilities.

No one can doubt or deny that millions of renters are facing major financial difficulties or anxieties but cancelling rents is not the answer. Some renters may need more financial assistance from the government but cancelling rents or getting the government to pay would be hugely damaging,” warns Mary-Anne.

 Both private and institutional landlords would lose rental income unless the government stepped in to pay private residential rents, which could cost the taxpayer billions and is completely unacceptable.

That’s our take on Labour’s proposals. What do you think?

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too:
blog.planetrent.co.uk

Cladding tests – what lies beneath?

Valuers are risk-rating high-rise blocks, leaving many flat owners trapped in their homes


On 5 May Mary-Anne Bowring, Ringley Group MD hosted a UKAA Webinar that looked at the thorny issue of cladding tests. In particular, she focused on EWS1 form compliance and life beyond the Hackitt Review.   EWS stands for ‘external wall system’ and looks at the level of safety displayed by external walls on residential buildings. 

Mortgage valuers are now being asked to declare if there is any cladding is present on a building and lenders will refuse to lend on the building until they are fully aware of what cladding has been used and that the certificate awarded is in accordance with their lending policy.

Valuers are now effectively risk-rating residential blocks. This is causing serious issues for flat owners whose homes are valued at zero making them unsellable while further cladding tests are carried out. Mary-Anne highlighted that the journey from applying for an EWS1 form to receiving it could take around two months.

The challenge is that over time, introducing new materials such as cladding may change the fire performance of the building, if the layers of protection offered by each material are not assessed both independently and in conjunction with each other. It is quite possible that either materials that are now known to be too dangerous to use are present, or that a sub-contractor has substituted the material specified in the design for what they believe is a suitable alternative – thereby unknowingly compromising the safety of the building.

“Lenders used to just be conscious about ACM cladding, but they are now looking at all types of cladding that are used on the building,” Mary-Anne explains. “Now this includes HPL cladding – and the entire wall system which means insulation, fixings, fire stopping around windows, glue, fixings and much more.”

This change in emphasis comes from new government guidance issued in January. Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings sets out that it’s not just all types of cladding that must be considered but any material that will assist the spread of fire – and regardless of the height of the building.

The guidance makes it clear that existing residential buildings that have external walls containing combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety. They could pose a significant risk to the health and safety of residents, other building users, people in the proximity of the building or firefighters; the fire brigade is now taking an active interest in what materials are being put onto these buildings.

However, as Mary-Anne explains: “We’ve got to make sure we are not being fooled by sampling and testing only materials from lower levels. There is the possibility that these materials can change when you move higher up the building. Even before this guidance was issued, the Building Regulations have always applied more stringent requirements for stories over 18 metres”.

The government has set aside a £600m fund to help building owners replace ACM cladding, plus an extra £1bn for non-ACM cladding on high rise residential buildings that are 18 metres or over. But there is no government funding for anyone who owns a multi-storey building that is lower than this. Owners and residents in low-rise buildings have been left behind in potentially dangerous blocks and with no government help yet announced.

One thing is certain – the cladding scandal is far from over. Many people around the country will be effectively trapped in their own homes long after lockdown if nothing is done to help them.

If you are interested in attending any future webinars hosted by Ringley, please get in touch with Anthony.james@ringley.co.uk to register your interest.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Moving House? Now you can push the go button!

Time to get moving – but you must follow the latest guidelines.

Have your moving house plans been brought to a halt by the lockdown? If so, you can now re-start the process. Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that, from today, anyone in England can move home if they follow the new Government guidance.

Since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house. The government hopes to re-start the market and get buyers, sellers and renters moving again.

Clearly, this announcement doesn’t mean a return to normality – far from it. The process of finding and moving into a new home will be different and that now includes doing more of the process online. Initial viewings will be virtual and vendors will be asked to keep away while potential buyers are shown around. Properties must also be thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in. So good news for commercial cleaning companies used by landlords and block managers.

After seven weeks in lockdown, the announcement is welcome news for the property industry as well as for buyers, sellers and renters. Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring said today:  “There’s no reason buyers or renters shouldn’t be able to move home if they are able to do so safely in accordance with social distancing guidelines”. However, she is quick to point to the fact that this doesn’t mean the housing market has returned to its pre-coronavirus state.

 Lockdown is set to continue in some form for an unknown amount of time and the resulting economic disruption is likely to weigh down on activity in the for-sale market. A stamp duty holiday, as proposed by RICS and others (see our 29 April blog for more details) could see a stampede in transactions while an extended Help to Buy will support some sales and in turn housebuilding.

 Maryanne thinks the Government now has an opportunity to think long term and introduce policies to reflect Britain’s changing housing needs. “Private renters are a fast-growing part of the housing market and need catering to,” she says,  “yet politicians seem intent in squeezing buy to let landlords out of the rental market and the build to rent sector – a positive emergence – simply isn’t big enough yet to absorb all rental demand.

 “If the government cuts stamp duty surcharge for landlords it could help stimulate the market by encouraging BTL investors to snap up homes to then rent out. Many landlords also help support housebuilding through off-plan sales,” she adds

The housing market as a whole will also have to get ready for a digital-first approach to transactions as more tasks and jobs are done remotely.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

EWS1 forms – what’s it all about?

Ringley CEO Mary-Anne Bowring will be talking about fire safety reform and EWS1 forms at a UKAA webinar on 5 May

EWS1 (External Wall System) forms are dominating many freeholders’ and property managers’ lives right now – and the requirement to provide them to lenders is having a devastating impact on residents.

The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 has completely changed the building safety landscape – and has pushed fire protection right to the top of the property agenda. It is now impossible to get a mortgage on a building higher than 18 metres (around five to six floors) without an EWS1 form to certify that the cladding on residential blocks is safe.

Different mortgage lenders have adopted different approaches but, for most leaseholders living in high-rise blocks, if you can’t produce this form your lender will put your mortgage interest rates up until you can. Some leaseholders are now paying more than £100 extra interest a month while waiting for these forms. And re-mortgaging on high rise residential buildings without a signed EWS1 form is also being denied by high street banks

Getting blocks certified

Ringley Group managing director Mary-Anne Bowring has plenty of experience of working with lenders and building owners to get blocks certified – and it’s far from easy. “The journey from applying for an EWS1 form to getting it probably takes around two and a half months.  This is because the form requires us to understand the full system of the cladding, including the brackets, the fixings, the insulation behind the walls, etc,” explains Mary-Anne.

“It’s about the total combustibility of the system. Immediately post-Grenfell, when the Building Research Establishment (BRE) were testing these buildings for free, it was just about the cladding; now we’ve moved on from that. A lot of us are now having to retest buildings that have already been tested, even though we know the cladding on the outside is fine. Now we have to go back and retest the insulation in these buildings,” she says.

Join the UKAA webinar to boost your knowledge

On 5 May, Mary-Anne is hosting an online webinar for the UKAA, that will look at the requirements of the EWS1 form in detail plus other aspects of the major building safety reforms which have been announced in response to Grenfell. This is your opportunity to make sure you’re completely up-to-date on the latest requirements.

During the webinar, EWS1 – what’s it all about, Mary-Anne will provide an update on funding for removal of combustible cladding and will get you up to speed on the new approach to building safety. You will find out why this form is required, what is needed to get it and how it will affect YOU as a developer/freeholder.

UKAA members can join the webinar free of charge. Click here for more details.

Oak trees at your block? Don’t touch the caterpillars!

These caterpillars may seem cute – but they’re nastier than they look

And now for something completely different… does your block have oak trees in the garden? Property managers, contractors and residents, especially in London and the South East are being asked to report any sightings of Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars to the Forestry Commission and – most important – not to touch them!

Oak Processionary Moth was first identified in 2006. The caterpillars damage oak trees, and their hairs which are also found in OPM nests, can cause itchy rashes, eye and throat irritations. So a Government programme is in place to limit their spread. They can also occasionally cause breathing difficulties in people and pets, so they should not be handled no matter how cuddly they may look!

The Forestry Commission, councils, and land managers have an annual programme in place to tackle the pest, which affects certain parts of the country in the spring.

What to look out for

Nests are typically dome or teardrop-shaped and about the size of a tennis ball. They are white when fresh, but soon go brown. The caterpillars have black heads and their bodies are covered in long white hairs. From May to July the caterpillars emerge and feed on oak leaves which can make the trees vulnerable to other pests and diseases and drought.

Anyone with infested trees in the control zone monitored by the Forestry Commission will have been advised that work needs to take place over the next two months to help stop the spread of this pest. Contractors spraying affected trees on behalf of the Forestry Commission will carry out work safely, adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Everyone is reminded, particularly those in London and the surrounding counties to report sightings of OPM caterpillars, which could be damaging oak trees in their area, to the Forestry Commission via TreeAlert. Alternatively, you can email opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or call 0300 067 4442.

Building owners or property managers considering pruning or felling oak trees in the affected areas should contact Forestry Commission England’s Plant Health Forestry Team beforehand on opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or 0300 067 4442 for advice about safe removal of the material.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Are good property managers now needed more than ever?

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Good communication – at a distance – between property managers and their clients and residents is more important than ever before

The work of a managing agent is to manage, arrange and communicate. We do this for groups of people who need to receive information about maintenance, upgrades, current spending, and future plans but who otherwise would be uncoordinated – they wouldn’t know what was going on, or what was expected of them.

Our role is varied and many-faceted and the challenge is to carry it out effectively and sensitively. We deal on a daily basis with:

  • inter-personal politics and dissemination of information;
  • customer service, helping those who come to us for advice understand the roles and responsibilities within communal living and how a financial year in property works;
  • building pathology to deal with reactive maintenance, planned maintenance and cyclical works; 
  • law to gain a shared understanding of covenants and responsibilities which sometimes need to be enforced; and
  • bookkeeping and accounting.   

Luckily for us and our clients, while our core business is property, the human relationships, regulation, and compliance in what is a complex and highly legislated industry are all things that can be managed remotely.  Not forever though. We very much need to be in touch with the buildings we manage and those who live in them.  There is no substitute for seeing and feeling a problem, and in the short term photos and more conversations than we would normally have with clients and residents are painting pictures of what we need to see.

We have switched to video conferencing to ensure that Annual General Meetings can take place, and we have had over 6,000 customers opt-in to more by e-post.

Our main challenge is finding contractors with the capacity to attend our sites – and in some instances, availability of suitable protective equipment – and clients look to us to ensure that we have responsibly advised the supply chain.

During this pandemic, the need for strong communication is crucial, particularly as residents who are ‘staying home’ have more time for scrutiny of their home environment.  The challenge of  ‘managing and arranging’ has become increasingly complex with trades and supply chains hampered by ill, self-isolating or furloughed staff and many contractors not willing to enter people’s homes. There has also been confusion over which maintenance tasks should be considered, although the government has now published guidance on electrical and gas safety checks as well as lift inspections.  

So, perhaps in these strange times, our services are needed more than ever.

www.ringley.co.uk

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co

Safety checks on lifts still in place, says HSE

Six-monthly safety checks on lifts must continue

Block managers and residents have voiced their concerns in recent weeks about whether or not the safety checks in their buildings that are required by law should still go ahead during the COVID-19 outbreak, given the need for social distancing.

The HSE has responded this week to questions about lifts, confirming that blocks must continue to meet the requirements of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and twice-yearly safety checks should still be carried out if at all possible.

The safety body does recognise how difficult it may be in some circumstances to carry out the required checks and tests, so it has set out some guidelines to help ensure that equipment remains safe to use, which you can read in full here. It’s important to note that the guidelines refer to “places of work” rather than specifically addressing the needs of residential buildings, but the rules are the same.

So, despite the problems being caused by COVID-19, it’s business as usual where lifts are concerned. But the HSE does say it will take “a pragmatic and proportionate approach” where blocks don’t comply with the statutory requirements if the breach is a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak.

This means that anyone who is considered a ‘dutyholder’ for the purposes of LOLER (and this could include building owners, block managers or RMC/ RTM Company directors) if challenged by HSE, must be able to demonstrate that they have made all reasonable attempts to have safety checks carried out, made a thorough assessment of the increased risk and taken appropriate action to manage it.

Finally, lifts that can’t be tested by the required date should only be used for “essential work” and where they can still be operated safely. Unfortunately, the HSE is not clear what that essential work might include. The Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) has asked for clarification on that point and we will pass that information on via this blog once they report back.

It’s official. Building maintenance must continue

Blocks need to be kept clean, now more than ever.

For property managers who are wondering whether or not routine maintenance should still go ahead in their blocks, the government has provided some clarity today. Secretary of State at the MHCLG Robert Jenrick, speaking to the BBC today, has confirmed the importance of ensuring that the maintenance of buildings for safety and sanitation continues – and that important works such as cladding remediation should still be carried out.

Amid the row over whether or not construction work should still continue on sites around the country, he emphasised the importance of ensuring all work is done in accordance with Public Health England guidance, which means abiding by the two-metre distancing rule at all times.

Following the announcement, the Institute of Residential Property Managers (IRPM) circulated a Newsflash to all its members this morning, saying the message from Mr Jenrick “would strongly suggest that other safety-critical work such as lift maintenance should continue”. The professional body also takes the fact that the Secretary of State specifically mentioned sanitation, to mean that appropriate cleaning regimes can continue in blocks too. The IRPM says it is now waiting for an approved list from MHCLG of which contractors may attend site and for what purpose. We will share this information with you when we know more.

Here’s what the Minister had to say. “There are settings in for example the construction industry where it is extremely important that we try to help people to continue to go to work. For example, ensuring that buildings are maintained properly for fire safety, for sanitation reasons. For example, ensuring that important programmes like the removal of dangerous ACM cladding on high-rise buildings continues, so there is essential work going on in the housing and construction industry that we want to encourage as long as it is safe to do so.”

In the meantime, trade bodies are advising maintenance contractors not only to abide by the distancing rules, but to ensure very high levels of hygiene while they are carrying out work. If an engineer is due to visit your building, they should be checking if anyone in the building has been diagnosed with Coronavirus or is self-isolating to ensure their safety as well as that of the people in your block. As we blogged on Monday, its vital to provide handwashing facilities for engineers and technicians; to keep plant rooms and other areas where they may be working clean and accessible; and to ensure residents are kept clear of any work areas.

This is all good practice anyway and may even encourage better standards of communication and hygiene in our blocks when this is over. We would like to assure all our clients and residents that routine servicing schedules are continuing in your blocks, as is our 24/7 emergency response.

AGMs and service charges: your questions answered

Virtual AGMS are coming to a screen near you!

Our business continuity planning is paying off. We have now switched to virtual AGMs – the first of which was held for residents at Union Park. This is easy to do and we would like to suggest that if you consider doing the same, you may get more people to attend your AGM – which we can facilitate for you using Zoom.

So how does it work? Well, we can simply invite all residents to the virtual AGM and they can then either download the app, or double click on the weblink we send out. This takes the invitee to a ‘virtual room’ (with or without video) where other participants will be waiting along with the moderator (Ringley). Participants join the meeting in ‘muted mode’ and invitees can participate at any time by ‘raising their virtual hand’ enabling us to unmute them while they speak.  It’s that easy.

For small meetings all Ringley people can set up conference calls. So let your property manager know if this is something you  would like us to arrange for your block

Deferring service charge payments

We’ve had a number of enquiries about deferring service charge payments. This is to be expected with so many residents worried about their income as the country goes into lockdown. Regrettably, deferment is not possible because we only collect the exact amount specified in the budget and this is desperately needed.  Insurance, electricity, cleaning and all other bills still need to be paid.

Service charges are not like a commercial business.  If owners do not pay for the upkeep of their block – who will? And worse, not paying would put not only the security of your home but the health and safety of you and all your neighbours at risk. As the government has announced that you can claim a 3-month mortgage repayment holiday we recommend you claim this quickly – before the rush – and use some of this money to pay your service charge.

Community halls

For sites with community halls that pay business rates, unless you tell us otherwise we will be instructing Alistair McGill of Ringley Survey & Valuation Limited to make a business rates claim for you.  Alistair’s contact details are Alistair.mcgill@ringley.co.uk  Likewise if you need help with business rates rebates on your business premises Alistair can assist.

Should you have any questions or concerns about the impact of coronavirus on your block, please do contact us direct. We will share your questions (anonymously) and answers in the next client update and via this blog.

Coronavirus: working safely with contractors and on-site staff

Anyone visiting your building to carry out maintenance must be able to wash their hands. Landlords can help.

Our clients and RMC directors may be wondering what they should do about people visiting their sites while we are all coping with the impact of COVID-19. So here‘s our latest update on working with on-site staff and contractors.

The current advice from the HSE is that: “All drivers attending site must have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work.  Preventing access is against the law and, equally, it is not the sensible thing to do.  Failure to allow access to welfare facilities may increase the risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading.”

It is not clear whether contractors are classed in the same category as drivers – however, we are beginning to receive requests for confirmation from maintenance engineers that there are hand washing facilities on site.  Where there are not, landlords should think about either nominating a home where contractors can wash up – and putting a notice up in the hallway to say so, or purchasing and installing something like this 

Site Staff will remain on site until the Government declares lockdown – at which point a further review will be carried out.  Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to take steps to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees, so far as reasonably practicable, including those who are particularly at risk for any reason. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with.  So we have sent out specific advice to site staff. 

Should your site staff get sick, then by virtue of The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 13 March 2020 ( for a period of 8 months) anyone who self-isolates to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus and is unable to work will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.  A medical certificate is no longer required and SSP now starts from day one, rather than day four.

Should the Government prevent staff from working on-site, this would be treated as a period of lay-off during which your employee would be entitled to a statutory guaranteed payment of £25 a day (pro-rata for part-time workers).  Unless the Government changes the law, your employees can claim a redundancy payment if the lay-off or short-time working runs for either 4+ weeks in a row, or 6+ weeks in a 13 week period.  This does not get paid if staff return to normal working hours within 4 months.  Click here for more on this.

Depending on other measures likely to be introduced, it may be kinder to ascertain the person’s rent or mortgage payments and pay them rent and a food allowance as a gesture for their service to the site.  If you need help or advice on this, emergency HR planning and payment enquiries are being dealt with by Leana leana@ringley.co.uk

In the meantime, all routine servicing schedules are continuing, as is our 24/7 emergency response.