Will Fire Safety Bill leave leaseholders out of pocket – again?

Does the new Fire Safety Bill go far enough or will it leave leaseholders in the lurch?

There are far too few fire safety inspectors planned under proposals set out in the Fire Safety Bill and too little funding being put forward by the Government. This is the view of the Fire Brigades Union, which has slammed the government for what it says is a “gross underestimate” of the resources that are needed to tackle building safety in England. The Union estimates that three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, more than 50,000 homeowners are still living in unsafe blocks and the new legislation, now going through parliament, will do little to help.

The Fire Safety Bill announced in March, gives additional responsibilities to the fire service to inspect and enforce fire safety in the common parts of residential blocks. This includes the building structure and external walls, stairwells, and doors between individual flats. The government’s maximum estimated spend to cover the cost of these inspections is £2.1m. But the FBU told Landlord Today that this would pay for just 35 inspectors – less than one per brigade in England.

Clearly, these numbers are woefully inadequate. However, as Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring points out, the Hackitt Review did suggest that the Joint Competent Authority to be set up to oversee safety in new and existing buildings over 10 stories should be self-funding; no government money would be required. However, the more likely scenario is a little different.

What we fear is that ultimately, as with the EWS1 form compliance and fire risk assessment and remediation works on blocks below 18 metres, as well as the compartmentation testing that is now becoming standard – the cost will be an additional burden on leaseholders, who will yet again be left to foot the bill.

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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?

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Why flat owners should always read the lease

Flat owners should always read the lease so they understand their rights and obligations

Always read the lease. This is important advice for anyone who lives in a leasehold flat, because the terms of your lease set out exactly what you can and can’t do to your property. This is something that not all flat owners appreciate – but understanding what your lease terms mean is vital, especially if you want to make alterations or improvements to your home.

Unfortunately, leases are not always easy to understand. They are often written in what most of us would think of as ‘legalise’, so if you’re not a lawyer, the lease terms and various covenants that a leaseholder must abide by are difficult to unravel.

A recent case that went as far as the Supreme Court is a perfect example of why you must always read the lease. In Duval v 11-13 Randolph Crescent Ltd, the leases in a block of flats contained a covenant, clause 2.6, preventing the flat owners from making alterations or improvements to their homes without prior written consent from the landlord. So far, so good. However, each lease also contained what is known as an ‘absolute covenant’, clause 2.7, which prevented leaseholders from cutting into any roofs, walls, ceilings or services, together with an additional clause that meant the landlord must stick to the rules set out by any covenants in the leases of other homeowners that were similar to clause 2.7.

Confused yet? One of the leaseholders, Mrs Winfield, was. She fell foul of the covenants in her lease when she asked her landlord for a licence to carry out works to her flat that one of her neighbours, Dr Duval, objected to. The works involved removing part of a load-bearing wall and were initially refused by the landlord. However, having obtained reports from an engineer and an architect to confirm the works could be carried out safely and without causing any damage either to the building as a whole or to the other flats, the landlord decided that a licence could be granted.

The Duvals then took the case to court on the basis that the landlord did not have the power to permit Mrs Winfield to act in breach of clause 2.7 of her lease without the prior consent of all the other leaseholders in the building. Initially, the court found in favour of the Duvals, agreeing that the landlord had no power to waive any of the covenants in clause 2 without the prior consent of all of the leaseholders in the building. However, on appeal, the Central London County Court found in favour of the landlord. Finally, following a further appeal, the Supreme Court unanimously found in favour of the Duvals.

The upshot of this complicated but very important case is that the lease, not the landlord, is king. If the lease is clear, no problem. Leaseholders and landlords must abide by the terms. However, all too often, as this case shows, even if you do read the lease it is not always clear what is and what isn’t allowed and legal interpretation is required.

At Ringley, we have a legal practice of our own, Ringley Law LLP, which specialises in property law and has many years of experience in advising flat owners about their leases. If you are planning alterations to your flat, or have any other lease-related issues, do take legal advice. Getting it wrong could involve you, not only in long-drawn-out wrangles with your landlord and/or your neighbours but it could also end in a costly court case. So if you’re finding it hard to read the lease for your flat, give our friendly legal team a call – you’ll be glad you did.

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

Property market bounce-back – can it last?

The property market is booming – but can it last?

Property market pundits were predicting a ‘lockdown lift’ as estate agents opened their doors again in May. So were they right? A month on and the figures seem to be proving the point – so far. According to Show House, the property market is “roaring back with an unprecedented level of new sales agreed and prices holding firm”.

Good news then. Although some markets, including London, are reported to be seeing a slight softening. Buyers are now rethinking commuting in the wake of the pandemic and there is a resurgence in the popularity of homes outside the capital.  House prices have taken a hit across the board according to the Halifax but they are still 2.6% higher than this time last year. Brexit uncertainty was damping down the market in 2019. The early 2020 ‘Boris bounce’ was short-lived but the lockdown lift does now seem to be kicking in.

Online property platform Zoopla reports that enquiries and viewings are 54% higher than at the beginning of March as pent-up demand brings people back into the property market. New sales have “rebounded” and are up by 137% since the market re-opened.

So what are buyers looking for? Zoopla reports increasing interest in higher value homes as people look for more space.  According to the latest RICS Residential Market Report, 81% of agents polled expect to see an increase in demand for homes with gardens and balconies or located near public green spaces. In contrast – and unsurprisingly, given the ongoing cladding crisis – 78% said they expect to see less interest in homes in high rise residential blocks. This is an unfortunate double whammy for flat owners who are having to jump through a complex series of hoops to bring their homes to the market in the first place.

The housing market is a key driver of the UK economy, so it’s little wonder that estate agents were one of the first sectors to be allowed back to work. And after two months with closed doors, nor is it any surprise that the property market came back with a bang in May but will this level of activity continue?  

Zoopla thinks the pandemic has created a “one-off” boost to demand and that the current “spike” will be “short-lived”. So as the full impact of the pandemic on the economy starts to bite, unless they have good reason to move, the lockdown lift may prove to be just a glitch in the property market as people decide to keep their money in the bank for a while longer.

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Cladding crisis: light at the end of the tunnel?

Clive Betts: Homeowners caught up in the cladding crisis should no longer have to face stress and financial hardship.

At last some good news on the cladding crisis for homeowners trapped in high rise blocks clad in dangerous materials. We hope. Today, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee is calling for an absolute commitment to ensure that all buildings of any height with ACM cladding should be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021. And buildings with other forms of dangerous cladding should have all fire safety defects removed by June 2022.

The select committee’s report, Cladding: progress of remediation, criticises the government’s handling of the cladding crisis. It says government must accept that the £1 billion pledged so far will be insufficient. It must be prepared to meet the cost of making sure buildings are safe, and that includes tackling other fire safety issues, such as inadequate fire doors and missing fire breaks.

As we have highlighted in this blog before, flat owners around the country are living in homes that they can’t sell. And many people are paying huge bills every month for waking fire watches as well as being hit by costs that run into tens of thousands of pounds for the remedial work that is needed on their blocks.

Not only is the financial impact of the cladding crisis on flat owners unacceptable but the mental health of those affected is also at risk. A recent survey carried out by Inside Housing reveals that the mental health of nine out of 10 residents facing cladding issues has deteriorated as a direct result. More than a quarter of those polled have been given a formal diagnosis of a new mental health condition, while 35% have experienced a worsening of existing conditions. Most shocking of all, 124 people surveyed have considered self-harm or suicide.

Today’s report concludes that residents cannot be expected to go on meeting the exorbitant costs of temporary fire safety measures while they wait for work to be completed. The Government should provide funding support for ongoing ‘waking watch’ fire patrols and fire alarms.

Chairman of the select committee, Labour MP Clive Betts says: “It is time for the Government to commit to end the scourge of dangerous cladding once and for all. A piecemeal approach that will see homeowners facing many more years of stress and financial hardship… is not an option.”

We wholeheartedly agree. And, just a few days before the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the penny has finally dropped that residents should not have to pay for others’ mistakes. The report is clear that leaseholders should not be expected to foot the bill for remediation and that the government needs to step in with more money This conclusion has taken some time but it is very welcome. Let’s hope action will now be taken to solve a problem that has gone on for far too long.

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

What makes a great business leader?

You can listen to Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring talking about leadership in the property industry in a new podcast

What makes a great business leader? This is one of the topics of conversation between Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring and host Matthew O’Neill in a new podcast from the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The network champions the hard work and achievements of British leaders across the political and business spheres and is currently in the process of talking to leading figures in an attempt to understand what leadership means in Britain and Northern Ireland today. The Council invited Mary-Anne onto the podcast to discuss tips and advice on how to be a great business leader and to take a closer look at the challenges faced by businesses during the coronavirus lockdown.

Lord Blunkett, chairman of The Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland said: “I think the most informative element of each episode is the first part, where Matthew O’Neill is able to sit down with someone who really gets how their industry works and knows how to make their organisation tick. Someone who is there day in day out working hard and inspiring others. That’s what leadership is all about.”

Mary-Anne, who set up the business 20 years ago, is a regular media commentator and is frequently quoted on issues such as leasehold reform, building safety regulations and the UK housing market.

At Ringley Group we manage more than 12,000 homes across the country and have advised major residential investors such as Patrizia, Curlew and Moda Living. Most recently, we have invested over £2m in creating a suite of tech products for the property industry, and have just launched our automated lettings platform PlanetRent.

Mary-Anne was delighted to be invited to appear on The Leaders Council podcast in such a challenging time for the property sector. “Speaking with Matthew about the challenges I currently face in my day-to-day role and providing advice to the younger generation was brilliant,” she says. “We’re currently in a very challenging time for the UK’s economy and it was fantastic to give Matthew an insight into my career and where I am now.”

The episode also features an exclusive interview with England’s footballing legend, Sir Geoff Hurst, who remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. So if property, leadership – or football – are topics you are interested in, you can listen to the podcast in full on YouTube.

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Introducing Busy Living – our new co-working platform

Co-working space at Camden Gateway

Co-working could be the next big trend in our towns and cities. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means workers from different companies sharing office space and generating cost savings on equipment, utilities, and receptionist services.

We’re so confident in a shift to this new way of working that Ringley is launching its own cloud-based operational management platform for commercial and residential buildings. The platform, named Busy Living, is aimed at the growth of mixed-use space, allowing buildings to function 24/7 without needing increased staff. It features cashless payments, facial recognition, and MoD biometric security.

We are testing the software on one of our own buildings, Camden Gateway, which comprises 10,00 sq. ft. of co-working space. Our new platform can also be white-labelled, which means building operators can brand it themselves and offer a customer-facing app alongside the digital back-end.

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director of Ringley, explains: “Our new platform aims to improve transparency, reduce cost, drive revenue and above all de-risk operations.

“The next-generation of buildings will merge multiple uses under one roof and what we are looking to do through our latest tech offering is to help better commercialise ‘live-work-play’ developments.

“There has been a shift towards operationalised real estate and the boundaries between different asset classes are blurring. Both residential and commercial property look to the hospitality and leisure industries for inspiration and learning, which is why our new tech is adaptable and sector-agnostic.”

Busy Living has been featured in Property Week. Click here to read the article in full. h

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Will we be repurposing property in the post-pandemic world?

Could we be about to see a post-pandemic trend for repurposing property in a really positive way?

Repurposing property could be a major post-pandemic trend. Since lockdown restrictions were lifted on estate and lettings agents in May, we are already seeing a growing trend for both renters and buyers to show more interest in out-of-town homes with gardens. And, with more of us likey to be working remotely for some time, properties with space for home-working are likely to become more desirable.

Offices too could be transformed as commercial tenants re-think their space requirements and rely more on technology than on face-to-face interactions, both with colleagues and clients. Research from vertical transportation consultancy, reported by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) reveals that lasting change could be on the cards for the office sector in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mark Fairweather, managing director of D2E, thinks we could see a paradigm shift in the workplace, working practices, and commuting habits,  with almost half (44%) of workers polled by the company in a recent survey saying they will be asking their employers if they can work for at least some days of the week from home. 

The post-pandemic period may also signal the end of trying to cram more people into less space.   D2E expects the typical space allocation of 8 sq m per person to go up to something like 12 sq m per person on main floors, as more social distancing is needed at work. Lobby and reception areas are likely to expand too, and there could be a greater focus on stairwells and walking where possible, to help workers avoid crowded lifts and escalators.  With fewer people keen to use public transport, there may be more need for bike storage and shower facilities, and D2E also predicts changed canteen layouts for social distancing and increased natural ventilation, as well as a swing towards touchless technology in lifts and lobbies.

With all minds focused on the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we are still facing a housing crisis. Property specialist Colliers International points to the possibility of repurposing hotels for residential use, creating much- needed homes as well as opening up redevelopment opportunities for the hard-hit hospitality sector.

In the beleaguered hospitality sector, rather than take the financial hit of waiting for a return to pre-pandemic operating conditions, looking at redevelopment options may be a more realistic route for some hotel owners. Colliers suggests this would require a relaxation of planning restrictions but it could provide a solution for local authorities, who could then deliver accommodation in Class C categories such as affordable housing, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and care homes.

At Ringley, we have been calling for some time for new and better use to be made of retail developments in our hard-hit high streets. We believe institutionally-led, integrated build-to-rent and co-working space is the answer. Not only should the demise of large swathes of traditional retail drive the institutions to get creative and repurpose their space but, as we are all facing a similar collapse in the value of our pensions, all those who pay into one should demand it!

We are leading the way by launching a white label flexible office management platform called Busy Living at our new co-working space in Camden and will be blogging about this in more detail soon.

We believe that, once the pandemic passes, we may find ourselves facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to genuinely rethink the way we use property to bring genuine benefits for us all. What do you think?

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

Dangerous cladding to be tackled by new £1bn fund – but is it enough?

£1bn of new money to fund replacement of dangerous cladding
Good news for leaseholders trapped in dangerous blocks – but what about those who fall outside the new fund?

Dangerous cladding got one step closer to being dealt with yesterday, as the Government announced a new building safety fund worth £1bn. The fund will meet the cost of removing unsafe non-ACM cladding on high rise residential blocks over 18m high that don’t comply with building regulations. So some positive news at last for beleaguered leaseholders trapped in homes they can’t sell.

The new fund, which was included in the Budget in March, is aimed mainly at leaseholders in the private sector who are facing huge bills to replace dangerous cladding on their buildings. Many are also paying extortionate costs for waking watches while they wait for remediation of their blocks.  The fund will also help people living in social housing, where the cost of replacing cladding systems would otherwise have to be paid by residents.

The fund will meet the cost of replacing non-ACM cladding systems where building owners are unable to do so and the Government hopes it will address some of the barriers to remediation being carried out quickly.

Registration for the fund opens in June and building owners can sign up until 31 July.  Full guidance and an application process for buildings that meet the technical criteria will be available by the end of July 2020.    

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at Ringley, welcomes the news but doesn’t believe the fund will be enough to solve the full range of cladding problems that so many people living in residential blocks are facing. “The government needs to support the removal of non-ACM cladding from buildings that are under 18 metres as well, as there is currently no support in place for those living in these types of buildings across the UK,” she says.

 “Recent tests have suggested that some other cladding types may not have been as safe as previously thought, and if proven to be dangerous, the government should step in and help fund the removal of these too.

“Separately, with the government looking to kickstart the housing market post-lockdown, one area of focus should be helping leaseholders and flat owners unable to sell, as they cannot secure an EWS1 form proving their building is safe.”

This means boosting testing capacity – and that again may require additional government funding.

Is the £1bn fund enough? – what do you think?

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Could London-based buyers drive out-of-town housing market activity?

Could Londoners choosing to leave the capital drive out-of-town housing market activity?

Housing market activity is definitely on the up – and London-based buyers could drive activity outside the capital. This is the view from estate agent Hamptons, as it publishes new housing market research. Last week we blogged about a possible ‘lockdown lift-off’ as agencies opened their doors again. Now Hamptons’ figures appear to be pointing in the same direction. “After seven frozen weeks, the housing market seems to be moving up a gear” they say.

The number of potential buyers registering with the agency has more than doubled, with new instructions and the number of offers trebling. This is a positive sign but the market has far from fully recovered and it will take some time before the impact of lockdown on pricing becomes clear.

Early signs are that London-based buyers are going to play a big role in housing markets outside the capital this year. Nearly one in five (19%) applicants who registered in a Southern Hamptons branch in April were from London, up from 12% in April 2019 and 13% in April 2016 when London outmigration last peaked. House prices in the country have lagged behind those in cities over the last decade, which means country homes now look relatively good value.  So as we and other industry commentators have been predicting in the last few weeks, it looks as if there could be an increase in people hoping to move away from urban areas in search of more space and a home with a garden.

“Over the last decade house prices in prime areas of London have risen 79%, almost double the 42% recorded in prime country locations.  This means that the average seller leaving London can gain an additional 953 sq ft by selling up and moving to the country, often the biggest pull for those making the move out of the capital,” says Aneisha Beveridge, Head of Research at Hamptons International.

Despite young people being most like to have lost work or seen their income drop because of the coronavirus pandemic (source: The Resolution Foundation) Hamptons data shows that first-time buyers are leading the increase in demand. In April, first-time buyers made up 44% of those searching for a property to buy, up from 24% in the same month last year. For those first-time buyers who haven’t lost their jobs or taken an income cut, that’s put them in a good position to save.

So if the government decides to add some stimulus to the housing market by offering a stamp duty holiday like it did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, some first-time buyers may even find they are in a better position to get on the housing ladder than they were two months ago.

Hamptons also keeps track of trends in the rental market. Its monthly lettings index shows that restrictions on movement throughout April meant that most tenants decided to stay put. That meant those homes that were available to rent last month took longer to let than usual due to the fall in demand. It took 29 days on average to let a home in Great Britain last month, the longest time recorded in April since Hamptons’ records began in 2013.

It’s also becoming clear that the income squeeze is impacting rents. Hamptons says rental growth continued to slow last month, with average rents in Great Britain falling for the second month in a row. Rents on renewed tenancies fell -0.5% year-on-year in April, yet London and the South East were the only regions to record falls.

But activity has rebounded quickly. Hamptons registered 13.4% more applicants so far this month compared with the same period last year. That means just under six applicants looking per rental property, up from just over four a year ago.

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