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Raising Rented Housing Standards in the East Midlands

Landlord ‘Buy-to-Let’ awards 2009: Public Service Winner

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Councils supporting business to "Lower Carbon, Lower Costs"

The Local Government Regulation (LGA)has produced a leaflet for frontline officers to use when visiting or writing to small and medium sized enterprises in their area ~ Lower Carbon Lower Costs.

‘Lower carbon, lower costs’ is a resource directory for SMEs. It provides businesses with the headline facts about climate change, its impact on the economy . The guide will help businesses focus quickly on the most importantcontributions to thier carbon emissions, which areas of emissions you have most direct control over, and where solutions will be most costeffective. By using the solutions provided in the guide businesses will have a view to reducing their environmental impact whilst saving money on energy, waste and transport.

There are two versions of the publication available for councils in PDF format:

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Poor Housing and Health

The Government has highlighted the fact that poor or inappropriate housing is a recognised factor in ill health. Issues such as dampness or cold rooms, uneven floors or loose flooring, a lack of support rails or floors that are slippery when wet can all make it difficult for the occupant to maintain good health and well-being.

Addressing the health impacts of poor housing is a key challenge for local housing authorities. LACORS has written a Councillors Brifing Paper ~ The Health Impact of Poor Housing as part of its drive to move the housing and health agenda forward.

LACORS guidance builds on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) Operating Guidance and the CIEH Toolkit Good Housing Leads to Good Health. It provides practical advice to private sector housing (PSH) teams on how to identify and promote the health impacts of poor housing. It outlines the key issues, signposts resource materials, provides examples of good practice and highlights a wide range of initiatives that LHAs can consider depending on the resources available.

Further information, including a range of best practice case studies please visit the LACORS website

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New Powers to Conrol High Concentrations of HMO's Announced

Changes to the Planning Use Classes Order to help control the spread of high concentrations of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) have been announced by John Healy, the Governmnent Housing Minister. The changes will create a new planning use class for HMOs. The changes will require the property owner to obtain planning permission, where a material change of use has occurred, for an HMO of three or more occupants who are not members of the same family and who share basic amenities. The threshold is currently set at six people. These changes are due to come into force in April 2010.

More information is available from the CLG website

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Private Rented Sector in the East Midlands ~ Response to the Local Housing Allowance and the Impact of the Economic Downturn

The Private Rented Sector (PRS) currently appears to be weathering the financial downturn well, but there are considerable variations from area to area. Whilst the outlook for the future is generally positive, the increase in new tenants negotiating market rent downwards introduced a note of caution, while some landlords had already noticed the rental decrease affect their income to a tangible degree. The full impact of the current scarcity of credit cannot be predicted at this time and should be reevaluated later in 2009 and possibly again in 2010 and 2011. Many landlords seem to currently have a ‘wait and see’ attitude and are proceeding with business as usual.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) however, is universally disliked by landlords and agents, and anecdotal evidence suggests some claimants also have a negative view. This is mainly due to monies being received by the tenant directly, and the wider implications of this method of payment. Market forces and choice within the PRS allow those who have the available funds to secure a property that is specified to an acceptable standard, while those in receipt of LHA may be priced out of this market in some areas. Further research is required into the size and effectiveness of the Broad Rental Market Areas and whether or not they accurately reflect local variations in property rental rates.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some LHA claimants actively seek out the cheapest properties, thereby fuelling the lower end of the rental market with public money, and possibly housing vulnerable people in non-decent, sub standard properties.

There is suggestion that LHA is used to feed drug, alcohol or gambling habits in some circumstances, and this could lead to a myriad of undesirable consequences. Some tenancies that were stable when Housing Benefit was paid have also become unstable under LHA. These trends need to be analysed further as a matter of urgency.

The number of Section 8 notices served appears to be rising. Landlords and agents who previously rented to Housing Benefit claimants have seen arrears and workload increase. Several have already stopped accepting LHA tenants, turning instead to the private rental market. Others have decided to increase deposits for LHA tenants or require a guarantor. Many more are seriously considering these options, potentially reducing LHA claimant choice further over the next 12 to 18 months. This process raises serious questions about not only the location and type of housing available to LHA claimants, but also the amount of relief the PRS will provide to overstretched social housing provisions.

As the Government wishes to increase the number of LHA recipients renting through the PRS, action needs to be taken urgently to mitigate or prevent the undesirable consequences of LHA highlighted in this report.

View the full report [62kb]

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East Midlands Private Rented Sector Landlord Research ~ Local Housing Allowance

This second report in the DASH series researches the broad picture of the Private Rented Sector in the East Midlands, and provides further data to accompany the initial DASH report on the introduction of LHA. A summary of the results is provided for you below.

The results of the survey are both positive and negative. On the positive side, landlords reported relatively low re-let times, some degree of satisfaction with Broad Market Rental Area (BRMA) levels and a healthy student market. 88% of respondents had an occupancy rate of 90% or higher. The outlook for the next 12 months was reasonable, with a widespread expectation of stagnating rental levels, but no suggestion of any imminent collapse in demand or achievable rent. 56% of respondents had no tenants in rental arrears by two months or more.

Less than 10% of respondents were considering withdrawal from Local Housing Allowance (LHA) tenancies within the next 12 months, providing a more positive outlook for LHA than was apparent in earlier DASH research. Added to this, the fall in interest rates has more than offset any stagnation in achievable rent levels for many landlords. However, there are several concerns. If the economic downturn continues, the number of respondents who have at least one tenant in arrears by two months or more can only be expected to increase. Anecdotal evidence suggests that re-let times are increasing and landlords are asking for a larger deposit or guarantor, particularly for LHA claimant tenants, reducing the amount of choice for some LHA recipients. There is concern that the serving of Section 8 notices will increase markedly in the next 12 months. LHA still remains unpopular, with direct payments to tenants receiving criticism, and many respondents stating that they are only continuing with LHA until the economy recovers, as they are concerned about their properties standing empty if they opt out of LHA tenancies in the short term. Nearly a quarter of respondents had previously offered properties to LHA or Housing Benefit claimants and no longer did so.

Landlords' dissatisfaction with their local authority is also highlighted. The main issue appears to be the perceived tenant bias of local authorities and apparent lack of concern or assistance for the landlord. This raises questions over the future of the relationship between local authorities and the private rented sector.

80% of respondents who currently offer property to LHA tenants were not aware of the Rent Service and what role they play in setting BRMA levels, highlighting communication issues between Government and landlords.

View the full report: East Midlands Private Rented Sector Landlord Research [103kb] ~ Local Housing Allowance.

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Attention Landlords!

Would you like to take advantage of DISCOUNTS on a variety of goods and services? Would you like FREE professional development courses and materials to ensure you are fully up to date with developments in the private rented sector? Would you like a FREE central hub of information and advice on matters related to being a landlord? Would you like FREE market advantage?

To provide you with all of the above and more, DASH are delighted to announce the launch of the East Midlands Landlord Accreditation Scheme (EMLAS). This new region-wide scheme is the first of its kind outside London. Its aim is to reward good landlords as well as provide them with professional development, information, standardised forms and guidance on best practice.

Until April 2011, a 3-year membership with EMLAS is FREE to all landlords who have residential property within the East Midlands.

Developed by DASH and its partners, including landlords and landlord associations, EMLAS offers something for everyone. Landlords are able to identify themselves as accredited, thereby gaining market advantage, as well as making use of the discounts, advice, briefings, professional development and standardised paperwork provided by EMLAS. Tenants are able to differentiate accredited and non accredited landlords and make an informed choice about which landlord they wish to let from.

Membership is FREE, so you have much to gain and nothing to lose. For further information on EMLAS, and to take advantage of this very special offer, visit the website at www.EMLAS.org.uk

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Gas Safety in Great Britain has Changed - What Does This Mean For You?

A new gas registration scheme started from 1st April 2009 in England, Scotland and Wales (Great Britain). The new scheme, Gas Safe Register™ is delivered under an agreement with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and replaces the CORGI gas register which ends on 31st March. In relation to domestic gas under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, landlords' legal duties apply to a wide range of accommodation, including residential premises provided for rent by private landlords, local authorities, housing associations, housing co-operatives, and hostels.

It remains a legal requirement for all landlords to have an annual safety check on all gas appliances and flues provided in a rental property. However, as from 1st April 2009 a Gas Safe registered engineer, not a CORGI installer, must carry out the safety check.

If you let any properties of this kind, you must now make sure that pipework, appliances and flues provided for tenants are maintained in a safe condition and subject to an annual safety check carried out only by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

In all cases, all gas equipment (including any appliance left by a previous tenant) must be certified as safe or otherwise removed before re-letting. A record of safety checks must be provided to the tenant within 28 days of completing the check, or to each new tenant before they move in. You must also keep a copy of the safety check record for two years.

Gas Safety Certificate

The 'Landlord Gas Safety Record' is often referred to as a 'Gas Safety Certificate' or 'CP12' form. It is quite acceptable to continue to use this style of certificate - even if it has a CORGI logo or the word CORGI on it. There is no requirement for new paperwork. The important change is that from 1st April 2009 is to have a check carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

It shouldn't cost you more to get appliances checked and maintained under the new scheme; the cost of registration is only a small element of the bill you pay. As a minimum, the record of a gas safety check must contain the following information:

All existing gas safety records will be valid until their expiry date (even if that date is later than 1st April 2009). Any gas safety record given to you after 1st April 2009 will only be valid if the engineer is on the Gas Safe Register. There is no dual running of the schemes. CORGI will operate the registration scheme in GB until 31st March 2009 and Gas Safe Register will start on 1st April 2009.

If letting or managing agents are involved

As before, by law you must make sure that the letting or management contract clearly specifies who is to make arrangements for maintenance and safety checks on gas equipment and for keeping associated records. Where specified by the contract, make sure gas appliances and flues are serviced at least once every 12 months or at any other time if there is a safety doubt. We strongly advise that you request to see copies of the maintenance information and safety check from any agent you use to ensure maintenance has been completed by Gas Safe registered engineer.

Always check the ID card

Whatever the letting arrangement, you must always check the engineer's ID card (and details of the type of work that an engineer is registered to carry out) before they begin work on any gas appliances. Please also encourage your tenants to do the same. From 1st April, anyone can find or check a Gas Safe registered engineer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week online at www.GasSafeRegister.co.uk or call 0800 408 5500. You can even get a photo of the engineer with details that tell you if they're qualified to do the job sent to your mobile phone for added peace of mind.

Refused entry

In some cases, there have been problems experienced with engineers refused entry by tenants and subsequent failure for safety checks to take place. Please encourage your tenants to let the Gas Safe registered engineer into the property upon presentation of the ID card.

To help you explain the situation to your tenants, you can download free leaflets from the Gas Safety website or email 'Consumer Leaflet Request' to marketing@GasSafeRegister.co.uk

No to DIY

If you are letting or renting a property, you should never attempt to install or repair a gas appliance yourself in an attempt to save money. This is breaking the law and putting lives at serious risk. HSE gives gas safety a high priority and will take the appropriate action to ensure compliance with the regulations. If your tenants suspect a gas appliance isn't working correctly, ask them to turn it off and report it to you immediately so you can contact a Gas Safe registered engineer for advice. If ever in doubt, call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999.

Further advice on landlords' duties is contained in HSE's Guidance to Landlords and Letting Agents found on the HSE's website

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