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At Choice Lets Ltd we have a vision to be the agent of CHOICE for everyone considering renting or letting a residential property.  Choice Lets are an independent lettings agency, we are based in Walsall, with the desire to forge long-term relationships with our clients and to be the best at what we do.  It is a business set-up by and exclusively for Landlords. 

Our values are based on honesty, professionalism, and results. We believe that our Landlords and Tenants deserve the best of service at all times. 
 
We do this by taking a fresh look at the lettings market and introducing new and innovative practices and services. The benefit to both landlords and tenants is given by utilising the most recent technology to drive efficiency. 

At Choice Lets we listen to your needs as a client and match them to the correct service or property. Choice Lets are dedicated to providing you with an unrivalled level of service and forming excellent partnerships with you. By adding this to our extensive knowledge of the local property market we think we've got a winning formula.

Why not contact us today to see how we can help you with your property needs?

Start your search nowregister with us for property alerts, or request a rental valuation of your property.

 

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Raj - Managing Director

 

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Pets in Rented Homes

Pets in Rented Property

As it is Cruft's time we thought it appropriate to offer advice to those looking for rented property who own pets.  When you are looking for privately rented accommodation with your pet, there are a number of things you can do to make the house hunting process as simple as possible and to show prospective landlords that you are a responsible pet owner.
1 Don't leave your house hunting until the last minute - Give yourself plenty of time to find a pet-friendly property and begin searching at least 6-8 weeks before you need to move out of your current home.
2 Be as flexible as possible - The more restrictive your search criteria are, the more difficult it will be for you to find a pet-friendly property. Try to be flexible on location and property type as this will increase your chances of finding somewhere for you and your pet to live.
3 Write a CV for your pet - Provide your prospective landlord with as much information about your pet as you can. Write a CV and include contact details for your veterinary practice and for someone who can care for your pet in case of an emergency. You could also include details of your pet's last vaccinations and any flea and worming treatments they have received.
4 Get a reference for your pet - By providing your landlord with a reference from your previous landlord or your vet, you can show that your pet is both well behaved and capable of living in rented accommodation without causing problems or damage. This will also demonstrate that you are a responsible pet owner.
5 Introduce your pet to your landlord - Meeting your pet in advance may put your landlord's mind at ease. You could invite your landlord to your current home so that they can see that your pet has caused no problems there. This is particularly important for dogs as it's an opportunity to show that your dog is calm and well behaved.
6 Offer to pay a higher deposit - Many landlords are concerned about pets causing damage to their property or furnishings. By offering to pay a higher deposit, you will reassure the landlord that you will cover any damage that your pet may cause.
7 Offer to have the property professionally cleaned - Landlords often worry that accepting pets will lead to flea infestations, excess pet hair and dirty carpets and soft furnishings. To put your landlord's mind at ease you might consider offering to pay for the property to be professionally cleaned when you move out. Some landlords and letting agents may ask for a non-refundable payment in advance to cover the cost of cleaning.
8 Be honest, don't sneak your pet in without permission - It's never advisable to keep a pet in a property without the landlord's consent. This will only lead to problems in the future and could result in the termination of your tenancy. It's possible that keeping pets in the property may even violate the landlord's own leasehold agreement. It's advisable to always be honest about your pets from the start.
9 Get written permission - If your landlord has given you permission to keep a pet in your property, make sure you get it in writing. You should ask for a clause to be added to your tenancy agreement to cover the keeping of pets and make sure that any 'No Pets' clauses are removed. This will prevent problems from arising in future.

Further information and help can be found on the Dog's Trust website.



Maintenance and Repair Obligations

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 Section 11 dictates your repair obligations as a landlord:
  •   To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling (including drains, gutters and external pipes)
  •   To keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling for the supply of water gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for the making use of the supply of water gas or electricity)
  • To keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling for space heating and heating water
 No liability can be imposed on a landlord for breach of the above until the landlord has knowledge of the disrepair complained of and fails to effect repairs within a reasonable period of time.

Landlords or people authorised by them, also have the right to view the condition and state of repair of the property on giving the tenant 24 hours notice [in writing and at a reasonable time of day].

The tenant is expected to use the property as a home in a reasonable way and this would cover

  • Keeping it reasonably clean
  • Not damaging the property, and ensuring that their guests don't either.
  • Carrying out minor maintenance (e.g. checking smoke alarm batteries. Replacing light bulbs, excluding communal areas)
  • Using the heating properly (e.g. not blocking flues or ventilation).
    The Tenants are also responsible for putting right any damage to internal decorations that was caused by the disrepair or whilst repairs they are responsible for, are being carried out.

    Landlords should also ensure that they encourage tenants to keep the property ventilated and offer advice on how to avoid condensation which can cause mould and damp inside the property
    Read more of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 here






Forget banks and use credit unions

According to DSSMove a Cabinet minister has urged middle-class savers and borrowers to cast aside their prejudices and join credit unions.
These non-profit organisations have long been regarded as the preserve of low-paid families who would otherwise struggle to obtain a mortgage or bank account.
But the Government wants to change that image. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told The Telegraph: "Credit unions can offer some of the best rates on the market for loans and dividends for your savings. But saving with a credit union can provide more than a financial return, as you will be investing in your local community.
"While credit unions help many people on low incomes to build savings and access affordable loans, their services are open to all. I'd encourage everyone to look at the accounts credit unions have on offer."
Mr Duncan Smith himself joined the London Mutual Credit Union last month, while membership across the UK is growing at its fastest in a decade. Credit unions, which operate like mutuals in lending out members' money, expect to gain 20pc more members this year, compared with 8pc a year on average since 2004. The Department for Work and Pensions will invest £38m over the next two years in the union network.

These are two of the credit unions in the Walsall and Sandwell districts:



Landlords: Don't scrimp on Insurance

A recent story from a respected landlord and property manager made me think about the insurance we have on our properties.  Basically 2 of the properties he took over had been turned into cannabis factories and then all the boilers, pipework and other fittings stripped out of the houses.  The loss and damage amounted to more than £30,000 and obviously the insurance companies were not going to pay that out without a fight!

In the end they had to as the landlord had malicious damage cover (the insurance company tried to say that this was not malicious damage as the house had been deliberately adapted) but a lot of policies now exclude this sort of cover - make sure you are properly covered and do not penny pinch on insurance.

The other point to note from this is that it is important that you are able to produce irrefutable evidence of having inspected the property and that it was never left empty for more than 30 days e.g date/geo stamp photographs, log visits and talk with neighbours.

In the event that you have to make any sort of claim on your insurance be prepared to instruct a claims assessor to fight your case in the event of a refusal of the insurance company to pay out.



Inspections by a Landlord

When you signed the Tenancy Agreement with your tenant you let them know that you will carry out regular inspections of the premises during the tenancy, normally with the proviso that 24 hours notice will be given of any inspection.  You should of course, try and arrange a mutually convenient appointment to avoid any bad feeling between you and the tenant.

An inspection is the ideal opportunity to:-
  • Assess the internal and external condition of the property
  • Enquire as to the Tenants’ situation and intent to renew
  • To discuss any problems such as arrears or complaints

The key objective of the Inspection is to ensure the structure is sound. The secondary objective is to check for damage, wear and tear and general conduct of the tenants. Pay specific attention to bathrooms for signs of mould and leaks and beware of DIY enthusiasts messing with electrics or worse GAS. Use this as the opportunity to see if there are any repairs that need attention. Ask the Tenant whether they have any concerns. Draw the attention of the Tenant to anything that they have broken or are not looking after.

Always take a digital camera and the property inspection report you completed at the start of the tenancy (as part of the Tenancy Agreement). You can refer to the report when asking the tenant about a repair or maintenance issue. You can take photos in case the matter is disputed at a later date.

Choice Lets



No tax breaks for Landlords in Budget 2014

Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget 2014 delivered little in the way of good news for landlords or property investors.
The expected big announcement was how the government intends to tax treat capital gains for expat property owners.
However, no news was forthcoming and none of the documents published with the Budget made any mention of the upcoming changes, so property owners and advisers are none the wiser.
New avoidance rules was one issue that covers property – Osborne announced that from midnight on Budget Day, homes purchases worth more than £500,000 by companies will pay stamp duty at 15%, although rented property is exempt from the charge.
Many of these are empty properties held in corporate envelopes to avoid stamp duty,” said the Chancellor.
The only point of interest for landlords was the change in income tax.
The personal allowance will rise to £10,500 from April 2015, saving most taxpayers around £800 a year.
Osborne has obviously listened to tax advisers and think-tanks and pushed up the higher rate tax threshold to remove some middle-earners from the net.
In 2014-15, the threshold will start at £41,865 before earners start paying 40% tax, rising to £42,285 in the 2015-16 tax year.
“The message from this Budget is you have earned it; you have saved it; and this government is on your side. Whether you’re on a low or middle income,” said Osborne.
The big Budget changes are for pension investors and savers.
A new ISA allows a £15,000 tax-free limit each year, while retirees can take charge of their direct contribution pensions by controlling their own drawdowns.
From March 27, the Chancellor has:

• Cut the flexible drawdown minimum income requirement from £20,000 to £12,000
• Increased the capped drawdown limit from 120% to 150%
• Increased the size of the lump sum small pot five-fold to £10,000
• Almost doubled the total pension savings taken as a lump sum to £30,000



Landlord's Energy Saving Allowance

Did you know that you can reduce your tax bill by up to £1,500 a year with the Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance.

You can claim Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance for the costs of buying and installing the following energy-saving products for properties you rent out:
  • cavity wall and loft insulation
  • solid wall insulation
  • draught-proofing
  • hot water system insulation
  • floor insulation
You can claim Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance for properties you rent out abroad, as long as you pay UK tax on profits from those properties.

You can claim a maximum allowance of £1,500 for each house, flat or bedsit you rent out. For example, if you rent out a building that contains 4 flats, you can claim up to £1,500 for each flat.

If you own a property with others you can claim a share of the allowance in one of two ways:
  • based on the amount of the property you own (eg if you own half of the property you can claim up to £750)
  • based on the amount of money you spent on the improvements (eg if you covered half of the costs, you can claim up to £750)
If you install the energy-saving items yourself, you can claim Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance for the costs of buying them, but not for installing them.

You can’t claim Landlord’s Energy Saving Allowance on a property if:
  • you’re claiming an allowance under the ‘Rent a Room’ scheme
  • you’re renting out the property as furnished holiday accommodation
How to apply
  • when you fill in your Self Assessment tax return - if you rent out your property as an individual
  • under ‘allowable business expenses’ on your Company Tax Return form - if you rent out your property as a business

Further information can be obtained from the official Government website.



    Work doesn't pay due to welfare cuts.

    Some working people are losing 97p of every £1 earned after being hit by a combination of welfare cuts, a committee of MPs has found. 
    The public accounts committee warned today that cuts to council tax benefit means ‘work does not pay’ for those worse affected by the reforms.
    In a damning report, the scrutiny group attacked the Department for Work and Pensions for ‘not fully understanding’ the impact of council tax benefit cuts when combined with other welfare reforms. 
    In April 2013, the government transferred council tax responsibility to 326 local authorities, while simultaneously cutting its support by 10 per cent.
    This meant councils were forced to start charging council tax to some or all of their previously exempt residents. 
    The PAC report has found that despite government tasking authorities with protecting the vulnerable people, 133 councils offered no protection except to pensioners and war pensioners.
    In 19 local authority areas, 225,000 people would lose more of their earnings than under the previous scheme.
    It found some working people were losing 97p of every £1 earned when national insurance and income tax were combined with cuts to housing benefit and council tax support.
    Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, warned the government would ‘have their work cut out’ trying the combine the cuts with universal credit.
    ‘This just goes to show, for some, work simply doesn’t pay under the new scheme. For them, work incentives have actually weakened rather than strengthened – the opposite of what the government intended,’ she said.
    The report called for a timetable to be set out for an independent review of the policy.
    Brandon Lewis, local government minister, said: ‘Spending on council tax benefit doubled under the last government costing taxpayers £4 billion a year – equivalent to almost £180 a year per household. That’s why, as part of our long-term economic plan, we are fixing the welfare system to make work pay and reducing the deficit to safeguard our economy for the long term.

    ‘Our council tax policies are working. Localised council tax support has also given councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise, get people into work and end the “something for nothing” culture.’  
    This article is taken from DSSMove.co.uk



    Gaining possession of a property using Section 8

    Section 8 allows a landlord to seek possession of their property using grounds 2, 8, 10 to 15 or 17 listed in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988.  The Section 8 Route gives 8 mandatory and 10 discretionary grounds for possession for breach of contract which include rent arrears and anti-social behaviour.

    You can seek possession at any time under Section 8 but if you are seeking possession during the fixed term, you can only use Section 8 if the tenancy makes provision for the tenancy to be ended on the ground for which you are seeking possession.

    The notice you must give if you are using Section 8 varies from 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the ground you are using.  The notice you give must be on a special form entitled "Notice seeking possession of a property let on an Assured Tenancy or an Assured Agricultural Occupancy".  This form and any others relating to tenancy agreements can be found on the Gov.uk website.

    Notices can be served (1) in person, (2) at the property (through the letter box) (3) by mail. Remember to keep copies of everything.
    • Serving in person is perhaps the preferable method as there’s no doubt about the actual date of service, but have a witness.
    • Service at the Property through the letter box is also a good method, but a witness is also important here.
    • Service by mail is an acceptable method (first class post – next day delivery) but allow 3 working days for delivery and use “Proof of Postage” This means the Post Office will give a receipt of postage and the address to which the notice is sent. This will be accepted by the court if you have a receipt.
    Recorded Delivery can cause problems if the intended recipient refuses to sign. This means it’s returned to you, by which time you may have missed the trigger date and you may then need to give an extra month’s notice.

    Where tenants are able to gain the sympathy of a judge he or she may grant a suspended possession order. This gives the tenant/s time to “mend their ways” and comply with the terms of the suspension, in which case the possession order will not be enforced.
    It is also possible with the Section 8 route that the tenant can bring a counter claim, sometimes for spurious matters such as defects in the property.

    If your tenant refuses to leave on the date specified in the notice you will need to apply to the courts for a "possession order".

    You can use the possession claim online service if you are seeking possession of the property together with any rent arrears.  The service allows you to access court forms online to make, issue, view and progress a possession claim electronically.

    If the tenant refuses to leave by the date given in the court order you must apply to the courts for a warrant of possession and the court will arrange for a bailiff to evict the tenant.









    Gaining possession of a property let on an Assured Shorthold Tenancy using Section 21

    There are two main routes private landlords can take to regain possession of their property under the Housing Act 1988.

    • Section 21 which gives the landlord an automatic right of possession without having to give any reasons once the fixed term has expired.
    • Section 8 which allows a landlord to seek possession using grounds 2,8,10 to 15 or 17 listed in Schedule 2 to the Act.  These include rent arrears and anti-social behaviour.
    You cannot use Section 21 to gain possession of your property during the fixed term. You can serve a Section 21 notice on your tenant during that time, providing the date you state you require possession is not before the end of the fixed term.  In addition, any deposit paid by the tenant must have been protected in accordance with the tenancy deposit schemes.

    You must give at least 2 month's notice in writing to the tenant.  If the fixed term has expired the notice must end on the last day of the rental period and you must explain that you are giving notice under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. It is vital that you have proof that the Notice has been served and the Notice should contain pre defined legal text governed by various Housing Acts.

    If the tenant does not leave on the due date you will need to apply to the courts for a "possession order". Where possession is sought under Section 21 an accelerated procedure can be used which is a straightforward and inexpensive procedure for getting possession of your property without a court hearing.

    In most cases using this procedure the court will make its decision on the papers, and can order possession to be given up within 14 days unless exceptional hardship would be caused, in which case the maximum time that can be allowed is 42 days.

    You can only use this procedure if you have a written tenancy agreement and you have given the tenant the required notice in writing that you are seeking possession. You cannot use this procedure if you are also claiming rent arrears.
    Further information on this subject can be found on the Gov.UK website.
    Further information on the accelerated possession procedure can be found on Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service website.  



    When tenants and landlords disagree

    As long as there are landlords and tenants there are going to be rental disputes. Tenants may believe that the landlord isn't doing his bit to maintain the property, while the landlord feels that he constantly has to attend to minor problems that the tenant himself should fix. The tenant may not believe that paying the rent a few days late is the end of the world, while the landlord believes that the rent should be paid before anything else. The list goes on and on and, while some arguments are fairly easy to resolve, others aren't and could even end up in a court of law.
    The laws that govern rental properties have changed in recent years and, while some may disagree, many now believe that tenants enjoy more rights than the actual owner. A landlord can no longer, for example, simply evict a defaulting tenant. There are strict legal guidelines that apply and certain steps have to be followed in order to remove an erring tenant.

    Rent must be paid

    Another issue of contention is deposits. Tenants sometimes take the view that the deposit can be utilised as the last month's rent. This is not the case and tenant must pay the required amount on a monthly basis, unless otherwise agreed with the landlord, until they move out. On the other hand there are landlords who come up with every excuse as to why they should retain the deposit. These people often maintain that the full deposit is required in order to rectify damage that the tenant has caused to the property concerned. While it is true that a landlord may use deposit monies for this purpose, it does not give him carte blanche to withhold the entire amount, and receipts must be supplied which clearly indicate the amount that is spent to rectify the faults.

    Inspections

    The situation often descends into chaos when a proper inspection is not carried out before the tenant moves in. The importance of conducting a thorough inspection by the owner (or his agent) and the tenant before occupation cannot be over-emphasised. All faults both big and small must be noted and this list must be referred to again once the tenant decides to move out.

    Likewise it is highly recommended that a tenant insist that the landlord (or his agent) conduct the outgoing inspection in his presence as soon as possible once the premises have been vacated. Landlords need to note that there is such a thing as fair wear and tear and take this factor into consideration, before attempting to withhold depost monies. A tenant who has lived in a property for five years for example cannot be expected to pay for all the interior walls to be re-painted. Similarly, it would be unreasonable to expect the tenant to pay for new carpets because they are stained when he has lived in the property for a number of years.

    Refund of deposits

    When a joint inspection has taken place, the Rental Housing Act clearly states that a tenant's deposit must be refunded within seven days if there are no repairs that need to be carried out and 14 days if repair work needs to be undertaken. Because the landlord has to have placed the deposit in an interest-bearing account, he must pay all outstanding monies across including the interest that has accrued during the rental period.

    If a tenant is not available or is unwilling to inspect the property at the end of the lease, the landlord must inspect the home within seven days of the tenant moving out. The landlord then has 21 days to attend to any repairs and refund the deposit or the balance if there is any repair work. 

    This article can be found in BizCommunity.com



    Pets in Rented Property

    As it is Cruft's time we thought it appropriate to offer advice to those looking for rented property who own pets.  When you are looking for privately rented accommodation with your pet, there are a number of things you can do to make the house hunting process as simple as possible and to show prospective landlords that you are a responsible pet owner.
    1 Don't leave your house hunting until the last minute - Give yourself plenty of time to find a pet-friendly property and begin searching at least 6-8 weeks before you need to move out of your current home.
    2 Be as flexible as possible - The more restrictive your search criteria are, the more difficult it will be for you to find a pet-friendly property. Try to be flexible on location and property type as this will increase your chances of finding somewhere for you and your pet to live.
    3 Write a CV for your pet - Provide your prospective landlord with as much information about your pet as you can. Write a CV and include contact details for your veterinary practice and for someone who can care for your pet in case of an emergency. You could also include details of your pet's last vaccinations and any flea and worming treatments they have received.
    4 Get a reference for your pet - By providing your landlord with a reference from your previous landlord or your vet, you can show that your pet is both well behaved and capable of living in rented accommodation without causing problems or damage. This will also demonstrate that you are a responsible pet owner.
    5 Introduce your pet to your landlord - Meeting your pet in advance may put your landlord's mind at ease. You could invite your landlord to your current home so that they can see that your pet has caused no problems there. This is particularly important for dogs as it's an opportunity to show that your dog is calm and well behaved.
    6 Offer to pay a higher deposit - Many landlords are concerned about pets causing damage to their property or furnishings. By offering to pay a higher deposit, you will reassure the landlord that you will cover any damage that your pet may cause.
    7 Offer to have the property professionally cleaned - Landlords often worry that accepting pets will lead to flea infestations, excess pet hair and dirty carpets and soft furnishings. To put your landlord's mind at ease you might consider offering to pay for the property to be professionally cleaned when you move out. Some landlords and letting agents may ask for a non-refundable payment in advance to cover the cost of cleaning.
    8 Be honest, don't sneak your pet in without permission - It's never advisable to keep a pet in a property without the landlord's consent. This will only lead to problems in the future and could result in the termination of your tenancy. It's possible that keeping pets in the property may even violate the landlord's own leasehold agreement. It's advisable to always be honest about your pets from the start.
    9 Get written permission - If your landlord has given you permission to keep a pet in your property, make sure you get it in writing. You should ask for a clause to be added to your tenancy agreement to cover the keeping of pets and make sure that any 'No Pets' clauses are removed. This will prevent problems from arising in future.

    Further information and help can be found on the Dog's Trust website.



    Living in a Shared House or Flat

    If you share a house or flat with other tenants, your landlord will have extra legal responsibilities if the home you rent is defined as a "house in multiple occupation" (HMO), although not all shared homes are HMO's.

    Your home will probably be an HMO if:

    • 3 or more unrelated people live there as at least 2 separate households e.g 3 single people with their own rooms or 2 couples each sharing a room.
    • the people living there share basic amenities such as bathroom and kitchen
    With shared houses and flats that are classed as HMOs the landlord has to make sure that:
    • proper fire safety measures are in place - smoke detectors in every bedroom and communal areas and the kitchen must have a heat detector
    • annual gas safety checks are carried out
    • electrics are checked every 5 years
    • there are adequate cooking and washing facilities
    • communal areas are clean and in good repair
    • there are enough rubbish bins for everyone living in the house
    Licences for HMOs usually last for 5 years but some councils grant them for shorter periods.  When deciding whether to issue or renew a licence, the council will check that the property meets an acceptable standard for example if the property is large enough for all the occupants and if it is well managed.  HMO's do not need to be licensed if they are managed or owned by a Housing Association or co-operative, a council, a health service or a police or fire authority.

    Further information can be found here.



    Immigration checks by Landlords


    The government wants to ensure that anyone renting in the private sector is not only accommodated safely, but is here legally.  Many private landlords do check the identity and credit status for potential tenants which can make it difficult for a person here illegally to rent a property, but not all do so.  The proposed legislation, by way of the Immigration Bill, would mirror existing requirements on employers who have to make similar checks on anyone applying for work.
    The Government point out that landlords are not being asked to become immigration experts, but just to make a few simple checks.  Landlords who cooperate have nothing to fear but there will be civil penalties for landlords who don't make the right checks or knowingly let a property to someone here illegally.
    By enforcing proper standards and acting to drive out the rogue landlords, ultimately the new legislation should help protect decent landlords and the wider community.
    Landlords will be able to use a free Home Office facility to make phone or email checks on prospective tenants.
    The maximum turnaround time will be 48 hours.  If no clear answer is given in that time, landlords can proceed with letting out the property to that tenant with no fault or penalty.
    The government will publish a draft code of practice for the operation of the civil penalty regime, including guidance for landlords and draft regulations setting out the documents that landlords will need to check.  Subject to Parliamentary approval the intention is that the new rules will be implemented from October 2014.  They will not apply to existing tenancies, landlords will only have to conduct checks on new tenants from the implementation date.





    Discretionary Housing Payment

    A Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) is a payment you may received at the discretion of your local authority to provide extra help with housing costs on top of your Housing Benefit.

    You must be entitled to Housing Benefit or the Housing Costs element of Universal Credit to apply for a DHP.  The Government has increased the funding given to Local Authorities for DHPs to help people affected by the Benefit Cap and other Housing Benefit changes.  Once your local authority has spent its budget (provided by the Government) it cannot award any more payments for that financial year.  They cannot help everyone so decisions about priority have to be made.

    A DHP can be used to help towards housing costs.  It can be paid if your Housing Benefit does not meet the full rent you must pay.  It could also be paid to help with a rent deposit or rent in advance for a property you haven't moved into yet as long as you are entitled to Housing Benefit for your current home.  It could also help with lump sum expenses such as removal costs.  You can still apply to your current local authority for assistance even if you are moving to another area.

    A DHP cannot be used to cover an increase in rent due to arrears or to make up the difference if an overpayment is being recovered from your Housing Benefit.

    Your Local Authority will decide whether to award a DHP, how much to award and for how long.

    The amount you get could cover all or part of your shortfall in rent or the costs of taking up a tenancy.  There is no limit to length of time over which DHPs can be made - it could be a one-off or an indefinite award.  The payment could be made to you or direct to your landlord.

    DHP's do not count as income or capital when calculating your entitlement to means-tested benefits or Tax Credits.

    You should ask your Local Authority how to make a claim and as there are no rules on backdating it is up to the Local Authority whether an award will be backdated and for how long.

    You are required to notify your Local Authority of any changes to circumstances which may be relevant to you continuing to receive DHP - you will be told about any changes you should report.

    Further information can be found on the Government website.





    What to do if your rental property floods.

    If you rent your home and it has been damaged by floods, you might need some
    help or information about how and when your home will be repaired.
    As a tenant you have the right to have your accommodation kept in a reasonable
    state of repair.
    If your home is damaged by flooding, your landlord is responsible for repairing the
    damage. This includes damage to the structure of your home. It also includes
    keeping the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation and
    heating in working order.
    However, you are responsible for furnishings and other personal belongings, therefore it is important that you have a current  and sufficient household contents insurance policy.
    You must tell your landlord about the need for any repairs as a result of flooding as
    soon as possible. Your landlord must then carry out the repairs within a reasonable
    period of time.
    If there has been extensive damage, you may have to leave your home while work
    is done. But you will only have to move out if it's impossible for you to carry on living
    there. If you can move from room to room while work is carried out, then you will not
    have to leave. The landlord is legally responsible for protecting you and your
    belongings during this time.
    If your home is so badly damaged that you do have to move out, your landlord does
    not have to provide you with somewhere else to go.
    You must tell your landlord if you have to move out. If possible, you should not move
    out until:

    • you are satisfied that your landlord knows why you are leaving
    • your landlord has confirmed you will be able to move back in once the repairs are done and live there on the same basis as before
    • your landlord has given you an estimate of how long the repairs are expected to take.

    If you have to move out, you should try to reach an agreement with your landlord
    about payment of rent. You should ask your landlord either to suspend rent
    payments on the home you've moved out of, or, to pay reasonable costs for
    alternative accommodation.
    This is especially important if you're getting Housing Benefit as you can only get
    benefit to pay the rent on one property, not two. Your local council will need to
    decide whether benefit can continue to be paid for the home you've moved out of or
    for your alternative accommodation.
    This is a complicated situation and you should get advice from an experienced
    adviser.
    For further help contact your nearest Citizen's Advice Bureau or visit their website.



    Universal Credit continues to confuse

    The National Landlords Association has revealed that tenants remain confused by the Government’s Universal Credit scheme.
    Half of those surrveyed said that although they were aware existing benefits would be replaced with Universal Credit, they did not fully understand what it meant.

    A fifth said they were completely unaware of the changes while just three said they knew what to expect.

    Universal Credit was launched in April 2013 and replaces six existing benefits with a single monthly payment.

    NLA Chairman Carolyn Uphill said: “Benefit payments simply haven’t kept up with rents over the past few years as the Universal Credit programme has progressed and cuts to welfare payments have been made. This has led to concern among many landlords that tenants will fall behind on rent as their finances become increasingly squeezed.

    “If tenants don’t fully understand what Universal Credit is or haven’t even heard of it, more and more landlords will lose confidence that letting to this market is financially viable, especially with the high demand and availability from other types of tenants.

    “Our findings show a significant number of tenants would prefer their housing support to be paid directly to their landlord. If this was an option from the beginning of the tenancy it would avoid the build-up of arrears in the first place, give landlords the confidence that rent would be paid on time and lead to fewer tenancies ending prematurely.”
    he majority of tenants say their rent provides good value for money, according to the National Landlords Association’s latest research findings*.
    More than seven in 10 tenants (73 per cent) rated their rent as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ when asked their opinion on whether it represented value for money. One in five (20 per cent) perceived their rent as ‘poor’ value, while just three per cent rated it as ‘very poor’.
    The findings also show that the majority of landlords haven’t increased rents in the last 12 months, with three quarters of tenants reporting they’re paying the same rent (72 per cent) or a lesser amount (3 per cent) compared with a year ago.
    In total, 85 per cent of tenants said they were happy with the length of their most recent tenancy agreement and four in five (79 per cent) said that their tenancy was either renewed or continued on to a rolling Statutory Periodic Tenancy (SPT) at the end of the previous fixed term period.
    When it comes to the end of the tenancy, fewer than two per cent of tenants said their landlord ended their last tenancy (1 per cent) or felt they were forced to move out because of increases to their rent (0.6 per cent). Three per cent of tenants said they decided to move on or end their last tenancy of their own accord.
    Carolyn Uphill, Chairman of the National Landlords Association, said:
    “It’s pleasing to see that so many tenants perceive their rent as good value because landlords face a lot of unjustified criticism for the rising costs of living.
    “The NLA has long argued that rent levels in the UK are a consequence of a market economy, with the determining factor at present being a chronic undersupply of affordable housing, compounded by lethargic efforts on the part of Government to foster more construction.
    “On the whole the findings are encouraging for tenants: they demonstrate that rents on private lets over the past year have remained fairly stable and show that, in reality, very few feel pressured to move out or actually have their tenancy terminated by their landlord – a common misconception.
    “However, most important of all the findings suggest that the majority of landlords are in the business of providing good quality, affordable homes and are making sustainable tenancies a mainstay of most tenants’ rental experience”.
    - See more at: http://www.landlords.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/rent-good-value-money-say-tenants#sthash.xvQEihgv.dpuf
    he majority of tenants say their rent provides good value for money, according to the National Landlords Association’s latest research findings*.
    More than seven in 10 tenants (73 per cent) rated their rent as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ when asked their opinion on whether it represented value for money. One in five (20 per cent) perceived their rent as ‘poor’ value, while just three per cent rated it as ‘very poor’.
    The findings also show that the majority of landlords haven’t increased rents in the last 12 months, with three quarters of tenants reporting they’re paying the same rent (72 per cent) or a lesser amount (3 per cent) compared with a year ago.
    In total, 85 per cent of tenants said they were happy with the length of their most recent tenancy agreement and four in five (79 per cent) said that their tenancy was either renewed or continued on to a rolling Statutory Periodic Tenancy (SPT) at the end of the previous fixed term period.
    When it comes to the end of the tenancy, fewer than two per cent of tenants said their landlord ended their last tenancy (1 per cent) or felt they were forced to move out because of increases to their rent (0.6 per cent). Three per cent of tenants said they decided to move on or end their last tenancy of their own accord.
    Carolyn Uphill, Chairman of the National Landlords Association, said:
    “It’s pleasing to see that so many tenants perceive their rent as good value because landlords face a lot of unjustified criticism for the rising costs of living.
    “The NLA has long argued that rent levels in the UK are a consequence of a market economy, with the determining factor at present being a chronic undersupply of affordable housing, compounded by lethargic efforts on the part of Government to foster more construction.
    “On the whole the findings are encouraging for tenants: they demonstrate that rents on private lets over the past year have remained fairly stable and show that, in reality, very few feel pressured to move out or actually have their tenancy terminated by their landlord – a common misconception.
    “However, most important of all the findings suggest that the majority of landlords are in the business of providing good quality, affordable homes and are making sustainable tenancies a mainstay of most tenants’ rental experience”.
    - See more at: http://www.landlords.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/rent-good-value-money-say-tenants#sthash.xvQEihgv.dpuf



    Few Tenants End Up Having Deposit Deductions

     Few tenants in the private rented sector in the UK end up having deposit deductions at the end of their tenancy, new research shows.
     Just 9% have had their landlord or letting agent retain money according to a poll from tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme My Deposits.
    Most landlords or letting agents take a tenancy deposit to guarantee against financial losses should the tenant breach the terms of the tenancy agreement or damage the property. However, the deposit should be returned to the tenant at the end of the tenancy unless breaches or damages occur.
    The poll showed that tenants in the Midlands and the South East of England were more likely to face a deduction to their deposit than other parts of the UK.
    Some 12% of tenants in the East Midlands and 11% in the West Midlands said their landlord or letting agent had proposed a deduction to their tenancy deposit. The next highest group to experience deposit deductions at 10% were tenants in the South East. On the flip side, just 4% of tenants in Wales experienced a deduction and 7% in the North East.
    The findings also show that tenants in Wales were the most self-assured when it comes to discussing the return of their deposit at the end of the tenancy, with 39% saying they felt confident in approaching the issue with their landlord or letting agent. Tenants in the North East were the least confident with 25% saying they felt confident discussing the issue.
    ‘Although most tenants haven’t experienced deductions to their deposit at the end of their tenancy it seems that many still lack the confidence to approach the issue with their landlord or letting agent. In fact, even the most confident of tenants are in the minority when it comes to discussing issues over their deposit,’ said the firm’s chief executive officer Eddie Hooker.
    ‘It’s vital that tenants are both aware and informed about the law and their rights because deposit protection was introduced to safeguard their money, and they should have it returned in full at the end of the tenancy if they don’t breach any of their obligations,’ he explained.

    The full story can be found here



    Tenants Beware!

    It's not just rents that tenants have to worry about – there are also an increasing number of fraudsters intent on relieving them of their hard-earned cash.
    In December, a New Zealand couple looking to rent in Swansea told the local paper how they had been conned out of £3,000 in advance rent after answering an advert for a one-bedroom flat. They signed a contract with the "landlord" who showed them the apartment, only for the real owner to visit after they had moved in and inform them the contract was fraudulent.
    The unlucky pair are not alone. With rental accommodation in short supply in some areas of the country, con men are cashing in on tenants' desperation to find a place to live. On some occasions fraudsters have gained access to properties and taken prospective tenants around, pretending the property is vacant and under their control. In other cases the fraudsters are purporting to rent out property that doesn't exist, has already been rented out, or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time.
    Problems also arise when a property is rented out by the real landlord but without the permission of the mortgage company. This is a breach of mortgage terms and conditions and, in theory at least, can lead to repossession. Other landlords might be in financial difficulty and at risk of repossession, but keep tenants in the dark about the risk to the roof over their heads.
    As well as asking questions, there are a few checks you can do online to establish if things are really as they seem. You can check whether the landlord actually owns the property through the Land Registry. For £3 you can buy title registers showing ownership details. Land Registry data can also tell you about any charges on the property – these are loans, including mortgages, where the building is used as security and can be repossessed if payments are missed.
    If it does show that there is a mortgage on the property, you might want to dig deeper. To stick to mortgage lenders' terms and conditions, a landlord will either need a buy-to-let mortgage or "consent to let" from their mortgage lender to rent out a property that has a residential mortgage.

    If a landlord has the mortgage lender's permission to rent the property out, a tenant will be in a much stronger position if the property is repossessed due to arrears on the mortgage.
    The past year has seen an increase in subletting, and "rent-to-rent". While the latter can be done perfectly legally, some middle-men do it without the landlord's permission. Tenants could be at risk of eviction if any middle man fails to pass on the rent to the proper landlord. To protect yourself, make sure you do due diligence on anyone you are handing rent money to; ask to see the agreement between the landlord and any middle-man or agent, do a quick Google search on both, and request proof that any deposit you hand over is properly protected.
    A dodgy landlord might use a letting agent, but he or she will come under less scrutiny if the property is advertised directly, so it is worth being on your guard when responding to adverts on listing sites.
    Never use a Western Union or Moneygram transfer service to pay your rent.  One popular tactic used by scammers is to persuade tenants to use Western Union or Moneygram to transfer money. While these services are legitimate businesses, you shouldn't use them to send your deposit or rent. Western Union admits its services are often used by property scammers. It says that in the majority of the cases where this fraud was committed, scammers posed as landlords on classified websites and conned legitimate house hunters out of their money.
    The full article can be found at The Guardian



    Don't ignore damp and mould

    Landlords and lettings agents in the UK that ignore tenant complaints about damp and mould, could lead to personal injury claims and even  hefty fines of up to £5,000, it is claimed.
    In Britain, condensation and mould in residential property is mainly a winter problem, particularly where warm moist air is generated in areas like kitchens and bathrooms and then penetrates to colder parts of the building.
    When the air gets cold, it cannot hold onto all the extra moisture produce by everyday activities, so some of this moisture appears as small droplets of water, most noticeable on windows, or where there is little movement of air. If not properly dealt with, this extra dampness can lead to mould growth on walls, furniture, window frames and even clothes.
    Condensation and mould isn’t something that landlords and agents should ignore.
    Mould spores need a moist environment in which to germinate, so many mould problems are caused by poor building maintenance and lack of ventilation, such as water leaking through windows or roofs; rising damp, which is often caused by breached, missing or damaged damp proof membranes; steam and condensation from showers, bathrooms, cooking or high air humidity; and inadequate ventilation or heating throughout the home.
    Older properties tend to suffer more than new ones, but rental properties are particularly prone. The problem is often a matter of degree from a small patch of mould or discoloured wallpaper behind the wardrobe in the very top corner of a bedroom, to serious amounts of mould growth across walls, inside wardrobes and on clothes, furnishings, carpets and in basements.
    Aside from damage to the property, mould spores are well documented as a health risk. The mould fungi have been identified as the source of many health problems, including infections, asthma, allergies and sinusitis. Moulds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins that may cause reactions in humans.
    The best way to ensure the control of mould in buildings is to carry out good building maintenance and check there is adequate ventilation. Anywhere that is liable to allow water to leak in from outside the property, has a high degree of damp or condensation, or is not kept at a comfortable temperature is prone to a mould attack.
    Landlords and/or agents should check for leaks that may be causing damp, inside and outside the property. Bathrooms are a common culprit for escaping water and gutters could be blocked by leaves at this time of year.Landlords should ensure that bathrooms and kitchens are well ventilated by installing extractor fans and ensuring that there windows that can be easily opened. Extractor fans should be working efficiently.
    More information can be found here.




    Energy Companies Obligation (ECO)

    The Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) is an energy efficiency programme that was introduced into Great Britain at the beginning of 2013. It replaces two previous schemes, the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) and the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP).
    ECO places legal obligations on the larger energy suppliers to deliver energy efficiency measures to domestic energy users. It operates alongside the Green Deal which is designed to help people make energy efficiency improvements to buildings by allowing them to pay the costs through their energy bills rather than upfront.
    ECO is intended to  work alongside the Green Deal to provide additional support in the domestic sector, with a particular focus on vulnerable consumer groups and hard-to-treat homes.

    ECO targets

    Under the rules of ECO, energy suppliers are obliged to help improve the energy efficiency of their domestic customers’ buildings in three distinct areas:
    1. Carbon Emissions Reduction Obligation
      Under the Carbon Emissions Reduction Obligation, energy companies must concentrate efforts on hard-to-treat homes and measures that cannot be fully funded through the Green Deal. Solid wall insulation and hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation are the primary areas for focus under this target. Other insulation measures and connections to district heating systems are also eligible if they are promoted as part of a package that includes solid wall insulation or hard-to-treat cavity wall insulation.
       
    2. Community Obligation
      Under the Carbon Saving Community Obligation,  energy companies must focus on the provision of insulation measures and connections to domestic district heating systems supplying areas of low income. This target has a sub-target, which states that at least 15 per cent of each supplier’s Carbon Saving Community Obligation must be achieved by promoting measures to low income and vulnerable households living in rural areas.
       
    3. Home Heating Cost Reduction Obligation
      Under the Home Heating Cost Reduction Obligation, energy suppliers are required to provide measures which improve the ability of low income and vulnerable households (the ‘Affordable Warmth Group’) to heat their homes. This includes actions that result in heating savings, such as the replacement or repair of a boiler for example.
    More information can be found on the Government website



    Who's responsibility is damage due to the bad weather?

    Following the UK's recent bad weather, Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is reminding tenants to be aware of who is responsible for what in the event of damage to a rented property.
    Storm damage, power cuts and flooding can be unpleasant and stressful experiences for those involved, but familiarising yourself with your tenancy agreement can help ensure any problems are sorted as quickly as practically possible.
    ARLA has the following tips for those concerned about the effects of harsh winter weather on their rented home:Don't weather the storm alone
    Tenants should always have access to relevant contact details if there is a problem with a rented home. It is always advisable to contact your landlord or letting agent as soon as possible if weather-related damage occurs.
    If the responsible party cannot attend immediately, taking time-stamped pictures of any damage is a sensible course of action to ensure the details of the incident are accurately recorded.
    What's your responsibility?
    In most cases landlords will be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building's exterior of your building. However tenants should do everything they can to minimise damage, even if this is limited to reporting a problem as soon as it happens. Remember, any damage may be the subject of an insurance claim for the landlord.
    In certain agreements tenants can be required to perform limited upkeep tasks like clearing gutters, which could lead to drainage problems in heavy rainfall.
    Deep freeze
    During the colder months, it is also a tenant's responsibility to make sure the pipes don't freeze if they are away from the property for extended periods. The best way to combat this problem is to set the heating to come on at a low level during the coldest parts of the day, whilst also informing your landlord that you will be away from the property.
    Flooded out
    When viewing a rental property, it is worth checking if the area is prone to flooding. This is an especially important consideration if the property is near a water source, however small, or if is in a low-lying area.
    Contents insurance for your own goods is a tenant's responsibility, and always ensure it provides adequate cover for water damage if you remain concerned about the potential for flooding.
    If the lights go off...
    If you are unfortunate enough to suffer a power cut as a tenant, checking the UK Power Networks website is a quick and easy way to get updates on the current situation. If the power cut is affecting more than just your home, it is worth getting in touch with your utility provider directly, rather than your landlord in the first instance.
    If the power remains off for an extended period of time, remember that freezers may leak as contents warm and any appliances that were on at the time of the cut will come back to life once power is restored.

    The full press release can be found here.



    Should tenants withold rent for "slow" repairs


    A quarter of a million private tenants a year are withholding rent money from their landlords because of delays resolving emergencies such as boiler faults and heating problems, research has found.
    One in three tenants have faced a home emergency in the last 12 months with the most common problems being central heating faults, boiler problems and blocked sinks/drains, according to emergency call-out firm Homeserve.
    Of this number, 11 per cent took the extreme step of refusing to pay rent because their landlord had taken an ‘unacceptable’ time to deal with repairs while nearly half said they would be willing to take this measure in the future if it happened to them.
    According to the data, only one in three tenants said urgent problems were dealt with in the same day while 23 per said they were left in limbo for more than a week.
    Tenants can receive wildly differing service from their landlord depending on how the property is managed.
    TOP TEN: TENANT EMERGENCY CALL OUTS
    1. Central heating fault - 15%
    2. Boiler fault - 14%
    3. Blocked sinks - 13%
    4. Blocked drains - 10%
    5. Leaking taps - 7%
    6. Blocked toilets - 6%
    7. Leaking pipes - 5%
    8. Pest problem - 5%
    9. Electrical fault - 2%
    10. Other - 2%
    Jonathan King, chief of Homeserve, said: ‘Most landlords are responsible and responsive to their tenants’ needs.
    'But it’s clear that with many determined to manage their properties themselves, either to ensure the quality of the job done or to manage costs, this is creating dissatisfaction among some tenants.
    ‘Home emergencies can be a hassle to resolve, for landlords and tenants alike. And tenants’ feeling they have to take the extreme step of withholding rent is in no one’s interest.’
    The research also showed that with the rental market booming, particularly in London, tenants feel that their landlords should offer more.
    Eighty-one per cent of tenants expect dealing with home emergencies should be a key part of the service landlords offer, with nearly two thirds want 24/7 service from them.
    Yet 29 per cent believe their landlord was unable to take the hassle out of dealing with a home emergency – and 41 per cent feel their letting agent failed to make things any easier.
    The data comprised of 4,000 private tenants and 5,087 landlords.
    How long should landlords take to repair an emergency? And can tenants withhold rent if they feel repairs are taking too long?
    Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, said: ‘Assuming that the tenants in questions are subject to a standard Assured Shorthold Tenancy (England and Wales) then they do not have a right to withhold rent in response to needed maintenance or disrepair.
    ‘There are certain, limited, circumstances in which a tenant may undertake work themselves using rent money to cover the cost. However, this is a very complicated area and they should not do so without receiving qualified advice.
    ‘However, landlords have a legal obligation to respond to requests for maintenance in a timely manner, appropriate to the type of issue.
    ‘This can vary, but should be reasonable given the urgency of the repair needed and how soon an appropriate contractor etc. could be expected to be appointed and begin work.
    ‘Something like a boiler repair, particularly in winter, will be considered an urgent repair and should be treated accordingly.
    ‘Although there is no definitive time limit the courts tend to consider how long a homeowner would take to rectify the situation and assume that up to a few days is reasonable – assuming that there are not complications waiting for parts etc.’
    So tenants suffering at the hands of a landlord refusing to carry out an urgent repair must still pay their rent, but could pursue a claim in the small claims court for the rent.
    Read more at The Mail online.



    Forget banks and join credit unions

    According to DSSMove a Cabinet minister has urged middle-class savers and borrowers to cast aside their prejudices and join credit unions.
    These non-profit organisations have long been regarded as the preserve of low-paid families who would otherwise struggle to obtain a mortgage or bank account.
    But the Government wants to change that image. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told The Telegraph: "Credit unions can offer some of the best rates on the market for loans and dividends for your savings. But saving with a credit union can provide more than a financial return, as you will be investing in your local community.
    "While credit unions help many people on low incomes to build savings and access affordable loans, their services are open to all. I'd encourage everyone to look at the accounts credit unions have on offer."
    Mr Duncan Smith himself joined the London Mutual Credit Union last month, while membership across the UK is growing at its fastest in a decade. Credit unions, which operate like mutuals in lending out members' money, expect to gain 20pc more members this year, compared with 8pc a year on average since 2004. The Department for Work and Pensions will invest £38m over the next two years in the union network.

    These are two of the credit unions in the Walsall and Sandwell districts:




    Landlords and gas safety certificates

    Understanding the law for rental accommodation

    As a landlord, you are responsible for the safety of your tenants. Landlords' duties apply to a wide range of accommodation, occupied under a lease or licence, which includes, but not exclusively:
    • residential premises provided for rent by local authorities, housing associations, private sector landlords, housing co-operatives, hostels
    • rooms let in bed-sit accommodation, private households, bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels
    • rented holiday accommodation such as chalets, cottages, flats, caravans and narrow boats on inland waterways.
    The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 deal with landlords’ duties to make sure gas appliances, fittings and flues provided for tenants are safe.

    Landlord's responsibilities

    If you let a property equipped with gas appliances you have three main responsibilities:
    • Maintenance: pipework, appliances and flues must be maintained in a safe condition. Gas appliances should be serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If these are not available it is recommended that they are serviced annually unless advised otherwise by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
    • Gas safety checks: a 12 monthly gas safety check must be carried out on every gas appliance/flue.  A gas safety check will make sure gas fittings and appliances are safe to use.
    • Record: a record of the annual gas safety check must be provided to your tenant within 28 days of the check being completed or to new tenants before they move in. Landlords must keep copies of the gas safety record for two years.
    All installation, maintenance and safety checks need to be carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
    If a tenant has their own gas appliance that you have not provided, then you are responsible for the maintenance of the gas pipework but not for the actual appliance.
    You should also make sure your tenants know where to turn off the gas and what to do in the event of a gas emergency

    Further information on gas safety can be found on the Gas Safe Register