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Advice for Landlords

Advice for Landlords


Carrying out a rent survey

This is a great idea to learn more about what the current movement and activity is in your area regarding how rent levels are increasing, how long properties are staying on the market, which neighbourhoods and areas are renting the best, and what sort of features and selling points are attracting applicants.

Be very clear about what your expectations are by carrying out a rent survey. Obviously you will be hoping to pinpoint where your rent level is pitched with reference to the wider market. It’s also crucial for amassing relevant information about the current status of rents in your area, turnover of property, which areas are most popular and how tenants are attracted to a property.

The results will be that this information can facilitate successful rentals. In layman’s terms, this will help you get your property rented more quickly and for the best price, giving you an optimum return for your investment.

Carrying out a rent survey is easy, but can take time and effort. This could last a couple of weeks and may require resources such as newspapers, the Internet and a decent pair of shoes to see you through pavement pounding in your quest for enlightenment.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

I’d recommend devising a spreadsheet to calculate the data you are going to record and ponder overt. If you have a computer spreadsheet, this will be quick and easy. If you don’t have a computer, (and I can’t believe I actually wrote that, who doesn’t?!), invest in an accountancy pad or customise plain paper with columns.

You’ll need a column for each of the following: full address, telephone number, 1 Bedroom, 2 Bedrooms, 3 Bedrooms, 4 Bedrooms, Square feet, rent per square foot/metre.

Start with trawling the relevant sections of the classified ads in your local paper for the last month or so. Keep it relevant by checking only the rents relating to the area where your property is/will be. Buy a map of the city or town and mark off the areas and territories where you’ll be checking. Again, don’t go outside these boundaries otherwise the data collected will be skewed. It’s important to audit only those properties in areas that are comparable to your own.

Equally significant is the idea that you’ll be surveying properties similar to your own. If you’ve got a flat, for example, you won’t compare that with a semi-detached house. Keep to the categories listed in your newspaper and reference source. Don’t deviate from the appropriate section. Now check through each of the advertisements comparable to your own property. It might restrict the search but where possible, check only those advertisements where an address is specified because otherwise you’ll need to do some phoning round to check details with the landlord or agency.

SECONDLY:

You can then sort the entries by phone number; this is very important to avoid listing the same property twice and if you’ve got a lot of material to wade through (as in reams of back copies of papers and information leaflets, flyers, etc), it’s quite possible that the same property has several listings and you run the risk of duplications which will slow up the process. Although descriptions may differ, the phone number won’t and a pattern may emerge as to how the property has been marketed, advertised and whether the details such as rent levels have changed!

It might be an idea to can either cut out each of the ads and glue them to a card or write them out on the card. The reason for this is to make it easier to sort them. If you’re on the high tech route via spreadsheet on computer, create a column for the phone number, input all the data and then sort by phone number column.

THIRDLY:

Enlist the help of a local estate agent to get the square foot/metre figures – this sort of information is available to them if you’re having difficulty finding it yourself.

Once all the figures are entered on the spreadsheet or on your manual card, average the rents for the one-bedroom, two-bedroom, etc. properties. You can also get a median figure (half above, half below). That accounts for high or low aberrations in rent amounts. A computer spreadsheet can do this sort of calculation for you instantly, if you tell it to. Manually, you will have to write each rent amount down in ascending order and see which amount is in the middle. Hardly rocket science but a very worthwhile exercise.

Once you’ve established a figure, you can compare it with your own figure and check where your level is on the high side, too low or spot on.

When you have all the information, pick up the phone. Call each landlord and ask the following questions:

1. Has the property been rented out?

2. Did it go for the amount specified in the advert?

3. How long did it take to rent?

4. What’s the area of the property in square feet/metres?

5. Are there any special features or services offered with the property or by the landlord?

6. Was it necessary to adjust the rent level to secure a tenant?

The next step is to visit your property either on foot or in the car then visit the others on your list to see how they compare in terms of first impressions. Try to be as impartial as possible. It’s difficult to switch into objective mode but essential for this stage of the rental survey. Pay particular attention to the:

1. Appearance and external condition of the property

2. Appearance and external conditions of the properties nearby

3. Whether the street is busy, quiet, full of traffic, commuters, and pedestrians

So by undertaking this exercise, you have figures and the sorts of information that you need to set the right level for your own property rental. It’s a very wise idea to repeat this sort of rental survey on a regular basis to get a real time and accurate idea of how the property movement fluctuates and how different areas, neighbourhoods and district come into favour or wane in popularity. It’s demographical wizardry. It will lead you to make informed decisions about pricing rental according to market forces and demands. Good luck.


The Rental Agreement – of vital importance!

It’s very unlikely that you don’t’ already use a rental agreement of some sort whether it’s the official version or one you’ve customised to suit yourself and your tenants. It’s even more unusual that you won’t have had problems or difficulties at some point in the past.

By comparing and contrasting the different kinds of tenancies, you can get an idea of how important the rental agreement is. If you’re struggling for inspiration, check out estate agencies, websites and rental owners’ associations.

A tenancy is basically granting the right to exclusive use of a property for a fixed period of time and must comply with statutory law. Anyone can draw one up but it is important to know what to say in it so that you’re complying with the law, acting responsibly and being fair to the tenants.

The four most popular UK residential tenancies are as follows:

  1. Protected Tenancies Rent Act 1977

  2. Protected Shorthold Tenancies Housing Act 1980

  3. Assured Tenancy Housing Act 1988

  4. Assured Shorthold Tenancy Housing Act 1996

Protected Tenancies Rent Act 1977
Otherwise known as Regulated Tenancies, these are governed by the Rent Act 1977 and the Housing Act of 1988 had no effect on them whatsoever. In order for a tenancy to be legitimately a Protected Tenancy under the 1977 Act, the dwelling must be let as a separate dwelling under section 1 of the Act and must not fall into any of the express exclusions under Part 1 of the Act. A protected tenancy is a statutory tenancy rolling on from month to month giving the tenant the right to a fair rent, not a market rent! At no time can this type of tenancy be changed to An Assured Shorthold Tenancy, even if ownership changes or a new tenancy was granted after January 15th 1989

Protected Shorthold Tenancies Housing Act 1980
This Act was introduced to encourage residential lettings in the private sector. This type of agreement cannot be created nowadays, since the Housing Act of 1988 cam into force. Whilst the tenant is still protected by rent control, the tenant has no right to possession at the end of the fixed term and the landlord can invoke mandatory grounds for possession, as long as the landlord has abided by his statutory requirements.

The Assured Tenancy:
This type of tenancy gives the tenant the right to possession of the property even after the fixed term has come to an end. The only way a landlord can get rid of a tenant is by court order or the tenant leaves voluntarily. Note that the tenancy must include at least one tenant for whom the property is their principal home. If at any time this is not the case, then the tenancy ceases to become assured. It is very difficult to prove this and the courts do not tend to favour landlords. Once the fixed term of the tenancy comes to an end, unless the tenancy is renewed, it becomes a statutory periodic tenancy. This means that the tenancy is governed by law to run from period to period, usually monthly.

Assured Shorthold Tenancies:

A much improved type of tenancy than the Assured Tenancy but with some crucial points:

1. The tenant must be an individual or group of individuals for whom at least one the property is their principal address.

2. The tenancy commenced after January 15th 1989

3. The Landlord cannot terminate the tenancy unless he has given two months written notice in the form of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

If the tenancy becomes periodic i.e. the fixed term has run out, then the tenancy continues until the tenant gives one months notice or the landlord gives two months’ notice.

Possession of the property is guaranteed to the tenant for a minimum period of six months. Possession will not be given to the landlord unless the tenant has been in situ for a minimum of six months. The periodic tenancy can continue with no time limit.

Subletting is another reason to have a watertight written agreement with very clear clauses so that there is no ambiguity or room for confusion. It is worth remembering that the sub letter does not have to pay rent or perform any of the original tenant's obligations to the landlord under the rental agreement, unless the lease specifically requires it.

Take advice if you’re unsure about any part of drafting an agreement and ensure that all parties have signed up to its contents.


Check, check and check again.

It’s a simple truth but to be an effective landlord and successfully let your properties, you need to be a stickler for detail and committed to clarifying every piece of information submitted. Otherwise you could end up in a vicious circle of unreliable tenants occupying your premises which brings its own set of complications.

One rule – all information and data submitted must be verifiable. This means checking pervious landlords, addresses, employment, career history, criminal declarations, in fact, any statement made and signed on the application to rent your property. Make it clear that as a responsible landlord, applications will be immediately discounted if any false information has been knowingly submitted or misrepresented.

People can be fickle – applications may be modified, enhanced or vital details omitted in order to facilitate a rental application and end up with a roof over their head. Watch out especially for prospective tenants lying about where they live or have lived, their job or previous career, how much their salary is or has been and whether they have bona fide qualifications. They may even lie about family and friends. Once they have secured a property, they will be unreliable payers, unscrupulous about guests, regulations, activities and the landlord will ultimately pay a hefty price for his lack of investigation and fact-checking.

It’s a common problem - every landlord knows that bad tenants lie, which makes it a mystery why so little verification goes on at the stage of a rental application. It could be a combination of not having time, energy, resources or even the inclination if a hard to shift property is about to be signed off and the mortgage payment is looming. Often references turn out to be just referrals to friends to back up an application but it is never worth the inherent risk of presuming that everything on the form is valid, accurate and reliable.

So here’s a guide to how to verify everything to ensure that mistakes don’t happen further along the line with a costly price to pay. It is worth compiling a checklist for the future so that there are no loopholes in your system.

The first point is to examine the rental application form and check that every space has been filled in. If the applicant has left something out, this can’t be checked so there should be entries and answers to every question in every field. Landlords in the past have sometimes been too hasty in accepting a seemingly complete form which may be missing vital information.

If a gap is identified, remedial action must be taken. There’s little point in ignoring this, you need to pick up the phone, call the applicant and complete the jigsaw bearing in mind that unreliable tenants may know that they have omitted vital details and refuse the call.

Some landlords accept applications on a first come, first served, first completed basis and will rent properties out to the first qualified applicant to have filled out the form accurately. It still pays to chase up references and verify history so that the integrity of the applicant can be ascertained.

When you have the completed form in front of you, read through it. Check first off for any missing information. If the applicant is right there with you, ask him or her to supply details if appropriate and hand the form back for completion.

It makes good sense to note the date and time received on the top of the form and make a double check that the person submitting the form is the same as the applicant. For example, ask him/her for their driving licence or photo ID which will verify their appearance and address. Take a photocopy.

When you have time to peruse the form, verify details like employment, current address, previous address and date of birth. Ask yourself whether the applicant appeared to be the same age as reported on his/her documentation.

For effective double checks, ring the applicant and ask for some key data, such as date of birth, bank sort code or national insurance number. Don’t read it back – let the information come directly from the applicant.

It’s quite straightforward to check employer details and make a quick call to establish that the applicant is employed and has a regular income. Now make sure all the other information submitted tallies with that provided on the rental application, such as amount of income and the start date. For a large employer, you can verify that the applicant works there, that he is full-time, or part-time and how long he’s been in post. Personnel offices won't say much more citing data protection. If the applicant works for a family business, ask to see some paperwork, anything that will validate this claim.

A sensible next step would be to confirm that the person the applicant claims is the landlord actually is the owner of the property (or the manager) of his previous address. This could be information available on the Internet or else you could make a call to the local authority. Try tracing the owner in the phone book – some people are ex-directory and there’s a huge mobile culture these days so it may not be a reliable way of verifying who’s who.

If the landlord is purported to be a property manager, there should be a listing either in the phone book or on the Internet. There are occasions when applicants cite friends and colleagues as having various job titles.

Students need to be able to prove to your satisfaction that they are enrolled in college. This can come from a receipt for tuition fees or a formal document from their college or university department and a photo ID card, or anything else that looks legitimate.

Finally, if anything doesn't add up or can't be verified, it’s best to reject the applicant. If you have suspicions, pursue them and don’t settle until you have reached closure.



For when you don’t want to renew a lease

You aren’t under any legal obligation to renew a lease, unless there is a provision in that lease offering the option for the tenant to renew (piece of advice - never put that in a lease). Often when drawing up lease agreements, it’s best to keep things simple and straightforward without any clauses that might affect your choices later on.

So how do you go about ensuring that those tenants you’ve been trying to get rid of don’t hang around? If your intention is not to renew it, you need to act early and make preparation for this eventuality well in advance. To be honest, this is worth doing when the lease is actually signed at the beginning of the tenancy. Make a note on your planner, in your diary, on the kitchen notice-board or on the computer of a date preferably eight weeks in advance of the expiry of the lease so that you can assign time to deal with this. Be sure about whether you want to keep these tenants or not. Some may be excellent in which case renewal makes a lot of sense, others you will need to guide gently on their way.

Research has revealed that the majority of people start thinking about moving probably four to six weeks before they do anything about it. To keep track of this, it is recommended that you issue a notice or a letter to remind them that the lease agreement expires on a date in the not too distant future. This will enable those tenants who you would prefer to move on to address this reality. It pays to be well organised about this which is why you should keep a note on your planned to remind you to take action at the right time. There may be standard forms in existence for this, but customise your own to fit best with your lease (and preferences).

You could use the example below as a guide but customise it to your own requirements.

Date ____________

Tenant name(s) ___________________________

Property Address ________________________

City _________________________ County ____ Postcode ___________

Your lease is due to expire on ____________________. We will not be renewing it. We expect you to vacate the premises by midnight on _________________ (expiry date).

The advantage of acting early on this and making your wishes known is that the tenant who you’d prefer to leave your property may try to stall or avoid the move. Bad payers may turn over a new leaf and become a model tenant with prompt payers.

As mentioned earlier, you are under no legal obligation to renew unless there is a clause in the lease agreement offering that option to your tenants. Note that the tenant’s right to occupy the property expires with the lease so you must be careful not to encourage your troublesome tenants to hang around or quote an ambiguous agreement that they have misinterpreted.

If the tenant refuses to move out on the day the lease expires and after having received written notice of this, you will have to go through the eviction process within a legal framework. It would be beneficial to take advice on this and to consult with a legal expert if you are unsure about any aspect



Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. I’m thinking about letting a property. How much rent can I charge?

A: The best way to answer this is to encourage you to check out the local paper for an idea of what’s the going rate in your area for similar properties.. Some speculative telephone enquiries to estate agents may also yield valuable information. Ask around, too. People in pubs know things.

Q. The small print - what about drawing up an assured shorthold tenancy agreement?

A. Get hold of a standard form, decide on fundamentals such as whether the let is weekly or monthly and how long the tenancy should last. There are guidelines on www.landlordlaw.co.uk (James, get a link with these people!) This type of agreement covers individuals only, it’s not suitable for companies, and the property has to be let as separate accommodation as a main dwelling place.

Q. How do I get my tenant to leave?

A. As a landlord, you need to give the tenant notice that you require possession once the term of the shorthold tenancy agreement have come to an end. There are no stringent regulations about how to word this. If it isn’t the “natural” end of the tenancy, you need to give the tenant two weeks’ notice for circumstances like rent arrears. More on this later.

Q. What if my property has a mortgage?

A. This is slightly different – the majority of mortgage deeds prevent you from letting out a property without the lender’s consent. You’ll have to double check with your mortgage lender. Don’t take any chances! There are buy to let schemes available. Check with the authorities.

Q. And if I’m a leaseholder?

A: In this case, you need to make reference to the terms of your lease, and double check with your landlord. There may be exclusions or certain rules to honour.

Q. I’m confused about what I’m required to pay for. Help!

A. It can be confusing! You’re responsible for basic repairs if your tenancy terms are for less than seven years. These repairs include the exterior of the property, sanitary installations such as baths, washbasins, etc and installations for heating water and space. Make provision for this in the rent that you charge since the tenant is not going to be responsible for carrying out this type of repair or maintenance. However, there is some flexibility over what can be shared out, depending on how you word your tenancy agreement. It’s worth mentioning that you need to give your tenant 24 hours’ notice in writing if you’re going to access the property to carry out repairs.

Q. My new tenant claims housing benefit. How does this affect me?

A. Some tenants are eligible for housing benefit which may cover all or part of their rent. It’s best to check with the relevant department of your local authority if your tenant receives benefit. Sometimes direct payment can be made to you as landlord, it just depends on the circumstances under which the allowance is issued.

Q. I’ve got the tenant from hell … what can I do ?

A. The good news is that the law protects you against tenants who don’t pay their rent, cause a nuisance or use the property for illegal activities. And quite rightly! For rent arrears, it is vital to act as soon as a payment is missed and you should contact the tenant to request this. If no rent is paid for two months, you can apply to the court for possession and it is usual for the court to demand payment from the tenant of monies owing. Under the terms of the tenancy agreement which you agreed together, the tenant has a right to respect the property and you may have made stipulations about keeping animals, subletting, etc. You should also have included a clause about what would happen in the event of unsatisfactory behaviour and defined the grounds so that there’s no ambiguity. If the tenant then breaks this agreement or manifests unsociable and unacceptable behaviour, you have the right to end his tenancy and he will lose the right to remain in the property.

Rent arrears should be tackled as soon as they arise. Your agreement should provide for rent to be paid regularly on a particular day of the week, month or year. If a payment is missed, notify the tenant straightaway and ask him for the money. If there are serious rent arrears, then the law enables you to get your property back.

Q: If a tenant wants to leave early, where do I stand?

A. This is a case for individual consideration. If your tenant wants to leave because his circumstances have changed, he can no longer afford the rent, then it might be wise to release him but retain some of the security deposit to cover costs. If he just fancies a change, then he is still accountable for the remainder of the rental period for the term of the agreement. There are informal ways around this: he might be able to find a replacement tenant to cover the interim period. If the rental market is buoyant, you may be able to find another tenant quickly in any case and can use any “spare” time to make repairs, undertake maintenance, etc.



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