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Property Law Updates Estate Agents Need to Know

Every year that passes comes with new updates and amendments to property legislation and guidance. 2021 is no different and with the tumultuous past year that the world has experienced, it’s unsurprising that the property market has been affected in several ways. As we start to navigate the new normal as the pandemic slowly starts to ease, these are some of the changes and updates to the housing market that estate agents should stay aware of.

Changes to pet ruling

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

Earlier this year, the government updated the Model Tenancy Agreement which includes a clause that landlords are no longer able to reject a tenant’s request to keep pets in the property unless there’s a valid reason for doing so, such as the size of the property. However, something that estate agents need to be aware of when responding to client requests is that the law does not state that landlords are legally required to permit pets in their properties.

There’s a distinction between the terms guidance and law, and the agreement falls under guidance. This means that there are no legal obligations for landlords to allow pets – landlords and letting agents are only entitled to operate a no pet policy providing there’s no increase to the deposit past the five week’s rent maximum and that, in regards to service dogs, there’s no breach to the equality laws.

Updates to the leasehold reform

One of the biggest changes that was announced in 2021 was the Leasehold Reform, which the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced in early January. Under the new legislation, house and flat leaseholders can extend their lease to a new standard of 990 years without any ground rent. The new rules offer a great opportunity for significant savings for clients, of thousands of pounds in some cases, and it’s a huge change to the sector that was first raised back in 2017.

Right to rent

Since mid-June, the regulations have changed for proving a tenant’s right to rent in the UK. It’s now required that you meet anyone taking on a property face to face, while they are having their documents checked. And tenants need to provide evidence that they have the right to rent in the UK, given that we’re no longer part of the EU. Letting agencies can’t grant a tenancy to anyone who cannot provide evidence that they are legally allowed to stay in the UK.

There are two categories of tenants who have the right to rent – unlimited rights and those with time-limited rights. Unlimited right to rent includes British citizens, people who have the right to live in the UK and those who have been given indefinite leave to remain or have no time limit on their stay. However, this doesn’t include EU citizens, EEA nationals or Swiss nationals anymore. Time-limited right to rent applies to anyone falling outside the previously mentioned categories who can stay in the UK for a set period of time, such as people who are permitted to remain in the UK as a result of Acts of Parliament, EU treaties and immigration regulation.

Distancing guidelines remain

With each phase of the easing of COVID restrictions comes a wave of relief and feeling like life is returning to normal, but we’ve not passed the finish line just yet, so there are still guidelines to bear in mind when carrying out viewings and property inspections. The changes for agents, therefore, will be minimal and professionals in this sector should continue to adhere to safety guidelines for the protection of themselves, their colleagues and clients.

Agents should ensure that people visiting office sites have made an appointment, to avoid overcrowding and to ensure distancing is maintained as much as possible, and that Test and Trace codes are in place to track contact with others. Masks should still be worn to keep everyone safe and, where possible, offering virtual viewings will help to maintain social distancing. In instances where in-person viewings are required or preferred, opening windows and doors to allow ventilation and providing hand sanitiser can help to minimise the spread of the virus.

In summary

Property law is always changing and with the pandemic, Brexit and governmental updates to consider, there are plenty of amendments to how estate agents need to operate throughout the remainder of 2021 and beyond. Staying up to date with the trends and demands of the market, as well as the legalities for compliance, will ensure that you’re always equipped with the latest knowledge to answer client queries and provide the best advice to tenants and property purchasers.

Money-Saving Tips for New Property Investors

Getting into the property market as an investor is a challenging but incredibly lucrative endeavour, if you know how to make the right types of investments. If you know how to make the right decisions, property investments can set you up financially for the foreseeable future. Here are a few ways you can save money while you’re making money.

Know where to invest

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

Understanding property market trends will help enormously in helping you decide where to invest in property. There are growth areas around the country where rental yields are higher, and these change continually, so it’s important to do your research so you can take advantage of capital gains. Cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh are all popular destinations for investors, with plenty of potential tenants and higher rates owing to the central locations.

Pay attention to average rental rates which will help you determine if an area will pay off your investment costs sooner and whether a property in that area is worthwhile. Vacancy rates will also help you identify areas that are in demand, so you can be sure you’ll always be able to find tenants. This can be an ongoing challenge for landlords, so having peace of mind that an area is consistently in demand will minimise the risk of an empty property.

Get professional advice

While it may seem counterproductive to spend money on professional services, specialists will be able to identify areas where you can make savings, whether that’s finding you the best mortgage deal or reducing taxes. Firstly, you should hire an accountant who can guide you through the process of purchasing the property and help advise you on setting up your investment portfolio. Depending on how many properties you’re managing, you could be dealing with large sums of money each month, so it can be an advantage to have an experienced accountant handle your finances for you.

An experienced mortgage broker will also help you get the best mortgage deal for your buy to let property. As mortgage specialists, Town & Country Mortgage Services explain: “there are now plenty of competitive buy to let mortgage deals around that are specifically aimed at the buy-to-let market, ranging from special offer buy to let mortgage deals to fixed and variable rate options”. In order to ensure you’re getting the best deal, you need to work with someone who understands the nuances between these options.

Shop around for insurance

Insurance is essential for landlords, protecting their property and the returns on their portfolio. However, many people wind up overpaying for their cover, so it pays to shop around. Insurance policy rates vary depending on whether the property is secured via window locks and alarms, the age and profession of the tenants, and what type of property you’re insuring. You can cut costs by checking what the policy you’ve chosen covers, so it’s not more or less than you need, and increasing your excess to reduce monthly premiums.

Determine maintenance costs

The age and condition of the property will affect how much you can expect to pay in maintenance costs, which will impact how good of an investment a property is. If you need to pay out thousands in repairs and renovations, is the property really worth the price you’re paying for it?

Compare the costs of an old property versus a new property – the former will be cheaper to buy, but may need more work, while a newer property will require less maintenance but will cost more to purchase. Extra features like a garden or a swimming pool may also seem like an appealing option, but these will cost money to maintain which will cut into your profits.

Final thoughts

Investing in property requires plenty of research and planning, but when you choose the right property, it can provide great returns. Whether you’re just starting your property portfolio or you’re adding to existing properties, there are always opportunities to save money and boost your profits.

From choosing the location carefully to making sure you balance upfront costs with ongoing maintenance fees, and making sure you work with professionals, there are cost-saving measures that property investors should be aware of.

Property being decorated

How to Create a Low Maintenance Rental Property

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

For most landlords, the goal of a rental property is to make money. But maintaining a property can be expensive, especially when tenants are moving in and out. One way to ease the financial burden of this process is to create a durable, low maintenance property that will stand up to wear and tear more effectively.

Here are a few ways you can save money as a landlord while also providing a comfortable and attractive property for your tenants.

Avoid matte white paint

There’s a temptation to paint the entire property white to give the illusion of freshness and space. But white shows up marks and stains far more than a darker shade, meaning that it requires repainting more often. Instead, you can choose a neutral colour such as a light grey or beige which still opens up each room but masks wear and tear more efficiently.

You should also choose a paint that is hard-wearing and will stand the test of time for longer. This is particularly key in areas where spillages are likely, such as the kitchen.

Keep the colour palette consistent

Painting each room a different colour creates a lot of visual interest in your property, but it’s more costly and more difficult to maintain. It can also be off-putting for some tenants, as you might choose colours that aren’t to everyone’s taste.

It’s a good idea to keep the colour of the walls and trims simple and neutral to appeal to a broader audience and to use the same colour throughout all of your investment properties. This will keep upkeep costs down and will also make it easier to touch up chips or marks quickly if you need to get a property ready for new tenants.

Stick with laminate worktops

The kitchen is an area of the home that’s subjected to a lot of wear and tear, and if you’re not careful with the materials you choose, you could find yourself replacing fixtures regularly as a result. Wooden worktops might look great, but they’re not a great investment in a rental property, especially around sinks as tenants might not be vigilant about keeping them dry and well-cared for.

Plastic laminates are easier to maintain and are an affordable solution for rental properties. “Laminate worktops work best for busy and messy households since they require less maintenance” explain worktop retailers House of Worktops, “they’re easy to clean and don’t need additional treatments”.

Choose large tiles

Dainty details like mosaic tiles might look aesthetically pleasing in a kitchen or bathroom, but they can be a burden to repair or replace if they become damaged. Larger tiles minimise the amount of grouting required, which can become mouldy if it’s not maintained properly, plus they’re neutral so they’ll withstand passing trends without looking dated.

If possible, choose a darker grout that will stay looking cleaner for longer, unlike white grout which can look drab fairly quickly.

Pick plain cupboards

Grooves and details on kitchen cupboards can become a haven for dirt and grime if they’re not cleaned regularly. Plain cupboard doors are a low maintenance alternative that won’t look dated and can be cleaned or repainted easily if need be. They’re also usually a cheaper option so they’re ideal if you’re looking for a budget-friendly style.

Skip the carpets

Carpets are comfortable underfoot but they show stains and dirt quickly and can be expensive to replace – particularly if you have several investment properties to maintain.

Similarly, if you’re allowing pets in the property, carpets won’t last very long and will need vacuuming often to look clean and tidy, so they’re not a good investment.

Hard flooring materials, like tiling or laminate flooring, are far more durable and won’t need refinishing, so they’re more cost-effective for landlords too and easier to maintain for tenants living in the property too.

Final thoughts

When furnishing a rental home, make sure that you’re considering longevity with every choice. It’s tempting to choose the cheapest option, but this can be a false economy, as you’ll wind up replacing or repairing things more frequently.

Instead, opt for materials or fixtures that are built to last and can stand up to wear and tear, however long your tenants are living in the property. Not only will these options make for an easy property for landlords to maintain but they will also help tenants to keep their home clean and tidy too.

How To Support Homebuyers During Lockdown 3.0

Following the government’s decision to enter into a third and hopefully final lockdown, house sales have, unfortunately, been hit hard yet again.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

Not only are home viewings becoming more and more difficult to arrange, but also with more people now needing to stay at home to avoid infection, there are a reduced number of interested parties as well.

What’s more, for homebuyers who had agreed to purchase prior to the lockdown, there is now predicted to be significant delays to the sale process, largely thanks to surveys, contractors, conveyancing searches and more becoming difficult to organise within the government’s restrictions.

Therefore, it’s important for you – their estate agent – to support and reassure these homebuyers fully throughout this uncertain time, regardless of where they might currently be in the sales process.

So, with this in mind, we thought we’d compile a quick guide on how to do exactly that, helping you to put the homebuyer’s mind at ease prior to their date of completion.

Keep In Regular Contact

Whether your homebuyer is a first-time buyer or has bought hundreds of houses before, it’s important to keep in regular contact with them to ensure everything is still in order.

Put yourself in their shoes, for instance. They are investing hundreds of thousands of pounds into a process that you are encouraging them to follow through on.

As such, you need to keep them updated along the way and make sure any questions or queries they have are answered as quickly as possible.

Whether it be an enquiry over a survey-related matter, like how carbon-friendly the property is, or something a lot more general, like how long the entire process is likely to take, don’t allow weeks to go by without contacting them. Otherwise, they could start to fret and eventually pull out of the sale, which wouldn’t be good for either of you.

Keep COVID-Secure

If your buyer wants to revisit the property they’re interested in buying but are nervous about how COVID-secure it will be, try to put their mind at ease.

Whether it be the property they’re buying, the estate agency you work for, or the removals company you recommend, it’s important to remember that the coronavirus pandemic is at the front and centre of everyone’s minds right now.

Therefore, you need to help reassure them that each aspect of the move you involve yourself with is kept COVID-secure, to keep the risk of infection as low as possible.

Maintain Social Distancing

While on the topic of keeping viewings, surveys and some of the more physical aspects of the home move COVID-secure, maintaining social distancing is imperative.

It may be perfectly natural to want to follow the buyer around answering any questions they might have but, without sticking to the social distancing guidelines, you could end up putting both you and them at risk.

The last thing you want, after all, is for either you or them to be out of action due to infection. Therefore, it’s imperative to do all you can to avoid contact where possible; you could even simply provide them with a sanitised key to access the property themselves.

Stay Organised

As you should well know, there are a lot of hoops to jump through when it comes to moving house so keeping organised throughout is vital.

Therefore, while it may sound obvious, make sure you are doing all of the basic productivity traits to keep on top of everything.

Make lists, use a diary, write down notes, set reminders – in essence, the more you can do to stay organised, the easier the entire process will be to handle along the way, and the more at ease both your buyer and vendor will feel as a result.

Final Thoughts…

From minimising the spread of infection to ensuring home purchases go off without a hitch, there’s no denying that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a number of issues for estate agencies to address – especially in terms of keeping homebuyers onside.

However, by utilising the tips listed above, you can put your estate agency in the best possible position. Helping ensure that you will not only see the sale through to completion, but you will also put the mind of the buyer at ease in doing so.

Meeting the Needs of the 2021 Renter

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

Letting services look very different to how they did a year ago. Although business continues (people still need somewhere to live, after all), tenant expectations have dramatically changed and agencies are being forced to adapt their practices to keep transactions moving.

Even when COVID-19 is under control, it’s likely that the pandemic will have irreversibly changed the face of the housing industry. Renters are looking at potential homes through a completely different lens, and faster, contact-free agent services will be the norm. Fostering good relationships between landlords, property managers and tenants will be essential for long-term stability.

So, how can letting agents stay on top of these changes and maintain the trust of their landlords? Here are our top tips for meeting the needs of renters in 2021.

Adapting to Changing Consumer Tastes

Let’s start with one of the simplest adjustments: appealing to new tenant expectations.

Reframing what’s in your portfolio

Faced with many more months of lockdowns and social distancing, tenants will be prioritising space alongside affordability. Boost interest in your listings by focusing on outdoor areas (no matter how small), nearby recreation spaces and interior layout flexibility. De-prioritise emphasis on commuter options, and encourage your clients to stage spare bedrooms and dining rooms to highlight home-office possibilities, with tips on making home workspaces feel welcoming.

Speed up applications

Nobody needs an uncertain, drawn-out application and contract procedure right now, so make your new-tenant process as transparent and efficient as possible. You’ll encourage renters to choose your agency over others and keep landlords happy by filling vacancies quickly. Boost this along using technology (more on that in a moment), and by ensuring safety inspections, cleaning and repairs are carried out as soon as the property is vacant.

Delivering Contact-Free Services

To keep deals moving, the property industry has been pushed to adopt various types of technology much more quickly.

Video walkthroughs

Video tours were previously there to give a flavour of a property, but they’re often now the only way potential tenants will see the property before committing – make sure yours don’t let you down. Software like Giraffe 360, Mattterport and iStaging make it easy to capture professional-quality virtual tour footage from a smartphone the company’s livetour gallery gives you an idea of what’s possible. There’s also an innovative offering suited to new and in-progress developments from DCTR (formerly Doctor Photo) called DCVR.

Digital contracts and eSignatures

Avoid paperwork delays by using digital contracts for tenants and contractors. It speeds up the process of getting signatures and you save yourself the hassle of dealing with physical documents and filing. Compare eSign products for the best price points and look cross-compatibility with any other software you use – this list covers some popular choices.

Building Relationships with Landlords and Tenants

Nurturing your active relationships to protect your current income is the best thing you can do if new business is slow.

Communicate with tenants and landlords

Over the last year, people have faced financial instability, job loss and changes in family circumstances, all of which could be affecting their housing. However, you won’t understand how your clients and tenants (potential or existing) are directly affected unless you ask. Like the application process, fostering transparency will help you navigate any foreseeable issues, either with new tenants or struggling existing clients. The government has excellent guidance that you can pass to landlords or tenants to help support them and build trust.

Managing rent arrears

Discuss solutions for your landlords to remain financially stable even if their tenants are struggling to pay rent due to pandemic-related issues. Rent deferment (postponing rent until it can be paid back in future instalments) is preferable to rent abatement (agreed non-payment for a set period of time), but either is better than having to maintain an empty property, especially if tenants can still cover bills and council tax.

Planning repairs and maintenance

If possible, resolve any maintenance issues that have been delayed due to social distancing measures. Tenants in comfortable properties tend to stay put, and it will prevent landlords being hit with costly repairs in one go. Landlords are allowed to carry out essential work as long as they follow the COVID-19 legislation and current public health advice.

Person working productively at their desk

5 Productivity Tips for Landlords and Property Managers

Managing a property portfolio can be exhausting, especially if you run several different locations.

Throw in multiple tenants, be that student housing or HMOs, you could soon find yourself swamped chasing rent, answering queries, and planning for renovations and repairs. Your housing stock must remain habitable and in good shape, and each of those tenants will have needs and requests that possibly require filtering.

About our guest blogger:
Rae Joanne is a freelance career counsellor with five years experience in the field. When she’s not working, she enjoys experimenting with coffee and playing with her kids.

As a landlord, you may have only your own properties, but a management company may have multiple landlords and multiple properties to oversee and manage effectively. Simply Business explains how you are responsible for assessing every request from a tenant and react accordingly. Productivity is key here – if you spend too much time on the wrong areas, or do not work effectively, then people's lives will be adversely affected.

In our article 20 Minutes a Day productivity Increase, we explained how not only must you find methods to be productive, but also to maintain quality and efficiency in your work patterns. How can you achieve that? By following these five handy tips.

One Thing at a Time

Do not try to do too much at once. You may well find yourself spinning plates for much of the day, but you can only positively impact one problem or task at a time. Even if the phone rings constantly for an hour, once you get time to be productive you can only achieve goals by taking one step at a time. If you try to juggle three or four tasks at a time, you could suffer mental exhaustion remembering what stage each task is at.

Make Lists

If you are doing one task at a time, you will need a clear record of what else needs doing, so make a list. This is important for tracking calls coming in as well as ones you have made, so try to note down every call, with a time, incoming or outgoing. It will help you assess urgency further down the line, knowing when one problem was reported, or when to chase up a call you have placed.

Establish Processes

Having a standardised process for most tasks will ensure productivity as everyone will understand what stage a task is at, and can pick up where you left off. This is especially important in a property management company with multiple employees. With a standard onboarding procedure for new tenants, if you happen to be pulled to another task, someone else knows exactly what needs doing going forward for existing projects. It will also help with scheduling repairs too, if there are standard points at which each project arrives – reporting, scheduling, implementing, inspecting etc. If everyone is working to the same process, the job becomes much easier to understand for the whole team.

Be Prepared

Property management is a career which always brings the unexpected – that is the nature of the job. Nobody expects a pipe to burst, or a drain to become blocked, but they occur regularly with multiple properties under your watchful eye. Being prepared for those eventualities is hugely important. You may prepare by carrying out 'services' of these key aspects of a property, checking drains and plumbing regularly, but that could impact productivity negatively in taking up too much time. Insurance is a good way of staying one step ahead of any unpredictable variables. An overview of the landlord insurance policies on HomeServe, details that tenants can deal directly with the insurer in the event of a problem, cutting out the need for landlords or property managers to intervene. Not only are you prepared for a problem, but when it does occur it is not something that steals your attention away from the other day-to-day jobs you have to fulfil.

Leave the Office

Leaving your desk is a vital part of improving productivity, according to this post on Medium. It helps stimulate the brain and by switching off, you make it easier to switch back on. Stepping out for half an hour might sound counter-productive, but it is proven to improve concentration and application. Want to be more productive? Stop working for a short time and rest your mind.

Strategies for lettings agents to overcome challenges in 2021

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

As a result of the global pandemic of 2020, 2021 is a year likely to have its fair share of challenges for many businesses across a host of industries. This is particularly true of lettings agents. COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty in the jobs market and the housing market alike. But there are ways that lettings agents can overcome these challenges in the coming year and continue to thrive.

Be prepared to change in the face of the ongoing pandemic

COVID-19 looks certain to remain a huge issue into 2021. But it is possible to have a strategy in place that can deal with a situation that might evolve rapidly. This year has proven that having a strategy that can quickly be adapted is key to success.

Picture of a virus

So, letting agents must factor this type of unpredictability into their plans. Make sure that, going forward, there is a plan B in place that can accommodate the more challenging aspects of the year that might arise.

Rent guarantees could be the answer

Landlords need stability and they need to be able to ensure that their payments will come in each month. After all, they still have their own legal obligations to adhere to, regardless of their tenants’ situations. But with government help drawing to a close, it’s a good idea to ensure that tenants are in a comfortable position financially. Lettings agents need to facilitate conversations between landlords and tenants.

Picture of a rent guarantee Form

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to rental agreements but rent guarantee insurance could be the solution to this type of uncertainty. This type of insurance covers the monthly rental income if tenants don’t pay. Most policies cover at least 50% of rental income for peace of mind. It will not only help lettings businesses but also landlords, so it’s a good idea to educate landlords on the rental guarantee products available to them.

The need for flexibility

No-one knows how COVID-19 will shape the market or what the government will put in place, with regards to the furlough scheme and other funding options. Although overall most rents have so far been paid, tenants may find it harder to pay their rent on time as wider economic challenges continue.

So, letting agents and landlords need to be able to offer flexibility during these unprecedented times. Good tenants are bound to have their shortcomings occasionally, but it’s important to offer a grace period wherever possible.

Pay attention to the rules

The pandemic has meant a change in the rules in numerous ways. So, it’s more important than ever to stay up-to-date with the latest legislation to ensure that you’re following the correct ruling.

It’s also important to remember that not all of the changes in ruling will be COVID-19-related. For example, there are new rules affecting wood burning stoves. 2021 will mean focusing on the details at all times, as they can have a big impact on businesses.

Providing a great service has never been more important

In challenging market conditions, the letting agents that really thrive are the ones that prioritise their customer base. In 2021, businesses need to place a far greater emphasis on the service they are providing and really pay close attention to detail.

It’s these differences that will set successful letting agents apart from the rest of the industry. For example, having a strong local knowledge is vital – customers want to be sure that the agents they are working with truly understand the area. It’s also important to follow up on calls and be accessible to customers.

Final thoughts

2021 looks set to deliver challenges that we haven’t seen before. But the key to overcoming these challenges is to face them head on and to be prepared. Letting agents need to use the lead-up to 2021 reviewing their processes and strategies so that they can identify the areas that can be improved.

It’s only through this difficult analysis that businesses can really find the gaps that will set them apart from the competition. While there will no doubt be businesses that fail to make it through the tougher times, if you can survive, there will likely be a bigger share of the market to take advantage of.

A Rat

How Pest Control Became a Hot Topic for Lettings Agents

About our guest blogger:
Based in Worthing, Lucy studied Economics, Finance and Management before turning her focus towards the property market.  She’s a specialist short/long stay holiday rentals and has written for a number of major industry blogs.

COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone, including lettings agents and the property market as a whole. But one consequence that may have been unexpected is that empty properties have become a haven for pests – something that letting agents are now having to deal with as lockdown measures begin to lift.

Empty properties can be a haven for pests

When pests are allowed free reign over a property, they’ll waste no time in causing havoc – something one student learned to his cost. Oluwageorge Johnson, a student from Nottingham Trent University, left halls at the beginning of March to stay with his parents during lockdown.

Student Kitch covered in pideon excrement Student Living Room covered in pigeon excrement

(Source: Mercury Press)

When he returned six months later, he found that pigeons had invaded his flat and destroyed his property, even leaving eggs and a chick in his kitchen sink. This type of event is far from unique however. Many people have returned from lockdown, having socially distanced themselves elsewhere, to find that unchecked properties, both residential and commercial, are now overrun with pests.

The problem is allowed to grow

The government’s decisions throughout lockdown meant a knock-on effect for pest control in properties around the country. With pest control considered an unnecessary service, many people were unable to utilise pest control services when managing properties.

“A lack of foresight in the early days of the pandemic meant the government forced pest control services to close,” says Mark Stanford of Empire Pest Control “this was a huge mistake; if left unchecked, pests can cause a significant amount of damage and the infestation could worsen, making it more difficult to get the situation under control”.

With the issue allowed to develop while the country was in lockdown, it’s now even more severe than if it had been managed over the course of the pandemic.

Who is responsible for dealing with pest problems?

Pest control has become a hot topic recently and it’s raised a few questions as a result. Primarily, who is responsible for dealing with the situation and does COVID-19 change anything in this regard? Citizens Advice state that it’s not a straightforward issue.

Landlords, for example, are responsible for dealing with an infestation if it is stated in the tenancy agreement that they will maintain the property to a hospitable state, or if the infestation was caused by disrepair that the landlord is responsible for such as a broken window or a hole in the wall. They may also take on the problem if the infestation makes the property unsafe to live in, such as causing illness to the tenants. But in other situations, such as neglect from a tenant, landlords may not be liable for the cost of dealing with an infestation.

A Rat

(Source: Pexels)

Different solutions for different pests

The type of infestation can determine who is responsible for dealing with pest issues, as sometimes tenants need to handle the problem and sometimes landlords are responsible. Landlords need to arrange for pest control if the issue is wasp nests, rats or a flea infestation if this becomes present at the start of a tenancy. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that carpets and upholstery are fumigated, providing that it is not the tenant’s pets that are the cause of the issue.

However, ants or mice are the tenant’s responsibility to remove. Bees are also an issue that the tenant needs to deal with, as these need to be removed by a professional beekeeper as they are protected.

Likewise, if a wasp nest appears mid-way through a tenancy agreement then the tenant will be responsible for paying for the removal. The intricacies of responsibility make the issue of pest control a difficult one to manage but understanding which types of infestations fall under the obligation of landlord or tenant can make it easier to deal with the problem quickly and efficiently from the start.

Final thoughts

Lettings agents have had a lot to contend with as lockdown measures have begun to lift and the property market adjusts to a new normal. But with so many properties left empty for months at a time, it’s unsurprising that pest infestations are now such a prominent issue.

It’s important that those involved, whether as landlords, letting agent professionals or tenants, stay up to date with the latest government guidelines on how to deal with pest control companies safely. It’s also important to maintain properties as safely and hygienically as possible, so as to prevent further infestations from developing.

Holding out hand in "stop" gesture

Should you be worried about ‘No DSS’ lawsuits?

Finding a new home is a stressful task at the best of times, but for those receiving benefits, the process can be even more difficult. Irrespective of a tenant’s renting record, some letting agents have found themselves in hot water in the past over the refusal of tenants on benefits. In recent years, there have been various court cases that have made headlines relating to renters who took action against letting agents who wouldn’t show them properties on the basis of them receiving benefits.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

The government has made statements against agencies barring tenancy applications on this basis, known as ‘No DSS’, and several mortgage lenders have also spoken out to end discrimination. But what do letting agents need to know about these types of lawsuits, and how might it impact tenants moving forward?

Recent cases

At the start of 2020, two single mothers won out-of-court settlements on the basis of indirect discrimination from letting agencies they were dealing with because of No DSS policies. Even though one of the women offered to pay up to a year’s rent upfront, she was still told that she would not be able to find a rental property due to receiving housing benefit. Similarly, in 2019, a high-profile lawsuit led to the government announcing impending changes to the law surrounding rental properties being advertised with ‘No DSS’ inclusions in order to protect potential tenants. ‘No DSS’ policies make it difficult for families to find housing, particularly given the chronic shortage of social housing in the UK. Several property portals, including Zoopla and Rightmove, have made it clear that ‘No DSS’ statements are banned from their listings.

What will future intervention look like?

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many people’s finances and will continue to do so for some time. This unprecedented period could cause an increase in the number of people claiming benefits, which could also mean a spike in ‘No DSS’ lawsuits if agencies continue to ignore government advice. The pandemic has meant that many agencies need to change how they operate in order to survive.

“It has been a challenging time in the industry”, says Callaways, a professional letting agency based in Brighton, “we are in the process of carrying out our contingency plans and hope that our services will remain uninterrupted through the pandemic, but others have not been able to cope as well. The idea of having to pay out compensation during this difficult time could be very daunting to letting agents”.

While the government has stated its intention to outlaw bans on tenants receiving benefits, the immediate impact of Covid-19 could mean that these changes could be on hold for the foreseeable future. ‘No DSS’ will remain a crucial issue for housing charities and politicians and there will undoubtedly be many more high-profile lawsuits to come in order to raise awareness of the issue.

What letting agencies need to consider

Recent cases have shown that the cost to agencies can be high if they are found to be discriminatory to those receiving benefits. Of the two previously mentioned court cases from February this year, one woman was paid £3,000 in compensation and £10,000 in legal costs, while the other case resulted in £3,500 in compensation and £2,500 towards legal fees. In fact, some insurance providers have warned that premiums need to be increased to cover the frequency and cost of court pay-outs. These increases would not only impact agencies found guilty of discrimination but also those complying with the rules.

However, despite the changes in ruling and the risks for agencies, many are still including ‘No DSS’ or similar phrases in their listings. Likewise, surveys have shown that landlords are largely unaware of the law and many do not currently let to housing benefit tenants, believing it to be lawful to do so. In order to comply with the law and protect themselves from harmful lawsuits, it’s vital that letting agencies update their ‘No DSS’ wording and educate landlords and staff on the myths surrounding tenants receiving benefits. Letting agencies and mortgage providers need to now follow in the footsteps of those who have already ended their discrimination of such tenants and as the campaign continues to gain traction, hopefully, ‘No DSS’ will soon come to an end.

How To Maintain Social Distancing At Your Lettings Agency

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining social distancing is now absolutely imperative – regardless of the industry you work in.

About our guest blogger:
Dakota Murphey has experience in property management with her portfolio of properties expanding in the South of England. Her passion for renovation and home improvement projects is shared through her writing to help educate and inspire others.

However, within the property sphere, it is especially important to ensure that correct practice is followed, due to the largely client-facing nature of the role.

From showing potential renters around homes in-person to signing any required paperwork in the office itself, there are a number of changes your agency will need to consider when trying to keep employees safe from COVID-19.

Whether it be managing how employees or customers arrive in and out of the office, implementing changes to ensure safe desk work, or sourcing new ways to interact with customers, there are many areas you’ll need to think about.

Join us as we run through some of the best ways to ensure your agency not only maintains its social distancing measures effectively but also helps keep the deadly COVID-19 virus at bay.

  1. Wash Your Hands. Provide hand-washing facilities and hand sanitiser at all of your office entrances and exits. Also, make sure to wash your hands after any home viewings you take.

  2. Stagger Employees. To reduce everyone coming into the workplace at the same time, stagger your employees’ arrival and departure times.

  3. Take Care During Viewings. While it may be difficult to arrange flat viewings right now, if the property is empty then it should be OK for potential renters to see. However, during these viewings take the necessary steps to ensure both your agents’ and customers’ safety. De-sanitise any rooms they visit or handles they touch – from the living room to the garage – and ensure they’re kept as safe as possible for future viewings.

  4. Add Markings. Introduce a one-way flow system in and around your workplace. Provide floor markings and signage where appropriate to help your staff and visitors navigate it correctly.

  5. Regulate Traffic. If you have any particularly high-traffic areas of the office, such as corridors, lifts, turnstiles or walkways, manage their use to prevent congestion from occurring.

  6. Reposition Desks. In order to adhere to social distancing rules, reposition your desks to ensure your staff are at least two metres apart. If this isn’t possible, consider whether they’re required in the office or not and offer working from home as a potential alternative.

  7. Discourage Face-To-Face. Reposition desks so that your employees aren’t working face-to-face. Instead, encourage them to work side-by-side or in a way that faces away from one another.

  8. Use Screens. By adding a Perspex screen to each desk, you can help create a physical barrier between people – whether that be employees or customers coming in and out of the workplace.

  9. Meetings. Avoid holding in-person meetings if you can, and opt for a remote alternative instead. However, if you can’t avoid in-person meetings, then try to ensure social distancing measures during them, maintaining a two-metre separation between attendees. Also, host them either outdoors or in a well-ventilated room while providing a range of hand sanitising options.

  10. Stagger Breaks. To reduce the pressure on your break room, stagger your employee’s break times. Create other safe areas around the office for your staff to eat and encourage them to spend their break time outside if required as well, in order to keep them a safe distance apart.

  11. Safe Appointments Only. Enable customers to visit your agency on an appointment-only basis. Try to discourage in-person appointments where possible and, instead, prioritise conversations that could alternatively take place over the phone or via a remote means. If in-person appointments can’t be avoided though, try to minimise any contact between yourself and the customer. Also, provide your customer with clear guidance on your agency’s social distancing and hygiene procedures prior to arrival, encouraging them to use any signage and visual aids you have set up around the workplace.

  12. Limit Your Customers. Define how many customers you can realistically expect to home within your work while adhering to the two-metre social distancing guidelines and procedures you’ve set up in advance. Limit this number down to ‘one customer at a time’ if required.

  13. Suspend Unneeded Services. If you have any services that cannot currently be offered or undertaken without contravening social distancing guidelines, suspend them until the government’s guidelines tell you otherwise.

  14. Change Your Transactions. If you need to conduct any transactions in the office then consider using contactless payments only, rather than cash. However, if cash or pin-entry card payment is absolutely essential, make sure to wear gloves during handling. Also, use hand sanitiser and de-sanitise any equipment that could potentially harness any harmful viruses or bacteria on them.