Lettings Updates

Lettings Updates


SAFEagent

Secure Agent Fully Endorsed

SAFEagent is a simple mark for lettings and management agents so that landlords and tenants can identify agents where their money is protected.

Background to the launch of SAFEagent

There has been a big increase in letting agents absconding with their clients rent and deposit monies. Although well covered in the trade press this has not been publicised in the national or local consumer papers. If the agent is not in an insurance scheme to protect their clients money (Clients Money Protection) neither landlords nor tenants have been able to recover stolen funds.

NALS ARLA and RICS continues to make strenuous efforts to get the message to consumers that they should choose an agent who can  give them financial protection it has been difficult to alert consumers to the risk.

There is now a single new mark to identify agents in Client Money Protection Schemes to raise awareness of the risks of using an “uninsured “agent.

LEWIS WADSWORTH is now part of the SAFEagent scheme.

GAS SAFETY GUIDANCE

Gas Safe Register has changed its guidance about the situation where a gas flue passes through a void in a wall or similar situation. From 31st December 2012 all such installations will be required to have inspection hatches fitted so that the gas engineer carrying out the inspection can do a visual inspection of the flue as it passes through the void. This has been introduced to combat a problem where the flue might be leaking carbon monoxide within a void (where it is not visible) but the gases could leak into the property. Flats and apartments completed since 2000 are the ones most likely to be affected.

The revised guidance came into force on 1st January 2011 and as an interim measure until the hatches are installed, if the flue passes through a void the engineer will have to carry out a risk assessment. This risk assessment will require him to look for signs of leakage, carry out a flue combustion analysis check and check for the presence of a suitable audible carbon monoxide alarm (and install an alarm if one is not already fitted). Clearly the engineer will have to increase his costs to cover these requirements and since the hatch has to be installed it may be worth fitting it before the cut off date.

Further information can be found on the Gas Safe Register website

EPC CHANGES

The Government is producing regulations to change the rules for Energy Performance Certificates. The changes are not vast but will clarify and extend some of the requirements. There is a concern that non compliance may be due to lack of clarity, when in reality it is probably more down to apathy.

Firstly the regulations will create a new look EPC. The main EPC will become a two page document. They will be registered on a central website much as before. However, reports on air conditioning systems will have to be lodged as well.

Probably the biggest shakes up of EPC’s are around the commissioning of the EPC. The current legislation varies between sales and rentals. In both cases the EPC must be available at the first of the following list of events:

* The point the contract is entered into.

* A viewing of the property.

* Giving written particulars.

Obviously it will be fairly rare to achieve a letting or sale without a viewing or giving written particulars but it can happen.

The revised wording will require the EPC to be produced at the earliest opportunity but definitely before a viewing or providing written particulars.

The original EPC for the sales market was part of the Home Information Pack. When HIPS were abolished, this would have left the sales market without any legal requirements to provide an EPC. This problem was addressed by adding in a new regulation 5A into the Energy Performance of Buildings Regulations 2007. This section starts with the observation that the section applies when a property is to be sold. The regulation then goes on to allow for marketing without physically having an EPC for a period of up to 28 days. This period will reduce to 7 days under the new regulations.

However in lettings the first viewing could easily have taken place and the property let within that 7 day period.
Currently written particulars need to have the asset rating attached (the coloured bar chart, if there are two out of photos, floor plans and room dimensions).

This obligation to attach the asset rating is being withdrawn and it is being replaced with the requirement to provide the complete two pages of the first part of the revised EPC instead. Since this could apply to advertising as well, it will be interesting to see how the advertising market adapts to deal with this change.

There are a couple of technical changes around enforcement but subject to the regulations being passes, most of the provisions will start from the 1st July 2011. The requirements in respect of the written particulars start 1st Oct 2011.

DEPOSITS

There have been several important county court judgments on the issues of tenancy deposits in recent months. In the Universal Estates case the court was asked to consider if it mattered with an insured scheme if the deposit was protected later than the 14days in the Housing Act 2004.
They decided that as long as the deposit was protected before the court hearing, the penalty could not be awarded.
This was followed shortly by the judgment in Potts v Densley where the High Court had to consider if a deposit could be protected after the tenancy had ended. They decided, following the Universal Estates case, that as long as it was protected before the court hearing, there was no penalty.
Barely the ink was dry on this decision when the case of Gladehurst v Hashemi hit the Court of Appeal. This case essentially looked at the same issue of the situation that exists after the tenancy had ended.
In this case the Court of Appeal decided that the tenant was not allowed to take court action for the recovery of the deposit after the tenancy had ended.
Their decision is a serious blow to tenants and significantly reduces their protection. This may trigger a legislative change to replace the protection in this situation.