Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Landlords Threaten Legal Action over Mortgage Rates

Buy-to-let landlords are threatening to take legal action against what they say are unjustified interest rate rises.

Some 6,700 West Bromwich Building Society customers will see their tracker rates rise by 2% on 1 December.

That is despite the fact that the Bank of England has kept interest rates on hold for four-and-a-half years.

The building society said it was forced to increase rates, as the funding costs for such mortgages had gone up, and its terms and conditions allowed a change.

Michelle Elewaar, a full-time landlord with four properties, is one of those affected.

She has a tracker buy-to-let mortgage with the West Bromwich, which she thought had a rate of 1.99% over the Bank of England base rate for the full term of her mortgage.

"I was really shocked. Like any responsible landlord, I made provisions if there were interest rate rises," she says.

"Never in a million years did I think would have to make provisions for, in my opinion, West Bromwich breaching their contract."

Ms Elewaar remains convinced that the contract she signed did not make it clear that a rate rise by the lender could be implemented.

"One woman against the bank isn't going to get very far and I realise this. But I'm a member of an online forum called Property 118, together with around a thousand others. We're joining forces."

More than 150 of these cases have been sent to Justin Selig of The Law Department, a firm of solicitors.

Mr Selig is also representing customers of the Bank of Ireland who were affected by unexpected rate hikes earlier this year.

"I am a borrower with a tracker mortgage as are millions of other people in the country," he told the BBC.

"There is a risk that if we don't do anything about these two situations that other lenders will follow suit."

He believes that the lenders have not been clear with their customers.

"You shouldn't have to look through the small print. Things like this should be on the key facts document and they usually are. In fact, in relation to the documentation we've seen so far it is not clear in the initial document that they have the right to do this."

Mr Selig also claims that up until a few weeks ago the West Bromwich Building Society had this definition on their website:

"Tracker mortgages give you the certainty of knowing that the rate you pay will move in line with Bank Base Rates."

Back in May, 13,500 Bank of Ireland buy-to-let mortgage holders also saw their tracker rates rise.

Then, in October, the bank raised tracker rates for 12,000 of its customers for the second time this year.

Ray Boulger, from the mortgage broker John Charcol, believes that other lenders may follow suit.

Out of the 10 million or so people with residential mortgages, he estimates at least two million have fixed-term tracker mortgages.

"Because the buy-to-let market is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), some lenders, including West Bromwich, think they can get away with doing things they might not want to try on with the residential mortgage market," he says.

"However, if they are allowed to get away with this, some lenders may well be tempted to try to increase the tracker margin on residential rates as well."

Mr Boulger also believes that even though the buy-to-let sector is not regulated, the individual lenders are.

He is urging customers to write to the FCA directly. If the regulator could be persuaded that these tracker rate rises are unfair, it could force lenders to backtrack.

The regulator is going to conduct a consultation on the buy-to-let sector later this year.

A spokesman from the FCA said: "There is a wider issue to be debated with the industry about fairness in the context of changes to mortgage contracts. We intend to publish a discussion paper on this subject later this year."

The West Bromwich Building Society argues that the wholesale cost of funding buy-to-let mortgages has risen significantly.

Long-term interest rates have risen, with the market now expecting the Bank of England to raise base rates in 2016.

"Market conditions have changed significantly since these buy-to-let mortgages were taken out, resulting in an increased cost of funding them," a spokesman for the building society told the BBC.

It also argues that landlords have enjoyed a dramatic fall in interest payments, as base rates have gone down.

Assuming they did not cut rents when their borrowing costs fell, it also claims they would have seen an increase in their income.

"We have held off on making any changes to rates for as long as we feel reasonable, but have acted now to balance the interests of the Society's wider membership, particularly our savers, whose income has fallen," it said.

"An additional percentage of 2% will be added to these buy-to-let mortgages from 1 December 2013 to make up an overall rate of interest."

It also insists that the change is permitted under the terms and conditions of the accounts.

However, it said it expects that additional 2% margin to reduce over time, as wholesale funding costs become cheaper.

While landlords now decide whether to press ahead with legal action, the question for tenants is whether their rent will rise as a result of the higher mortgage rates.

Michelle Elewaar says she will not have to put the rent up in the short term, but she is worried that she may be forced to do so if other mortgage lenders follow the lead set by the West Bromwich and the Bank of Ireland.

MP in call for Landlords Register


Sir Alan Meale said many tenants were paying exorbitant rents to live in poor accommodation.

In one case, a tenant had been forced to pay £350 a month to live in a shed in Newham, e ast London, while in another a 33-year-old mother-of-two was killed after being electrocuted by a faulty heater.
The MP said there should also be stricter regulations for letting agents while the law should be changed to ensure all tenancy agreements are made in writing.

Proposing his Private Landlords and Letting and Managing Agents (Regulation) Bill in the House of Commons, Sir Alan said some agencies were charging unjustifiably high fees, including up to £250 just to check a tenant's references.

The MP for Mansfield said: " In truth, the private rented sector is not the market it should or needs to be.

"We are not talking about taking this under a state scheme or anything else. This is purely protection and lifting the private rented sector to a level that will give all our constituents the chance to live decently."

He added: "There are too many rogue landlords who particularly prey on vulnerable tenants. This small but dangerous minority of rogue landlords quite frankly make people's lives an absolute misery.

"They condemn their tenants... to live in rundown, unsafe and very often over-crowded properties. What is more, they regularly intimidate those who speak out.

"It is fair to say that despite an increase in prosecutions against such landlords, the problem is getting considerably worse."

But Tory MP Philip Davies (Shipley) said there should be less regulation of the sector, telling MPs the Bill was like using a "sledgehammer to crack a nut".

He said: "This sector has been going for years and we don't seem to have had any problems.

"We actually do have a wide-ranging set of rules and regulations and legislation in this sector. Because it has been developed in a haphazard fashion, it is very difficult for landlords to deal with all of this regulation and legislation.

"In fact, it may be better if we have a simplified set of regulations."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) said a requirement within the Bill to pay an annual registration fee to sign up to a compulsory national register amounted to a "socialist tax".

Turning to his backbench colleague Mr Davies, he said: "Does it occur to you, as it does to me, that this is in fact a tax that is going to be introduced?

"It is another socialist tax."

Mr Davies replied: "This is absolutely a tax on private landlords."

He said the payment of an annual registration fee would open landlords up to "unlimited costs".

Mr Davies asked: "What control is there going to be over the registration fee?"

He added: "I t seems to me that if this Bill were to go through, not only would they be picking up a tab, they would be picking up an unlimited tab, because the fees would be completely beyond their control."

Mr Davies disagreed with the suggestion that the taxpayer would not take on any costs.

"That isn't necessarily the case. If the landlord is going to be expected to pay a fee, in many cases it could be an ever-increasing fee. I would suspect, through my cynicism, that if they were expected to pay this fee, it seems to me the likeliest scenario is that that fee would, in effect, be passed on to the tenant through higher rents, because that would be the way for the landlord recouping the money to pay for it," said Mr Davies.

"And obviously quite a lot of rents in the country are paid by the taxpayer."

Mr Davies suggested Labour was trying to introduce its own 'bedroom tax', a nod to the Opposition's tag for the Government's housing benefit cuts for people judged to have too much living space.

He also questioned what incentives there would be for landlords to register and how foreign landlords would be made aware they need to sign up and a pay registration fee.

Mr Davies said: "The best way of ensuring that there's a benefit for signing up, therefore, is to make it a free choice for people to sign up, not mandating people to do it.

"The only effect it will have on landlords is to make sure that they have to do something extra every year, renew their registration, pay from out of their pocket, and as (Mr Rees-Mogg) so wisely suggested, this is no more than a tax.

"It's a tax for letting your house out for other people to live in.

"And I'm not quite sure whether that constitutes it being called a 'bedroom tax' or not. But given most people who live in these houses will be occupying a bedroom, given that the cost is likely to be passed on to them, I think we can safely say this is the Labour Party's attempt to have a 'bedroom tax' that they wish to impose on the public themselves.

"Given that they introduced the spare room subsidy themselves when they were in government, it seems to me they are trying to introduce a new tax on people."

Mr Davies added he did not think criminal sanctions for landlords who fail to register were necessary.

He said: "Now when somebody inherits a property where there is an existing tenant, where does that person stand?

"Somebody has an awful lot more on their mind at the time when their parent dies than whether or not they are part of a registration scheme that they don't even know exists because they have never been a landlord before?"

He asked if it was Sir Alan's intention "that a person whose parents have died and they are trying to organise their affairs and organise a funeral or whatever, that because they are not registered as a landlord on the register have now not only lost their parent but are also a criminal because they haven't registered?"

He added: "I just think that is unworkable, and not only is it unworkable but potentially unjust to make those people in that situation a criminal. It seems to me completely wrong. "

Shadow communities and local government minister Andy Sawford criticised Mr Davies for his "laissez-faire" attitude.

He said: " I cannot support the laissez-faire attitude that has been advocated by the MP for Shipley, which to me represents not only laissez-faire, but frankly a lack of care for all the people that are currently being grossly ripped off around the country."

However, asked whether he believed that an introduction of a national register would put an end to unscrupulous landlords, he said: " Sadly, I feel that there will still be rogue practitioners in the industry."

But Mr Sawford insisted that the Private Landlords Bill was a "great step forward".

Mr Sawford said: "And we will increasingly marginalise those rogue landlords and make those practices ever more unacceptable. And I hope that we can go further to ensure that there are prosecutions and enforcement against rogue landlords."

Communities and Local Government Minister Stephen Williams said there was already a wealth of regulation in place.

He said: "In terms of problems that might be solved by a national register, there are already laws in place, passed by this place, and there are already opportunities for local authorities to introduce regulation in their own area."

On the Bill's second reading, which deals with the regulation of private sector letting agents and managing agents, he said the areas were "a lready quite heavily regulated" and joked that if Mr Davies and Mr Rees-Mogg were present to listen to the existing regulation in this field, "they would probably need smelling salts" by the time he finished reading out the legislation.

Mr Williams said: "There is a whole range of legislation that governs the activities of letting agents, ranging from Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, to the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Consumer Credit Act 1984, the Price Marking Order of 2004, the Housing Act of 1998 and 1996, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977".

Mr Williams concluded: "The private rental sector represents an increasingly important part of the housing market.

"This Government wants to see that private rental market remain, we want it to grow and we want it to serve even more of our constituents.

"And that's why we are concerned that regulation is appropriate and certainly shouldn't stifle the growth of the market by poorly targeted and disproportionate new regulation."

He added: "The Government is taking action in this area, new provisions are just starting to come in, so we feel the time is not right for this Bill to proceed any further."

The debate on the Bill has been scheduled to resume next Friday, although it is unlikely to progress.

Click here to read the original article: "MP in Call for Landlords Register"

Friday, 25 October 2013

Survey reveals 25% of landlords are at risk

Data from AXA Business insurance suggests that among the total population of residential landlords in the UK around one in four have the wrong or no insurance and that around three quarters of these have bought regular household insurance instead of a commercial policy, leaving themselves vulnerable to having any claims turned down.

AXA believes that a large percentage of those with the wrong insurance are "accidental landlords" - those who did not originally buy with the intention of renting out their property, or who are forced to continue renting out because they cannot sell at present.

Research among a sample of those who had bought the wrong insurance revealed that one in five had been previously living at the address themselves and simply renewed the existing home insurance cover when they moved out, believing it to be adequate.

Meanwhile, 43% were unaware of the existence of landlord cover, 28% thought landlord and residential cover were the same and 11 per cent thought the landlord option was too expensive so bought a residential policy instead.

Nearly three quarters of these landlords (73%) have less than £1,000 set aside for emergencies while 18% have nothing saved, leaving them financially exposed should their insurer turn a claim down because the wrong insurance is in place. One in twenty are likely to claim in any given year.

But it seems that it's not just the insurance that is being neglected. The research also exposed other areas where landlords are leaving themselves and their tenants unprotected:

only half (53%) have a tenancy agreement
27% have a current inventory
54% have a deposit (less than half of which are kept in a protected scheme)

Darrell Sansom, managing director at AXA Business Insurance, said: "While many of these people may well have never intended to become landlords and possibly it is something they would rather not have to think about, the consequences of not sorting out some of the basic admin and putting some core protection in place could make it a much bigger headache for them than it already is.

"As an industry, insurers need to take some responsibility to ensure that the right questions are asked when customers are buying insurance. And consumers need to be made aware of the pitfalls of buying the wrong cover.

"Someone else living in your property can present a very different insurance risk than you living there yourself - insurance products are designed and priced to match these risks so it's important you get the right one."

The phenomenon of the "accidental landlord" market has grown rapidly over recent years as the economy has depressed the housing market. AXA believes that around 70% of residential landlords rent just one property and that up to a third of these are "accidental landlords" who can't sell their property or who "inherited" rather than planned the ownership of the property.

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Thursday, 24 October 2013

Clampdown on rogue landlords in Northampton is announced

A team has been created by Northampton Borough Council to scour the town searching for ‘rogue landlords’.

The authority has said the team will target landlords “that do not care about their tenants, neighbours or the local community”.

The council’s cabinet member for housing, Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Obelisk) said: “A rogue landlord can not only make life hell for their tenants, but also an entire neighbourhood.

“Time and again people are telling us what a problem this is where they live. I want people to know that we have listened, and are taking action.”

The team of council officers will check rented houses to make sure landlords are not ignoring legislation designed to protect both tenants and the community.

Councillor Markham said: “We want to work with landlords to raise the quality of properties available in Northampton.

“We have a growing student population, and like other towns we are seeing more and more people renting while they save up for a mortgage.

“So it’s important that we send out a clear message that we are welcoming responsible landlords, and will take action to close down those that turn a deaf ear to the welfare of their tenants and neighbours.

“We now have a team of people out there in the community day-in and day-out to deal with any problems and this plus the hotline is just the first step, over the next few months we will be looking at what else we can do to raise standards across the town.”

The move has been welcomed by the charity, Shelter.

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “We are pleased to hear that Northampton Borough Council is committing to firm action against rogue landlords operating in their area.

“Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact rogue landlords have on people’s lives, and we’ve been campaigning to urge government and councils to crack down on this small but highly dangerous minority who make people’s lives a misery.

“We urge other councils to follow Northampton Borough Council’s lead and do everything in their power to crack down on the worst offenders in their area and stamp out rogue landlords for good.”

Click here to read the original article: "Clampdown on rogue landlords in Northampton is announced"

A comment from

There is no room for bad landlords within the Private Rented Sector but we still await the first Local Authority to launch an Evict Rogue Tenants scheme.

We trust that Northampton Borough Council will redress this balance by joining with us to promote TenantVet, the free online service for landlords and letting agents. TenantVet allows landlords, letting agents and local authorities to give clear and honest feedback about tenants helping good tenants to rent again more easily and crucially helping identify bad or rogue tenants.

Please click here for more information on TenantVet 

Pickles plans crackdown on private rented sector

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has unveiled an "ambitious package" to help England's nine million private tenants demand longer tenancies, avoid hidden letting agents' fees and get proper protection from rogue landlords.

A proposed "tenants' charter" will set out what people renting private housing can expect from their deal and how they can take action if they are hit by hidden fees or poor standards of accommodation.

Pickles will also publish new regulations forcing letting and property management agents to join a compulsory redress scheme, which ensures complaints about hidden fees or poor service are investigated independently and, where necessary, compensation is paid. Around 40 per cent of agents have yet to join one of these schemes.

In addition, the Government will for the first time publish a code of practice for property management in the private rented sector with a view to making it legally binding and there will be extra guidance for councils on how to protect tenants from illegal eviction, push for tougher penalties for housing offences and plan for new private rented developments.

Finally, a timetable will be set for the introduction of a model tenancy agreement, which landlords will be able to use for tenancies of at least three years to promote greater certainty and security for families.

The proposals are designed to reinforce existing policies, such as the £1bn Build to Rent scheme. As part of the second round of the scheme, bidders will be encouraged to offer longer-term, family friendly tenancies as part of their mix of accommodation.

Pickles said, "The private rented market is a vital asset to this country. It's an important option for the millions of people who want a bit more flexibility, or to simply save up for a deposit so they can buy a place of their own.

"The last thing we want to do is hurt tenants and kill investment by increasing costs and strangling the sector with red tape but tenants deserve better value for money, and dodgy landlords should be under no illusion they can provide a shoddy service with impunity."

The National Landlords Association welcomed the planned tenants' charter but said the Government had "missed an opportunity" to require greater professionalism from letting agents.

Richard Lambert, the association's chief executive, stated, "The Government is right to focus on developing a renting culture, rather than introducing further regulation. The secretary of state's recognition that additional red tape could 'kill off investment' will be warmly welcomed by the landlord community.

"The NLA has long argued that private renting can be far more flexible than commonly perceived and we need to tap into this potential to meet the changing needs and expectations of those who rent. We look forward to working with government to make a success of these proposals.

"While the requirement to belong to an approved redress scheme is a step in the right direction, it does little to protect the financial interest of landlords and tenants working with unregulated agents."

Click here to read the original article: "Pickles Plans Crackdown on Private Rented Sector"

Friday, 18 October 2013

Rents in Private Sector Hit Record High, says LSL

The average cost of renting a home privately across England and Wales has reached a record high of £757 a month, according to a survey.
Average rents rose by 2.1% in September compared with the same month a year earlier, LSL Property Services said.
This was a 1.8% increase on August, driven by a 3.3% rise in the south east of England.
The figures come as mortgage lenders reported another strong month in September, after a summer flurry.
LSL said that greater demand from tenants was pushing up rental prices.
"Higher rents in almost every region show that, despite government schemes, buying a first home is still a difficult aspiration," said David Newnes, director of LSL, which owns estate agents Reeds Rains and Your Move.
"This is not only down to low salary growth, but also a general shortage of supply - which is the underlying reason why homes are getting more expensive. The long-term trend to renting therefore looks unlikely to change significantly in the near future."
The government has brought forward its Help to Buy scheme, which aims to assist those who can afford mortgage payments, but struggle to raise the necessary deposit to secure a mortgage and purchase a home.
However, critics have said that the scheme could create a housing market bubble, with official statistics suggesting UK house prices are already at a record high.
Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), also published on Friday, showed that mortgage lending for house purchases continued its summer strength.
Gross mortgage lending in the UK stood at £16.2bn in September, slightly below lending of £16.4bn in August, but 41% higher than lending of £11.5bn in September last year.
"Indicators suggest we are witnessing the strongest house purchase performance in five years. House prices too have revived but modestly, aside from a resurgent London market," said CML chief economist Bob Pannell.
The LSL survey suggested that tenants' finances were stretched. Some 8.5% of all rent across England and Wales was late in September, up from 7.8% in August.
However, the annual rise in rental costs was still slower than the general increase in the cost of living, with the Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation at 2.7% in September.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Lib Dems Block May's Plans for Immigration Checks on Tenants

The Liberal Democrats have blocked a key element of Theresa May's drive to create a "hostile environment for illegal immigrants", warning that compulsory immigration checks on private tenants could lead to homelessness and strengthen the hand of unscrupulous landlords.

Nick Clegg has forced May to drop plans for any national rollout of the checks this side of the general election. Instead the scheme, under which landlords could face fines of up to £3,000 if they fail to comply, is to be piloted in a single area before any decision is taken to go ahead with its wider implementation.

The Liberal Democrats say they have serious practical reservations with the scheme including concerns that it will increase homelessness and drive illegal migrants underground and into the hands of unscrupulous landlords. It will also place a unrealistic regulatory burden on millions of private landlords, most of whom let out a single property or even just a room.

"The Conservatives wanted to roll this out nationally but because of our concerns we would not agree to it. This will be piloted in a single area," said a Liberal Democrat spokesman.

The detailed bill documents show that the scheme will apply not just to landlords who rent out standalone accommodation but also to families or individuals who take in lodgers or sub-tenants into their own home, although they will face lower fines for failing to comply.

The Home Office says more than 85% of new migrants live in privately rented accommodation. The home secretary said a helpline would be set up to help landlords make the checks, including offering advice on how to question potential tenants.

Gavin Smart, of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the move would make it much harder for all non-British people to find somewhere to live, even when they were in the country legally. "Checking immigration status is complicated so landlords may shy away from letting to anyone who appears not to be British. Discrimination laws will not protect these people. For many people, private renting is their only housing option, and if this is removed homelessness and destitution may follow."

The bill documents confirm the government's intention to introduce a health levy on temporary migrants to be paid when they apply for a visa. The fee is to be set at £200, with a reduction for overseas students, and will apply to those in Britain for between six and 12 months.