From the 1st of October 2015 rental properties by law must have fitted smoke detectors (alarms) on each storey of a rental property. In rooms where solid fuel appliances are installed, Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors are required. CO detectors are not required by law for gas appliances, but landlords are being encouraged to provide them in circumstances where risks may arise, as good safety practice.
Landlords must fit these devices before the 1st of October, and not wait for the start of a new tenancy, but there is no stipulation as to the type of alarms required ? battery or hard wired.
At least one smoke alarm must be installed on every storey of the rental property which is used as living accommodation (heat detectors are not allowed as a substitute), and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation where solid fuel is used. After that, the landlord must make sure the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.
The regulations will require landlords to ensure alarms are installed in their properties with effect from 1 October 2015. After that the landlord (or someone acting on behalf of the landlord) must ensure all alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.
Landlords are expected to be compliant from 1 October 2015 when the regulations will come into force. There will be no grace period after this date to install the required alarms.
After the landlord?s test on the first day of the tenancy, tenants should take responsibility for their own safety and test all alarms regularly to make sure they are in working order. Testing monthly is generally considered an appropriate frequency for smoke alarms.
If tenants find that their alarm(s) are not in working order during the tenancy, they are advised to arrange the replacement of the batteries or the alarm itself with the relevant landlord.
Government guidance can be downloaded here:
A new 'Guide to Tenancy Deposits, Disputes and Damages' was jointly published by all three government authorised tenancy deposit protection schemes in May 2011.
Since 2007 some 47,000 disputes have been settled by the schemes' alternative dispute resolution processes. The pooling of information on these disputes and their eventual outcomes has allowed the schemes to identify common issues and to work together to publish collective guidelines.
The guide covers items, such as the collation of evidence and what an adjudicator looks for when considering a dispute. It also outlines the principles on which scheme adjudicators make decisions so that the process is consistent and transparent for letting agent, landlord and tenant alike.
Eddie Hooker, CEO of my|deposits, commented: "Whilst we are all competitors in the market, we do not compete on how we operate our dispute resolution services. It is right that all schemes follow the same principles and standards when dealing with deposit issues. Landlords and tenants should be able to understand the processes regardless of which scheme they use and expect a fair outcome to their dispute."
Kevin Firth, Director of The Deposit Protection Service (The DPS), the custodial scheme, added: "This guide represents a significant benefit for tenants, landlords and letting agents and is another example of how tenancy deposit legislation has acted to improve standards in the lettings industry. Everyone can get hold of a copy for free and understand for themselves how disputes are adjudicated, potentially helping them avoid these situations in the future." Steve Harriott, Chief Executive of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) continued: "I'm delighted to see this joint approach between the schemes - we all follow consistent principles and it is only right that tenants and landlords get a uniform explanation of the approach taken, irrespective of which scheme they contact."
The guide, which is now available on each scheme's website, also discusses issues such as how to avoid disputes in the first place, the types of evidence accepted by adjudicators and how to deal with common problems such as wear and tear.
This is the first time all three schemes have worked together to publish educational information which is aimed at landlords, agents and tenants alike.
Click hereto view the full guide in PDF format.
Because of new legislation more landlords now need the protection of professionally produced inventories. From October 2010 the coverage of the tenancy deposit schemes were extended to cover all properties with an annual rental of £100,000 as these are now covered by Assured Shorthold Tenancies. All tenancies starting after October automatically became AST's, existing tenancies also become AST's and also need to have their tenant's deposits protected by one of the three approved schemes.
This means that many more landlords will need to comply with the TDS rules regarding their tenant's deposits. These rules are designed to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords and, as a result, throw the onus on landlords to prove their entitlement to any deposit retention. Landlords must now understand the importance of a good detailed inventory to protect their interests if they need to take a dispute to The Dispute Service (TDS).
Much has been written in the trade press recently about inventories and their place in the lettings process by a number of industry professionals including the AIIC (Association of Independent Inventory Clerks). 'The Agreement', the AIIC magazine, recently carried an article quoting the TDS viewpoint. It seems that, according to Mike Morgan, Acting Head of Adjudications at TDS:-
The absence of an inventory - 'is problematic and they are vital in enabling us to compare the condition of a property at the start and end of a tenancy. Without an inventory TDS are normally unable to make any award to the landlord.'
On independent inventories - 'TDS cannot insist on independent reports, there is nothing to stop a landlord producing their own inventory although if poorly prepared they will impact on a landlord's claim'.
On signed reports - 'We cannot insist that reports are signed but need to see a clear audit trail. If an inventory is sent to a tenant and is not signed and returned it can usually be taken as assent. If a tenant denies having seen an inventory TDS can accept, on face value, a statement that one was given to the tenant, this could be reinforced by a copy letter showing that this had indeed been done. It would be expected that a tenant would have written objections if no inventory had been received.'
On combined check in/check out reports - 'a single document showing condition of check in and check out can be problematic. We need a document showing a contemporaneous record of condition at both times, a separate check in and then check out report. More acceptable is a (clean) document that is an updated check in report which is then updated at end of tenancy.'
Photographs - 'the primary evidence on which we rely is the inventory and check in/check out reports. Undated and/or unsigned photographs are of little evidential use. A photograph of a cracked sink for example could be of any sink, in any property, at any time. Photographs are more useful if they back up a written report to which we can cross-refer and can be undated if a tenant has admitted damage but disputes the cost.'
In an important step at a point of fragile recovery in the housing market, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Housing Minister Grant Shapps today announced that with immediate effect, they are suspending the requirement for homeowners to provide a Home Information Pack (HIP) when selling their homes.
Mr Pickles today laid an Order suspending HIPs with immediate effect, pending primary legislation for a permanent abolition. The Secretary of State has taken this swift action in order to avoid uncertainty and prevent a slump in an already fragile housing market. Today's announcement sends a clear message of encouragement to people thinking of selling their home that they can put it on the market with less cost and hassle.
However, the Ministers have made it clear that the EPC will still be a requirement:-
6. In order to ensure that people selling their homes continue to make an Energy Performance Certificate available to prospective buyers, we have also laid before Parliament the Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 which introduce a number of new requirements including:
The full announcement can be read here:http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/1591783
The 6th of April is behind us and the Tenant Deposit Scheme now open for business to landlords and tenants. What are the implications of the scheme however? There are no doubt many implications, but one term often mentioned and yet little discussed it seems, is that of the "evidence-based scheme". Letting Agents and Landlords now have to grapple with the TDS and all its ramifications.
Whatever flavour of the scheme landlords use, whether insurance based or custodial, to avoid disputes going to the courts, both schemes are supported by an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service - although the use of an ADR service is not compulsory under the legislation.
But if used, any dispute at the end of the tenancy can be referred to the ADR service provided both parties agree to be bound by the ADR decision. If either party does not agree to use the ADR service, the option of referring the dispute to the courts will remain. We are told that the ADR service will be impartial and evidence-based.
Even if either party opts for the court route instead of the ADR route to settle disputes, they still require evidence for what is claimed. In other words again, their claim must be evidence-based.
Tenant Deposit Solutions (TDS), one of the alternative dispute resolution services, will offer what they call aggrieved tenants an "independent, impartial and evidence-based resolution to any claim".
NLA chairman David Salusbury, who is also chairman of TDS goes on to say that "Our insurance based scheme will enable landlords to hold deposits, giving them a form of security against any damage that may occur during a tenancy". But what if a claim is made? "What evidence will landlords require to validate their claim" asks Jonathan Senior, head of training for Inventories Online Ltd, a nationwide and web-based, inventory clerk training and booking system. Evidence surely means "having some form of data verifying compliance with the scheme" he continues.
Such evidence is a "good inventory" according to Inventories Online. But there are inventories and there are inventories, they say. Some scant and limited in detail, some excessively detailed and difficult to read and understand. Some have been seen on Post-It notes and even once on a scrap of crumpled tissue paper.
In order that any ADR service is fair when deciding on deposit apportionment, the service will surely require that complaints are accompanied by sufficient and relevant evidence, evidence which is "accurate, detailed and verified" according to Senior, "a rarity" he says in his experience. "So few inventories are signed for by both parties, its no wonder we continue to witness grief at end of tenancy periods" he goes on to say. "I continue to see landlords lose money, all because they are unable to verify by way of a tenant's signature, that which they are claiming for".
Anecdotally we still hear of courts favouring tenants where deposits are in dispute. It is little wonder when courts have little or no evidence to work with that they award in a tenant's favour. Although it is possible that a landlord's claim was valid in its own right, it will fail if not backed up by evidence. In the absence of evidence, the courts have shown time after time that they will give the tenant the benefit of the doubt or simply throw out the case for lack of evidence.
To avoid unnecessary claims therefore, or even to help either landlord or tenant to succeed with a claim, providing the claim is justifiable that is, landlords and tenants must obtain a 'proper inventory'.
Be warned though, photos on their own are insufficient, they are difficult to verify. We know with today's technology one can manipulate such media to suit a need. Photos accompanying or even better still, embedded within a signed inventory make for good evidence. Video is almost certainly out of the question on its own. "Where can you sign a video" asks Jonathan Senior.
What both parties must sensibly have at time of tenancy start is a 'good inventory', with or without photos. One which is agreed to with any appropriate alterations included; and ensuring it is dated and signed by both landlord (agent) and tenant, no differently than with a tenancy agreement. Landlords or agents wouldn't dream of a tenancy without an agreement, so why not have a signed inventory at the same time. Without this, how can an ADR service or court, if it comes to it, find fairness?
A good inventory lists each room within a property, then lists each component of the room, that is a door or window, the ceiling and walls, lights and floor, even power sockets and switches. Then each item of content is added; furniture, kitchen items, bathroom fixtures etc. Each component and item is then given a condition comment. If a claim is made the ADR service or courts can see what was originally agreed upon and then what differences there are, thus allowing for fair apportionment.
We are left with a problem however, says Inventories Online; there are still only a few hundred properly trained inventory clerks in the UK. "We need several thousand trained clerks if only half the current landlords and tenants want sufficient support" Senior says. "Why is it that we have such a scheme without addressing a simple yet fundamental need" he continues.
How can landlords or tenants provide appropriately detailed inventories without the right information or training? Where can they find such help? There isn't much it seems. There is no universally recognised standard. Certainly there's nothing consistent, even within the industry. If one buys or downloads one of the many inventory templates or inventory packs from bookstores or the web, you will see they're inconsistent.
In time, especially when the ADR service and courts find themselves overwhelmed with cases difficult to decipher, we may see an initiative to bring the inventory clerk service to the forefront of the letting's industry consciousness. Until that day we suggest landlords and tenants ensure they have sight of, examine, comment upon and agree to a good inventory when signing their tenancy agreements.
In Macclesfield and the surrounding area there are very few companies offering such a service and only one which offers the kind of service described and recommended by Senior. That is Property Inventory Services, based in Macclesfield. Proprietor, Brian Kilcoyne, says that "...the kind of service we offer has long been the norm in the south, where most landlords wouldn't dream of preparing an inventory themselves - they would get in a professional. We seem to have been lagging behind but with the TDS and the ADR service, that looks set to change."
That is not to say that local letting agents are not aware of the potential problems, the issue is one of convincing landlords of the need to invest in a good quality inventory. Helen Bunch, a member of A.R.L.A. and director of the Spencer Knight agency in Cheshire has over ten years experience in the lettings field and recommends Property Inventory Services to all her landlords. Mrs Bunch says "at Spencer Knight we have been advising all our landlords to use the services of a reputable independent inventory company since February 2005, with great success. Since 6th April it is important that landlords are able to show proof of damages caused during a tenancy. Enlisting a reputable independent inventory clerk is the best way of providing this proof. I expect that the use of such a service will become an industry standard and I am pleased that we are already able to recommend this service to our landlords."