Monthly Archives: December 2019

Section 21 changes: time to prepare for reforms to the eviction system

Section 21 changes: time to prepare for reforms to the eviction systemLetting agents are being urged to do more to protect buy-to-let landlords by preparing now for the government’s plans to scrap Section 21 of the Housing Act, as part of a new Renters’ Reform Bill.

PayProp is advising agents to adapt to upcoming changes to the eviction system by updating key documentation and automating arrears management to cut the chances of having to evict tenants and leave landlords with an unnecessary rental void period.

The lettings payment automation provider wants to see letting agents take the following steps.

Neil Cobbold, chief operating officer of the lettings payment automation provider, said: “For some time, the political will – regardless of party – has been to remove Section 21 from the Housing Act 1988 and reform the eviction system.

“Following the Queen’s Speech, letting agents and landlords need to start preparing for change and updating their processes accordingly as it has been confirmed that the evictions process will be reformed through the same Bill.”

Cobbold points out that amendments to the eviction process will see agents needing to update their contract templates and eviction notices to fall in line with a new system – highly likely to revolve around a strengthened Section 8.

He explained: “One of the most important aspects of eviction reform for agents will be educating and informing landlords and tenants about how the new system will work.

“However, on top of this, they will also need to make sure their documents are up-to-date and watertight to evidence their adherence to current and proposed legislation. This will give landlords and tenants the best chance of a smooth eviction process.”

“Agents who adopt thorough record-keeping and arrears management can prove their worth to landlords and increase their chances of new business and client retention.

“Having the right technology and systems in place can be a huge help in making these changes seamless and efficient.”

He says that the removal of Section 21 has the potential to impact the methods landlords use to regain possession of their properties, although he feels that the government’s acknowledgment that it needs to improve the court process was a welcome addition to the Queen’s Speech.

But reforming the grounds for possession has the potential for teething problems and agents could mitigate this by improving their own internal procedures.

Cobbold continued: “With this in mind, agents need to think about the ways they can help to reduce the frequency of evictions. Encouraging good relationships between landlords and tenants is all-important, as is staying on top of repairs and facilitating good communication between both parties.

“Rent arrears are one of the most common reasons for evictions, so agents can help landlords to keep them to a minimum by sending automated emails and text messages – which are proven to be more effective when it comes to chasing rent payments.”

UK govt to question woman’s guilty verdict in Napa rape claim case

The Cyprus Mail reported: The UK government has said it is “seriously concerned” about the fairness of the trial of the British woman found guilty on Monday of lying about being gang raped in Ayia Napa.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office has said the UK is “seriously concerned about the fair trial guarantees” in the “deeply distressing case” of the 19-year-old. The Foreign Office said it will be raising the issue with the Cypriot authorities.

The defence team of the British woman found guilty by the court in Paralimni of lying about being gang-raped by 12 Israeli tourists in Ayia Napa in July, said it is to appeal to the Supreme Court and will go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

The woman was convicted of a single count of public mischief by the Famagusta District Court in Paralimni after judge Michalis Papathanasiou said prosecutors had proved her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. She is to be sentenced on January 7 where she faces up to a year in jail and a 1,700 euro fine.

Defence lawyer Nicoletta Charalambidou told a mob of reporters and cameramen outside the court that they planned to appeal against the verdict. This could take as much as four years.

“The decision of the court is respected,” she said. “However, we respectfully disagree with it. We believe there have been many violations of the procedure and the rights of a fair trial of our client have been violated. We are planning to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, and if justice fails … we are planning to take our case to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Dressed in a sleeveless black top and black trousers with her head covered and accompanied by her mother, the convicted teen gave a thumbs-up to a group of supporters as she left the courthouse. Both she and her mother wore masks depicting a pair of lips sewn together that were given to them by demonstrators outside the court.

Public mischief is defined under the law “as knowingly providing police with a false statement concerning an imaginary offence”.

The 19-year-old who has not been named in the media, said she was attacked and raped by 12 Israeli tourists – who had filmed the incident – in an Ayia Napa hotel room on July 17 but retracted the allegation ten days later after which charges of public mischief were brought. She spent a month in jail and was released in August but has not been allowed to leave the island.

The Israelis, who denied rape, were released and returned home. However the woman and her defence team later said she had not been afforded due process by the authorities and that the retraction statement was obtained by police under duress, and that in fact she had not written it at all.

But judge Papathanasiou, in his ruling said the teen had not told the truth and had tried to deceive the court with “convenient” and “evasive” statements.

He ruled that the interrogation did not amount to undue pressure and her statement – which her defence team claimed did not appear to have been written by a native English speaker – was admissible.

“My conclusion is that the guilt of the accused has been proven beyond reasonable doubt,” he said in his verdict. He said the young woman’s claims had been inconsistent and that she had tried to mislead the court.

“The defendant gave police a false rape claim, while having full knowledge that this was a lie. During her testimony, the defendant did not make a good impression, she did not tell the truth, and tried to mislead the court.”

The teen had told a hearing earlier in the month that she initially agreed to have sex with one of the accused men, a man identified only as Sam, 21, who she met while working in Ayia Napa. She said his friends then burst into the room and she shouted out “No.”

“I said I am not doing that and told them all to go,” she said. “They left for a few seconds and Sam told me to lie on the bed and he got on his knees and put them on my shoulders.” She said she was then pinned down and raped multiple times by members of the group who were aged between 15 and 22.

“I tried to cross my legs. I was trying to throw my arms about,” she told the court. “I don’t know how many of them raped me. I couldn’t see.”

Nir Yaslovitzh, a lawyer representing some of the Israelis said on Monday: “I applaud the court’s decision to convict. I hope the court will find it appropriate to aggravate the punishment imposed on the girl, who refuses to this day to take responsibility for the horrible act she’s done against the boys.”

The judge ruled there had been no rape or violence, and that police had carried out a thorough investigation. He said his decision was backed by video evidence showing the teen having consensual sex.

“The reason why she initially gave false statements was because she realised that she was being recorded while she was having sexual intercourse and so she was placed in a difficult position and felt embarrassed. She then apologised saying she had made a mistake by filing a false statement,” the verdict said. This was the only time she had told the truth, the judge ruled.

“She tried to avoid giving answers and part of her statements could not be accepted. I could observe no reliability on her part of her defence. She was never clear on what happened. She was not stating the truth and I reject the version she gave to the court.”

Prosecution witnesses

Papathanasiou said five witnesses had testified for the prosecution and had included evidence, and this testimony, he said, was credible.

“They made a very good impression. They gave direct and clear answers to the questions they were asked and their replies left no room for dispute.”

Defence witnesses

The judge rejected the testimony on behalf of the defendant given by former state pathologist Marios Matsakis who testified that the rape kit exam presented in court as evidence was incomplete. ”There was no examination of the teenager’s clothing which is surprising,” Matsakis had told the court, adding that the woman was “obviously in bad shape with a large number of external injuries, most of which were recent”.

Papathanassiou branded Matsakis’ testimony “unreliable” and “arbitrary”.

“He clearly tried to serve the needs of the defence and did not substantiate his conclusions. His documentation was generic and does not represent the documentation one would expect from a forensic doctor,” the ruling said. On the contrary the examination of the woman by the designated state pathologist in the presence of a gynaecologist found no evidence of rape or violence.

The court in its ruling also rejected positions taken by the defence in respect of alleged police misconduct, infringement of the defendant’s right to a fair trial and infringement of her rights, criminal activity and malicious violence.”

Defence team’s response

During mitigation, after the verdict was read out, defence lawyer Ritsa Pekri asked the judge for leniency and a suspended sentence, citing her young age and saying that the woman had been under strong psychological pressure at the time.

“She’s been in prison for one month and in Cyprus, effectively as a prisoner, for five. She’s lost her friends, her place at university, her social life. She now has psychological problems as a result of the incident. She should be allowed home to be treated,” said Pekri.

Justice Abroad, which has been assisting the British woman and her family confirmed in a statement the defence team would be appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of Cyprus and from there to the European Court of Human Rights if the teenager could not receive justice in Cyprus before the Supreme Court.

The group’s Michael Polak said: “Although the defence team is very disappointed with the decision of the court having put a lot of effort into the lengthy trial process and after bringing expert evidence before the court we are not surprised by the result given the frequent refusal during the trial of the judge to consider evidence which supported the fact that the teenager had been raped.”

He added: “Shutting down questioning from our Cypriot advocates and the production of evidence into the trial on a handful of occasions the judge stridently stated ‘this is not a rape case, I will not consider whether she was raped or not’. We have found it incredibly difficult to follow this logic given that an essential element of the offence is for there to be a ‘false statement concerning an imaginary offence’ and therefore, clearly if the teenager was raped, she cannot be guilty.”

He said this would form a ground of appeal before the Supreme Court of Cyprus along with a number of what he described as failings in the trial process which resulted in the teenager not receiving a fair trial before the district court as guaranteed by Cypriot law as well as both European Community Law and European Human Rights law.

The teenager’s family is continuing to raise funds on the Go Fund Me page www.gofundme.com/f/Help-Teen-Victim-Get-Justice-In-Cyprus and wished to thank all those from the United Kingdom, Israel, and the rest of the world who have contributed to the fundraising campaign at what is a difficult and unexpected time for them, Justice Abroad said.

Protesters

As the defendant left the court supporters shouted: “We are with you. We know. We believe you.”

Argentoula Ioannou from the Network Against Violence Against Women told media: “I think the verdict was wrong because it was decided on the wrong basis. That is why the judge demanded in the process of the trial that he didn’t want to hear anything of the rape.

She added: “We are here to show solidarity for the young lady who instead of being treated as a complainant for the rape that she suffered is here accused of public mischief. Unfortunately, we strongly believe that the rights of this young lady have been violated.”

This victim was never protected, from the first instance,” said Zelia Gregoriou, an activist. “From the first instance, she was raped again and again by the press, by society and the legal system,” she told Reuters.

Man who sublet hundreds of properties to criminal gangs jailed

Man who sublet hundreds of properties to criminal gangs jailed A man who rented hundreds of properties that he sub-let to criminal gangs running brothels and cannabis farms has been jailed for seven years and four months.

Chinese national Feng Xu used several fake identities to secure accommodation, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Feng was arrested in Birmingham in May as part of a major investigation into modern slavery and human trafficking.

He had previously admitted 22 fraud, false identity and money laundering offences at Birmingham Crown Court.

The 43-year-old was described by investigarors as a “prolific operator” and an “important enabler” for different criminal networks involved in prostitution, drug production and housing illegal immigrants.

Feng, who ran his network for more than three years at his home in Birmingham, paid out more than £4m in rent.

One computer database listed 446 different addresses that Feng had been involved in renting, investigators said.

Matt Rivers, branch commander at the NCA, commented: “Using numerous false identities and false documentation he was able to supply hundreds of different properties across the UK.

“We believe that taking him out will have caused significant disruption to a number of different organised crime groups involved in sex trafficking and drug production.”

Feng, who has lived in the UK illegally for almost 20 years, will face deportation after serving his sentence.

Despite tax and regulatory changes ‘there is still money to be made in the PRS’

Despite tax and regulatory changes ‘there is still money to be made in the PRS’ With savers receiving poor returns from banks and building societies, thousands of people unsurprisingly continue to turn to residential property as a means of supplementing their income, supported by record-low mortgage borrowing rates, growing demand from renters and stable yields, as buy-to-let consolidates itself as the investment of choice for many investors.

Despite a challenging time for the market, characterised by tax and regulatory changes, investment in buy-to-let continues to outperform most major asset classes, as demand for properties in the private rental sector continues to grow.

David Alexander, joint managing director of apropos by DJ Alexander Ltd, said: “There is still money to be made in the private rented sector and being a landlord can provide a reasonable income and a healthy pension. But landlords need to be more savvy to make it work and much more pro-active than in the past.”

“You must ensure your finances are arranged as efficiently as possible, that your costs are reduced to the minimum, and that your margins are as good as they can be.”

Rents in the UK’s private rented sector are rising, with the latest data from HomeLet revealing that they reached £953 per calendar month (pcm) in October, up 2.7% year-on-year.

All 12 of the regions monitored by HomeLet showed an increase in rental values between October 2018 and the corresponding month this year.

Meanwhile, according to the latest mortgage lending figures, the number of new BTL loans achieved its second highest figure for the year in October 2019 at 6,600 while the value of these loans equalled the highest for the year.

BTL remortgaging was at the second highest level for the year in October 2019 at 6,600 and matched the highest monthly value of the year.

The number of BTL mortgages in arrears has dropped by 5% in the third quarter compared to the same quarter in 2018 and the total number accounts for just 0.23% of all BTL mortgages outstanding.

Alexander continued: “Being a landlord has never been more difficult but like all businesses the best people will understand the need for flexibility and be ready to change to meet the circumstances. It is inevitable that there will be change and you must make your business model to match the market.

“There may be some casualties along the way but BTL remains a profitable and viable investment for those who adapt and thrive in a changing market.”

You and your tenants need to be vigilant over the Christmas period

You and your tenants need to be vigilant over the Christmas periodThe Christmas season is upon us and there is a good chance that your tenants may be going away, leaving your property empty and therefore vulnerable.

To help ensure that your property remains protected, there are a number of measures that you and your tenants could take to keep your property safe while the occupants are away.

As the landlord, you should advise their tenants to check the functionality of locks, not only on main doors and windows, but also on sheds and garages, as bikes are often the number one choice for festive felons.

Tenants should also be told to ensure that valuables are kept out of sight so that they are not actively advertising the property to burglars.

You or your tenants may wish to consider installing timers for lights and lamps so that it looks like someone is at home.

It may also be wise to ask your tenants if you or a representative can enter the property if their plan to be away for an extended period. That way, post can be taken in, curtains can be opened and closed, and a vehicle can be seen to be at the property.

To help alleviate any concerns you may have over the festive period, here are some tips that you may care to share with your tenants:

+ Keep valuables out of sight: Keep valuables out of sight such as laptops, televisions and car keys might just prove to be an incentive to an opportunist.

+ Lock all windows and doors: If you are sharing a house or a flat, make sure that the last person to leave does a quick check around the property to ensure that all windows and doors are locked.

+ Keep a light on: A cheap plug-in timer will turn lamps on and give the impression that somebody is home when your property is empty over the holiday.

+ Take down Christmas decorations: While it may make your house look a little cheerier, if your house is going to be vacant until after the New Year decorations may indicate to that the house is empty, so take down the decorations before you leave for Christmas.

+ Neighbourhood watch: If you are comfortable and friendly with your neighbours then inform them that you’re going away and how long for, and ask them to keep an eye on your property.

Average rents increase 3.2% year-on-year – HomeLet

Average rents increase 3.2% year-on-year - HomeLetRents in the PRS continued to grow at a modest pace in November, the latest figures from HomeLet show.

The data reveals that the average rent in the UK hit £947 per calendar month (pcm) in November, up 3.2% year-on-year.

When London is excluded, the average rent in the UK is now £784pcm, while the average rent in the capital is now £1,665pcm.

All 12 of the regions monitored by HomeLet showed an increase in rental values between November 2019 and the corresponding month this year.

But all of the regions monitored by HomeLet saw a slight decrease from October 2019, with the exception of Wales and the North East which saw an increase of 1.1% and 0.4% respectively, and the East Midlands which remains unchanged.

The region with the largest year-on-year increase is Wales, showing a 5.2% rise between November 2018 and November 2019.

 

 

 

Region Nov-19 Nov-18 Annual Variation Oct-19 Monthly Variation
Wales £630 £599 5.2% £623 1.1%
Yorkshire & Humberside £652 £623 4.7% £653 -0.2%
Northern Ireland £667 £639 4.4% £672 -0.7%
Scotland £664 £635 4.6% £674 -1.5%
North East £540 £517 4.4% £538 0.4%
North West £721 £694 3.9% £727 -0.8%
Greater London £1,648 £1,597 3.2% £1,665 -1.0%
East Midlands £642 £625 2.7% £642 0.0%
South East £1,013 £989 2.4% £1,020 -0.7%
South West £838 £819 2.3% £840 -0.2%
East of England £917 £898 2.1% £924 -0.8%
West Midlands £701 £688 1.9% £706 -0.7%
UK £947 £918 3.2% £953 -0.6%
UK excluding Greater London £784 £760 3.2% £788 -0.5%

Rents set to rise in 2020 as landlords continue to exit the PRS

Rents set to rise in 2020 as landlords continue to exit the PRS Rents look set to rise across much of the UK next year owed in part to a further increase in the number of landlords exiting the buy-to-let market as the impact of legislation continues to be felt, letting agents have predicted,

ARLA Propertymark asked its members to share their predictions for the private rented sector and found that more than four-fifths – 84% – of letting agents think rent prices will rise in 2020, up from 65% when agents were asked the same question last year, looking ahead to 2019.

The research also shows that the supply and demand gap looks set to widen next year, with more than three-fifths – 61% – of agents forecasting that demand will continue to rise, while almost seven in 10 – 68% – think the number of landlords operating in the PRS will decline next year, as they are driven out by rising costs.

In line with this, 68% expect landlords’ taxes to rise again.

David Cox, chief executive, ARLA Propertymark, commented: “For far too long, successive governments of all political persuasions have passed significant amounts of complex legislation for landlords. As a result, much of this year has dampened landlords’ appetites to invest and expand their portfolios, with many consolidating their assets, or choosing to step away from the sector altogether. This has impacted tenants most, who have restricted supply and have been faced with less choice and paying higher rents.

“Looking ahead to 2020, we hope the government recognises the importance of increasing supply for tenants and uses it as an opportunity to make the market more attractive for landlords. This will encourage more landlords back into the market as well as ensure that tenants, including those who are most vulnerable, are not at a disadvantage in being able to find a suitable and affordable home to rent.

“Change should make the PRS fairer for all involved, and not penalise those landlords who provide high quality, affordable housing for thousands of tenants.”

Cross Farm Walgrave

 Cross Farmhouse is a beautifully presented Grade II listed stone house set in landscaped gardens of approximately 0.23 acre with garage and a studio. This former farmhouse dates back to the mid 1600’s and retains many superb original and period features and is a wonderful family home with much charm. The house is set in an elevated position in the centre of the village with landscaped gardens and a gated driveway leads to the rear with access to the garage and off street parking.

On the ground floor is a welcoming hallway full of period features and access to the cellar.There are three beautiful reception rooms with period features including exposed beams and shutters to the windows, all three have open fireplaces with contemporary style wood burners, The main drawing room is a large delightful room with beams and bespoke alcove cupboards, the sitting room is a lovely bright room and has access to the garden whilst the dining room has an original stone flagged floor, superb beamed ceiling and an inglenook. The kitchen/breakfast room has a country feel with bespoke fitted kitchen supplied by ‘DeVole’ of Loughborough, a flag stone floor and 4 oven Aga in the inglenook.

On the first floor are five good size bedrooms all of which have period features, a family bathroom and a shower room. The master is a great size with masses of fitted wardrobes and an en-suite with roll top bath and shower.

Outside are two lawned garden areas both with terraces and feature lighting, the front is enclosed by high hedging and is landscaped, to the rear of the house is a paved courtyard with original water pump, garage with loft store and a studio now used as a home office.

Walgrave is situated approximately 8.5 miles from Northampton, close to the A43 and A14 so ideal for commuters, the mainline station in Kettering is approximately 6 miles away with direct trains to London St Pancras taking approximately 60 minutes. Walgrave has a public house, primary school, village hall and church

Scrapping Section 21 is ‘another attack’ against BTL landlords

Scrapping Section 21 is ‘another attack’ against BTL landlords The Queen has announced the new government’s priorities for its coming term, and it includes a proposal to abolish Section 21 of the Housing Act and reforming the grounds for possession, as part of a new Renters’ Reform Bill, designed to “introduce a package of reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective rental market”.

But in the absence of any meaningful plan to boost the level of social housing in this country, the announcement confirming the abolition of Section 21 in yesterday’s Queens speech has been described by ARLA Propertymark as “another attack against the landlords who actually house the nation”.

The trade body’s chief executive, David Cox, said: “If Section 21 is scrapped, Section 8 must be reformed and a new specialist housing tribunal created. Without this, supply will almost certainly fall which will have the consequential effect of raising rents and will further discourage new landlords from investing in the sector.

“ARLA Propertymark will be engaging with the government to ensure they fully understand the consequences of any changes, and we will be scrutinising the legislation, to ensure landlords have the ability to regain their properties if needed.”

The government also plans to introduce a new scheme to permit tenants to transfer their tenancy deposits when they move properties.

The new Lifetime Deposit scheme will permit renters to transfer their deposit from one property to another instead of being left out of pocket for weeks while they wait to be reimbursed from their old landlord but have to spend money securing their new property.

One in three landlords plan to sell in the next year

One in three landlords plan to sell in the next year The UK could be heading for a rental crisis, with experts dreading the prospect of a chronic property shortage in the PRS as more than a third of private landlords look to sell up in the next year in the face of lower profits, new research shows.

A wide-ranging study of 2,000 landlords by the Residential Landlords Association’s (RLA) research exchange, PEARL, has found that almost 34% of private landlords are looking to sell at least one property over the next 12 months.

The study also found that just 12% of landlords are looking to expand the number of homes they rent out, down from 14% a year ago.

Almost half of landlords – 45% – told the RLA that the 3% stamp duty surcharge on additional properties had been a deterrent to further investment in property.

The drop in housing supply comes at a time when the Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is warning that the demand for private rented homes is on the up.

The RLA is now calling on the government to scrap the stamp duty levy where landlords provide homes adding to the net supply of housing.

This should include developing new build properties, bringing empty homes back into use and converting larger properties into smaller, more affordable units of accommodation.

David Smith, policy director for the RLA, commented: “This is yet more clear evidence of the sell-off of private rented housing largely due to the government’s extra tax on new rental homes.

“It is ridiculous that when the country needs all the extra housing it can get, it penalises good landlords who invest in new homes.

“With a new government and a Budget due, we need a shift in policy to one that supports investment because otherwise there will be a growing supply crisis in the private rented sector as demand continues to rise.”