National Landlords Association

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Is the grass always greener on the other side?

Matt Oliver, NLA Public Affairs Officer, on more evidence to suggest rent controls simply aren't the answer.

Matt Oliver, NLA Public Affairs Officer, on more evidence to suggest rent controls simply aren’t the answer.

Today’s publication of the interim report from LSE, commissioned by the NLA  debunks the myth that rent control is a golden bullet, easy to implement and guaranteed to work in the UK.

The launch comes on the day that the four Labour candidates aspiring to be leader (and potentially our next Prime Minster) go head-to-head in a live TV debate.  The Private Rented Sector (PRS) and housing is going to be top of the agenda, especially as Labour’s London Mayoral candidates are all advocating some form of rent control in the Capital as they pitch for votes in their separate election primary.  This is all despite the fact the Mayor has no such powers to implement such a scheme.

Rent controls are non-transferable policies

When it comes to the PRS, LSE’s report shows the grass definitely isn’t always greener. For example, the model cited for the policies advocated by Labour during the election was Ireland but, as the report concludes, the controls introduced in the last few years have had very limited effect.  In fact the country is experiencing a housing crisis, with rapidly rising rents and a near-standstill in new housing production.

Ah, but what about Germany?

Yes of course, Germany. This is often cited as the best example of a country with a stable PRS, yet LSE’s report found that the system of indefinite security and in-tenancy rent stabilisation has in the past been cushioned by low house prices and demand, something we don’t have here, whilst initial rents can be well above current market levels in high-demand areas. Meanwhile in San Francisco and New York it looks like the main beneficiaries of interventionist policies are older middle class households, with the young hardly getting a look in.

What’s the moral of the story?

Well, in a nutshell: rent controls sound great on the surface but the evidence points to the contrary. The NLA is a strictly neutral political organisation.  However, as Labour members listen to these proposals for the PRS and contemplate choosing their third leader in eight years, much like some do with Tony Blair (the only Labour leader to win three successive General Elections), they will remember that you often don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

*LSE’s final report, due to be published later this year, will examine London in more detail to see specifically how renters in the Capital would be affected by various proposals for change.


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How to get started with buy to let financing

BTL RB blog

NLA London Rep Richard Blanco unpacks buy to let financing…  

I’m always keen to encourage people to research their own buy to let (BTL) mortgages, but there’s no doubt it can be very daunting.  There are a few key concepts you need to understand and I’m going to outline them here for you.

What mortgage do I need?

Most investors choose to take out interest only loans, because the interest can be set against your rental income, making this a relatively tax efficient transaction.  The lender will look at your credit file, and most expect borrowers to have their own home mortgaged or owned outright and have a minimum income of around £25,000 – although this varies depending on the lender.  Some major lenders like Birmingham Midshires and The Mortgageworks don’t require earned income, but their credit score is consequently more onerous, especially at higher loan-to-value ratios (LTVs).

How will my credit score and income be calculated?

Credit scoring plays a key part and having a high credit limit on a card can increase your credit score. However, using the credit facility regularly can reduce it quite dramatically and your credit score will be spared from impairment if your balance is below 50% of your total credit limit. Lenders can be fussy about what they include when calculating your income, and most disregard the forecasted rental income that the property will command.  They also tend to favour employed income from a payroll, and things like bonuses and earnings from zero-hours contracts may be overlooked.

What about lending criteria?

Rental income must cover 125% of the mortgage but almost all lenders now calculate prospective payments at a higher notional rate of 5%, rather than the agreed mortgage interested rate. This makes it harder to obtain finance and is aimed at acclimatising borrowers to the likelihood of interest rate rises in the short to medium term.  Lending policy also tends to favour landlords with smaller portfolios and most lenders place a cap on how many properties you can own, regardless of who the loan is with – usually between 3 and 10 or if not, a cap on how much you can borrow overall.

And what interest rates should I expect?

In 2009, typical buy to let interest rates were around 5.25% with often an arrangement fee of around 2.5% of the loan applied, but thankfully rates and fees have fallen considerably, and at 75% LTV you are now looking at an interest rate 2.5% to 3.5% with fixed fees of less than £2,000. If you have a bigger deposit and can stretch to a 65% LTV, rates can be as low as 2%.  New entrants like Virgin Money, The Mortgage Trust, Precise and Aldermore – though not always the cheapest – have helped to increase competition.

How long will the process take?

The whole application process can be very slow and pedantic – with an average completion of 8 weeks –and the big three BTL lenders have about two thirds of market share partly because of their speed and efficiency: TMW, BM and Godiva. 

Should I use a broker?

Around two thirds of landlords choose to use a broker but be aware they may steer you towards specialist lenders who are not necessarily the best value.  Often building societies who mostly deal direct with customers can have some of the best deals, so try carrying out your own research by looking at interest rates for example on the NLA Mortgages search engine, or Moneyfacts before deciding either way.

Is it ready to let?

Mainstream lenders will require the property to be habitable and ready to let in order to proceed, which means a working kitchen and bathroom and no damp or subsidence.  Many won’t lend to flats over four storeys high, flats over commercial outlets or to freehold buildings containing flats. For situations where the property requires works, you could try commercial lenders like Lloyds, Shawbrook, Bank of Cyprus, private or other high street banks, but expect to pay an arrangement fee of at least 1% and interest rates of around 4% on loans of up to 70% of the value of the property.  Interest-only loans are harder to come by in this sector and your repayment term will be shorter – say, 15 years instead of 25 – but there won’t be any caps on the number of properties you own. 

Is bridging finance for me?

Bridging financers are the funders of last resort, usually lend on a non status basis at 65% LTV, and involve much higher costs of generally around 1% per month with no arrangement fee. It’s a bit like buying on a credit card. The advantage is the property can be in any condition – within reason, but be warned: never obtain bridging finance without a clear exit strategy and be aware that you will be stuck on it for six months before you can apply for a remortgage.

Growing a portfolio

I hope this has all been useful. Remember, once you have a mortgage, and if the property increases in value, you can think about growing your portfolio by releasing equity and applying for a further advance.  People often release funds from their own homes in this way to buy an investment property. It’s called capital raising, and most lenders will allow it for the purposes of buying property, though they may insist you own the property for 6 or sometimes 12 months, and apply a lower LTV.

For more information about growing your portfolio, see our guide here – available to NLA Associate Members and above. Not a member? Sign up for free here


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Local government – their 5 year mission

Gavin Dick, NLA Local Authority Policy Officer on the significant challenges that face local councils over the next five years.

Local Authority Officer - Gavin Dick

Local Authority Officer – Gavin Dick

Councils face a simple choice in working with the private rented sector: treat it as a constructive partner or look on it as an adversary  – and risk alienation in the extreme.

While the replacement of Eric Pickles as Secretary of State will have been welcomed by many in local government finance, there is to be no return of a magic money tree. Whatever happens during this parliament, it is inevitable that the envelope of spending by local authorities is going to be reduced even further by 2020. Councils will need to engage with third parties to deliver services with greater efficiency than has been typical in recent years.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has been vocal in its criticism of cuts, stating that there should be no further reductions in the funding from central government. Some council leaders have also called for the cap on Council Tax rises to be removed. Currently a council has to call a local referendum to increase council tax above the threshold set by government.

So councils will have to generate income, or reduce services,  which could be concerning for private landlords. In many areas, the private rented sector has been identified as an easy target to increase revenue in recent years through borough-wide licensing schemes. This short-sighted policy is ultimately a tax on tenants living in the private rented sector as, just like any other industry, the increased costs incurred by suppliers get passed down to the consumer. In this case, the cost of council revenue generation is most likely to be recouped through higher rents and eventually footed by those living locally.

Will there be a Westminster Bailout?

Not likely. The Conservative Party manifesto pushed for greater home-ownership and the increase in building new homes has to be at the forefront of this effort. The Party is also committed to the roll-out of Universal Credit and further reform to welfare with an overall reduction in the welfare cap. Furthermore, the manifesto also includes proposals to extend right-to-buy to tenants of social housing. Even with the one–for-one replacement of the housing stock lost, we’ll see the continuation of large social housing waiting lists, forcing further reliance on councils to engage with the private rented sector. Subsequently, councils will need to embrace the private rented sector, abandoning any pre-conceived opinions and make efforts to understand how it operates in 2015, rather than relying on out-dated stereotypes and hearsay.

Councils will need to avoid being railroaded by overbearing politicians who wish to tell the private rented sector who to house, what to charge and how to run their businesses by introducing licensing schemes which (arguably) prioritise fundraising over problem solving.

Increasing unwillingness for landlords to home housing benefit recipients

The National Landlords Association has been conducting polling for several years, on landlords’ willingness to take different tenant types, and what’s apparent is a steady decline in the willingness to take those who rely on Local Housing Allowance (LHA).

Add to this the recently released statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showing the increase in repossession claims by social landlords granted by the courts  and it becomes clear that councils will increasingly have to look to the private rented sector to house a wide variety of households. Despite this, many local authorities seem to be blind to the fact that that the private rented sector has a choice over its tenants and can refuse a person as well as a council. Pushing through polices such as borough wide licensing on huge swathes of the private rented sector will not encourage landlords to engage with the council, ultimately to the detriment of all involved.

What does the future hold?

The next five years will see a dramatic change in the way that the housing sector functions. Right-to-buy will alter the social housing sector; it will not be the end of the social sector, but it could force it to focus more intently on housing those in the greatest need. Councils will need the private rented sector and should not foster disaffection amongst a group that they will rely on to meet housing need,. For the time being, unfortunately too many councils find themselves doing just that.


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Top 5 reasons for financial loss

Top 5 reasons for financial loss

Chairman Carolyn UphillCarolyn Uphill, NLA Chairman takes us through recent figures which have revealed the top five reasons for a landlord making a loss.

Have you considered the costs that go into maintaining and running a letting business?

A recent National Landlords Association (NLA) survey confirmed that it is no easy feat being a landlord, and operational costs need to be considered as it can mean the difference between success and failure. The landlords surveyed revealed the top five reasons for their financial loss:

5.     Agency fees

12 per cent of those surveyed said that agency fees contributed to them making a loss. Varying levels of agent’s services are offered so make sure you know exactly what you’re being charged before signing on the dotted line. It is also best to check if there are any hidden extras too so that you don’t get hit with a hefty unexpected bill.

Agents will soon be required to state prominently in office and online whether or not they’re a member of a Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme so make sure they are a member of a reputable trade organisation such as UKALA.

4. Voids

14 per cent said they experienced void periods which resulted in financial loss. Being realistic about tenant turnover can save you from getting into financial difficulties. We recommend budgeting for 10 month’s income for a calendar year to cover any unexpected void periods.

3.     Rent arrears

One in five landlords (18 per cent) said they experienced loss due to rent arrears. It is so important that you address the issue of rent arrears as soon as possible. Talk to your tenant and try to ascertain why they haven’t paid on time, you can then put in place a payment plan if possible or offer them the option of ending the tenancy, so that both you and they don’t get into any further difficulties.  For more information here is a guide to rent arrears.

2.     Rental income

Two in five landlords (39 per cent) claimed that their rental income doesn’t cover their outgoing costs, which include things like agency fees, renovations, repairs, tenant checks, inventories, check in and out reports, just to name a few.

It’s understandable that you want to set a rent which is competitive and fair. However if it doesn’t cover your costs then you should look to see that, a) it is in-line with the current rental market, and b) that you have reserves which cover things such as repairs and maintenance as well as the bigger jobs of renovations and refurbishments. It could be that the property is just at a stage where there is a great deal of outgoings, which is why you should always put money away for a rainy day and budget appropriately for any unexpected costs.

1.     Renovating and refurbishing

The foremost reason given for financial loss was money spent on renovating and refurbishing properties between tenancies (53 per cent). Renovations are essential in order to keep your property looking and feeling desirable and for achieving competitive rental returns, and putting renovations off can become costly if associated problems keep adding up. 

You’ve been warned

This is a wakeup call to anyone thinking of investing in buy to let; make sure you go in with your eyes open. There will be considerable outgoings at times which can lead to serious losses unless you’ve planned ahead. This is why having a financial plan in place is so important.

Take it from those who’ve already taken the leap into buy to let. These landlord testimonials highlight the issues you might come up against when in the business:

Landlord A:

“Set up costs are extremely high, especially refurbishments e.g. kitchen, bathroom heating and subsequent marketing. Also, management fees are rising and securing extension of leasehold is difficult.”

Landlord B:

“My last tenant caused a lot of damage and the guarantor absconded, setting me back severely.”

The NLA provides a wealth of information and help to landlords, both to those just starting out and those who have been in the business for a while. Our ongoing support can help keep things on track.

Find out exactly what the NLA can do for you and how we can support you to help make a success of your letting business.

http://www.landlords.org.uk/services


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Top 5 benefits of accreditation

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Lady Renee-Marie Young, Landlord Development and Accreditation Officer at the National Landlords Association (NLA), discusses the benefits of accreditation and why it would be sensible for any landlord to be accredited.

‘So what are the benefits, what’s in it for me?’ are the words I hear all the time when I am out speaking about NLA Accreditation at public meetings or taking calls during my day-to-day role.  I am passionate about the work we do here at the NLA and have always tried to work with other providers for the greater good of the private rented sector (PRS). That is why I am excited about our new development of a National Register of Accredited Landlords; it is the first of its kind.  I truly believe that knowledge is power and that this is a great step forward in recognising the hard work that landlords have put in, no matter where they live or whom they are accredited with.

So here we answer the question to give you the top five benefits of becoming accredited.

  1. Your opportunity to prove you can self-regulate

There have always been calls for further regulation in the PRS; using accreditation is an alternative means of meeting a national management standard in an efficient and more cost-effective way for all those involved.  It is the way to prove that the PRS can self-regulate, reducing the need for licencing or further regulation which just penalises good landlords with higher costs (which potentially can be passed on to the tenants).We say promote NOT penalise!

  1. Recognition

We wish to recognise the hard work put in by landlords to achieve this level of good management practice by way of displaying an accredited logo.  This shows you have met the required standards, through the scheme’s verification process, and ensures you are subject to enforcement if found not to be up to standard. The scheme also has a robust complaints system if any problems should arise.  By using the logo or badge of accreditation, you are setting yourself apart from the rest, and tenants have confidence that you will act professionally towards them.

Recent research from the NLA shows that about 70 per cent of tenants would be more likely to accept a property from a landlord if they knew they were committed to completing annual continuing programme of accreditation or training.

  1. Competitive edge

Accreditation, training and development shows you how to streamline your business and maximise returns.  We outline how to use clear, fair and reasonable tenancy agreements, a range of forms and guidance for landlords. By becoming accredited you will become an NLA member which will give you access to a range of benefits including additional support by way of the NLA Advice Line and the online library resource. It can offer you ways to sustain tenancies and resolve issues quickly, giving you a competitive edge.

  1. Discounts

There are a number of discounts locally or nationally that can be obtained by becoming accredited.  Various councils offer licensing discounts and provide accredited landlords easier access to service or grant funding opportunities.  Some local authorities even discount items such as parking permits, energy efficiency certificates, gas safety certificates and offer priority or early advertising opportunities.  Nationally, the NLA offers discounts on services such as deposit protection through my|deposits, as well as discounted products via our comprehensive list of recognised suppliers.

  1. Services

At the NLA we offer a range of services including rent manager, deposit protection and free tax investigation insurance – not to mention a comprehensive range of recognised suppliers – to support you at every stage of your lettings journey. Other schemes and local authorities offer a range of priority services for accredited landlords too.

Of course, it doesn’t just stop there; accreditation offers much wider benefits to organisations and local authorities such as:

  • Preventing rogue operators from moving from one area to another through sharing information about those who have broken the scheme rules.
  • Reducing the emphasis on top-down enforcement as landlords must meet the scheme rules and agreed standards.
  • Establishing a national standard which is controlled at a local level by each scheme using the same format and allowing landlords to passport from one scheme to another.

All of which makes it easier for responsible landlords to differentiate themselves from the rogues and make a success of their lettings business.

National Register of Accredited Landlords

We must stress that the Register is not purely a benefit of NLA Accreditation or for NLA landlords only.  Our objective is to support responsible landlords to demonstrate their commitment to best practice in the PRS, and show that further regulation isn’t always the answer.  It is about raising the profile of landlord accreditation and highlighting those who are committed to best practice and a professional standard of management.  We do hope that you will join us in applying to join our register.

If you’re yet to become accredited then visit the NLA’s website for more information about how it will benefit you. As well as standard chalk and talk style courses you can become accredited online, meaning you take it all at your own pace.

A triumphant fist pump, but will the news be short-lived?


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Is this the end of blanket licensing schemes?

The NLA’s Head of Policy Chris Norris on the amendments to local councils’ powers to licence landlords and our role in securing the change.

A triumphant fist pump, but will the news be short-lived?

A triumphant fist pump, but will the news be short-lived?

When the outgoing Labour government granted local councils ‘general approval’ in 2010 to introduce selective licensing schemes without first having to have them rubber stamped by central government, it was difficult not to see it as an attempt to lock in a legacy in the wake of a potential change of administration.

What we do know is that since general approval was granted there’s been a proliferation of blanket borough- or city-wide licensing schemes that, with perhaps the exception of Newham, hasn’t actually led to any significant enforcement or improvements for tenants.

Our lobbying efforts

I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t felt like we’ve been banging our heads against a brick wall since 2010, but in September last year, the current Housing Minster invited our input on this matter. The timing couldn’t have been better: we were on the verge of bringing to fruition a body of research which we’d been compiling over the last four years. We published it recently, you can read it here. The Minister was the first to see it.

In it, we outline the boom in the number of blanket licensing schemes since 2010 and highlight a lack of enforcement action being taken by local councils. We also point out a reasonably strong correlation between the political control of a council and their tendency to license landlords. Yes, you’ve guessed it: in other words, this basically means that Labour-led councils have been the biggest beneficiaries of the general approval powers, choosing to license. Conservative-led councils on the other hand have not, instead preferring to work with local landlord communities through education and incentive-based approaches. Perhaps this isn’t that surprising, but the important thing is it serves as proof nonetheless and it’s something that’s strengthened our case no end.

What the changes mean

Since meeting with the Minister and making our case we’ve been waiting with baited breath to see what the outcome would be and naturally we were delighted that he listened.

The changes announced by the Housing Minister will mean that any council that proposes to licence more than 20 per cent of its geographical area or more than 20 per cent of privately rented homes in the local authority area will need to prove it stands up to independent scrutiny. Councils have been their own judges for the past four years and we’ve long argued that the evidence provided to ‘justify’ blanket licensing schemes have been weak and unclear. This approach should now mean that local authorities will focus their activity on areas with the worst problems and, importantly, not adopt a broadbrush approach that will have an adverse impact on good landlords.

Not penalising good landlords or tenants

And this is an important point. In his letter to announce the changes to local councils, the Housing Minister submits that the blanket licensing approach adopted by some has major drawbacks. Such an approach, he says, is disproportionate and unfairly penalises good landlords.

He also notes that the increased cost of licensing shouldered by the majority of good, compliant landlords invariably ends up with the tenant as higher rents. We’ve long been referring to schemes like these as a ‘tenant tax’ so it’s good news that this is being recognised by the powers that be.

In addition, the Minister has expanded the criteria for selective licensing to cover areas experiencing poor property conditions, large amounts of inward migration, a high level of deprivation or high levels of crime. This now accompanies the existing legal criteria of anti-social behaviour and low demand. Again, this should help ensure that local authorities have the right tools to target enforcement action appropriately.

What does the future hold?

Like a bad whiff, blanket licensing schemes have lingered in the background for long enough and this should signify their end – in the short term at least. It’s uncertain what the future will hold especially if Labour form a majority government or we have Labour/Lib Dem coalition. Although, as Stephen Williams MP (another Minister within DCLG) revealed at our recent hustings event, the Liberal Democrats do not support expansive licensing.

But we’re far from done here. Our report also makes the case for local councils to be able to keep hold of proceeds from the enforcement action they carry out, in order to incentivise and help budget for future enforcement action. Currently such funds go directly to the Treasury, so we need to continue our lobbying efforts on this front. Good landlords should not be made to foot the bill; the polluter should be made to pay.

However, in the meantime it represents good news for landlords and for tenants and it vindicates a lot of hard work behind the scenes from the NLA over the last four years. So I’m off for a cigar.


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The impact of rent control

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Past attempts

For many years, rent control was considered an out-dated practice from a bygone age, with a history of failure and complications around the world.

In the UK specifically, the various Acts which introduced rent control in the private-rented sector had a dramatic effect on the proportion of households renting from a private landlord. As the chart below illustrates, the sector shrank dramatically after the introduction of controls in the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act 1939, and continued to decline as the legislation was tightened through the 1950s, 60s and 70s.   It was not until the reforms of the 1980s that the private-rented sector turned the corner.

Even so, the initial pace of change was slow.  The modern rented sector only really developed after the enactment of the Housing Act 1996 when the Assured Shorthold Tenancy became the default tenancy and lenders felt secure enough to expand mainstream lending to individuals.

chart

Political agenda

Yet, despite the wealth of evidence to suggest that statutory price capping does far more harm than good to the supply and quality of rentals, it is back on the agenda for some politicians.

The appeal of price controls to politicians is simple. It is a basic concept, easy to understand and able to appeal to a certain group of voters with whom it is often difficult to engage. Unfortunately, while the concept is simple, the practical and economic consequences are incredibly complicated and difficult to model.

The impact

Those proposing rent control tend not to consider its impact on the wider society. The use of rent ceilings has been shown, time and time again, to reduce the quality and quantity of property available to rent legitimately, while fuelling the growth of a black market. It wasn’t difficult to find somewhere to rent in the 1980s, but few renters were ever offered a full tenancy, with all the protections that entailed.  For good or ill, many properties were let on a “licence to occupy”.

Were a future government to introduce such a policy after the May General Election, the impact would undoubtedly be a reduction in the the number of properties available to rent and the exit from the market of a large number of responsible landlords who simply are not prepared to deal with inevitable reduced income or the higher costs that will follow as service providers, such as mortgage lenders and insurance providers, seek to off-set their risk.

Rents will be held down as politicians – looking to gain votes – will be unwilling to face the wrath of five million private renters. As the cost of renting to the consumer sinks below the natural market rate, artificially kept below the level needed to ensure that the landlord can maintain it properly, and inevitably squeezing profitability out of the equation, people will vote with their feet. Investment will move away towards other markets and assets better able to provide a reasonable return.

Shortage of housing

The impact of this will be felt more widely than simply by those who rent or let. The issue we face in many parts of the country is a shortage of all types of property for people to live in. Rent control will not increase the number of properties; indeed, it will have the opposite effect, driving investment away from these areas and further reinforcing the divide between high and low demand areas, as developers will no longer be able to cover the risk of new projects by selling off-plan to landlords keen to invest in residential property. Unless there is an increase in first-time buyers willing, and – perhaps more crucially – able to buy to compensate, housing development will fall away, further restricting supply and making it even more difficult for those seeking housing, both to rent and to buy.

The policy of rent control has failed whenever it has been introduced; the re-introduction of rent control in the UK will fail and will cause more damage to the housing sector, and to those that need to be housed.

Be heard

If you’re concerned about the impact this could have on you, enter your question via the survey. The NLA is holding a hustings event, on Monday 2 March, where there will be an opportunity to question policy leaders from all parties. The most popular questions, collected from our survey, will be presented at the event.

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