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Guild of Letting and Management annual seminar

publication date: May 5, 2009
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Football stadiumThe Guild of Letting and Management scored a series of goals at its annual seminar on 30 April; held in the magnificent Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal Football Club. 120 delegates had time to take in the atmosphere of this famous venue, although no-one was permitted on the pitch, with or without an Arsenal strip.

Susie Crolla of the Guild welcomed delegates and gave an overview of the day, which would include presentations on The Rugg Review, cannabis factories in rented property, the new Gas Safe Register, software, energetic survival (read on) the Local Housing Allowance, referencing and its legal implications and Improving standards in the PRS.

A busy agenda, interspersed with excellent refreshments and opportunities to take in the triumphant history of this hallowed north London stadium, promised an interesting day.

Cannabis Farming

First up was DS Neil Wilson, straight from the Met, where he heads a team in the Metropolitan Police Service Drugs Directorate. Neil was joined by Ajoke Falase, a Higher Intelligence Analyst. Their aim was to raise awareness, point out the dangers, promote prevention and outline the future.

Concealed within some of the UK’s most ordinary houses, in desirable neighbourhoods, lie many thousands of cannabis plants. 43 out of 44 UK police authority areas have reported 5500 incidences of cannabis farming. The majority of the 3000 cases are in let property, where police have seized 500,000 plants with a street value of £60million.

These properties are usually let through agents who have absolutely no idea of their intended use. How? The ‘tenant farmers’ are very experienced and dedicated to their goals. Often the people that visit the agent and agree the tenancy are not the tenants at all. They are knowledgeable about the lettings system, don’t argue over rent, often pay in advance, usually in cash, and don’t want to agree to regular inspections. Other warning signs from applicants are the lack of job, previous landlord or bank references.

So why worry? If they pay the rent what is the problem? Apart from the fact it is an illegal activity in which both agents and landlords can be implicated, with inevitable prison sentences, there will be severe damage to the property. Many cannabis farms are only discovered when they catch fire – a common occurrence because the plants are grown under very powerful heat lamps, diffused by sheets of paper and powered by banks of plugs often wired directly to the main grid. Even if the property doesn’t catch fire the internal structural damage will be costly to repair – torn down doors, huge holes in walls, floors and ceilings for ventilation ducting, removal of built in cupboards…

Added to this are factors like a rapidly growing bad reputation – the landlord and agent’s name will be reported in the local press, loss of rent while the property is repaired, increased insurance premiums and toxic contamination of the property should deter anyone to let knowingly to these people. Agents should also be aware that it is not uncommon for a landlord to be involved in the activity. The temptations of large bundles of easy cash in advance may be too much, especially in this economic climate, may be too much to resist. So beware, be vigilant and be honest!

Random peopleThe Rugg Review and the Government Response

Ahead of the recent publication of the Government’s response to The Rugg Review, Susie Crolla explained Dr Julie Rugg’s recommendations and the proposals likely to be made in the Government response, which will aim to create a ‘fairer and more effective system for those living in rented housing.’ This document is now published and commented upon in our Licensing feature. The full document is downloadable from our website:

Julie Rugg recommended that:

- More policy is needed to encourage a better understanding of managing rented housing
- Managing agents should be subject to mandatory regulation
- Registered social landlords should be encouraged to enter the PRS and sell their rental management skills to private landlords
- Government should devise initiatives to ‘grow’ the business of letting encouraging growth and professionalism
- Buy-to-let mortgages should be available and include strategies to protect tenants from landlord default
- Light-touch licensing and effective redress is needed
- A national licence for all landlords, which could be revoked if the landlord did not meet statutory requirements.

The main news is of course that letting agents will be subject to regulation and licensing in the near future. See page 46 for our initial report. PROPERTYdrum will keep you right up to date on the detail.

Software in the credit crunch and referencing

Jonathon Stebbings from VT UK gave a presentation on the benefits of software in a credit crunch and Derek Kelson, from FCC Paragon spoke on the importance of referencing and the legal implications for the landlord.

No more CORGI – introducing the Gas Safe Register

There never was a dog associated with the gas safety organisation, now there isn’t even the name. Instead we have the Gas Safe Register, which followed the 2006 review of gas safety and it was found that it needed a new focus.

The Gas Safe Register maintains a register of competent gas engineers. The regulatory body, Capita, operates through the Gas Safe brand to supervise the work of registered installers and promote consumer awareness. It will also manage complaints and appeals and pursue unregistered illegal installers. New technology allows consumers to check the validity of a gas engineer’s credentials by entering their registered number on the Gas Safe website or sending a text to Gas Safe. On the internet, the engineer’s photo will appear next to the number given, on the phone the photo will be texted back. Simple, but effective in ensuring the right man for the job is in your property.

There are now more than 112,000 installers registered so very little reason to use a cowboy! Visit www.gassaferegister. for further information.

Surviving Energetically

After lunch the focus moved from gas to energy saving as Tweedie Brown CBE, Deputy Chairman PSG Solutions plc, stepped up demonstrating that he clearly has much more energy than most of us. Tweedie’s most energetic presentation was titled Surviving Energetically and he appraised delegates of the urgent action that is needed to avoid an energy crunch in the next few years.

If we thought the credit crunch has been difficult, the predicted energy crunch will be much darker. Literally. Three day working weeks, punitive energy prices, energy sharing measures. Tweedie says that although the UK government is now making efforts to increase our energy output it is going to be highly unlikely that we will have enough production to feed the ever growing demand for power.

Everything that can be done to reduce our usage should be done – we are urged to look at our own energy usage, investigate our options, hug the tree. Not a tree hugger? This is about surviving and helping your business rather than joining the protesters on the street – energy saving will benefit you, so look at it!

VincenzoThe Local Housing Allowance

Vincenzo Rampulla, Public Affairs Officer of the National Landlords’ Association (NLA) gave an overview of the first 12 months of the new version of Housing Benefit. Recent research by the NLA has found that the major changes to the way housing benefit is paid to tenants wastes millions of pounds and will result in increased homelessness.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) was introduced for new tenancies in April 2008 replacing housing benefit. Instead of rent being paid directly to private landlords it now goes to the tenant who should pass on the rent money to their landlord. In practice, many tenants are failing to do this, causing major problems, some landlords are facing repossession because rent money does not arrive. 52 per cent of landlords surveyed have decided they would not let, or be ‘less likely’ to let, to LHA tenants. A further 43 per cent of those landlords who have already tried the new system said they would now be leaving this failing market because of increased uncertainty about rent payments.

With £2.6 billion being spent on LHA during 2009-10, the NLA is calling for immediate action. Currently, a landlord must wait for eight weeks of rental arrears before the local authority can take action and trigger direct payment. In reality, arrears can be as long as three months before the landlord receives their first payment. Contrary to the Government’s intentions, LHA tenants now have less choice as landlords opt out because they cannot afford to house the most vulnerable tenants.

HamerThe Property Ombudsman

Christopher Hamer, The Property Ombudsman (formerly the Ombudsman for Estate Agents) gave delegates an insight into the Ombudsman Service. Quoting Sir Bryan Carsberg, Chris Hamer said, “Although regulation and redress are often linked in the minds of consumers, their aims and methods are distinctly different and they should be carried out by separate bodies.

“Redress is intended to provide compensation for customers who have suffered from unacceptable behaviour.”

Redress looks at events that have happened in individual cases. Regulation is the setting of rules by which the business must operate and where those rules are breached enforcement action is taken. The Property Ombudsman Service offers consumers redress against property agents whom they feel have acted incorrectly. With a growing workload the Ombudsman investigates complaints and can make awards for ‘aggravation, distress and inconvenience’. They are not penalties, but are aimed at compensating the complainant. 90 per cent of the awards are under £1000. The service also makes recommendations for improving Good Practice and raises awareness of regulation in the property sector.

The Property Ombudsman Chris Hamer writes exclusively for PROPERTYdrum, each issue. Log on to articles/ombudsmanmay to read his May issue column.

Hamer handshakeGLM BTEC Awards presentation

After his presentation Christopher Hamer congratulated members of the Guild of Letting & Management who have achieved their Guild of Letting & Management BTEC Qualification in Residential Letting & Management. 29 agents have completed the BTEC at levels 2, 3 and 4 in the last 12 months. Ten of them, who have completed Level 4, were presented with crystal paperweights by Christopher Hamer.

- Robert Hall from Belvoir Lettings (Long Eaton) was 18 when he qualified, the youngest candidate to acheive Level 4.
- Lucy Dawe – Penyards Property Management
- Jyoti Patadia – Norgans Lettings & Property Management
- Emma Braun – Dunstable Property Lets
- Grant Woolley – Belvoir Lettings
- Raewyn Blomfield – Blomfield Property
- Helen Stuckes – Heritage Property
- Emily Corbett – Heritage Property
- Anna Brightmore – Primrose Property Management
- Emily Hannan – Lanes Lettings & Property Management

The Guild of Letting and Management BTEC Qualifications in Residential Letting and Management is a milestone for the industry, helping managing agents and landlords develop their skills and knowledge, and demonstrate their commitment to professionalism and excellence.

The qualification has been developed with the Letting Training Centre, to offer practical guidance on everything from vetting a tenant and securing a contract, to carrying out an inventory, moving a tenant in and out seamlessly, and keeping the paperwork properly. It also offers an introduction to the increasingly complex legislation in the field.

Newcomers to the industry can get a head start from the comprehensive course material, while more experienced agents can apply their knowledge to help them gain the qualification more quickly. To fit around the schedule of a busy agent, the course is flexible and can be structured using any combination of open tutorials, in-house tutorials, home study, and distance learning.

The Guild’s managing director, Susie Crolla says, “Standards in the lettings industry needed to be addressed. The Letting Training Centre had been providing hands-on guidance for the last nine years, so I worked with Edexel to develop the BTEC from its courses. Now, knowledgeable and professional agents and landlords can have a qualification to demonstrate their expertise, and landlords and tenants know they are going to a true professional.”