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Jo Westlake
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my expertise in the industry

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Jo Westlake
It doesn't say why those people are homeless or about to be made homeless. My guess is that it's largely due to half baked government policies rather than the more traditional reasons. Landlords being prohibited from renting out properties that score F or G on the EPC would be one reason. The ludicrously low UC paid to single unemployed adults is another. No financial support for landlords during the pandemic while encouraging tenants to demand rent payment holidays. Far too many people excluded from furlough payments or any other financial support while the government had prohibited them from working. These were government failings. Collectively they have made being a landlord feel very precarious. Very few landlords evict good tenants unless they absolutely have to. Even landlords who have never evicted a tenant have found the total inability to be able to evict to be hugely stressful and has certainly stopped me from expanding my portfolio. I'm only one landlord but over the last 10 years I have bought 4 properties specifically for people who were homeless or had had Section 21 notices served on them because previous landlords wanted to sell. In one case I bought the house they were already living in. For the others I bought properties within walking distance to their work that could be viable at LHA level rent. Unfortunately 2 of those properties only score D on the EPC so it may be that at least one of those tenants will become homeless again purely because of a half baked government policy. I truly hope not.

From: Jo Westlake 30 November 2021 10:02 AM

Jo Westlake
I'm not sure we need stimulus as such but we certainly need clarity, consistency and an end to the constantly moving goal posts. We need a fast effective way to evict tenants who breach their tenancy agreements. Anti social behaviour or persistent non payment of rent should entitle landlords to a rapid recovery of their property. As a long term landlord I have never needed to evict a tenant and hope I never will but the recent ban on evictions has been extremely concerning and has prevented me from buying any more rental properties. I would be perfectly happy to compensate a tenant who has fully adhered to their side of the tenancy agreement if I ever had to evict one purely because I decided I wanted to sell the property. The EPC situation needs sorting. The lack of consistency in the assessments is a major concern. Just because a property currently has a C rating doesn't mean it still will next time it is assessed. Two of my properties dropped 10 points from one assessment to the next. How is that even possible? Work is being recommended in EPCs that we have no legal right to carry out especially in leasehold, listed or conservation area properties. In recent years mortgage rates for portfolio landlords have become much higher than for inexperienced landlords. How is that in any way beneficial for tenants or lenders? A portfolio landlord is more likely to be aware of and comply with housing law and far less likely to suddenly decide being a landlord wasn't quite as easy as they thought and sell up thereby making their tenants homeless. If a landlord has one property and the tenant doesn't pay the lender has a problem. If a portfolio landlord has a tenant who doesn't pay they can usually cover the mortgage on that property from elsewhere in their portfolio. It makes no sense that we are being treated as high risk. Or is it just blatant profiteering by the lenders? The fact it is done on the number of mortgages not the overall level of borrowing or portfolio LTV makes no sense. We need a retirement exit route. A great many of us bought 20 years ago when taper relief existed with the intention of selling up when we wanted to retire. BTL was an alternative to a conventional pension without the benefit of tax relief. The abolition of taper relief has left us with a problem. If we sell we pay astronomical amounts of CGT, the remaining money goes into our estate and if we die too soon (before we have spent it or given it away) gets hit with IHT as well. If we don't sell we never get to retire. We have already paid huge amounts of SDLT when we buy, VAT on just about everything and income tax on our profit. As that profit is classed as unearned income we have been prevented from paying it into a pension and enjoying the tax relief people working in just about every other industry receive. A return of taper relief on the rate of CGT would probably be the best stimulus the industry could have while also providing long term stability for tenants. It would encourage younger landlords to buy and hold long term and allow older landlords to sell before infirmity or dementia kicks in thus creating huge amounts of SDLT and VAT on all the sales and transaction costs. Obviously we could have bought as a limited company and minimised the CGT issue but how many of us knew 20 years ago how the BTL thing was going to pan out? Most of us struggled to buy our first property, then managed to get a second one and then it snowballed. Every time we come up with a strategy the goal posts get moved.

From: Jo Westlake 29 November 2021 10:25 AM

Jo Westlake
Until the EPC assessments are consistent landlords have no way of knowing what's best to do to improve their properties. Now most properties are on their second EPC the inconsistencies are very apparent. The first EPCs over 10 years ago made a list of recommendations to improve the EPC score. In a great many cases even if all those improvements have been carried out the EPC will still be several points lower than promised. Too many assumptions have been made. The original EPCs tended to assume insulation existed if the heating bills and general condition of the property indicated it probably did. The more recent assessments tend to assume it doesn't exist unless there is documentary or photographic evidence of it's existence. As much of it was installed several years before EPCs were invented by companies that no longer exist how are we supposed to provide the required evidence? Cutting inspection holes may be an option in some buildings but in others would be problematic especially if there is a suspicion asbestos may be present. It could also damage the performance of the insulation or the roof. The list of recommendations is often incomplete and totally bizarre. Several of mine recommend solid floor installation at a cost of £4000 to £6000 to increase the EPC by 1 point. They eventually get to solar photovoltaics at a cost of about £5000 which would increase the EPC by about 10 points. None of them suggest more loft insulation (even if they've said it only has 75mm) or installing a warm roof (when they've assumed the existing flat roof is uninsulated). We need a full menu of all options with exactly how many points each option is worth. Some of the recommended improvements can only be done if we evict our tenants, others cause minimal inconvenience such as a new roof or solar panels. We also need it to be illegal for assessors to change previously made assumptions without absolute proof that those assumptions were wrong. It shouldn't be down to us to spend thousands of pounds and potentially damage our properties to prove exactly how many millimetres of roof insulation exists just because the assessors have changed their minds.

From: Jo Westlake 22 November 2021 08:30 AM

Jo Westlake
The goalposts keep moving. There is no consistency with EPC scores or the ability of assessors. The assessment algorithm has been changed hugely over the years. Even if you carry out all the recommendations on your original EPC it may not improve the score. One of mine was C73 in March 2011 when I bought it with potential to be C78 if it had low energy light bulbs, better heating controls and a new boiler. It now has all those things and the new EPC is still C73. Another one was D57 in December 2008 with potential to be C70 if I had cavity wall insulation, upgraded heating controls and a new boiler. In 2015 it was reassessed when I applied for subsidised cavity wall insulation and found to be E47. To get to C71 it's saying I need cavity wall insulation (done), floor insulation, new boiler (done), solar water heating and solar photovoltaic panels. Never mind the fact the roof is too small, overshadowed and oriented the wrong way for solar to be viable. It isn't suggesting far more practical measures such as upgraded heating controls or better dormer roof insulation even though it has assumed no roof or loft insulation whatsoever. It may be coincidence in my case but it seems to depend on who the assessor is linked to as to what improvements are recommended. Those who come via solar panel or subsidised insulation companies seem to recommend floor insulation and solar panels as the route to an improved EPC while more independent assessors seem to recommend replacing the boiler (unless it's only a couple of years old) or installing one if it's all electric. If gas boilers are going to be phased out the EPC needs to change on how it rates different types of electric heating. Why was Lot 20 brought in if the EPCs don't recognise it? There is a huge difference in a two bar electric fire with an on/ off switch and a modern electric heater with a timer, thermostat, 7 day programmer and app controls. Now this has become so important we need a full list of improvements to pick from and their impact on our EPC score. We need to be able to easily and freely contest the discrepancies between EPCs. We need a full explanation of why an EPC score has been downgraded including how many points each issue has dropped. Why in my first example after carrying out 5 points worth of improvements had my EPC not risen? What had caused it to lose 5 points elsewhere? Instead of assumptions regarding insulation we need alternatives such as how much the heating bills are. In an HMO where the landlord pays the bills and the tenants control the heating programmer it would be pretty safe to assume the roof is insulated if the bills aren't sky high.

From: Jo Westlake 10 November 2021 09:35 AM

Jo Westlake
The requirement of absolute proof needs to be changed. On the original EPCs around 13 years ago assessors tended to go with likely assumptions especially for roof insulation. Now because they are terrified of being audited they insist on unreasonable levels of proof. For example two of my houses have flat roofs. The original EPCs assumed they had some insulation. The most recent EPCs assume no insulation. One of them was replaced by the Council sometime in the 1980s so we have no idea how much insulation was put in then. We had the felt replaced in 2004 with EPDM and 25mm of Celotex was added on top of the old roof then. No idea why it was only 25mm but it was what the roofer recommended. I have vague memories of him taking up a small piece of the roof deck and checking what was under it but nothing was put in writing. The other one has 120mm of Celotex on it. I have photos of it being installed and a Building Control certificate saying it conforms to the required standards in 2014. Because BC didn't mention the thickness of Celotex, the invoice doesn't mention the thickness and the roofer wasn't holding a tape measure when he took the photos the EPC assumes the roof is uninsulated. Same problem with underfloor insulation and internal wall insulation. It often exists but we don't have written or photographic evidence of exactly how much or which products were used. Now EPC scores are so crucial should we be looking at suing assessors when they make incorrect assumptions? Previously it was just annoying, now their errors could cost us a fortune.

From: Jo Westlake 05 November 2021 08:11 AM

Jo Westlake
Until there is consistency in the EPC assessments it's all meaningless. I bought a renovation project a couple of years ago with an EPC of F25. I got my regular assessor to come round to advise on how best to improve the EPC and he started by carrying out his own assessment which came out to be G14. How is it even possible for the result to be so different? One of my HMOs was assessed in 2008 and deemed to be D57. The recommendations said if I installed cavity wall insulation, better heating controls and a new boiler it would be C70. I applied for subsidised cavity wall insulation in 2015. To get the subsidy they started by doing a new EPC which came out at E47. Again how is it possible for two assessors to disagree so much?The recommendations said to get to C71 I would need cavity wall insulation, insulation for the solid ground floor, a new boiler, solar water heating and solar photovoltaic panels. I have no idea how that property scores right now as it seems to be a complete waste of money paying for such inconsistent flawed assessments. To do the floor insulation would probably mean evicting or temporarily rehousing 6 tenants. I had it assessed for solar and was told the roof was too small, over shadowed and oriented the wrong way. It is still on the register as E47. However, since 2008 it has had cavity wall insulation, a new roof with up to date levels of insulation, a new boiler and new heating controls. Around the country there must be tens of thousands of properties that have had loads of improvements since the last EPC assessment was carried out but haven't had a new assessment done yet. Who is going to shell out another £50+ for a bit of paper saying they have done enough of the recommendations on their EPC when there is a risk a new assessment will knock a few more points off the score and recommend even more outlandish work is carried out?

From: Jo Westlake 04 November 2021 09:05 AM

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