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Jo Westlake
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my expertise in the industry

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Jo Westlake
The government need to stop inventing complicated divisive policies in the property market. Every policy they come up with has unintended consequences. Go back to the old days where all buyers and sellers are treated the same. Section 24 has made far more landlords higher rate tax payers than would be the case if rental profits were determined in the same way as for every other business. Therefore 28% CGT is completely extortionate. Most other assets can be sold in smaller lumps to best utilize CGT allowances. Selling quarter of a house is tricky. We have already paid huge amounts of SDLT, income tax and VAT throughout our period of ownership. Reducing CGT and reintroducing taper relief could be easily justified and would massively boost the number of houses for sale if it was applied universally to the sale of all BTLs regardless of buyer status. The extra 3% SDLT on all BTLs costing more than £40000 has incentivised us to buy more bottom end properties that would traditionally be FTB territory. Especially in the South. Buying one HMO for £500K would give a SDLT bill of £30K. Buying 2 small houses for £250K each gives a SDLT bill of £20K. Help to Buy pushed FTBs to buy much bigger new builds as their first home, which is going to have some very painful consequences when they need to remortgage if interest rates keep rising. It doesn't matter what CGT cuts are proposed if they are conditional on the status of the buyer. How many of us would be willing to play the hunt the proceedable FTB game? Property transactions are a serious matter. We need to know the tax implications before we embark on them.

From: Jo Westlake 24 May 2022 07:49 AM

Jo Westlake
The biggest help any of these Local Authority schemes could come up with is to employ an experienced building surveyor as an EPC assessor to reassess properties that fail to get the required rating (whether that's E or C). It would be far more cost effective for them to pay one person's wages than shell out money on poorly targeted grants or extra emergency housing to accommodate all the people who will need to be evicted if landlords slavishly follow the recommendations on the EPCs. Anyone can currently qualify as an EPC assessor after a 2 day online course with absolutely no building related experience. The EPC software is firstly totally dependent on the input data and secondly churns out the most expensive, impractical list of recommended improvements. One of my ex council flats was originally assessed in January 2011 and deemed to be E48. It was reassessed this year and found to be D67. I hadn't done anything to it in that time. The difference was purely down to the fact the first assessor hadn't spotted the cavity wall insulation. The list of improvements on the current EPC is 1. Solid floor insulation cost £4000 to £6000 2. Add additional 80mm jacket to hot water cylinder £15 to £30 (shame it would only add 1 point when I need 2 points to get to a C) 3. Gas condensing boiler £3000 to £7000. The EPC assessor actually emailed and said ignore all that, just replace the old night storage heater with a new Dimplex Quantum with smart controls for about £1300. Why is the EPC report recommending incredibly expensive, highly intrusive unnecessary work when there is a far cheaper alternative that can be installed in less than a day with minimal disruption to the tenant?

From: Jo Westlake 16 May 2022 09:35 AM

Jo Westlake
EPCs are only very loosely connected to the cost of heating a property. Far more of it is related to the occupiers engagement with and understanding of whatever system they have. EPC scores vary wildly with assessors showing little consistency even on straightforward properties. Once mixed construction and mixed heating sources are present the EPC score is just a number with approximately no correlation to energy bills. How many of these properties with F and G EPCs are old stone houses with an open fireplace or woodburner in the lounge, an old night storage heater (which the EPC would class as the primary heat source) and timed electric heaters in the bedrooms? That mix gives a terrible EPC score but used properly could be cheaper than gas central heating to use (especially if someone has a supply of free or cheap wood). Why aren't gas and electric bills or meter readings used as part of the EPC assessment? How many of the 263000 rental properties with F and G EPCs already have insulation but because the assessor didn't know exactly what thickness just put 'assumed none'? How many of them are below average rent, which would help offset any extra energy costs? There was an awful lot of averaging and assumptions in her attack but no indication of the actual reality. A more interesting study would be into how properties with F and G EPCs rank in overall living costs. Combining rent, utility bills and transport costs. How much difference would there be in the cost of renting and living in an old house in a town centre close to work and shops compared to the same size new build on a new development on the edge of town with a district heating system?

From: Jo Westlake 04 May 2022 08:52 AM

Jo Westlake
Demands 3, 4, 5 and 7 look perfectly reasonable. Demand 6 is a bit shaky. If someone can't provide a UK homeowning guarantor or fails a credit check there isn't really much of an alternative if we're not willing to take a massive risk. Demand 1 is highly problematic. We've all seen what happened to the gas and electric industries when they weren't allowed to charge the necessary amount to stay in business. Mortgage rates are rising, which means our Section 24 tax hit is also rising. Tradespeople and materials costs are rising, insurance, the costs of bringing properties up to EPC C are all factors beyond our control. Just because rents increase doesn't mean landlords are making more profit. Demand 2 (if I've read it right) goes some way on arrears based evictions. If two months arrears is an automatic, unchallengeable ground for eviction it will help a lot of people (both landlords, tenants and prospective tenants). If it makes UC or Housing Officers work in a more timely fashion it would prevent the need for thousands of evictions. However, a lot of evictions are for other reasons. Anti social behaviour being one of them. One bad tenant can cause fear and misery for the whole neighbourhood. Then there's the fact sometimes landlords just need the house back. Either to sell it, upgrade it or to protect their own mental health. A tenant may not actually be seriously breaching the tenancy agreement or upsetting the neighbours but they can be causing huge mental stress to the landlord with bizarre behaviour and demands.

From: Jo Westlake 29 April 2022 07:03 AM

Jo Westlake
There certainly needs to be a full range of housing tenures. Home ownership and Social housing suits those who want to put down roots and are settled long term. The PRS is vital for people who aren't ready to settle or who need to be able to relocate quickly for career progression or who suddenly find life takes an unexpected turn such as divorce. It especially suits those who want to live in a location of their choosing or have a couple of spare bedrooms, not a property allocated by the Local Authority or Housing Association. The one area of housing that could really do with expansion is rental retirement housing for people in all income brackets. We have an aging population with complex housing needs. If the government, financial institutions and local authorities focused on retirement housing it would free up existing family size housing close to amenities. It would give peace of mind to people who were worried about how they will afford to live on a pension or how they will heat, clean or maintain a large house. Done right it would help prevent bed blocking in hospitals and provide better quality home help, when people reach the stage of needing it, to enable people to retain their independence for as long as possible. Retirement housing has the advantage of taking up less land, so can be built on smaller brownfield sites close to amenities. While many people don't want to buy a retirement apartment, due to the difficulty in selling it when the time comes, renting one is far more attractive as long as the tenancy is secure.

From: Jo Westlake 21 April 2022 07:32 AM

Jo Westlake
As long as there is a swift eviction route for tenants who don't pay their rent, deliberately damage the property or cause distress to their neighbours I imagine most of us would be happy. Section 21 is a strange idea in the first place. Mainly used instead of Section 8 because it's certain rather than relying on a Judges interpretation of a case. Make Section 8 more certain and the use of Section 21 would be minimal, as it's slower. How many landlords routinely evict good tenants? Back in the day when letting agents could charge huge fees for everything on tenant changeover it may have been more common but those practices were legislated out several years ago. Self managing professional landlords have always wanted good tenants to stay for as long as possible. Being able to evict so we can sell is important but historically fairly infrequent among deliberate landlords. Accidental landlords may be a different matter as they didn't want to be landlords in the first place. Putting some kind of compensation in place, such as 2 months rent, to help cover moving costs would be fair if the eviction genuinely was through no fault of the tenant. I have never got as far as a court hearing to evict anyone but I have used Section 21 notices as a warning shot. Either for behaviour in an HMO that other housemates find upsetting (repeated failure to lock front door) or rent arrears. A really important aspect of Section 21 is the power it gives tenants to sort out their finances. Just because we serve the notice doesn't mean we have to carry on and proceed to a court hearing. Having a Section 21 notice means tenants have 2 months to improve the situation so we don't proceed. The presence of a Section 21 notice can get other creditors to back off and renegotiate payments as they know they are lower down the payment priority order. The last thing any creditor wants is a homeless client. I just don't understand the obsession with rent controls. Don't they understand that means almost guaranteed annual rent increases?

From: Jo Westlake 07 April 2022 10:19 AM

Jo Westlake

From: Jo Westlake 04 April 2022 08:48 AM

Jo Westlake
They're right that housing benefit needs to be made fit for purpose. A quick look at Rightmove shows there are currently about 6 properties available within LHA rent limits in this entire 500 square mile rent area. That's 2 one bedroom properties, 3 two bedroom and 1 three bedroom. Two of them have E rated EPCs, one is only available to someone who has worked for the same employer for more than 3 years. Only one is in the main city in the area. The others would all involve a costly commute to where most jobs are. LHA was supposed to cover the cheapest 30% of each size rental property. In this area it used to be the choice was either rent at LHA level 20+ miles from the main city or pay more rent and live closer to work. Now it seems to be pay more than LHA wherever you choose in the entire 500 square mile area. I'm not opposed to renting to people with a UC top up. Several of my tenants work in low paid jobs and receive UC. They all pay the rent themselves. My experience of direct payment from UC was stressful to say the least. Why are DWP incapable of paying as per the tenancy agreement? One month in advance on the date stated on the tenancy agreement. The idea of them paying in arrears, if they haven't sanctioned the claimant or stuffed up the claim, on a random date of their choosing is ridiculous. Giving us no way of contacting them is also ridiculous. If the idea of giving the rent element of UC to the claimant is to give them some half baked idea of dignity at least make sure the system works in real time not some fantasy land. Personally I think ensuring people can keep a roof over their heads would give them far more dignity than anything else.

From: Jo Westlake 01 April 2022 08:31 AM

Jo Westlake
Currently a great many tenancies go on for years without a rent increase. Rent controls simply mean guaranteed rent rises on an annual basis don't they? It says Scotland already has limited rent increases to once in 12 months, with a landlord required to give three months’ notice in advance of the increase; it also enabled tenants to challenge rent increases via adjudication by a Rent Officer. I thought all of us could only increase rents once a year for existing tenants. Giving 3 months notice instead of one month's notice isn't difficult. I have no idea what current Rent Officers are like but back in the day when Housing Benefit was determined by Rent Officers things worked far better than they do now. “For private tenants seeking rent adjudication, we will change the legislation to only allow adjudications that either decrease or maintain it at the level proposed by the landlord.” Doesn't that just mean the Rent Officers can't suggest a higher rent than the one proposed by the landlord? So if the landlord proposes an increase that is in line with inflation or local housing market prices the Rent Officer is likely to agree. If the proposal is for a £10 increase the Rent Officer can't say £30 would be more realistic. So without rent controls millions of tenants don't have regular rent increases. (One of mine has had one increase in 10 years, another has had one in 6 years, several are still paying the same as the day they moved in 4 or 5 years ago). Rent controls will ensure the vast majority of tenants have annual rent increases at a minimum of the inflation rate. If Trade Unions want to interfere in housing matters they should be lobbying for the LHA to be set at a realistic level not campaigning for annual rent increases.

From: Jo Westlake 30 March 2022 10:51 AM

Jo Westlake
These activist people seem to have invented a problem that simply doesn't exist for the vast majority of tenancies. As Emily says we already have periodic tenancies and as Michael says they walk any time they want. Apart from students all of my tenancies start as 6 month ASTs and then become Statutory Periodic. Some of my tenants have been in more than 10 years. Even in HMOs some have been over 5 years. When they want to leave I ask them what date they really mean (not necessarily the date the tenancy agreement specifies). Then advertise the property to best accommodate their actual moving out date. They're only liable for the rent until the new tenant moves in or the end of their notice period or a date in-between that allows time for redecorating. So this often saves them a couple of weeks rent and minimises voids. Student housing is let for an academic year. If someone doesn't fit the household dynamic I will assist them with finding a replacement and assigning their bit of the tenancy. I always offer existing groups the opportunity of renewing for the following year, either as the same complete group or with some changes. One house rolled on for 6 years in this way before it was fully vacated. Occasionally upon graduation a student tenant will move into one of my other HMOs. One of my ex students has been with me for about 8 years now. The danger of having no minimum tenancy period is that we all assume new tenants are only going to stay a week and increase the rent accordingly. We've already seen how that plays out with the rise of holiday lets and AirBnB. In effect my tenants already have what the activists are campaigning for. The only difference is I have the right to evict them should I choose to. No good landlord is going to evict a good tenant unless their personal circumstances give them no alternative. What we will do is not increase our portfolios and sell off properties as they become vacant if we don't have the ability to evict. It needs to be a workable system that is fair to both parties. As Tricia says we're the PRS not Social Housing.

From: Jo Westlake 23 March 2022 09:00 AM

Jo Westlake
I really dislike the following statement: "It makes no sense to tax the supply of new homes supplied by landlords investing in new build or bringing empty homes back into use.” If we buy new builds we are accused of preventing FTBs from getting a foot on the ladder as HTB was only offered on new builds. There aren't that many empty homes and only a percentage of landlords want to get involved in renovation projects. It goes on to say: "As this study indicates, removing the tax will actually generate more revenue, not less." While that is undoubtedly the case we can only buy if there are available houses to buy. Builders are building at a slow enough rate to keep the price of new builds sky high and very few second hand properties are being listed. In this area most of the houses listed on Rightmove and Zoopla as being available are actually Sale Agreed. A couple of weeks ago I phoned various agents about 8 different houses. Only 3 were still available. I phoned about an ex show house listed on Friday and was told they'd had over 100 enquiries for it. It wasn't cheap, it was on one of the worse plots on the development and it didn't even have a garage. So while removing the SDLT surcharge would undoubtedly encourage some of us to buy it's not quite that simple. We need available stock to buy. We need to know what is happening with EPC requirements. We need certainty that we can quickly evict tenants who don't pay their rent, cause malicious damage to the property or distress to their neighbours. We also need a better exit route regarding CGT. How many of us are holding on to properties that no longer really fit our business model because the current levels of CGT and SDLT mean it would be insane to sell them?

From: Jo Westlake 15 March 2022 07:41 AM

Jo Westlake
While I think points 2, 3 and 4 make a lot of sense points 1 and 5 could both be highly problematic or just plain vindictive. The properties used for holiday lets are often older properties close to the sea. While they may have wonderful views or proximity to the beach they often have very low EPCs and would be unable to be let as long term homes. They are often quirky or charming, which is lovely for a few days but not very easy to live with full time. Charging full Council Tax seems fair and administratively easy. If the houses are empty for most of the year they aren't using any services. Charging less is unnecessary, charging more is greedy and administratively complex. The use of these properties will vary hugely from year to year depending on fashion, weather, travel restrictions, the owners personal circumstances, etc. Varying levels of Council Tax based on the number of days of occupancy would be a complication Councils don't need. Point 5 may work for housing association rental properties but would cause problems for anyone else. If discounts were locked in for future buyers the properties simply wouldn't be properly maintained or improved. Tradesmen and builders merchants aren't going to give a discount just because someone lives in a house with a compulsory discount clause attached to it. We already have Section 106 to ensure some properties can only be sold to local people. A lot of leasehold flats have clauses in the lease that state the properties can't be used as holiday lets. Creating clauses and covenants based on current issues that apply to a property for as long as the property is standing should be avoided. Looking at some of the Land Registry titles from the 1980s would clearly show the difficulties. They are hugely out of date already and causing unforeseen issues. Property usage needs to be able to evolve as societies needs evolve. If restrictions are considered desirable they should be for a fixed term not the entire life of the building.

From: Jo Westlake 14 March 2022 07:54 AM

Jo Westlake
The conversion of historically long term homes to holiday lets is a tiny part of the shortage of affordable rental accommodation. On a national scale only a small percentage of properties lend themselves to the tourism market. Instead of penalising a few thousand property owners how about treating all landlords fairly so we can confidently invest in more long term homes? It would make a far more meaningful impact if Generation Rent campaigned for decent and consistent treatment of traditional landlords. 1. Reinstate taper relief so we have the ability to hold properties long term without the risk of a massive tax bill purely because of inflation. Death shouldn't be our only viable exit strategy. We have already paid huge amounts of income tax, VAT and SDLT throughout our period of ownership of the property. Punitive CGT is just counterproductive greed. 2. Abolish Section 24 so our mortgage interest costs are tax deductible at the conventional point in our tax returns (not as a partial tax credit applied after younger landlords have lost their Child Benefit). 3. Remove the extra 3% SDLT on property that is for the long term rental market or refund it after five years of that property being let on ASTs. 4. Make all improvements relating to energy efficiency fully tax deductible in the tax year the work is done. 5. Introduce far quicker eviction for those who fail to pay their rent, maliciously damage the property or cause distress to their neighbours. 6. Ensure that the Local Housing Allowance is updated annually 7. Ensure landlords can contact a designated case worker regarding UC tenants by telephone and email. 8. Ensure landlords aren't charged Council Tax for short void periods between long term tenancies If landlords were treated in a similar way to just about every other business there would be a plentiful supply of rental properties at a range of prices and standards. Every time a new tax or disincentive is introduced the supply of rental properties reduces and rents increase.

From: Jo Westlake 09 March 2022 08:24 AM

Jo Westlake

From: Jo Westlake 26 February 2022 11:58 AM

Jo Westlake

From: Jo Westlake 09 February 2022 12:00 PM

Jo Westlake
I currently include gas, electric, water, broadband and Council Tax in all of my HMOs. I have never increased rents for existing HMO tenants as long as they keep the same room. Some of my tenants have been asking if there will be rent increases due to the increased utility costs and one group have very sweetly said they would be willing to pay towards the utility price rises if I was struggling as they don't want to have to move house. Right now I'm adopting a wait and see approach for existing tenants but making sure they are aware how much the rent is for similar newly available rooms. In several cases my current tenants are paying around £50 a month less than the current market rent for their rooms would be. So in terms of what happens with the Council Tax rebate (which in my HMOs amounts to between 48p and 72p per person per week) not increasing the rent for the time being more than absorbs that. The £200 is a loan anyway. I should be OK with the above until next autumn but may need a change of policy if the October price cap is massive. Student houses are a different matter as we are working 18 months in advance. My crystal ball simply isn't that good. From September I'm only including gas in 2 of my student houses that are let on a joint tenancy agreement. Most student houses in this area haven't got any bills included. My reasoning is that I hate to think of tenants being cold, the house is less likely to get mouldy if it is properly heated and they might even open windows occasionally, if they try to use less water they automatically use less gas, broadband companies are a nightmare for me to deal with as they will only speak to the bill payer not the person who is experiencing the problem, electric is where the usage can be most unpredictable. I've seen too many fan heaters (because they can't be bothered to walk downstairs and boost the central heating), too many part loads of washing, the tumble drier used for just a couple of items, too many table or floor standing lamps with old fashion bulbs left on all day, etc. The thing that would be most useful at the moment would be for our credit balances from the previous utility providers to be refunded. I had some back quite quickly but haven't had the balances from PFP, Neon Reef or Green.

From: Jo Westlake 09 February 2022 08:40 AM

Jo Westlake
There's already tons of legislation. A great many landlords are already licensed and on HMO registers. Local Authorities are pretty aware of both the good properties and the bad ones. The compliant landlords and the ones who aren't. They have multiple enforcement options available many of which are self financing or even profit making due to the potential fines. So what improvement for tenants is yet another layer of registration going to make? If the current range of quite far reaching legislation isn't being used why would something else be any more likely to have a beneficial impact? Of course people should have safe homes but how have some homes become unsafe? Is it the actions of the tenant or lack of maintenance from the landlord? Has the tenant notified the landlord of any defects? Will the tenant allow access for tradespeople to carry out repairs and maintenance? Have the tenants moved extra people into the house that the landlord is unaware of? How many tenants aren't even aware of occupancy and overcrowding laws? Do tenants still think that if they abuse a property enough the Council will condemn it and give them a brand new Council House? Perhaps Local Authorities should clearly spell out what happens if someone becomes homeless (either intentionally due to their own behaviour or unintentionally). Where are they housed, for how long and at what cost, both to themselves and the tax payer. One thing that's certain is that good, long-term landlords are already selling up and more people will become homeless. Do the government really want to accelerate that process?

From: Jo Westlake 01 February 2022 09:45 AM

Jo Westlake
The first issue to address is the unequal treatment of standard BTL and holiday lets. Standard BTL is providing long term homes for people who for various reasons aren't ready or able to buy a suitable property and medium term homes for seasonal or temporary workers or students. Why are standard BTL tax rates so punitive when we are providing a basic necessity? Support for standard BTL landlords during the pandemic was pretty much non existent and the eviction ban drove countless landlords to sell or switch to holiday lets at the earliest opportunity. Holiday lets, which are a luxury not a necessity, are given far better tax treatment, could claim financial support during the pandemic and don't have any eviction issues. The whole situation has been created by a lack of joined up thinking at government level. The holiday industry is vital to certain parts of the country but in my opinion would largely be better in the hands of professional holiday companies or hotels with proper planning permission, safety standards and employment rights. Workers in the tourism industry are historically low paid and need access to affordable rental accommodation. That lack of accommodation caused considerable staffing difficulties for many tourism businesses last summer. It isn't simply a question of looking at the number of people on a housing list and the number of holiday lets in an area. What size is the housing compared to the housing need of the people on the list? Is it suitable for year round occupation? Is it located anywhere near schools, jobs or public transport? Is it's EPC good enough? Is Universal Credit going to be part of the equation? Is the LHA in any way realistic? Is the housing list up to date or even vaguely accurate? Some people could have died, left the area or bought a house and still be on the list.

From: Jo Westlake 17 January 2022 07:42 AM

Jo Westlake

From: Jo Westlake 12 January 2022 22:26 PM

Jo Westlake

From: Jo Westlake 11 January 2022 08:20 AM

Jo Westlake
How many properties have an EPC below C because of assumptions used in the EPC assessments? How often are those assumptions wrong? Roof and subfloor insulation are two of the main problems with assumptions. It often exists but there is no documentary evidence to say exactly how much so the EPC assessor has to assume none. Even a Building Control certificate only says it complies with the standards in whatever year and won't be accepted as proof insulation exists even though the BC certificate wouldn't have been issued if it didn't. The general condition of the property or proof of energy consumption should at least allow a 'PROBABLY EXISTS' score. How many properties have had the improvements listed on the original EPC done and haven't reached the expected score because of changes to the algorithm and the fear assessors have of being audited and being found to have been too generous in their assumptions? If it has been assumed something exists on an EPC it should be illegal to change that assumption on future EPCs without absolute proof that the original assumption was wrong. Properties get bought and sold and paperwork gets lost. There has never been a 'PROOF HAS BEEN PROVIDED' option regarding the existence of insulation. The original EPCs used a balance of probability approach. New EPCs demand absolute proof. Taking core samples to prove the existence of insulation would compromise the integrity of the insulation and vapour barrier so isn't a desirable option. All forms of electric heating score really poorly. What was the point of Lot 20 if it isn't recognised in the EPC assessment? If good heating controls and programmers boost the score for properties heated with gas central heating why isn't the same true for similar electric heating controls? EPCs suggest a very limited number of improvements to increase the EPC score. We need a full list of potential improvements and how much they will improve the score by. Some work can be easily done with tenants in situ, such as roof insulation, water cylinder jackets, solar panels or double glazing. Other work such as solid floor insulation or internal wall insulation can only be done to empty properties so would involve evicting the tenant. Some of the suggested work couldn't be done to leasehold, listed or conservation area properties. If it is assumed the roof is uninsulated why isn't roof insulation suggested as a possible improvement? Solid floor insulation is the first thing listed on several of my EPCs but only raises the score by one or two points and would require me to evict the tenants. Solar panels cost about the same and increase the score by between 7 and 10 points. A jacket for the hot water cylinder also raises the score by between 1 and 7 points (depending which EPC report I look at) and costs less than £20. Same with low energy light bulbs. So give us a full list of options and allow us to pick the most realistic ones for our properties. Be very cautious about recommendations that require us to evict our tenants.

From: Jo Westlake 20 December 2021 09:01 AM

Jo Westlake
In my experience even when we carry out the recommended improvements the EPC score doesn't improve. The algorithm for EPCs has been changed at some point and assessors are inconsistent with how they input data. With no work being carried out between EPCs one of my properties dropped 11 points. After replacing a roof and insulating it to 2014 standards another house dropped 10 points (because the Building Control certificate didn't specifically say what thickness of Celotex was used the assessor assumed no insulation). Another one had all the recommendations carried out which should have increased the score by 5 points. The score remained the same so it must have lost points elsewhere. Another one was supposed to be C if I replaced the boiler and although I've done exactly as recommended it is still D. Another one increased from E48 to D65. I had replaced the hot water cylinder but the main reason was because the first assessor hadn't spotted the cavity wall insulation. How can we have any confidence whatsoever in EPCs when there is no consistency in the assessment process? If we make the recommended improvements and still don't get the expected score what then? The recommendations are often insane anyway. The EPC will state it's assumed there's no roof insulation so the recommendation is to insulate the solid floor???? No mention of doing anything about the roof or how many points that would give. We are often powerless to carry out the recommendations if the property is leasehold, listed or in a conservation area. We need a complete list of how many points every single improvement would make to the score (not just the 4 or 5 things they currently list). Maybe a complete list of everything including those things we already get full marks for so we don't replace things unnecessarily. So if it is assumed the roof is uninsulated how many points would a new insulated roof give us, would new heating controls give us any extra or do we already have the maximum score, etc.l

From: Jo Westlake 04 December 2021 18:20 PM

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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