Best practice advice for fire safety in flats

ARMA (the Association of Residential Managing Agents) has issued a ‘Fire Safety Management in Flats’ Guidance Note to share best practice with professional Fire Safety personnel involved in the residential leasehold sector, including managing agents, developers and landlords.

The Guidance Note has been produced in line with statutory guidance and industry best practice and independently reviewed by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, ARMA’s Primary Authority Partner and can be accessed by clicking here.

Dr Nigel Glen, CEO of ARMA, said: “ARMA members have access to over 100 Guidance Notes on a wide range of topics affecting leasehold properties. This is the only one that has been made available to non-ARMA members, as we wish to promote Fire Safety industry-wide.
Information courtesy of News on the Block.

Top 10 tips for fire safety in flats:

  1. Ask your managing agent to provide you with a copy of the building’s latest fire risk assessment. It is, effectively, a guide book for fire safety plans in your building.
  2. If your managing agent won’t provide you with a copy of the fire risk assessment then complain to the individual agent directly. If that does not work, then make a formal complaint through the internal complaints procedure at the agent’s company.
    If you are still unhappy, you can complain to a redress scheme. All managing agents in England must be a member of one these redress schemes:
    o The Property Ombudsman
    o The Property Redress Scheme
  3. If there is no fire risk assessment and the responsible person will not conduct an assessment, then contact your local fire and rescue authority (FRA). Your FRA is responsible for enforcing fire safety regulations. They can make the person responsible for fire safety in your building carry out a fire risk assessment.
    Your local fire service can tell you who the FRA is (it might be your local council). You can also search on the National Fire Chiefs Council website.
  4. It is recommended that for low-rise blocks of up to three storeys above ground, built in the last 20 years, fire risk assessments should be:
    o reviewed every 2 years
    o redone every 4 years
    For blocks with higher risks (for example, because of the age of the building), or those more than 3 storeys high, it is recommended that assessments should be:
    o reviewed every year
    o redone every 3 years
    In extreme cases (for the highest-risk buildings), a new fire risk assessment is recommended annually.
    When you receive your building’s fire risk assessment check when it was last redone and/or reviewed.
  5. If you have received the assessment, check that the managing agent has or will act on its recommendations.
  6. Fit smoke alarm(s) in your flat and test them monthly.
  7. Be vigilant that the communal areas are free of obstructions to your escape from fire; and that fire doors in communal areas are not propped open.
  8. If a specific ‘evacuation plan’ is agreed with the Local Fire Authority then you should read the plan carefully, so you know what to do if you ever need to evacuate.
  9. Check that the managing agents have regular testing and servicing arrangements in place for any fire-fighting and detection equipment.
  10. If alterations to doors or the internal layout of the flat are planned, consider implications on fire safety and check any issues with your managing agent.

If you would like to know more about the safety standards undertaken by Inspired Property Management in managing your development please get in touch with a member of our team.

Getting to grips with your apartment bills

Most of us have been affected one way or another by the economic downturn – we are certainly less inclined to use our credit cards than we were a few years ago and we are all looking for ways to cut back on the bills,  especially with the rise in VAT looming. Here are some suggestions from Inspired Property Management that could help RMCs and leaseholders keep their costs down.

Utility bills

When you add up all the bills for electricity, gas, telephone calls and water, they account for a considerable proportion of the monthly outgoings. It is always worth keeping an eye on what you are paying for utilities. Consider changing provider if another company can offer a better deal. You will not notice any difference in your supply but customer service and response times to queries can vary enormously between utility companies. Ask around – can friends or family recommend their supplier in terms of cost and service, speak to your neighbours as collectively if you all switch they may offer you a discount? Changing provider is not a complex process and is quickly completed, but do expect a call to ask you why you are moving to a different company. If you pay your bills by direct debit you will need to contact your bank to cancel your existing arrangement and set up a new one.

Gas and electricity

Consider using the same provider for gas and electricity – a dual fuel discount may be available. Look out for special offers: some companies offer additional incentives such as ‘Nectar’ points to new customers which you can then use to pay for supermarket or high street items.

Some quick wins are:

  • Use low energy light bulbs, switch off lights and don’t leave appliances such as TVs and computers on standby.
  • Invest in an energy monitor or employ an electrician to do an energy survey of your home for you to identify which appliances use the most electricity.
  • When buying new appliances choose those that are A- or B-rated for energy efficiency.
  • If you live in an older block and have open fires, use them, if you have somewhere to store the fuel. A few logs will keep you warm and save you turning up the central heating – but don’t forget to get the chimneys swept if you haven’t lit a fire for a while. Check first that you do not live in an area that restricts the use of solid fuels or a smoke free zone.
  • If your hot water tank isn’t lagged, do it this weekend. It is cheap and easy and will save you money.
  • Invest in fully lined curtains and insulation around doors and windows – this will help keep the heating bills down if you don’t have double-glazing.

Telephone and broadband

Telephone calls are another major overhead for many of us, especially if we have teenagers in the house or work from home. There are lots of deals out there and it is worth going to a cost comparison website such as www.homephonechoices.co.uk to find out if you could be paying less for your phone. Check your contract to make sure you’re not tied into a fixed period with your provider. Switching phone companies is a simple process, which shouldn’t take more than 14 days to complete.

You can even do it online. For those with broadband, it can be more cost effective to bundle the cost of a landline and broadband together by using one provider for both – you could even add mobile calls and satellite TV. Sky and Virgin media both offer TV and telecoms packages. If you do decide to change broadband provider, don’t forget to check the speed of your new provider’s broadband service in your area and ask how long it will take to connect you. This is particularly important if you rely on your internet connection for work. If you don’t want to change provider but are keen to keep phone bills to a minimum, look at the small print on your next bill: making off-peak calls is cheaper. Talk Talk offer evening and weekend packages and BT ’s  ‘Friends and family’ gives you cheaper calls to certain numbers. All providers have their own tariffs so check your telephone company’s website for more information.

You might even consider dropping the landline altogether if you can get a good mobile signal at home – there is no line rental on a mobile, contracts are very competitive and you will be offered a new handset free of charge on a regular basis. If you live in a mobile signal blackspot – there are products on the market such as Vodafone’s Sure Signal, that claim to give you a strong mobile phone signal in your home, using your home broadband. It boosts the signal throughout your house for up to four people at the same time. To use, you need a broadband connection with a minimum line speed of 1Mbps, plus a 3G mobile phone.

Water

Although UK water companies have been privatised, the market is not open to competition, so you can’t switch provider in the same way as for other utilities. Nor are bills based on the amount of water you use. Unlike gas and electricity, water bills are still based on the rateable value of your home.

The only way to ensure that you are only paying for the water you use is to opt to fit a water meter. Only 37% of UK homes have a water meter but having one installed could save you money – and help the environment. If you know you’re paying for every unit of water you use, you are unlikely to waste it.

The average water bill in England and Wales is around £360 a year. For those households with meters, the average bill falls to around £300. However the price of water differs from region to region and so before deciding to switch to metered water, it’s worth finding out whether or not this would really save you money. A rough indication is to look at the number of bedrooms in your flat – if you have more bedrooms than people, a meter could save you money.

For a quick way to estimate how much you could save, go to www.uswitch.com or the Consumer Council for Water website at www.ccwater.org.uk. Both sites have tools to help you calculate your possible savings, depending on where in the country you live.

Suppliers Every block of flats uses a range of suppliers – some deal with aspects of the block itself, such as gardeners, window cleaners and lift engineers and some are employed by individual residents, such as plumbers, electricians, and cleaners. RMC directors or property management company that are responsible for employing suppliers on a regular basis, should ensure that they revisit the costs involved in regular repairs and maintenance on a regular basis. By shopping around not only can you find alternative companies or individuals who might be able to do an equally good job at a better price, but if existing suppliers know that you are aware of the market rate for their services, they may be less inclined to put their rates up.

For individual leaseholders, the cost of employing tradesmen to do small household jobs can be prohibitive. RMCs are in a great position to help leaseholders by encouraging them to pool their resources. Why not employ a carpenter or painter and decorator to bundle a number of small (or not so small) jobs for different residents together over a few days or weeks. This could keep costs down for the tradesman because he may be able to buy supplies in bulk and has less travelling time to and from jobs and as a result may be willing to give a better price. Don’t forget that some tradesmen are also willing to give a slightly cheaper price for cash.

However, cheapest isn’t necessarily best and doesn’t always offer value for money – always check tradespeople’s credentials and use those that are members of reputable trade associations or are professionally qualified. Check they have the relevant insurance cover should problems arise. Never employ anyone who turns up on your doorstep touting for business, no matter how convincing they are.

Inspired Property Management are committed to providing the best service for all our RMC’s and leaseholders, which is why we will review all annual repeat costs and make sure we are giving you the best value. If you’d like to find out more about our services and how we can manage your development please get in touch with a member of the team on 01302 729 500.

Why online payments are becoming more popular for tenants

Millennials are dominating the rental market and using their size and influence to dictate digital and social trends. At more than 80 million strong, the generation is changing the multifamily housing industry from the nation’s largest portfolios to medium and small property management companies.

Their desire to live, work and play online has inspired the new market segment “Gen C,” or the “Connected Generation.” This group embraces technology to buy, communicate and connect via digital interactions. Whether paying bills or catching a ride, “Gen C” often pays through digital platforms, usually mobile devices.

The Centre for Generational Kinetics notes that millennials are paying for products and services different than other generations. In 2016, the research group cited that five million millennials didn’t have a checking account, and a more recent study showed the generation carries very little cash. The centre says that businesses that want to attract and retain millennials must make it easy to pay with a credit card or through an on-line portal.

On the heels of the generation is Gen Z, which is multifamily’s next target renter group and one that doesn’t remember a time before the digital world.

Today’s renters expect to use electronic payment technology

The arrival of these generations and their digital briefcases is transforming the way property managers receive rent. Rent payments are going paperless and online, a less risky proposition than manually receiving checks and standing orders or processing credit or debit cards in the leasing office.

In the last 10 years, renters have come to expect to have access to at least one electronic payment technology. It’s becoming the rule rather than the exception.

The National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC)/Kingsley Renter Preferences Report revealed an entirely new trend, showing that over 76 percent of renters now pay electronically every month. No surprise considering that online access has increased given the multiple devices and channels available for all consumers.

The ‘tipping point’ of payment options for generations

Conversely, downsizing Baby Boomers, who have been a growing contingent in multifamily, have been slow to embrace automated payments. Nearly half of the 65+ age group prefers paying at the front office.

For property managers, companies caught at the cusp of this generation’s “tipping point” must continue to provide as many choices as possible to maximise revenue while still keeping up with technology.

Implementing a configurable and comprehensive online payments solution removes the risk of on-site, paper-based payments and the horror stories that go along with them. In addition, online payments enable properties to track, manage, and report every payment to keep ledgers in order with as few errors as possible.

Enabling residents to pay rent online also ensures the property is getting the rent it deserves with less fear of bouncing, lost or stolen paper payments, a big plus when a property or portfolio is counting on that revenue to grow business.

Inspired Property Management have invested in creating a on-line portal where all tenants can view outstanding invoices and make payments. The on-line portal makes paying and processing payments online simple, seamless and secure.

Latest update on the Section 21 Reform

The balance of power shifts further towards residential tenants as proposals for radical leasehold reform continues.

The term ‘leasehold reform’ is most commonly being used to refer to the government’s current proposals to rework enfranchisement and commonhold legislation. However, in fact the proposed changes go much deeper into the leasehold system than it might appear, with the most recent consultation focusing upon PRS (Private Rented Sector) in particular.

Let’s remind ourselves of some key dates in the evolution of private sector residential tenancies and the government’s proposed changes.

A brief timeline

1970s

Rent regulation has been around since the First World War and the legislation was eventually consolidated into the Rent Act 1977 which governed most residential tenancies up until 1989. The were some exclusions to this, including lets to limited companies, resident landlords, or those with very high or low rents. These remained ‘common law tenancies’.

Rent Act tenancies were different in three main ways: they were subject to a ‘fair rents’ register; offered long-term security of tenure; and rights of succession.

1980s

However, with the introduction of the Housing Act 1980, it became the Conservative party’s policy to dismantle rent regulation. Regulation for all new tenancies was abolished by the Housing Act 1988, leaving the basic regulatory framework as freedom of contract for the landlord to set any price, thereby leaving rent levels to the market.

Since then most residential tenancies have been assured tenancies, and primarily assured shorthold tenancies, or ASTs.

In addition to paying a market rent, security of tenure was removed by giving the landlord of an AST the right to regain possession of the property at the end of the fixed term (or, if the fixed term is less than six months, six months after the tenancy began), as long as they give two months’ notice (section 21 of the Housing Act 1988).

2018

The current government publishes a consultation paper entitled ‘Overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector’. The paper notes the following measures that are being introduced, namely:

  • Banning letting fees to tenants and capping tenancy deposits to ensure that tenants have more money in their pockets
  • Insisting that all landlords are members of a redress scheme so that tenants have quick and easy resolution to disputes
  • Ensuring all letting agents are registered and are members of a client money protection scheme to provide assurance to tenants and landlords that their agent is meeting minimum standards

However, they also note that “the change in size and make up of the private rented sector has led to growing need for longer, more secure tenancies than the minimum six months offered by the assured shorthold tenancy regime”. The government accordingly launches a consultation seeking views on longer tenancies in the private rented sector, which proposed a new, three-year tenancy model.

April 2019

The government published its response to the ‘Overcoming the Barriers to Longer Tenancies in the Private Rented Sector’ consultation and announces that for assured shorthold tenancies it ‘will introduce a generational change to the law that governs private renting. This government will put an end to “no-fault” evictions by repealing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988’.

They identify that it will be important to find a balance between giving tenants greater security whilst ensuring landlords are able to recover their property if needed – ‘We do not want to discourage investment in the sector or affect the supply of good quality rental accommodation’.

Therefore, to ensure landlords have confidence they will be able to end tenancies where they have legitimate reason to do so, it is stated that ‘we will also strengthen the Section 8 possession process, so property owners are able to regain their home should they wish to sell it or move into it’. These will be in addition to the existing grounds which allow landlords to evict tenants who don’t pay the rent or commit anti-social behaviour.

July 2019

On 21 July 2019, the government published a further consultation: A New Deal for Renting: Resetting the balance of rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants.

This consultation confirms that, at the same time as repealing section 21, the government proposes to remove the entire AST regime. This means that in future, the default position will be that a tenancy is a periodic assured tenancy unless the landlord and tenant have agreed a fixed term in writing. A tenant under an assured tenancy may not be evicted unless the landlord can provide grounds (under Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988) or where a break clause has been agreed between the landlord and the tenant.

The consultation closes on 12 October 2019.

What’s next?

Once the consultation closes we can expect draft legislation to effect the government’s proposed reforms.

Interestingly whilst the government moves towards reintroducing security of tenure, the London major Sadiq Khan has confirmed he will demand an overhaul of tenancy laws in a campaign for London rent controls that is set to be the cornerstone of his 2020 re-election campaign.

The government has commented on Khan’s proposal by stating that its proposals to abolish no fault evictions and ending letting fees “will create a housing market that truly works for everyone – in direct contrast to rent controls which could drive responsible landlords out, could reduce investment in high quality housing and ultimately push rents up”.

The good news for tenants is that in the current political climate, both parties appear to have identified a need to redress the balance of power and improve the position of renters.

However, it remains to be seen whether the requirement for a landlord to prove a ground for possession every time they want to terminate a tenancy may well make some reluctant to let out their properties in the first place, reducing the available supply.

The responses to the consultation will certainly make for interesting reading, and both landlords and tenants would be well advised to have their say whilst the government is listening.

Source courtesy of News On The Block

The BIG Broadband issue

With the advances in technology and many people being reliant on their Broadband for watching television, managing their appliances, monitoring their homes and the ever evolving world of remote working, broadband infrastructure is now in demand more than ever.

Previously many management company knew very little about the broadband infrastructure  available across their developments. Now it’s become one of the biggest issue for tenants, which means it’s now very much hitting the top of property managers agendas.

It’s become a huge part of the decision-making process as much as proximity to good schools and transport links. It forms the foundation of the connected home and when it doesn’t perform well, it impacts on people’s ability to work and enjoyment of technology advances.

Broadband lottery

Resident management companies and property managers need to understand what infrastructure is available, and crucially what the process is to enhance it so they may inform all tenants of how they can improve on their infrastructure. Currently broadband is very much a post-code lottery.  USwitch recently reported that the average speed in the UK was 46.2Mbps, but 13% of homes have speeds below 5Mbps. Also, according to research by Think Broadband, one in eight new properties have speeds so slow they fall below the Government’s minimum requirement of 10Mbps.

Speedy resolve

Here are the different types of broadband infrastructures available:

  • ADSL broadband – Many blocks still only have access to copper based ADSL broadband that cannot deliver over 5Mbps.
  • Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) – this is what is most commonly available and sold as ‘fibre’ by many of the big Internet Service Providers. This is somewhat misleading, as FTTC simply means that there is fibre to a junction box on the street, so the connection into the building is still delivered over copper phone lines. As a result, there continue to be huge issues with peak-time slowdowns and distance attenuation, further away the property is from the telephone exchange, or the higher the flat the poorer the service.

  • Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) – also known as ‘full fibre.’ the ‘gold standard’ of broadband – its now available across 8% of the UK and the government is commited for everyone to have it by 2033. With full fibre the customer can enjoy symmetrical gigabit broadband services at 1,000Mbps. With these speeds, HD movies can be downloaded in seconds and families can simultaneously access the Internet, without any frustrating slowdowns, buffering or timeouts.

Fibre for all

Once installed, a full-fibre connection can also be leveraged for other purposes which could add value to the development for residents – such as offering communal Wi-Fi hotspots. In addition, in the future this type of broadband will almost certainly be used for IPCCTV (Internet-enabled CCTV) for security systems and monitoring. Also, if every unit in the development is connected at once, which can easily be done in a new development, it means that residents can be online within minutes of moving in – removing wait times for installation and maximising rental returns.

Connectivity is now an essential utility for all tenants. Flat owners and renters expect it as standard. Property managers that provide a future-proofed reliable connection are therefore a step closer to minimising rental voids and, crucially, keeping tenants satisfied. If you’d like us to discuss managing your block of flat, please contact a member of the team today.

IPM celebrate 10 years with new App

Inspired Property Management (IPM) one of the leading providers of block property management services across the UK celebrates its 10th anniversary with the launch of a bespoke new App and the expansion of their head office in Doncaster.

IPM was launched in 2009 by David Poppleton, Andrew Poppleton and Danielle Parker who have established a thriving business with over 80 team members, managing over 500 developments nationally.

IPM has ambitious plans to continue their impressive growth, aiming to increase the number of developments it manages over the coming years. Based at Malton Way, Adwick-Le-Street, Doncaster, with a further office located in central London, IPM recently completed the acquisition of a further neighbouring building to expand their head office in Doncaster.

IPM has been attentive to increasing connectivity, passionate in embracing digital change and listening to their customers. The development of the brand new IPM Maintenance App will enable customers to request repairs, report problems, all with a simple click on the App from their mobile device, anytime, anywhere.

David Poppleton, Director of IPM, said: “We are delighted to be celebrating 10 years of growth and success for Inspired Property Management, and we wish to thank all our team for their steadfast dedication and commitment. Our vision is to provide customers with the best property management services in the UK.”

Danielle Parker, Director of IPM said: “It’s been an incredible journey over the last 10 years building the business to where it is today. We all share a genuine commitment to putting customers’ needs first and that has been the basis for our success. Here’s to the next 10 years!”

Andrew Poppleton, Director of IPM said: “When we started IPM, we all had a shared vision to build a business focussed on customer care with a talented, motivated and passionate team. The new IPM Maintenance App highlights our commitment to embracing technology and investment.”