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Empty homes become a political issue again

February 22, 2013


A local authority is reported to be taking action on the subject of the large numbers of homes that appear to be standing empty, even in a situation where housing is in chronically short supply.

In this case, the BBC report* refers to the situation in Norfolk, though the problem of empty property is widespread and affects most parts of the UK to one extent or another.

When reading the report, it perhaps isn’t immediately clear as to how the proposed initiative will deal with the problem.  The logic appears to be that by reducing the amount of discount offered in terms of council tax on empty properties, that somehow this will pressurise landlords into making their properties habitable and start to let them again.

Whilst there is a certain mathematical sense to this and the proposal has been broadly welcomed, including by landlords associations, given that the report also indicates that many properties have been standing empty for more than two years, the question must be asked as to cause and effect.

If a landlord has had a property standing empty for two years, there is presumably a very significant amount of capital tied up in the property that is not accessible and potentially the property is deteriorating at the same time. It is, essentially, a huge financial cost, even hidden, to the landlord and a veritable financial millstone.

True, the current exemptions from council taxes might be a factor in encouraging a certain degree of inactivity however, given the relatively modest sums involved with council tax, it is not immediately clear how ending these exemptions will be a sufficient incentive for the landlords concerned.

The reasons that a landlord is keeping a property empty may be many and varied, including perhaps having insufficient funds to undertake the restoration and renovation required in order to bring the property up to modern letting standards.  Some are questioning whether increasing the annual running cost of such properties to the landlords concerned, is likely to better enable them to get their properties restored and on to the market.

If you have a property standing empty, do not forget that you might need to seek let property insurance quotes which are valid for the provision of unoccupied property cover. A typical standard landlords’ policy might only cover a property that sits unoccupied, if it remains in that condition for less than somewhere between 30-45 consecutive days.

So, the actions in Norfolk will be watched with interest to see whether or not they do indeed make any significant difference to the large stock of empty property that is such a concern to all involved.



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New constraints on bailiffs to be introduced

February 16, 2013


Finally, after some decades of debate and at times, undignified squabbling, legislation is being introduced to try and regularise the role of the bailiff in England and Wales.

The principle of the position is covered in the associated BBC news report* though some landlords will have noted that considerable detail has yet to be hammered out.

Responsible landlords and indeed bailiffs are welcoming this change, at least insofar as it is currently understood.

Although the scale of the rogue bailiff problem doesn’t seem to be known and much remains anecdotal, it does seem to be generally agreed that it is the actions of only a small and unrepresentative number of unruly or downright discreditable bailiffs that are causing the problem. Yet there does indeed seem to be a problem that requires addressing.

Landlords may well welcome this because, as the report concedes, the existing legal position is chaotic and poorly understood, including by certain authorities that are meant to be trying to enforce it.

Of course, one aspect of the reporting on this is perhaps in danger of puzzling some landlords.  Whilst at the moment there appears to be a significant chorus of calls for banning bailiffs from entering property in a very large number of circumstances, what doesn’t seem to be being covered is the fact that for many, including landlords, the use of bailiffs is an absolute last resort.

Currently, it is frequently only in situations where it has proven to be impossible to recover debt, goods, rent or the vacating of a property through amicable and agreed means, that courts and landlords resort to bailiffs.

If the tenants concerned have already refused to co-operate voluntarily and ignored court orders, then making it harder for bailiffs to do their job and bring matters to a conclusion might result in yet more delays and costs for landlords. That might be a particular concern, given that some landlord insurance quotes and their associated policies typically don’t cover the extended costs associated with legal battles around tenant eviction.

It might be regrettable if the attempt to deal with what may be a small number of unacceptable bailiffs, results in making a landlord’s life even more difficult.

The position is embryonic and much evolution is likely before a new legal framework is defined.  It is to be hoped that some of the above considerations will be fully taken into account and an equitable solution found that balances the rights of tenants and those of landlords appropriately.





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Maintaining your property and cheap landlord house insurance

February 13, 2013


Although better weather might now, ever so tentatively, be on the horizon, the reality of life is that we can’t be entirely sure that we have finally said goodbye yet to the worst of the bad weather.

Hopefully your house or flat managed to survive some of the worst winter excesses but even the arrival of spring brings with it the need to get out and get some jobs done.

External paintwork

Winter can be seriously damaging to just about any form of external paintwork, particularly that which might be around metal gutters and drainpipes etc.

Get this done as soon as possible, at least once any risks of late frosts are finally passed and you can be sure that your new paint will dry in an orderly fashion.

If you don’t, you may see rust starting on the metal components and the sun drying out any exposed wooden surfaces.


These are, of course, a classic problem associated with the end of autumn and fallen leaves but winter can also add an accumulation of various forms of tree debris, old birds’ nests and perhaps holes caused by ice and frost damage.

Don’t wait until the heavy spring rains start to highlight these problems for you through floods and ingress of water but instead give your gutters a quick check and if necessary clean / patch-up as soon as you get a half-decent day in early spring time.

Drains and fat traps

Winter is a time for comfort food and that typically means perhaps rather fattier cooking and frying than is entirely good for us!

Leaving to one side the effects on our bodies, it’s possible that more fat has gone down your sink and various drains than normal and that might cause blockages in pipes unless you have appropriate fat traps in place. Of course, drains and such traps must be regularly cleaned out if blockages are not to result.

Check your bricks, stonework and roof

Heavy frost, ice and snow are notoriously damaging to brickwork or stone walls etc.

Mortar might have been removed and that could leave structures unstable unless you identify the problem and deal with it quickly.

Roofs are equally vulnerable to things such as high winds and torrential rain.  Make sure that all of your slates and tiles are where they should be and that flashings that should be around chimney stacks are still there rather than a mile away in a field where a storm has deposited them!

In passing, when selecting what may appear to be cheap landlord house insurance, it might pay to be clear just which sorts of circumstances might be covered should they result in problems and which might not be. Certainly, issues relating to lack of maintenance or wear and tear, typically will not be.

Perhaps in some countries, the end of winter is the time when you can stop worrying about whether or not your property is entirely weatherproof.  In the UK, of course, it means no such thing!

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Can you find cheap landlords buildings insurance?

February 11, 2013


The financial pressures of modern life being what they are, it might be perfectly understandable if you set out to try and find the lowest cost cover possible.

Yet that approach might bring with it some serious risks:

  • making the search for cheap landlords buildings insurance your only real selection criterion might result in you choosing a policy that was unsuitable or which simply did not provide the depth of cover that your particular business situation might demand;
  • insurance providers have always counselled that it is potentially a mistake to focus exclusively on price because in the event of a claim, the price will be entirely unimportant to you and all you will be interested in discussing is the cover provided by your policy.  Although such advice is long-standing, it remains as valid today as it always has been;
  • it may be worth keeping in mind that you may be able to have a significant effect on the final price you end up paying for a policy.  For example, if you voluntarily take a higher excess (the amount of money you agree to contribute towards any future claims) then your premiums may reduce substantially. Some providers might offer similar discounts in situations where you are able to do things such as install additional security precautions, such as burglar alarms and so on;
  • the advertised price of a policy might not always be the price that you end up paying.  Some figures are quoted in response to you providing some very basic information.  Although these may occasionally loosely be called quotations, they may invariably be closer to estimations – and you may see clauses to the effect that the final price may vary once you have provided full details.  So, it might pay to be sure that you understand the difference between a quotation and an estimate before making your purchasing decision.

Many landlords have very substantial sums of money invested in their properties.

At CIA Insurance we are committed to helping you find cover appropriate for your requirements and which will help you to protect that investment.  We would welcome the opportunity to discuss further just how we might be able to help you achieve that.

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Tragic accident a timely reminder for landlords

February 4, 2013


A BBC News report* has covered an appallingly unfortunate accident in a residential property providing accommodation and care for people with severe learning difficulties.

The details make extremely unpleasant reading and there seems little point in going into the detail here, however, it was a terrible yet avoidable accident. One can only hope that the person involved makes a full recovery.

Of course, the important point arising out of this story relates to the injuries suffered by the individual and the practical steps that landlords can take to more or less ensure that these types of accidents do not happen.  Obviously, for everybody, safety must be the primary concern – as must the lessons associated with improving it.

Yet there is a secondary point here that any landlord needs to be aware of and that relates to landlords’ insurance, safety and third party liability.

Setting out to find exclusively cheap insurance for landlords might be a serious mistake.  Inevitably, what is cheap for one landlord might not prove to be so for you in the longer term and price is not necessarily any guide whatsoever to the quality and depth of the cover provided by a policy.

Why might that be relevant?

In the case of the accident covered in the report, a court has held a number of parties accountable and some very substantial fines have been levied.  It is worth noting that, as the report makes clear, there is in fact no legal requirement for the safety device mentioned to be fitted at the present time.

Nevertheless, the landlords and care providers have been held legally liable for the accident and its associated human and financial consequences.

This should indicate that the sometimes-encountered belief, that you can only be held liable for third party injuries if you have failed to meet an existing legal safety requirement, is deeply mistaken.

That is why it is particularly important that you take the time and trouble to be sure that you have third party liability cover that is sufficient for your particular business situation.  It might prove to be far more important to you than saving a relatively small sum of money on what appears to be a lower-cost premium with another policy.

The legal requirements covering your responsibilities as a landlord are, of course, extremely important.  If you fail to comply with such requirements, you may be putting your insurance cover at risk.

Even so, this report indicates that you must think rather more broadly than simply in terms of what the law requires as a minimum – and that might be something that should play a significant part in influencing your selection of appropriate landlords’ insurance.



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UK’s standard of living position slips

January 22, 2013


A recent European Union standard of living report* has indicated that the UK has slipped down the EU table though it continues to be above the overall EU average in terms of its living standards per capita.

These statistics always makes fascinating reading and tend to generate more questions than they provide answers.

In a sense, the fact that the UK is above average shouldn’t be a great surprise.  The European Union is now a considerably enlarged and countries that have recently joined in Eastern Europe may inevitably take some time in coming up to previous EU norms of living standards.

That might mean that in some respects, the UK’s position is perhaps artificially high when measured exclusively against an EU mid-point, as eastern countries are skewing the stats downwards.

What is perhaps far more surprising is that the UK continues to sit above countries such as France, Sweden, The Netherlands and Denmark in this survey.  Certainly, with the possible exception of France, these countries are normally regarded as somehow being wealthier than the United Kingdom and the result is therefore intuitively puzzling.

Yet few would dispute that recent economic hardships have affected many countries including the UK and that this must have had some effect on these overall statistics.

Certainly other recent stories have indicated increasing repossession orders and eviction notices and the forecast for the above-inflation rate rental increases in much of the country during 2013, is likely to exacerbate that.

The financial pressures on landlords continue to be severe and will continue in turn to generate the need to try and find economies, such as searching for cheap landlord house insurance or ways of furnishing properties more cost-effectively etc.

Travelling around the country, it is not easy to get a sense of the overall position.

In some locations, the five years of economic crisis and subsequent stagnation is having a very visible effect, which you can see on the streets of the towns and villages you pass through.  Yet in other areas, there appears to be little visible sign that the UK’s overall living standards are apparently declining.

Various surveys and economic news appear to be conflicting with each other at the present time and it is extremely difficult for landlords to understand just what is likely to take place in the year ahead.  To some extent, of course, that is always the case but since the end of 2007 rampant uncertainty has become endemic.

Whether or not the UK’s position in this type of index will continue to deteriorate over the years ahead has yet to be seen.


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Why shopping around for landlord insurance quotes might be beneficial

January 18, 2013


However you might describe insurance, cheap is perhaps not a word that will readily spring to your mind.

In the case of landlord insurance or any other form of cover, typically a significant degree of expenditure is involved and that leads to some obvious conclusions:

  • just as with any other form of purchase, when you are looking for landlord insurance quotes it might make sense to examine your options from a number of different providers.  This is essentially just another way of saying that it is advisable to shop around;
  • there are a number of reasons why that might be the case. Perhaps the first and most obvious one in today’s world is that you might find significant price differences between individual insurance providers – and that might make a big difference to your overall budget;
  • the second and potentially more important issue is that you may find that some policies offer broader-based cover than others.  Significant differences might exist in areas such as subsidence cover, flood damage provisions and exclusions, malicious damage by tenants and your opportunities for making substantial cost-savings by taking a higher voluntary excesses on your policy etc.;
  • the final and occasionally overlooked point is that of a policy’s terms and conditions. Although the inclusion of conditions is perfectly normal for all policies, you may find that some are more restrictive or more difficult to comply with, in your individual circumstances, than others.  Given that the small print of any policy may eventually decide whether or not you are successful in a claim, it is worth taking this area very seriously when comparing policies.

No individual policy is ever likely to be totally perfect for any individual landlord.  Inevitably a degree of pragmatic compromise might be necessary in terms of things such as cover obtained versus the maximum amount you are willing to pay for the policy.

Ultimately, only the individual policyholder can decide how to balance things such as cost against protection provided but at CIA Insurance we would be more than willing to offer you our help and guidance on this important subject.

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Landlords criticised again in a political speech

January 16, 2013


The recent publication of the 2011 UK census results has shown the anticipated huge change in the racial and cultural makeup of the United Kingdom, particularly in and around London.

This has led politicians of several parties to comment on both the challenges and opportunities that this opens up and it might be safely anticipated that 2013 will see frequent returns to the subject, as the next general election starts to appear on the horizon.

It is regrettable that, in recent speeches on some of the challenges arising including the one referenced here*, that yet again landlords seemingly en-masse have been on the receiving end of several gratuitous sideswipes.

Here there are some references to landlords jamming immigrants into overcrowded properties, with all the Dickensian implications of profiteering and exploitation associated with that.

Few responsible landlords would question that there is a small minority who behave unacceptably and very possibly illegally, in housing people in unsafe and overcrowded conditions.

Most would also point out that there are available legal sanctions to deal with these individuals and that a more enthusiastic application of the law might be sufficient to address the problem.  It is also worth pointing out that even the best landlords insurance quote and subsequent policy, will be based upon assumptions that the policyholder is complying with the law.

However, what is far from clear is how significant this landlord issue is overall in terms of the context of the speeches referring to the inability of the nation to provide sufficient housing for the vast numbers of people entering the UK or indeed the challenges associated with racial and cultural integration between different groups.

The challenges for society here, as a whole, are significant and there are without doubt ways in which some of the existing problems can be ameliorated.

What is unfortunate and regrettable is the discussion of landlords housing policies in this context, as though they are somehow a major contributory cause of some of the problems arising.

Landlords have commented previously that as an industry, they appear to get scant recognition from politicians and are frequently gratuitously mentioned in a very negative context when discussing social problems that are arguably little or nothing to do with them.

Landlords have not created the significant waves of immigration into the UK over the past 10 to 40 years nor have they generated the situation which has led to insufficient new housing being built and an economic malaise – both things that are major contributors to the now publically-acknowledged challenges in terms of the housing and assimilation of the new arrivals.

Some may see this as yet again another example of landlord-bashing and this will perhaps further the perception that the industry is an easy target for political sideswipes.


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Tenancy Agreements

January 12, 2013


The position with respect to tenancy agreements in the United Kingdom is complicated and may vary depending upon a number of factors.

The following questions and answers might prove useful to you.

Is a tenancy agreement a legal requirement?

The answer may vary depending upon where you live.  At the time of writing, in England and Wales it is not a legal requirement in most circumstances though responsible individuals and associations would recommend that one is put in place.

In Scotland, it may be a legal requirement depending upon the exact circumstances concerned.

As the terminology and exact legal implications may differ from one jurisdiction to another, it would be advisable to consult the government’s own website for the position where you live*.

Why would you need a tenancy agreement?

Many experienced landlords will know that inevitably there are times when a dispute arises between landlord and tenant.

In some cases, issues arise due to different expectations, understandings and interpretations, between the two parties.

The primary objective of an agreement is to make sure that everything is written down, thereby reducing or eliminating the possibilities of misunderstanding.

It can also be extremely useful should the situation require the intervention of a tribunal or court in, for example, eviction proceedings.

Who benefits most from such an agreement?

Having clarity surrounding the relationship between landlord and tenant is something that should be desirable to both parties.

Neither should find themselves in the position of fearing such a document – its intention is to make life simpler and more secure for everyone involved.

What should it contain?

It is essentially a statement of the quantifiable and non-quantifiable aspects of the let (e.g. rental rates, increase reviews, notice periods, respective obligations etc.) and in fact just about anything else that either party wishes to include in it.

There are numerous templates available online and some organisations will provide a legally-validated outline tenancy agreement for a small fee.

Can I write whatever I want in it?

Yes, providing that the other party agrees and is willing to sign it off.

However, an important caveat here is that nothing in the agreement can contradict the basic legal principles of the law of the land.

For example, you are legally obliged to maintain a safe property for your tenants and nothing you write into the contract can remove that legal obligation upon you – even if the tenants are willing to sign and accept it.

Does this affect my landlords’ insurance?

Typically, not directly – but there may be some linkages.

For example, some landlords’ contents insurance may require that you have taken a formal inventory and had this signed off by your tenants under the auspices of some form of tenancy agreement.


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A note of caution for leasehold owners

December 30, 2012


A recent news article* has highlighted yet again some of the issues that might be associated with leasehold properties.

In the report in question, the freeholder appears to have made staggeringly high charges simply for providing a letter of consent relating to renovations and improvements to some of the leasehold properties concerned.

Whether or not such instances are more commonplace than is currently believed is perhaps open to debate, however, what is not disputable is the need to fully understand all of the conditions associated with the respective rights of you, as a leaseholder, versus those of the freeholder.

If surprises arise, the result might be, as in this case, very expensive.

Although your solicitors will typically provide appropriate guidance relating to the lease you are purchasing, it is important to clarify yourself through direct questions, issues relating to residual freeholder rights and the financial consequences that might arise for you as a result.

Occasionally, landlords can become a little too focused on the property and commercial opportunities it offers rather than the liabilities that it brings with it. Property is inevitably a risk and that is why it is important to obtain a suitable buy to let insurance quote in order to mitigate some of the financial aspects associated with that.

Of course, no landlords’ insurance policy is ever likely to reimburse you for charges you may have incurred from the freeholder!

Not only are potentially hidden freeholder rights important to understand but the very basic commercial issues associated with a leasehold need to be constantly at the forefront of your attention. Remember that the shorter the period of the residual lease is, the more difficult you may find it to sell the property on in due course.

In the particular case in question, the article suggests that the freeholders concerned started to behave responsibly only after the involvement of the BBC and a team of investigative journalists helped by the local residents’ association.

In other situations, without the help of a national media organisation behind you, you may find it rather difficult to obtain a sensible solution and discover that the letter of the deed law will be all that counts.

The moral of the tale for landlords is clear. Once more, make sure that you and your solicitor have fully studied all of the implications associated with a leasehold property before you decide that it is right for you.

It just might help avoid you needing to make calls asking for the media’s assistance in future!


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