Government to ban agents’ fees

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There’s some huge news for renters in today’s Autumn Statement. The government has announced plans to scrap all letting fees charged to tenants ‘as soon as possible.’

That means when you move, all you can be asked to pay is your first month’s rent and a deposit. No more charges for credit checks, inventories or admin fees. Those will now have to be paid by the landlord.

Unsurprisingly, when we asked SpareRoom users earlier this year whether you were in favour of this change, 92% of you said yes. Surprisingly, 75% of landlords also agreed.

Scotland already scrapped letting fees charged to tenants in 2012 – now England and Wales will follow suit, after the chancellor’s surprise announcement today.

We’ll update you when we know more about when these will come into effect. In the meantime, tell us your experiences of letting fees in the comments below.

Deadline for Welsh landlords to register is fast approaching

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Landlords in Wales now need to become registered, according to a ruling that came into effect on November 23rd 2015 and gave people a year to register.

That means the deadline is in less than a week.

If you haven’t registered yet here’s a quick guide to the new system and what you need to do.

Who needs to register?

If you own a property in Wales that you don’t live in and rent it out on an assured, assured shorthold (AST) or regulated tenancy you need to register.

Who else does it affect?

If you act as the agent for a property you don’t own then you won’t need to register but may need to apply for a license. Click here for more info on licensing.

What about holiday lets?

If the property you rent out is a holiday let you’re not a landlord under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 so don’t need to register.

That also applies if you let someone (e.g. a relative) live in your property rent free.

How do I register?

You can register at rentsmart.gov.wales

All you need to do is create an account and follow the steps online.

You need to complete the registration yourself – you can’t get an agent to do it for you.

What does it cost?

Registration costs £33.50 if you do it online – the fee covers you as a landlord and doesn’t increase if you own multiple properties.

Applying via a paper application instead of online costs £80.50.

What happens next?

Your registration lasts 5 years – after that you need to register again. By law you’ll need to keep your information up to date in the meantime.

That includes things like changes in name, address or contact details and adding more properties to your registration.

For full details and to register online visit rentsmart.gov.wales

Flatsharing heads to the Fringe

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We’re excited to announce SpareRoom’s partnership with Rent Girl, a hilarious and brutally honest comedy about the life of a renter, written for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Rent Girl is the latest project from actress and writer Maddy Anholt and follows the success of Diary of a Dating Addict, which enjoyed a sell out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and transferred to London’s Soho Theatre this year.

Previews start this month and run across the UK throughout July, before the show heads up to Edinburgh for the Fringe.

Here’s what Maddy has to say about Rent Girl:

Hello, my name is Maddy Anholt and I am a rent girl. I’ve been a rent girl for the last ten years in London. I worked out the other day what I’ve spent on rent in London over the last ten years. £136,000. That’s not a typo… £136,000. Pretty vomit-inducing, isn’t it?

The fact is by 2025 only 26% of young adults will be on the housing ladder. That means 74% of us will be rent boys and rent girls by 2025. Rent goes up and up and our salaries stay the same so we don’t have much choice in the matter.

But is it possible to have an enjoyable renting experience? An experience where you could leave food in the cupboards safely knowing it’d be there when you got home? Where you didn’t wake up to your flatmate watching you sleep at the end of your bed? Where you didn’t find questionable hairs in your toothbrush?

It all started in 2009 when I first came to London from a remote countryside town to try and build my empire. I put up an advert looking for work: “Young, fresh girl seeks any part-time work… excellent typing and oral skills”. You can imagine the responses I got.

Rent Girl is Sliding Doors meets Pretty Woman … was I better off taking the job as a children’s entertainer ending up with two broken toes, or should I have sold my underwear for £800 a pop to afford my rent?

Rent Girl previews opened 26th June at The Comedy Room, Camden and run throughout July. For full dates and tickets see: www.maddyanholt.com or find Maddy on Twitter @maddy_anholt

Rent Girl will be at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Gilded Balloon, 17:30, 3rd – 29th August. www.gildedballoon.co.uk

‘Second Liverpool’ found hiding in the spare room

We desperately need another Liverpool.

There’s nothing wrong with the one we’ve got, we just need another. Right now. We also need another every year for the next 25 years. That’s a lot of Liverpools.

But let’s start with why we need one.

There’s a housing crisis. It’s a fact. We need to build 250,000 houses every year, enough for 460,000 people. That’s basically the population of…you guessed it… Liverpool.

We don’t build anywhere near that and we’re not about to. Last time we did was 1979-80.

Even if we could build a new Liverpool every year, where would we put it? Wouldn’t it just be easier if we had a spare Liverpool lying around?

As it happens, we do.

England’s homeowners have 19 million empty rooms between them. If we can persuade just 2.5% to rent them out they’d house 475,000 people. That’s basically the population of…you guessed it… Liverpool.

We could do that right now, with a decent incentive.

And we’ve finally got one.

As of April 6th people can earn £7,500 a year tax-free by renting out a room. It doesn’t just apply to homeowners – tenants can do it too with their landlord’s permission. It took us six and a half years to convince Government but they finally did it. Sounds like a decent incentive doesn’t it?

It’s a proper win-win. Tenants benefit from increased supply of affordable rooms and homeowners get a tax break to encourage them to open their doors.

Now, has anyone got a spare Manchester knocking about?

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You can find out more about the Rent a Room Scheme and how it works here.

Scary smoke alarm stats should have tenants & landlords checking their batteries

Are you among the 15% of flatsharers with no smoke alarm at home? Or perhaps you’re with the 7% of sharers guilty of removing the batteries from smoke alarms and not replacing them?

According to a worrying survey we did, only 57% of tenants told us they’re sure there’s a working smoke alarm in their flatshare. You can see the full findings in the table below. Time to check you and your housemates are safe and test that battery.

As of 1 October 2015, a new law kicked in requiring landlords to fit working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their properties. But a separate poll of landlords by SpareRoom revealed almost half (49%) are not aware of this change in regulation.

Going public with our findings earned us an email and a blog from the Chief Fire Officers Association who described the data as “worrying”.

Stats from the men and women in blue and yellow show that rented properties, flat shares and houses of multiple occupation are among the most at-risk properties when it comes to fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Mark Cashin, Home Safety Lead for the Chief Fire Officers Association, advises: “Tenants who don’t have working smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors should contact their landlord and insist that they be fitted. It’s the law.”

“The law requires that a smoke alarm is fitted on every storey of a property, and that a CO alarm is fitted in any room with a solid fuel burning appliance. It is the duty of landlords to ensure these are fitted and to test them at the beginning of every new tenancy. Houses of multiple occupation are required by law to have hard-wired smoke alarms.”

The table below shows the results of our tenants’ survey, which ran between 1 and 29 October

 

Do you have a smoke alarm in your house or flatshare? (1,060 responses)

Yes

57%

Yes but I don’t know if it’s working

16%

Yes but we’ve taken the batteries out

%

No

15%

Don’t know

5%

A Victory in the 2015 Budget

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As most of you who’ve used SpareRoom in the past six years will know, we’ve been campaigning hard to get the chancellor to increase the Rent a Room Scheme tax threshold. We just found out he did just that in the budget, raising it from £4,250 a year to the £7,500 we asked for.

This is great news for renters – especially flatsharers. With around 19 million empty bedrooms in owner-occupied properties in England alone, we’re just not using our housing effectively. As we’re not building in anywhere near the numbers we need to, unlocking some of those rooms will make a big difference.

Here’s how:

  • Encouraging people to rent out their rooms means more supply – that helps keep rents down
  • There’s a huge demand for affordable rentals right now, especially rooms. This addresses that need head on
  • Average rents for people living with the owner are lower than traditional rents – good news for renters on a budget
  • Unlocking just 5% of those empty rooms would house almost a million people, that’s the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham!

It’s great to see the government addressing the housing crisis with simple, effective measure that will make a difference to hundreds of thousands of people quickly, while they work out the longer term policy changes we need to fix the housing crisis for good.

Thanks to all of you who signed the petition or helped spread the word. We’d also like to thank the people and organisations who’ve supported Raise the Roof publicly over the past six years, including Shelter, Sarah Beeny and Generation Rent.
Great news all round.

Matt

A million thanks…

We recently reached another little milestone we’re quietly pretty pleased about – 4 million registered users. A big thank you to everyone who’s registered to use our services over the last decade, and for helping to make us the nation’s favourite flatshare website.

Yes, it’s been ten years since we started – SpareRoom was launched on 1st April 2004 and the rest is history.

We celebrated our decennial with a little style and lots of cocktails at a bar in Manchester in late April. It was fantastic to see how much the company has grown, and how committed to the cause everyone who works here is. We just can’t help wanting to make flatsharing better.

Happy Birthday SpareRoom and here’s to the next 4 million people joining the flatshare community!

10th Birthday cake

Do you need an EPC?

Advertising a property to let has got more complicated over the years with the burden of regulation growing ever bigger.
From 9th January 2013 regulations concerning EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) have changed, meaning that a landlord will have to have commissioned an EPC before marketing their property and obtained within 7 days of it going on the market. If you don’t get one within that time, you have a further 21 days to get one, provided you’re able to demonstrate you’re making every reasonable effort to get hold of one. Even if you’ve got an agent working for you, it’s still the landlord’s responsibility that an EPC is procured in a timely fashion, and made available to prospective tenants free of charge. The asset rating (energy efficient rating) on the EPC must be stated on any advertisement of the property in commercial media, including newspapers, magazines, the internet and any other written material describing the property.

What about shared housing? Do I still need an EPC?

This is where there is a crucial difference between renting out a whole property and renting by the room. If the space you are advertising is not self-contained, then you do not need to provide an EPC. Where individual rooms in a building are rented out, and there are shared facilities eg a kitchen or bathroom, an EPC is not required. This is because an EPC is only required on the rental of a building or part of a building that’s rented out separately. Renting a room does not fit the requirements.

A crucial difference

We feature both houses let on a room by room basis as well as whole properties suitable for sharing on SpareRoom. The latter, which will be distinguished as not available by the room, and let on a joint and several contract to a group of sharers, will need an EPC.

If in doubt, consult the Government regulations.

Don’t have a deposit? There is help available.

For young people it can be hard to rent privately, even in shared accommodation. Rents are rising in areas of high demand and limited supply, and you need to come up with a deposit as well as rent in advance. If you haven’t got a job or received your first pay check yet, it’s going to be tough to put a roof over your head as well.

We’ve discovered that there are some sources of help available, primarily for young people who are vulnerable, disabled or at risk of becoming homeless. Crisis, the homelessness charity, has a handy search facility where you can find schemes in your local area willing to offer support. This is often in the form of deposit loans, rent advances or deposit guarantees – this latter where a charity will guarantee they’ll pay the landlord, rather than you having to find the cash.

Search the Crisis access scheme database

Please note that Crisis does not provide deposits or rent in advance to access private sector rented accommodation.

The Crisis Private Rented Sector Access Development programme, which provides housing help for single people at risk of homelessness, has been boosted by a cash injection of £1.2m, announced by the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk, today. This welcome additional funding will help more young vulnerable people find the accommodation they desperately need, and often struggle to afford even if they’re in paid work.

TV documentary looking for Flatsharers in London with stories to share

Are you currently living in a nightmare houseshare?

Are you super fussy about who you live with?

Perhaps you’re a serial house hunter moving for the 10th time this year?

Or are you in your 40’s or 50s and finding the flatsharing market challenging?

Sundog pictures are exploring the phenomenon of housesharing – what it’s like to live with strangers and the trials and tribulations of trying to find a room in a saturated rental market.

We’d love to hear from anyone with an extraordinary story – the information you share with us will be strictly confidential and at this stage won’t be used for broadcast. Please note we’re looking for current stories only at this point.

Please contact us for more information – tom@sundogpictures.co.uk or call 020 7602 8163.