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The Government gets its house in order

New deadline for Local Plans

Local plans document imageCouncils must produce local plans for new homes in their area by 2017 – or the government will (in consultation with local people) produce those plans for them.

The Prime Minister said that the Housing and Planning Bill will help to deliver the government’s ambition of one million new homes by 2020 and he confirmed measures to deliver 200,000 starter homes and cut red tape to boost home building.

While 82 per cent of councils have published their Local Plan – which should set out how many homes they plan to deliver over a set period – only 65 per cent have fully adopted them and almost 20 per cent of councils do not have an up to date Local Plan at all.

The British Property Federation (BPF) welcomed the Local Plan requirement but warned that Government must not be too focused on owner occupation, that it must encourage development of other tenures if it is to deliver new homes at scale.

To create places where people want to live, there must be places for them to work, to shop and to enjoy themselves.

Melanie Leech image

Melanie Leech

Melanie Leech, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, said, “The housing challenge facing the UK is acute, and Government is being fairly punchy in the reforms it wants to make to the planning system to deliver new homes. “The fact that it is prepared to take on the responsibility of Local Plans is particularly welcome as these are crucial to creating sustainable development in local communities.

“There are two things that Government must not forget in its headlong pursuit of creating new homes, however. One is that homes for owner occupation are not the only option. The build to rent sector has the potential to deliver a huge number of additional homes and to drive up standards in the rental sector, and must not be disregarded in favour of homes for sale – there is room for both.

“The other is that thriving communities need a mix of amenities to be a success. In order to create places where people want to live, there needs to be places for people to work, shop, and enjoy themselves, and it is very important for planning policy to reflect that accordingly.”

“This is a potentially game-changing announcement, and one we wholeheartedly support, since Local Plans are fundamental to growth. Local Plans provide certainty, which is Holy Grail for investors, and by ensuring that all local authorities have them in place will undoubtedly have a positive effect on investment.

“It is absolutely critical that hand in hand with this requirement comes a clear change in approach to local plans to make them slimmer, more targeted and more effective. This is particularly important now, given how many local authorities are under enormous pressure financially and strapped for time and resources. We look forward to the Local Plan Expert Group’s work in this area.”

permitted development rights

Brandon Lewis, The Minister for Housing and Planning has confirmed that temporary permitted development rights, introduced in 2013, will be made permanent. In addition to this, those who already have permission “will have three years in which to complete the change of use.”

In future, permitted development rights will allow office buildings to be demolished and replaced with new buildings for residential use, and “enable the change of use of light industrial buildings and launderettes to new homes.”

The current exempted areas will remain in place until May 2019. They will have until this date to make an Article 4 direction if they want to continue their exemption and remove the rights.

An Article 4 direction allows them to require a planning application for any proposed change of use.

Mr Lewis said, “We’re determined that, both in Whitehall and in town halls, everything is done to get the homes we need built. Today’s measures will mean we can tap into the potential of underused buildings to offer new homes for first-time buyers and families long into the future, breathing new life into neighbourhoods and at the same time protecting our precious green belt.”

Charles Mills, partner and head of planning at Daniel Watney LLP, said: “Permanently relaxing permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions will most likely give house building a boost, but it is important to protect employment space as well. Cities with lots of homes but nowhere to work are just as problematic as ones with lots of offices but nowhere to live.

“There is a danger these latest changes will see yet more disputes between councils and central government, at a time when they should be working together to deliver the homes and jobs Britain needs.”

New tenancy laws will bring new challenges

Letting agents and landlords across the UK need to rapidly get up to speed with new tenancy laws, an expert has warned.

These are significant changes affecting ASTs, new law can be confusing especially when old established law runs alongside the new. Julie Fisher, Kenwoods.

Julie Fisher image

Julie Fisher

Julie Fisher, a dispute resolution lawyer in the litigation department at Redditch solicitors Kerwoods, who deals with property related matters, said it was vital for agents to be sure they are abreast of the new developments.

Her comments follow parts of the Deregulation Act 2015 coming into force in relation to the lettings market.

She said, “These are significant changes affecting Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs), the most common form of tenancy. New law can be confusing especially when old established law runs alongside the new.

“For example, for ASTs already in existence before October 1, some of the changes will not become applicable until October 2018. For new ASTs the new law now applies.

“There are also changes to landlords’ obligations in having to provide certain information to tenants at the start of a tenancy such as safety certificates.

“There are various aspects of the new law that affect the landlord and tenant relationship and it is therefore vital that landlords ensure they are up to date with what is required of them and equally tenants ensure they are aware of their legal rights and obligations when entering into an AST.

“I fear a few hiccups along the way as both get to grips with the system.” Landlords can now only serve a Section 21 notice after four months of a tenancy commencing, there is a six month limit after which a Section 21 notice expires, any health and safety improvement notice served by a local authority means no Section 21 notice can be served for six months, and any complaint in writing from the tenant about the condition of a property has to be responded to within 14 days.

Each floor of each property requires a functioning smoke alarm.

Landlords must install carbon monoxide alarms in high risk rooms – such as those where a solid fuel heating system is in place.

Those who fail to act risk sanctions, up to a £5,000 civil penalty. “Landlords who do not face up to their responsibilities risk being hit hard,” said Ms Fisher.

Most tenants unaware of new law on revenge evictions

Eviction Notice image90 per cent of tenants say they are unaware of the new law introduced on 1st October 2015, that is intended to protect them from so called retaliatory or revenge evictions, according to findings from the National Landlords Association (NLA).

The new law, part of the Deregulation Act, prevents landlords from ending a tenancy using a section 21 or ‘no fault’ notice if they fail to address a complaint about the state of repair of the property that is made by their tenant to the local authority.

The majority of landlords only choose to end a tenancy if it is absolutely necessary, so we have to make sure that the system isn’t abused by those who are simply trying to prolong the eviction process.

The NLA is calling on local councils to provide a clear framework for how they plan to deal with complaints in order to ensure that legitimate ones are taken seriously and that spurious ones don’t unnecessarily prolong the possession process.

Richard Lambert, Chief Executive Officer, NLA said, “These kinds of evictions are extremely rare but we have to make sure that complaints by tenants don’t just get lost in the system, regardless of whether they are legitimate or not.

“The majority of landlords only choose to end a tenancy if it’s absolutely necessary, so we have to make sure that the system isn’t abused by those simply trying to prolong the evictions process.

“We all know that local councils are under-resourced but housing problems must take priority. If a tenant complains about a potentially hazardous issue then both they and their landlord should have a clear expectation of how and when the council will deal with it.

“If councils fail to act on complaints then it will undermine the law and tenants’ confidence in a system that’s supposed to protect them.”

The survey, which had 997 respondents, found that:

  • Just nine per cent of tenants feel they were asked to leave a private rented property after asking for repairs or maintenance to be carried out
  • 82 per cent of tenants say they feel assured by the new law 78 per cent said their last tenancy ended at the their own request
  • 15 per cent ended because the landlord wanted to sell the property.
  • Just four per cent ended because the tenant could no longer afford the rent
  • One per cent ended because the tenant was in arrears.

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