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Tamsyn Muller was full of excitement and expectation having been offered an unconditional place to study for a postgraduate degree at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

Being well organised, she found and secured accommodation in Tyler Court, university accommodation that was being marketed by Caxtons Student Lettings department in Canterbury. She paid an administration fee, completed her tenancy agreement form and was just waiting for the day she would move in.....

However, soon afterwards, the University of Kent contacted Tamsyn to say that, due to an administrative error, she had been accepted without being interviewed – which was against protocol. An interview was organised for the third week of August and unfortunately Tamsyn was told that the university had decided not to offer her a position on the course.

This was an obvious blow and not only did it throw her plans for 2018/19, but meant that she would no longer be relocating to Kent and didn't need the accommodation she had organised.

She immediately contacted Caxtons Student Lettings in Canterbury to let them know of the situation and offered to send documentation as evidence her tale of woe. She requested they withdraw her tenancy form and put the

property back on the market. Even though the error was on the part of the university, not hers, she imagined that the pre-paid admin fee – used for work involved in referencing, tenancy preparation and other such activities - was lost.

This is when Samantha Collins, who works in Caxtons Student Lettings, took the problem to Duncan Reeves, the head of the department, and questioned just what they could do for Tamsyn, who had experienced enough misery already.

The outcome was that Tamsyn's admin fee was refunded in full and the property was put back on the market without further ado. She was so delighted that she wrote:

Hi Samantha,

That is truly amazing news, I'm so grateful for all the help and understanding I've received from you and the Canterbury office

Hugely appreciated.

Best wishes,

Tamsyn

And the moral of this tale – some Letting Agents have big hearts.

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (DHCLG) has announced new measures for the lettings and property management sectors.

Caxtons Chartered Surveyors is a full service property company based in Kent providing property expertise across the South East - including residential lettings and management.

Alan Stewart, director and a Fellow of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents has heard it all before.

"Banning orders against rogue landlords and letting agents who commit offences came in to force as part of the 'Housing and Planning Act 2016' and local authorities will be able to share that information. However, there are so many rules and regulations designed to catch these offenders that just aren't being enforced.

"At Caxtons we hope that if and when the latest proposals become law they are rigorously policed and applied. As an accredited letting and managing agent we already have codes, laws and regulations that are being flouted by some 'fly-by-night' agents who set up with no qualifications or knowledge of the sector. We know that letting agents are already in breach of the existing code that requires us to display charges prominently in offices and online. But nothing is being done to challenge them or let potential tenants and landlords know."

The new proposals are, in general, welcomed by the sector and comprise a compulsory Code of Practice covering all letting and managing agents to ensure that:

  • All letting agents have professional training with at least one member of staff holding professional qualifications
  • All abide by industry standards
  • That blatant breaches of the new Code will be a criminal offence
  • Fines for rogue landlords should be appreciably larger and in the worst cases, properties should be confiscated
  • A new Regulator will be appointed to enforce the new Code
  • The new Regulator will tackle unfair letting fees

Sadly, bringing the proposals on to the statute book will require Parliamentary time, which is in short supply particularly with Brexit looming. And the finer detail of the Code is yet to be finessed by working parties made up of user and regulatory groups.

Housing Minister Heather Wheeler said "Most property agents take a thorough and professional approach when carrying out their business, but sadly some do not.

"By introducing new standards for the sector, we will clamp down on the small minority of agents who abuse the system so we can better protect tenants and leaseholders who find themselves at the end of a raw deal."

It is hoped that the proposals, and the promise that penalties in the form of criminal charges, will be enforced where mal-practice is uncovered.

"This move will reinforce our message about using reputable agents and I believe the non-compliance figure for displaying fees was over 90% with little or no repercussions. The provisions are already contained in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and it appears that these will be amended and strengthened in the Draft Tenant Fees Bill, which is now working its way through the Parliamentary process." says Alan.

Having completed their examination of the draft Tenant Fees Bill, members of the DHCLG Committee are supporting change to apply stricter regulation to tenancy deposits including smaller deposits, what fees will be permissible, and diligent enforcement of the regulations.

Recommendations include capping tenancy deposits at five weeks' rent, rather than six and returning holding deposits if tenant referencing fails the required criteria.

Industry experts are concerned that the latter will lead to additional problems for tenants and agents. If agents are unable to retain holding deposits and the potential tenant fails referencing checks it may lead to agent bias in selecting only the best tenants to avoid expense associated with failed referencing.

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Alan Stewart

The HCLG Committee Report says the Bill will

...increase letting agents' incentives to compete for landlords' business resulting in a more transparent market with lower overall fee levels and a higher quality of service

and that a fee ban will

....reduce the risk of unfair practices in the form of double charging ... thus making the sector more competitive, more affordable and of a higher standard.

Where leaseholders are concerned, they will be able to challenge unfair fees and service charges and there will be support for leaseholders who want to sack management companies who charge a lot for doing very little.

When interviewed, Sebastian O'Kelly, a prominent campaigner for a fairer deal for leaseholders, recently said he would hope the new regulator is "Somebody who is completely outside the leasehold system, so none of that terracotta army of lawyers and surveyors who depend on the leasehold system and its inefficiencies for their livelihood. It needs a very robust independent regulator who will kick this murky corner of property into line."

Confirmation that Kent has some of the most competitively priced areas to live for property renting commuters has been underpinned by a number of recent stories appearing in the national media.

The BBC looked at 18 'commutable' areas and concluded that rental property in Chatham would benefit tenants with the most economical living/travel costs within a reasonable commute of London. They took into consideration the cost of an annual season ticket – currently £4,124 for Chatham to Victoria – plus the rent on an average two or three bedroom property in the town, which they determined to be £866 a month. A slightly better deal might be to consider a property that Caxtons is currently marketing. It is a three-bedroom terrace house on First Avenue, a no-through road in Chatham, at just £750 per month. This beats the BBC's baseline average cost of annual commute plus rent at £22,604 within Greater London by more than £8,000 – a massive saving.

Other comparable Kent areas within a reasonable London commute would include towns such as Maidstone with a substantial £4,496 for a season ticket but the average rent for a two/three bedroom property would be £10,788, so still well under the £22K marker.

Another property in an area that could provide an excellent alternative to a Greater London address includes a mid-terraced spacious 3-bedroom house within walking distance of Gravesend train station. The rent of £950 a month and a commute to London terminals of £3,646 would make an annual travel and rental total of £15,046, £7K below the baseline.

Amelia Pavey, Head of Residential Lettings across the Medway and North Kent towns said: "We have some great, reasonably priced rental properties at Caxtons and are always looking for more. We understand that while it may be exciting to live and work in the centre of London, there comes a time when for many people, the life work balance changes – that may happen when you meet a long term partner, start a family, or just want to live out of town – and that's where we can help. We have let properties across Kent, from the coastal towns to the banks of the Thames, and understand not only the financial, but also the emotional value of property and how important each one is for both landlords and tenants alike."

For more information contact Amelia on 01634 576000 or email her: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Amelia Pavey