This July, Hackney Council launched its Better Renting campaign which aims to promote a better private rented sector for both landlords and tenants in Hackney.
As part of the campaign, the council is encouraging landlords and letting agents to show their support for new measures which include a voluntary scheme to stop charging letting fees to tenants.
The council aims to become the first borough in England to scrap letting “unfair” fees (such as processing, amending or renewing tenancy agreements which can often run into hundreds of pounds) for private renters ahead of a formal ban by the government.
The Benyon Estate was one of the first landlords nationally to actively pledge its support for the government’s proposals to end letting agency fees which they announced in the Autumn Statement 2016 (but without setting out when or how it will come into force), and supports Hackney Council’s bid in encouraging other landlords and letting agents to follow suit.
Hackney Council’s campaign has involved a mixture of local media coverage, including in the Evening Standard, and direct communications with letting agents, renters and other stakeholders.
The council has written to all letting agents in Hackney asking them to participate in the voluntary scheme, and has written to the Housing Minister Alok Sharma, the Greater London Authority, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Private Rented Sector, the Residential Landlords Association, the National Landlords Association and the Associations of Residents Letting Agents.
The campaign is ongoing. Read more here.
Edward Benyon, Estates Director at the Benyon Estate has been supportive of the campaign and explains below what his priorities are as a conscientious and transparent landlord…
“We’re a family business and we care about our tenants. We have a strong social conscience and that shapes our approach as landlords. Tenant satisfaction sits at the top of our list of priorities and is a measure of our success, and we are proud of our very low complaint rate. We strive all the time to be the best landlords we can be so are always looking at how we can better ourselves and the service we provide.
“Most of our lettings are through word of mouth, so when we have a property to let we very often have people coming to us making enquiries before we have a chance to advertise it anywhere. We have numerous long term tenants, including 47 households subject to regulated tenancy agreements which were drawn up prior to 1989, and this is a reflection that the team’s efforts are an enduring success. Our longest standing tenant was a 105-year-old gentleman who lived in his home on the Estate since 1931 before passing away three years ago, and there are currently two lady tenants in their eighties who were both born in their Hackney homes.
“Although we are not a letting agent and it costs us to process tenancy applications, we decided to scrap the fees associated with our tenancy agreements around six months ago becoming one of the first landlords nationally to actively pledge its support for the Government’s proposals to end letting agency fees. Our only tenancy agreement associated fees is an early release charge.
“Influenced by a strong sense of social responsibility, we have endeavoured to go much further in our ambition to be a leading example of good practice in the industry, making two of our properties available to social housing tenants and recently rehoming a homeless family as part of a pilot scheme by homelessness charity Crisis. This July, we also rehomed two Syrian families of five.
“We keep rent increases as low as possible and over the past few years we have only increased them by around three per cent per annum.To ensure efficiency for tenants, we employ our own handyman and have built long lasting and trusted relationships with local tradesmen including a father and son plumbing company which has worked with the Estate for 40 years. We take maintenance issues very seriously and prioritise plumbing, heating and electrical issues and our protocol is that these issues are dealt with the same day they’re reported.
“But on the business side of things, landlords who don’t keep their properties up to standard will soon find that the cheques they’re writing in the end are for far more than those they will write along the way. And when landlords have several properties and don’t look after them, it will soon get around and they’ll find it harder to let them out. There is a lot of competition in Hackney, so you can’t be complacent; we want to be the best, and want people to want to live in our properties and to feel assured that once they’ve signed a tenancy agreement it is their home.
“It costs us to rent a property, and our previous fees were reasonable and only covered the costs associated with drawing up new agreements. But our business plan centres around us being completely transparent landlords and part of that transparency is that we can hand on heart say that the only money we take from our tenants is rent, so we felt that it was right that we cover the costs instead.”