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We’ve consistently been reminded that 2020 has been a year like no other.  And despite two national lockdowns (the 3rd on it’s way) and various restrictions in place for much of 2020, the rental market has performed strongly. There has been high tenant demand for properties, with rents rising in many areas. 

Landlords have also been eligible to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday and save thousands of pounds in tax when expanding their portfolios.

All of this has combined to create a very busy 2020 for letting agencies, with many businesses thriving despite the challenges of operating in a ‘new normal’.

With a Covid-19 vaccine rollout in its early stages, there is hope that 2021 will be a year in which society returns to something nearer normality. And while the short and medium-term outlook for the economy and housing market remains uncertain, below we take a look at five things letting agents will need to consider for 2021.

More pets in rental properties?

During 2021, it could become easier for tenants to keep pets in rental properties. In October, the Dogs and Domestic Animals Accommodation Protection Bill was launched by Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford. The Bill, which is due for a Second Reading on February 5, aims to give tenants the assumed right to take pets into rental accommodation if they are recognised as a 'responsible owner'.

Renters will be deemed responsible if their pets are vaccinated, neutered or spayed, if they are free of parasites and if animals such as dogs respond to basic training commands. With the Bill likely to receive further support from MPs, it could become law at some point this year. 

Letting agents will therefore likely be required to advise their landlords on how they can allow pets without putting their investment at risk. This will include precautions such as taking out the necessary insurance, potentially charging higher rent and building a positive relationship with tenants.

You can keep up with the progress of the Bill here.

Updates to the eviction process

Rental property evictions have been banned for large parts of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There was a Christmas evictions truce, with enforcement action not set to resume until January 25 2021 at the earliest. Once the truce is lifted, evictions can take place again but under new rules which were set back in the autumn. 

The current eviction rules require landlords to provide a minimum of six months' notice, except for in the most serious cases of rent arrears, domestic abuse, fraud or anti-social behaviour. On top of this, landlords seeking repossession of a property must also provide additional information on how their tenant has been affected by the pandemic.

These rules are set to run until March at the earliest - agents will need to keep on top of developments as they could be extended or amended in the early weeks of 2021.

Letting agents can help guide landlords through a complex and time-consuming evictions process as a last resort, as well as helping them to take an alternative course of action where possible.

Further changes to stamp duty rules

The stamp duty holiday has helped to sustain high levels of housing demand and supply since it was announced in July. It has also helped landlords to save an average of £2,000 in tax when purchasing an investment property.

However, all good things must come to an end and the stamp duty holiday is set to finish on March 31 2021. This is despite growing calls from property professionals and consumers to extend it. In response to a petition for the stamp duty cut to be extended beyond March, the government said it has no plans to do so as it has always been a temporary measure.

As well as the ongoing stamp duty holiday, there will be a set of new stamp duty rules for overseas investors from April. This year, non-UK residents purchasing property will be liable for an additional 2% stamp duty surcharge. The additional tax could affect demand for investment properties in the UK's biggest cities, so it's something agents in these areas need to keep an eye on.

Tightening of electrical safety rules

Since the summer, landlords and letting agents have had to abide by The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020. These rules currently apply for new tenancies and require landlord or agents acting on their behalf to provide an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR).

They must also ensure that all fixed electrical installations are inspected and tested at least every five years by a qualified professional. Following the inspection, the landlord or agent must obtain a report which provides the results and sets a date for the next inspection. 

The rules are being extended to cover all tenancies from April 1 2021, so it's important that agents make sure all their landlords are aware and carry out the necessary work. There are hefty fines for non-compliance, while it's also crucial that landlords provide properties which are safe for renters to live in.

The end of Section 21?

For over a year now, the threat of the removal of Section 21 from the Housing Act 1988 has been looming over landlords and letting agents. It was expected that Section 21 evictions would be outlawed in 2020. However, the impact of Covid-19 has delayed the introduction of the Renters' Reform Bill. 

The government has said that the Bill - which also includes measures for lifetime deposits and an expansion of the rogue database of landlords and letting agents - will be made law when there is 'a sensible and stable economic and social terrain on which to do it'.

While it remains unclear just when that will be, there is a strong chance the Renters' Reform Bill could progress this year. 

Therefore, agents should continue to prepare their landlords for life without Section 21 and keep on top of government updates around how Section 8 will be made more comprehensive as a result.

With 2021 set to be another busy year for letting agents, you can get ahead of the game by keeping up with the industry's latest developments and adopting the best PropTech products to improve customer service and efficiency.

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