Lisa Simon, Partner and Head of Residential Division, offers a practical view on residential letting issues currently in the news.

Capital Gains Tax: Changes to Private Residence Relief and Lettings Relief
As of April 2020, the amount of tax relief that investors can offset against capital gains tax bills will reduce.  Currently, under principle residence relief (PRR), landlords have an 18 month capital gains tax-free period when they sell a property that they have previously inhabited.  From April 2020, this period will reduce to nine months.

The proposed change, according to the Government, is to better target PRR at owner-occupiers, rather than allowing landlords to use it as a tax loophole. Specifically, it aims to reduce the PRR that can be accrued on two dwellings (un-sold old and new) simultaneously. It makes exceptions in the case of those with a disability or in care.

The move follows an announcement in the Autumn 2018 Budget and a consultation carried out by HMRC from April-June 2019 (Capital Gains Tax: Private Residence Relief: changes to the ancillary reliefs) which received 70 written responses.  Landlords expressed concern that they will be penalised if the sale of their property takes more than nine months to complete and that areas with slower property markets will be unfairly penalised, as would those moving because of relationship breakdown or employment relocation. 

As part of the same piece of legislation, the Government has announced that it will be removing lettings relief under PPR. Lettings relief was introduced in 1980 to allow people to let spare rooms within a property on a casual basis without losing the benefit of PRR. The change is being made because it has instead benefited those who let out a whole property that has, at some stage, been their main residence.

Currently, lettings relief provides up to £40,000 in tax relief (£80,000 for a couple). Following this change, lettings relief will not be available for periods during which an owner has moved out of a property and therefore no longer shares occupation with the tenant(s). This effectively abolishes lettings relief for buy-to-let purposes. 

Again the majority of respondents to the consultation opposed this reform. Specifically, they objected to the proposal of removing accrued lettings relief after 2020 and said that the new rules should only be applied to tenancies beginning in April 2020. Others thought that lettings relief should be maintained but reduced. 

The changes to lettings relief and the final period exemption are estimated to affect approximately 40,000 individuals each year. 

The Treasury’s impact assessments suggest the changes will bring in an additional £15m in tax in 2019/20, rising to £150m in 2023/24. 

The draft legislation is open for comment until 5 September 2019.  It will then be introduced in Finance Bill 2019 and both changes will to come into effect on 6 April 2020.

What Can Landlords Do To Stay Afloat In 2019?
It’s not easy being a landlord in 2019. The increase in stamp duty on buy-to-let properties making portfolio expansion extremely costly; tax reliefs that are in the process of being phased out; and the ban on tenancy fees has come into effect – yet another policy innovation expected to fall disproportionately upon the shoulders of landlords. 

Though such policy changes are challenging the viability of the buy-to-let proposition, there are still plenty of options available to landlords looking to defend the profitability of their portfolios. These options may demand a little more effort, but they promise to offset many of the difficulties that have arisen as a result of recent policy changes. 

With input from the Mike Perrin, Head of Sales, Private Finance, we look at a few of these options and consider the pros and cons involved.

Limited Companies
In the past, landlords were only required to pay income tax on net rental income, after allowable expenses such as mortgage interest had been deducted. However, since April 2017, several changes have been gradually introduced that are eating away at the profits of many landlords. 
As of April 2020, the changes will come into full effect, interest payments will not be classed as an allowable expense and will therefore no longer be deducted from rental income when calculating total taxable income. Instead, landlords will pay income tax on their total rental income minus allowable expenses (not including interest payments) and will then be able to claim a tax relief worth 20% of their total mortgage interest payments. What all of this means, in essence, is that landlords currently paying the basic rate of income tax will be relatively unaffected by the changes – unless, that is, they are pushed into the higher tax bracket due to the changes in accounting methods – while those paying higher or additional rate income tax will be significantly worse off. 

Such changes have left many landlords looking for ways to rearrange their portfolios to remain profitable. One popular option has been for them to structure themselves as limited companies rather than as individuals. Buying property via a limited company comes with one significant benefit: landlords are not subject to the tax relief changes discussed above. Instead, they are free to deduct their mortgage interest payments from their total rental income and then pay corporation tax on this net amount. 

But even this option comes with drawbacks: for one, set-up costs may prove sufficiently large to deter small-portfolio landlords from pursuing this course of action. Also, if landlords wish to remove profits from their companies, they will find their income drained away by other forms of tax – for example, dividends tax – potentially defeating the whole purpose of restructuring. 

In the past, the decision to purchase property through a limited company structure may have presented a range of mortgage-related difficulties, as only a small, specialist group of lenders were willing to offer mortgages to such legal entities. But since the announcement of the removal of this tax relief, there has been a proliferation of mortgage products made available for landlords looking to purchase buy-to-let properties through a limited company structure. There’s no reason, therefore, that landlords choosing to purchase their properties through limited company structures should face any unique difficulty when attempting to secure a mortgage, just due to the nature of this specialist style of lending they can expect to pay a slight premium in terms of rates and fees.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)
In addition to looking for ways to hold onto their tax reliefs, many landlords are also looking for new strategies by which to maximise the rental yields of their properties. One way they are choosing to do this is by turning their attention from standard BTL properties to houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). According to a recent piece of research released by Leeds Building Society, HMOs command an average rental yield of 6.9%; this was the highest average rental yield of any property type included in the study. As a result of such findings, many landlords are either electing to convert their existing properties into HMOs, or else showing a preference for HMOs over other property types when engaging in portfolio expansion. 

But in addition to the complications and considerations entailed by standard BTL mortgages, there are a number of additional considerations involved exclusively in HMO property finance. As was once the case with limited company property ownership, it was previously quite difficult for aspiring HMO landlords to acquire the finance they needed to purchase their desired HMO. Lenders could – and can still be – highly discriminative with regards to the type of HMO they were willing to lend on: specifically, they were concerned with the number of tenants, the types of tenant, and the value and location of the property. Moreover, many lenders were only willing to lend to applicants who already had a certain amount of experience as landlords. This meant that many applicants that showed every indication of becoming highly successful HMO landlords were summarily rejected on account of their lack of experience. 

The difference between then and now is that the number of HMO mortgages available on the market – and therefore the range of HMO mortgages available on the market – has exploded over recent years, as lenders sought to accommodate the evolving financial needs of landlords. While lenders today are often just as exacting as they ever were, the increased range of products available in this market space has meant that it is often possible, with enough industry knowledge, to locate the lenders on the market that will be willing to lend to a landlord, with their unique circumstances and requirements. By enlisting the help of a good broker many such landlords will find that they can secure precisely the mortgage that they require.

Renovations
Some specialist lenders have recently introduced short-term products specifically designed to provide landlords with the funds they need to refurbish their properties before they are rented out. Such refurbishments allow landlords not only to boost the capital value of their properties, but also to maximise the rental yields that their properties bring. Having made such refurbishments, landlords can then move onto standard buy-to-let mortgages and reap the rewards that these increased rental yields confer, and perhaps draw out some of their invested monies for their next project.

Summary
Since April 2017, the buy-to-let landscape has become increasingly inhospitable to landlords looking to turn a profit and build their property portfolios. But while traditional property-letting may be less viable than it once was, there are still myriad options open to landlords that are willing to diverge from the beaten-track of standard buy-to-let property ownership.

There’s no denying that the buy-to-let sector is a less accommodating place for investors than it once was, however, lenders are working to provide landlords with the financial tools they need to remain afloat. The truth of this statement was evinced by a recent report released by Moneyfacts which found that the number of buy-to-let mortgage products currently available on the market is at its highest level in twelve years. 

On balance, this increased diversity of product is surely a boon to landlords, providing them with solutions to problems that were previously deemed unsolvable. But with great variety comes the potential for great confusion, which is why it is imperative now more than ever that landlords seek out the advice of a qualified mortgage consultant, who will be able to bridge the information gap that exists between lenders and borrowers, and provide landlords with the assistance that they need in order to confidently navigate this increasingly complex terrain. 

If you are a landlord – or are thinking about becoming one – and would like to discuss these mortgage options we suggest speaking with a qualified mortgage adviser. You can arrange an obligation-free consultation with Private Finance by calling 020 7317 2820 or by emailing info@privatefinance.co.uk.

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Lisa Simon
MARLA
Partner - Head of Residential Division
0207 518 3234 email me about Lisa
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Lisa Simon heads up our Residential Division, which includes sales, new homes, lettings and property management across our National network. She joined Carter Jonas in 2011. Her twenty years plus experience has been largely in London and the Home Counties working with Landlords and Tenants. Lisa oversees the day to day running of our residential branches and acts as a key contact for some of our portfolio clients. She also runs our corporate services department liaising and promoting our properties to companies and their relocation agents. Lisa resides in West London with her husband and two daughters.

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