There a few things that I have learned recently which I want to share with you. I am sharing with the permission of the people who revealed this information, one of whom I will name and credit and the others prefer that I don’t. The first is for those who own older properties:
Beware of Spalling on Older Properties
“I saw a post earlier about a house with crumbling/disintegrating bricks. The term for that is usually “spalling.” I didn’t have time to type a reply earlier, but wanted to share some info in case it helps anyone else in the future… older bricks crumbling and disintegrating on the faces is almost always caused by repointing with mortar that was harder and less porous than the bricks. Older brick is much softer than newer bricks that have been fired at higher temperatures. As the bricks expand and contract through the seasons due to moisture and temperature variations, the harder mortar doesn’t allow the bricks enough room to expand and it causes the bricks to fail internally and crumble.
A pointer/mason that isn’t experienced with older brick can easily make this mistake (and in my experience, most commercial pointers aren’t all that familiar with older brick… although thankfully I think this knowledge is spreading!). It often only takes a few years before the damage is noticeable, and it’s often seen first on bricks lower on the wall (assuming the whole wall was repointed). It happened to my parents’ 1859 house back in the early ’90s. It’s also SUPER common on late 19th to early 20th century buildings in almost every downtown in the Midwest, because they were “repaired” in the mid 20th century by people who didn’t know any better.
If caught early enough, the way to fix the problem (or at least keep the damage from getting worse) is to remove the improper mortar (with a hammer and chisel, a grinder, etc.), replace the bricks that have been completely destroyed, and repoint with a softer, old-fashioned mortar. If the newer, improper mortar is left in place, the bricks will continue to deteriorate and eventually the only structural part of the wall becomes the mortar itself (ie: it’s not going to last long!). You can’t really just cover over the problem if you want the house to continue standing in the long term.
Guidelines for Mortar Mixes for Old Bricks
Soft mud bricks, in use before the 1860s, were made by hand-packing clay into wood molds, then firing them in wood- or coal-burning kilns. The bricks are soft, with inconsistencies and irregular edges that give them character. Recommended mortar: 1 part lime to 3 parts sand. Cover and wet for 72 hours before use; to speed the curing process, add about ¼ part lime.
Pressed brick was first made in the mid-19th century; clay was pressed into moulds by machine, then fired in hotter kilns. Recommended mortar: 1 part Portland cement, 2 parts lime, 8–9 parts sand
Wire-cut bricks appeared in the late-19th century. Clay is mechanically extruded, then cut into brick shapes by wires. Wire-cut brick may or may not have holes. Recommended mortar: 1 part Portland cement, 1 part lime, 6–7 parts sand.
I “borrowed” this picture from a google image search as an example.”
When I shared this on several Facebook property websites there were a lot of people thanking me for sharing and admitting, as I do, that they did not know this despite owning several properties of the correct era. On one of those groups Rick Mobbs added this:
“I work almost exclusively on old buildings with 25 years experience. I’m also a portfolio landlord. The advice above regarding lime mortar is excellent, however I would never use ordinary Portland cement in a mortar on an old building. If you want a detailed explanation of why go the Society for the protection of Ancient Buildings. Www.SPAB.Org.uk”
Consequences of Not Dealing With Spalling
Most of my own portfolio is now 1930’s onwards but in the past I owned several old terraced houses and I have seen those bricks. I was told many “stories” about how this happened but not the information given above nor the importance of the correct cure. These days many landlords are rejuvenating old properties and developing them into modern homes but if we don’t deal with this issue as advised above we will end up with damp and mould or more serious cracks and movement. Its odd how when someone tells you what you are looking at it suddenly becomes obvious and I’m now thinking “how didn’t I see that repointing sitting there while the bricks around it perished. Every day is a school day in property and I hope that you have found this helpful both for properties you already own and when you are looking at properties that you are considering buying to develop. Understanding defects like this can give you a commercial advantage.
I remember a property which I bought at auction in the 80’s. It was a Victorian terraced house. When you entered the front door you were standing in the front room and directly in front of you there was the opening to the back room. At some point in the past there had been a door into the back room but it had been removed. To the right of the back room was the staircase door and the stairs wound around until the landing was above the space where the downstairs door had been. At this point the ceiling and landing were sagging badly into the room below and the stairs were unstable. There was a gap along the downstairs front room wall and a corresponding sag in the front upstairs bedroom. The auction was only a few days away and because of issues with the Lease this would not be mortgageable nor was there time for an official survey. Perfect, it would be cheap because many people took one look at the sagging and gaps and were nervous. This is long before the days when landlords bought to renovate, most of us bought, fitted new bathroom and kitchen and redecorated, carpets, furnished and let. Sure enough it was cheap and I bought it for cash at the auction and had it ready for let in around 8 weeks. I had known from a past issue that it was the fact that the downstairs door had been removed without supporting the joists above, an easy enough problem to fix and the fact that I knew this saved/made me a lot of money. I no longer buy houses, although I really got a rush from those auction rooms, but if you want to buy cheaply you need to know what is a big risk and what is not.
The next information is very current and very important and if I didn’t know and the person who told me didn’t know, there is a good chance others who need to know may not.
Building Safety following Grenfell Tower Fire – Making Some Flats Unsalable
As most of us are aware the Grenfell Tower fire has had a huge impact on tall tower blocks, as of course it should. There is new legislation in place and more in the pipeline and I expect it will be some time before we know exactly where we stand when we own or plan to buy a flat in a block which comes within the regulations.
Building Safety Act 2022
“Overview of the Act
The Building Safety Act takes forward the Government’s commitment to fundamental reform of the building safety system. The Act gives effect to policies set out in the Building a Safer Future consultation response, published in April 2020. This detailed how the Government intends to deliver the principles and recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published in May 2018.
The Act also acts as the vehicle for wider improvements including changes to the Architects Act 1997, the Housing Act 1996, and provisions to establish a National Regulator for Construction Products and a New Homes Ombudsman. And it takes forward further changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the Fire Safety Order or FSO), building on the Fire Safety Act 2021.
The objectives of the Act are to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and to remedy the systemic issues identified by Dame Judith Hackitt by strengthening the whole regulatory system for building safety.
This will be achieved by ensuring there is greater accountability and responsibility for fire and structural safety issues throughout the lifecycle of buildings in scope of the new regulatory regime for building safety…………………
Part 4 is concerned with higher-risk residential buildings in England when they are occupied and defines the scope of the regime for higher-risk buildings in occupation. It defines and places duties on the Accountable Person (the duty holder in occupation) in relation to building safety risks in their building
Part 5 details other provisions, including provisions relating to service charges, remediation and redress, and changes to the Fire Safety Order….”
The full Hackitt Review is here;
Sections of Parts 4 and 5 are the ones which I wanted to highlight.
“65 Meaning of “higher-risk building” etc
(1)In this Part “higher-risk building” means a building in England that—
(a)is at least 18 metres in height or has at least 7 storeys, and
(b)contains at least 2 residential units.
72 Meaning of “accountable person”
(1)In this Part an “accountable person” for a higher-risk building is—
(a)a person who holds a legal estate in possession in any part of the common parts (subject to subsection (2)), or
(b)a person who does not hold a legal estate in any part of the building but who is under a relevant repairing obligation in relation to any part of the common parts.”
112Implied terms in leases and recovery of safety related costs
(1)The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is amended
(2)After section 30B insert—
“Higher-risk buildings in England
30CImplied terms relating to building safety
(1)This section applies to a lease of premises which consist of or include a dwelling in a higher-risk building.
(2)In the lease there is implied a covenant by the landlord—
(a)where the landlord is an accountable person for the higher-risk building, to comply with their building safety duties;
(b)to cooperate with any person in connection with a relevant person complying with their building safety duties;
(c)where a special measures order in relation to the higher-risk building is in force, to comply with that order so far as it relates to the landlord.
(3)In the lease there is implied a covenant by the tenant—
(a)to allow the landlord, a relevant person or a person authorised in writing by the landlord or a relevant person to enter the premises for a relevant building safety purpose;
(b)where the tenant is a resident of the higher-risk building, to comply with their duties under sections 95 and 97 of the Building Safety Act 2022;
(c)where a special measures order in relation to the higher-risk building is in force, to comply with that order so far as it relates to the tenant…………
(a)inspecting the premises in connection with a relevant person complying with their building safety duties;
(b)carrying out works to the premises, where such works are required to be carried out in connection with a relevant person complying with their building safety duties;
(c)accessing a part of the higher-risk building that is not let to the tenant in order to—
(i)inspect that part of the building in connection with a relevant person complying with their building safety duties;
(ii)carry out works to that part of the building, where such works are required to be carried out in connection with a relevant person complying with their building safety duties.”
The Most Important Points for Landlords/Property Investors
1. To be eligible for the leaseholder protections under the Building Safety Act 2022 the lease must have been granted before 14 February 2022. A new lease or a lease extension after that date is not protected.
2. Portfolio landlords who own more than 3 properties, including their prime residence, also do not qualify for this cover. An even bigger issue is that if the landlord sells the flat to a person who does not own 3 properties, for example an owner occupier, that person will also not be covered because the qualifying date of 14th February 2022 is cast in stone and remains based on the ownership at that date. This pretty much makes the flat unsaleable!!
You Didn’t Know That Your House Had Been Sold?
Finally I want to share a story from one of my landlord colleagues as a warning because this investor is no fool and if it can happen to him it can happen to any of us; there is a preventative measure we can and MUST take. I am sorry to say that this is the second landlord to tell me this story and the last one put up a website to warn others. I have checked and its no longer there.
- This man bought a house, in London, below market value for cash, costing almost £400,000
- He didn’t get a survey done
- On completion he went to the property and found that it was occupied by several women and children
- When he explained that he now owned the house, they packed their belongings and left
- The house was a mess and he spent hours cleaning it up before bringing his co-investor to see it
- He knocked the door of the neighbouring property to introduce himself
- The neighbour told him that he couldn’t possibly have bought the house because he knows the owner very well and he would have told him had he sold it; as far as he knew it was rented
- The neighbour was correct, and the legal owner turned up, changed the locks and boarded up the house
- As often happens this was a Friday completion, and the man couldn’t contact anyone until Monday
- Sadly this turned out to be a complete scam and someone was now enjoying £400,000 paid for the property
Clearly the solicitor who acted for the man operated in good faith on the word of the “sellers” solicitor as usually happens, but the man must now take legal action and claim against his solicitors insurance and his solicitor will no doubt claim against the “sellers” solicitor. It’s a dreadful situation to find yourself in as both the man who thought that he had bought and the legal owner whose property was the centre of the scam. If the man who had ‘bought’ had not knocked on the neighbours’ door it could have gone a lot further because he was planning a complete refurbishment.
Make Sure This Never Happens to One of Your Properties
If you have a lender, they would be informed of any activity that takes place on a property over which they have a legal charge, the properties where this happens are mortgage free for this reason.
We can protect ourselves by making sure that we are notified by the Land Registry of any activity on our unencumbered properties, or in fact, on any of our properties. Here is how:
Let me start by warning you that there are several web sites pretending to be the official Land Registry site and you should only use the one which is clearly a government website here:
- Click Enter a restriction: registration (RX1)
- Complete the form to enter a restriction RX1__2019-07-01_.doc (live.com)
- Pay the fee and return the competed form.
You will now be informed should there be an attempt by anyone to sell or borrow against your property (yes this happens too) particularly with tenants who are able to give access to a valuer etc.