Boat buy-to-let and rent-to-buy services take rental to a new level

July 2017 - Boater Paul Morris, who describes himself as Captain of LifeAfloat and gives his address as Coventry Canal, West Midlands, has launched a website designed to facilitate and encourage the rental of liveaboard boats and even buying boats to let them out, as Peter Underwood reports.

His new website has been launched hard on the heels of a Canal & River Trust crackdown on boat rentals and the introduction of a new static boat rental licence, as well as the promise to remove licences from boats rented out without the new licence.

Paul Morris says on his website: “My vision is to help narrowboat owners and those looking to rent narrowboats for the long-term link up and make it happen.”

He goes on to explain: “I know the ins and outs of LifeAfloat because I’ve lived and breathed it over the past few years. A devotee of the canal life, I live aboard a narrowboat on the Coventry Canal in the West Midlands.

“Having had to jump through the hoops of being a person seeking a long-term narrowboat let, I know the ups and downs and the possible pitfalls of being a tenant and the issues facing narrowboat owners looking to rent their boats out in the long term.

Attempting to forge a new path between renters and landlords , I’m not a broker or an estate agent, just someone here to offer help, advice and support to those who need it.”

The new site says he will help renters find the type of boat you’re looking for, in the right location and at the right price and goes on to add: “With renting any form of property there’s a minefield of regulations and legislation that you’ll need to get through.

“We’ll help you navigate the red tape and make sure your boat is safe, legal and above board. We’ll also make sure your rights as a tenant are protected.”

Talking to boaters the website claims to be alternative to brokerage, “that offers lower fees and over the long-term a higher price for your narrowboat”.

It explains rent-to-buy as a means renting your boat to someone with the long-term aim of the renter taking ownership of the boat, adding “There are plenty of people who have decent jobs and regular incomes who have been priced out of the housing market and are looking to purchase narrowboats as an alternative to buying a house”.

The website explains that rent-to-buy means signing an agreement with the renters to purchase the boat over a period of time by monthly payments and adds: “There is usually a degree of interest paid on the overall price of the boat to recognise the payment period is over several years.

“This is usually secured with a deposit of 2 month’s rent as a bond for the owner’s security,” the site explains and says that it is only once the final payment is made the renter becomes the owner, and should the renter fail to keep up payments, the boat is returned to the original owner.

Paul's site does acknowledge disadvantages:
- Sellers don’t get a large tranche of money right away.
- Renting to Buy means you are tied up for several years and have to manage a tenancy
- Things can go wrong and repairs might need to be made

The site also suggests straight renting of boats, claiming: “Renting out your narrowboat can give you the chance to hang onto your beloved boat, cover your costs and possibly even turn a profit.

“We can find you tenants who want to rent your boat and cover all aspects of the letting process that gives you the returns without the headaches.”

In fact it sees renting boats as a good investment saying: “Have you got a financial nest egg or investment portfolio gaining next to no interest?

“For a fraction of the cost of a terrace you can enter the world of Boat Buy to Let. We can help you find a narrowboat that meets your budget and makes sure you will maximise your investment.

“There is an increasing demand for narrowboats on long-terms lets as the housing crisis puts traditional homes out of the financial reach of many. Increasing flexibility in working patterns also means that people are looking for different housing options.

“Unlike houses, narrowboats don’t appreciate in value, but they also suffer very little depreciation. Moreover they are moveable which means you can put your boat where the tenants are located.

“We can also help you find reliable and financially secure tenants and manage your tenancy, giving you piece of mind.

Paul describes his new venture as a tenant/landlord service that aims to link those looking to rent narrowboats with those wishing to rent them. He warns: “Tenants are responsible for carrying out their own due diligence in regard to ascertaining that the boat(s) they rent carry a valid Boat Safety Certificate and have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

“We also do not carry any responsibility for the legal agreements and their validity or not between landlords or tenants. Likewise we do not advise or have responsibility for agreements regarding deposits or information regarding the financial records/credit ratings of tenants.

He is charging would-be tenants £25 for the registration of details, and needs and posting on his website for 3 months

Narrowboat owners who want to rent are offered bronze, silver and gold packages ranging from £100 for three months to £250 for the Gold package and a complete package including administration of CRT Rental Licence, Credit Referencing of Boat Renter(s) for £375.

The Floater posed some questions to Paul Morris. We asked:

When a boater rents his boat to a potential buyer he should take on the responsibilities of a landlord - the same gas checks and safety certification as hire boats - how does your system deal with this?

C&RT now insists on rental boats having a special licence - once again identical with hire boats, does your system include applying for and getting such a licence, and how does that impact the sellers costs?

Insurers have special requirements for boats hired out for rent, how do you advise your clients on this?

Is there any assumption at any stage that the tenant in a rent to buy boat is a part owner? If so how does this impact on the original owners legal rights?

Do you see the rent to buy deal as a fully legal alternative to brokerage in the sense that it is the sort of rental that would be approved by C&RT and insurers - that is to say on a mooring with permission for residential use and properly insured?

The response came in the form of a Press Release apparently welcoming the “Canal and River Trust’s (CRT) decision to launch a new type of licence to meet the needs of narrowboat renters”.

It quoted Paul Morris, saying: “The decision by CRT to launch the new rental licence represents a welcome answer to the ongoing issues surrounding long-term narrowboat rentals.

“There is a growing demand for this service and this new licence represents a chance for people to rent narrowboats and likewise owners to rent out their boats, with both parties able to do so within a safe and secure framework.

“Nature abhors a vacuum and where legitimate legislation fails to provide an answer, the black market fills the gap. This new rental licence gives clarity to all parties and will hopefully put an end to the ‘boat lords’ renting out sub-standard, unsafe boats and expecting large amounts of money in return for no guarantees of security of tenure.”

Mr Morris also hit out at websites which claimed allowed the black market narrowboat rental service to flourish: “The internet is like the Wild West where anything goes. Various sites advertise these cowboy landlords with no duty of care given to the safety and well being of the renters or those third parties who might be caught up in issues like boat fires via poor maintenance.

“LifeAfloatUK and other companies are here to ensure that renters and boat owners can pursue legitimate business with due diligence and a duty of care to all parties.”

Not exactly answers to our questions.

Photo: The LifeAfloat home page.

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