This Student Needs Help

As you may know I’m not much of a fan of students, having witnessed first hand their inability to change a lightbulb or ensure their guarantor completes the correct forms BEFORE collecting the keys.  But today a very nice young lady called Aliya contacted me through the blog asking for help from HMO Landlords.  She’s finishing her dissertation on energy providers for HMOs which needs to be completed by Friday 14th August and she has had little response to the numerous emails she’s sent out.  Hey, could it be the subject matter that has failed to arouse the email recipients?!

She’s not selling anything, just trying to get some answers so please back her and lets get her the data she needs to put together something factual and convincing to pass.  The survey will take no more than a minute, if you’re quick, and can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MQL6RCR

Your responses will hopefully absolve me of all the disparaging comments I’ve ever made about students especially in this post I wrote last year and, on behalf of Aliya, I thank you.

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Free To A Good Home: One (Almost) House Trained Tenant

Arrgh!  I first began this blog as a form of therapy to offload some of the ridiculousness of human nature which us landlords come across on a daily basis.  Thankfully over the last couple of years I’ve either become a better judge of character or God threw me some decent, independent, rent paying tenants just to give me a break.

Throughout the blog posts, Tom has appeared on a regular basis as either the cause of some unacceptable behaviour or as an inspiration with his unique quotes.  On average, every 6 months he goes off the rails, gets blind drunk and throws his not inconsiderable weight around the house and is completely oblivious the next day of anything which occurred 12 hours earlier.  I have a rant at him, produce the evidence and issue yet another Section 21.

He’s been a tenant for 8 years and I’m now convinced he suffers from a learning difficulty and is unable to interpret people, emotions or social situations.  He’s nearly 50 and conditions such as dyspraxia, autism, ADHD, etc. weren’t acknowledged or diagnosed when he was young to the extent they are today.  I’m also convinced that is why he drinks – it’s never at home, always in a pub and he’s always the first to buy someone else a drink.  He has a “friend” who can mend a phone, operate a lawnmower, do a deal on a laptop  or window cleaning but these “friends” never visit, never have a name and are nowhere to be seen on Christmas Day.  When he has only loose change in his pocket, he always makes sure there’s food in the fridge and his sheets and clothes are pressed, the house is spotless and he loves to help out other housemates. This can go on for weeks on end and he has never, ever once been late with his rent top up.

Then, he obtains some cash from somewhere, goes to the pub, comes home with or without a police escort and without provocation becomes so angry the other housemates are scared as he bashes his way round the hall and upstairs to bed.  They’re lucky if he doesn’t p**s himself along the way.  They all say the same thing – what a wonderful, kind man sober, but an incontrollable nightmare when drunk.

According to Tom, he’s been in the Army, worked in the scaffolding and security businesses and run warehouses but I’ve glimpsed his CV and he’s been unable to hold down a job for more than a few months since school.  As someone once said “Run a warehouse?  He can hardly run a bath”.

At the beginning of the year I was at the end of my tether as to what to do with him after he set off the fire alarm thinking it was the light switch.  I contacted social services for advice as I deem him on the verge of vulnerable if evicted as he was previously homeless before he came to me.  I didn’t get a response.  I know the council are under far too much pressure finding housing for those people for whom they have a legal responsibility and as a single man with no dependants, he won’t be entitled to any sheltered housing.

I have no idea what will happen to him or how this particular situation will end but I do know that I’m sorely tempted to wrap Tom up in a blanket one night, place him in a moses basket with a bottle of whisky and a note with his name and NI number and leave him on the doorstep of the council’s housing department to be discovered the next morning.

Have you booked your place on Easy Law Training’s courses yet?  We’re running an Essential Legal Points for Landlords workshop on Thursday 24th September 2015 in Winchester, Hampshire and HMO Law and Practice workshop on Thursday 8th October 2015 in Maidstone, Kent.  Click the links to book.

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No Home Comforts for Those on Housing Benefits

I’m reluctant to publish guest posts, but this excellent article written for me by Alex Murray of Safesite Facilities neatly encapsulates my experience on the front line of accommodating housing benefit tenants. There’s an additional, heart warming story at the end to prove landlords aren’t all inflexible, greedy sods.

No Home Comforts for Those on Housing Benefits

When “non-smokers only” started appearing in property-to-let listings in the UK, it was widely acknowledged as positive action which directly reflected the attitudes of British society and its wish to be free from the stench and alleged ill-effects of smoking.

Fast forward to 2014.  Although “non-smokers only” still appears, another two words, which first crept in during 2008, have begun to take prevalence.  Again, two little words which are accommodation-ad specific, but once more seem to represent the attitudes of a society  seeking to free itself from something seen as negative, pervasive and pernicious:

“no benefits.”

Sadly though, this advertisement addendum is far from a positive reflection on 2014’s British landlords and society.

How did it come to this?

Since the coalition came to power, the days of government and public benevolence or relative even-handedness towards those claiming benefits have been numbered.  Along with the government, much of the British media have stood in line to condemn benefit seekers as “lazy” or “scroungers” whilst fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as Benefits Street seek to demonstrate to the remaining public who display a live-and-let-live attitude towards others that they might be misguided in not jumping on the judgement band-waggon; after all, an alternative programme title might have reflected the difficult cycles some vulnerable families find themselves trapped in, but no, Channel 4 chose Benefits Street.

After the frosty reception which greeted their plans for the Bedroom Tax and the on-going disability benefits and ATOS Work Capability Assessments (as in don’t give ATOS) debacle, the government then rolled out its Universal Credit scheme nationally in October 2013.  This scheme replaces, amongst others, the long-standing housing benefit and involves making single monthly payments directly to claimants.  From this, claimants are expected to make their own rent payments direct to their landlords.

Government Assurances – for the Landlords

Although the government is adamant that Universal Credit gives landlords greater protection from tenants who fail to pay – review of payments kicks in after just one month of arrears – this hasn’t been enough for landlords.

A recent survey, conducted by SpareRoom.co.uk, revealed that landlords have lacked confidence in the government’s systems for handling benefits, largely since the introduction of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) within the housing benefit system, in 2008.  This change, which also allowed payments to go direct to tenants, was identified by 88% of landlords as having a negative impact on their businesses, through late payments and damage to their property.

With their confidence, revenue and portfolios already shaken from LHA, 6 out of 10 landlords (57%) state that they now refuse to accept tenants on benefits.  Of those landlords still willing to take housing benefit claimants as tenants, over half plan to will stop when Universal Credits become fully functional (around 2016) and several large property investors, including Kent property tycoon Fergus Wilson, have already served eviction notices on current benefit-claiming tenants, as reported by the BBC.

Assurances for the benefit claimants?  Anybody?

With low levels of social housing stock, eviction notices in hand, the “no benefits” banner across the rental sector and the benefit shakeup generally causing unknowns for those finding themselves claiming benefits (including reliable, responsible, hard-working families and pensioners), what hope is there for those relying both on benefits to make ends meet and the rental sector for a roof over their heads?

In truth, not much.

Whilst the landlords can gain the same (if not more) money by letting their properties on the open market, housing benefit claimants have no alternatives, just further belt-tightening.  This is inevitable as any landlords still willing to rent to them increase rents to match their own increased “risk” and to pass on their additional buy-to-let mortgage and insurance costs, which have risen considerably for landlords renting to the benefits sector, as many buy-to-let lenders also coin in extra cash from others’ misery.

As Matt Hutchinson, the director of SpareRoom.co.uk reflects: “the rollout of universal credit is set to make the situation even worse.   With rents rising and the welfare budget suffering from further government cuts, the outlook for tenants reliant on housing benefit is getting bleaker.”  Not only that, but thanks to the divisive “no benefits” mentality pervading the rental sector, the outlook for our prospects as a cohesive, empathetic society looks pretty bleak too.

Thank you, Alex.

55p and a Cat Called Bill

A couple of weeks ago, John contacted me through a friend.  An eloquent, skilled barber who had numerous men’s grooming awards under his belt but, following a breakdown, had been forced into sofa surfing whilst trying to get to grips with his own recovery.  How easy is it to recover your self esteem when you’re sleeping on a lumpy sofa in someone’s living room, with no privacy or hot water?  His only stable, trusting relationship was with Bill, a nonchalant black and white cat who clearly has no idea he holds his master’s wellbeing in the pads of his paw.  All John had to offer was 55p in his pocket and a promise that Bill wouldn’t pee in Jim’s newly planted containers.  All I have to do is to help him fill in the forms, wait around 5 weeks for the claim to be processed and I will hopefully have 2 very happy, contented, mentally stable tenants for a long, long time (and I get to stroke one of them).

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Subletting – A Perfect Storm

Experienced landlords among you may have discovered a tenant subletting all or part of the property (with or without your permission), but as this blog seems to be attracting more first time landlords and investors I want to draw reader’s attention to this increasingly common practice.

In the nine years I’ve been investing it’s not something I’ve had to deal with in any great depth till now.  There was the chap who handed his room keys over to “a bloke in the pub” a couple of years ago but he only managed a couple of nights before I changed the front door lock due to a breach of security.  He never did contact me to retrieve his holdall and grubby Y fronts.

But when you hear that six Somalians, with false names, were discovered in a two bed flat in a small, sedate seaside town like Eastbourne, you know that it’s common practice everywhere else.  In the last 3 weeks I’ve received no less than 4 requests from tenants to move in their boyfriend and, in some cases, for their entire families to join them from abroad.  All requests have been refused based on the maximum comfortable number of people and facilities ratio.  This didn’t stop Bruno, however, who has moved his sister into his room and no amount of Google Translate can make him see that it contravenes his tenancy agreement. Her very sweet smile clearly indicated that she doesn’t give a s**t either.

Landlords and particularly HMO landlords: I urge you to make regular checks on your properties.  Some tenants will see a room in a shared house as their home and castle, others will view it merely as a cheap convenience to invite their mates over and have them all bunk down on the floor, particularly if they see this as normal practice.  Waldemar was forced into asking me if his friend, just arrived from Poland, could stay after Tom found him one day in the kitchen.  Tom likes to know who is coming in and out of the front door particularly if he’s had a skin-full and doesn’t want to assault a legitimate tenant.

And that’s the point – Tom’s drinking habits are a pain to all and sundry: the police, the tenants and me when the fire alarm call point gets mistaken for the light switch.  But we put up with him because, without him, the house would be mayhem.  Having one bossy, house proud, person per HMO means they are your eyes and ears, particularly if they’re home all day.  It doesn’t take long for a house to earn a reputation for taking in all and sundry. You start to understand why those fabled landladies of the Seventies wouldn’t allow overnight visitors.

I treat each comment made by these “house wardens” seriously, and work with them to resolve concerns.  This gives them the confidence to protect their home and not be afraid to stick up for themselves and the other paying tenants knowing they have my full backing.  It’s in their interests to know who they’re going to meet on the way to the bathroom and they value being able to sleep soundly knowing the house is secure and quiet.

What do you do if you discover an unknown person in the house?  You can’t serve notice if the tenant has abandoned the property and I don’t believe you can claim they’re squatting if the subletting tenant has keys.  Therefore, I suppose the simplest resolution is to assume the tenant has abandoned the property, follow procedure and change the locks leaving a clear message detailing the landlord or agent contact details for re-entry.  If the tenant is still in residence, it’s a Section 21 notice or a quiet word in their ear to get their guest out immediately.

If one of my tenant’s requests a guest to stay over, I impose a £25 per week charge, a maximum of two weeks’ time frame with a specific end date and expect them to introduce their guest to the other housemates.  I will also let everyone in the house know there is an extra person temporarily.

I’ve just written an article on the subject of subletting for the RICS (there’s no link as it’s a subscription only site for RICS members) and delivered a speech on the rise of Rogue Landlords for a local Toastmasters Club.  My research on the subject led me to watch Panorama’s The Great Housing Benefit Scandal; what with Ben Reeve-Lewis’ appearance on BBC2’s Rooms, Rogues and Renters earlier in the year and Housing Enforcers presented by Matt Allwright subletting is providing a food mountain for the media and a shed load of cash for the scumbag landlords.

Click on the links above, watch the programmes and it will either inspire you with ideas to adapt your business plan and capitalise on the misery of desperate people or you may hang your head in despair knowing we share the same job title of Landlord.

£600 crappy caravan yielding 1400% anyone? (Watch the Panorama programme and you’ll understand)

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Review of Britain’s Benefit Tenants

Last night Channel 4’s Britain’s Benefit Tenants had my partner and I screaming into the sofa cushions at the naivety of the characters:  one of whom was the optimistic landlord who invested his hard earned pension pot of £40k into a Hartlepool terraced house he’d never seen before. Looking forlornly at his due diligence homework courtesy of Google, he realised he’d cocked up.  Fighting his corner was the lettings agent from NGU Homelettings, David,  chasing rent arrears from a lady who refused to answer his efforts to contact her so he could “prevent her eviction”.  One of his other cases were two drugged up brothers who were finally being evicted after a year and were oblivious to their dog peeing against a cupboard fondly labelled as a family heirloom.

After the programme, I dismounted from my high horse and remembered the following:

  1. My ex husband and myself also bought property (pre 2008 ) – unseen and unresearched – based on NGU Homelettings advice and investment potential for which they levied a hefty armchair and refurb fees.  My excuse?  I thought my ex husband knew something I didn’t.  His excuse?  The same as the landlord who bought the property in Hartlepool in a street where no one wanted to live – on paper it was a strong investment.
  1. As I was screaming into the pillow “You’ve waiting HOW long to evict the tenant?!?” the unswerving, magnanimous David excused the delay by saying something along the lines of  “It’s better to keep someone in the property and have a chance of them receiving Housing Benefit to pass onto the landlord”. To be fair, he worked hard at trying to get that something or anything out of the tenant and I admired his patience.  After all, he doesn’t have the luxury of quiet, clean, risk free tenants waiting in the wings to snap up one crappy, trashed house after another in a street where even the trades fear to tread.

On the subject of crap, did you see HOW much the tenants left behind?  Again, David shrugged his shoulders and decided it could have been worse – at least they didn’t nick the copper.

Three Lucky Benefit Tenants

A few weeks ago an opportunity came up for Nadine, Anthony and a friend to move into a proper house after accepting that they would be 150 years old before any kind of social housing would be available.  I’ve said before in a previous post that perhaps living in a room long term as you grow old could have a negative effect on one’s mental health. But with no job (or likely to ever have one) and relying solely on welfare, they knew most agents would balk at allowing them to rent any of their landlord’s precious abodes, despite the fact that they’d managed to save for a deposit and the first month’s rent.  Their prayers were answered when a client of ours bought a lovely 3 bed house, handed it to us to manage and declared that Nadine et al sounded fabulous (although we did have to encourage Anthony into a clean T shirt before he met her).  The landlord is now in possession of long term, reliable tenants and the tenants are ecstatic to have room to swing the proverbial cat.

But the crap they left behind!  I love these people and would stand up in a court of law to defend their honour.  However, after the fifth trip to the tip with their unwanted possessions I was ready to kill them.  I have come to realise, when you’re on benefits anything free/gratis makes your heart leap with joy even if you don’t need it.  I know Nadine would trawl the charity shops far and wide looking for something to bring home – clothes, pictures, lava lamps and a very weird set of elephants.  None of them have a car so there was never going to be a hope in hell that they could get rid of their hoard.  I spent a very wet and windy day sitting in the car listening to Tom confess his latest sexual exploits as he helped me take the detritus to the tip.  And it wasn’t the smelly mattress which made me gag.

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A Feel Good Story and Very Exciting News!

Picking up the on the trend of prime time reality TV documentaries, I would love to have a clichéd Immigrant Romanian Benefit Street tenant to report on but sadly they’re all working their proverbial nuts off as we speak.

Instead, I want to tell you about Lara who came to me via the Council’s Homeless Team a few weeks ago.  Her two adult sons were in supported accommodation and Lara’s non existent finances meant she had been begging sofas to sleep on from friends for the last five months.  She was tired, miserable and had been forced out of her lodging room after the landlord used to leave her presents to clear up around (not in) the toilet.

Just like a TV charity advertisement, she’s now happy, warm with a TV for entertainment and living like a queen – even buying herself some leopard print bedding from Primark to prove it.  The real point is this; the Council appear to have revised their Bond Scheme – they provide a 4 weeks’ upfront deposit paid via bank transfer into the landlord’s account and this sum is collected at £20 a month from the tenant’s benefits.  Housing benefit payments should then kick in four week’s later meaning the tenant is constantly four week’s in advance providing they keep up the payments. The bond is then returned to the council who check the tenant has kept up with repayments and the money is returned to the tenant if the landlord hasn’t made any deductions at the end of the tenancy.

Well done, Eastbourne Borough Council – good system, advertise it more!

One In, One Nearly Out

Tom is at risk of homelessness after we spent this evening watching CCTV footage of the police Continue reading

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All That Glitters Is Not Gold!

As yet another marketing email drops into my Inbox extolling the virtual virtues of HMO ownership,  I’ve decided I can no longer stop myself from passing comment on the increased hype of HMOs.

The email came from an estate agent I sacked last year for being useless and, eight years ago, actually told me they wouldn’t touch HMOs with a barge pole.  Why then, did they send me and possibly a thousand other property investors on their target list, promises of glittering HMO yields?

The reason, I believe, must be this:  with the rise of online and high street letting agents all scrabbling to secure properties to let, margins are thinner as they compete to offer the cheapest headline service.  However, the fees to cover their operational costs (cars, staff, rates,) HAVE to come from somewhere so they divide and spread their costs.  Here are some examples of fees levied to the tenant and landlord before a let has begun: Continue reading

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