Thank You HMCTS!!

Now, I’m not all that great with technology – my website needs updating, my social media presence is non existent and Facebook flabbergasts me.  However, I have just discovered a fantastic link to complete eviction forms which I believe must have been developed just for me.

Ten years’ ago I unknowingly evicted a tenant illegally which brought forth the wrath of the council, their solicitors, Citizens Advice and some bloke working for a homeless charity who threatened in no uncertain terms to “sort me out”.  It wasn’t a great experience especially as the tenant was found half dead and naked, I’d had to give him the kiss of life which turned out to be more of a peck of derision, AND visited him in hospital with grapes.

From then on, Continue reading

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No One Likes A Bed Bug

But they liked John – a lot.  John has been a faithful, landlord-fearing, regular paying tenant for 10 years.  He keeps himself to himself and, whilst I’ve been aware of his limitations we keep pretty much out of each other’s way.  He fills his time collecting supermarket trolleys, putting out the bins and filling the garden with scary looking 3ft high gnomes.  His other activities raise a few eyebrows but nothing which breaks the law.

We’ve been trying to control an outbreak of bed bugs for a few months in a room next to his, but every treatment seemed to stop working after a couple of months.  After a bit of surreptitious detective work, we found the bugs’ headquarters in John’s room – in his mattress, his chair, his sofa and even his childhood teddy bear.  They had stopped being discreet by only coming out at night and had gone into full on party mode as soon as they sensed a human food source nearby.

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I’m not going to go into the science behind bedbugs or how to treat them as I’ve recently covered this in an article for HMO Magazine. Click on the link and the next issue is out soon.

John was devastated and genuinely had no idea he was their host.  Continue reading

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You Have To Be Tough To Be A Landlord

Ok, so being a landlord is hardly a profession which requires a degree or other formal qualifications.  We’re not going to save lives with our medical expertise or improve the world with great engineering feats.  However, every day, in our small world, we deal with good tenants, clever tenants, unbelievably daft tenants and downright manipulative, difficult tenants.

Being a landlord and letting agent is a 24/7 profession – you can turn the phone off or not look at your email, but your customers are human and your product can fail or leak outside of the 9-5, Monday to Friday.   This blog was set up as a form of personal therapy to let off steam and encourage would be HMO landlords to think twice.  Faithful to its origin, here’s a rant of the week so far: Continue reading

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So You Want To Run An HMO?

This post has been borne out of the numerous emails I receive from people wanting to leave the day job and invest in property – focussing on HMOs due to their higher yield.  I answer every email honestly and, I hope, encouragingly but my enquirers disappear back into the virtual world and I never hear whether or not they’ve pursued their dreams.

If you’re considering writing to me for advice on ditching the 9-5 and earning enough money through HMOs to keep your family, go travelling and leave a decent nest egg for the kids, below is a typical response:

“Dear Very Nice Person Who Has Taken Time to Email Me

Thank you for your kind comments about the blog and I’m glad you enjoy reading it.  Before I sell you the golden key to untold wealth and flexible lifestyle through owning HMOs, let me ask you a few questions which you must answer yourself honestly:

  1. How much money do you currently have? If you don’t have any, I suggest you open a savings account, tighten your financial belt and save up.  Despite what anyone will tell you (having relieved you of several thousand £s for the advice), property investment requires money – cold, hard cash.  If you borrow every last penny from the bank, you are effectively working for them to pay their interest rates, there is little margin for unforeseen disasters such as a new boiler or roof and, if your sums are correct, there will be enough profit for yourself, but is it enough to live on?  If you decide to joint venture with another investor, bear in mind that profits must be split amongst the parties involved regardless of the level of work undertaken by one or more individuals.

If you do have some money – perhaps a divorce settlement, inheritance, result of many years of hard work and saving – ensure you are content to tie your money up this way. Your money WILL be tied up for years unless you’re prepared to remortgage (and expose yourself to fees) and you may have to wait a while for your investment to get up and running before you head for the hills on your long awaited extended holiday.

  1. Do you intend to manage the HMO yourself? If so, are the people you live with supportive?  Many people who have contacted me have a young family; so if you’re working 40 hours a week, you may have a wife and children who want to spend time with you at the weekends and evenings.  Will they be OK if you’re on call or have to nip off to change a lightbulb/stop a flood/ deal with a tricky tenant?  Your spare hours will be spent with additional paperwork, admin and bill paying.  However, if you want an excuse to spend time AWAY from family commitments, then investing in HMOs is definitely for you.
  1. Would you prefer to use a letting agent? Perhaps your job or lifestyle means that you’re not able to self manage and you’re happy to pass the responsibility over to an agent.  Thank goodness you’re realistic and know your limitations, BUT be prepared to pay for the service.  Agents rely on the bread and butter of tenant and landlord fees and the beauty of an HMO is the tenants are transient thereby creating ample opportunity to charge both tenant and landlord lots of lovely application, referencing, inventory, administration, check-in/out fees – and several times over depending on the number of rooms in the property.
  1. Are you handy? If you’re doing the management you’ll need to lift unwanted and broken furniture, find beds, redecorate, learn how to mend a vacuum cleaner (99% of the time it just needs emptying) and know why the washing machine has stopped working (no-one ever looks at the filter).  It also pays to know how to change a lock, put up a mirror, hold on to a trusty cleaner and, from February, know your immigration law.  In the last month, we’ve had no less than 10 room changes for which we’ve been left 6 unwanted wardrobes, 3 contraband fridges, 2 broken beds and soiled mattresses, a huge hamper full of odd shoes and a sofa bed which had to be sawn up and destroyed IN the room in order to get it out.  These items don’t always fit in the back of a Ford Galaxy and, unless you work out at the gym and are under 40, you may struggle to lift them on your own.
  1. Do you have a strategy or a plan which can translate from paper into the real world through your hard work and sweat and, more importantly, do you have enough hair to withstand the pulling out you’ll want to do once a month?

If you’d still like to go ahead, talk to me – I’m here to help and very happy to guide you through your journey into HMOs.  I can’t live the experience for you but I can provide hints to make your life easier.  I will leave you with this piece of advice: just do it.  Try HMOs, they’re fun, will take you outside of your comfort zone and, if you treat it like a business, they will eventually become a good source of income providing you act within the boundaries of the law and your own morals.

Kind regards

Serena

Aka HMO Landlady

If you’re still reading and would like to find more about the practical and business side of running HMOs, I’m putting together a half day workshop focussing on purchasing and getting your HMO up and running as well as the day to day administration.  And, if you’d like to make a day of it, we can spend the afternoon looking at different HMO set ups (all properties are within walking distance of each other).  Come and meet my husband and I, we’re friendly, encouraging, open and have run HMOs for 9 years.  Complete this form here with your preferred date and we’ll contact you.  The venue will be in Eastbourne, East Sussex (as I can’t transport a building) and the price will be £75 (no VAT) per person including all catering, plus £25 if you’d like to stay for the afternoon HMO property show round.

Any other queries?  Contact me at hmolandlady@hotmail.co.uk

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Implementing the Immigration Bill

The phone rings late one night last week.  It’s Erica, sobbing hysterically down the phone in broken English that her new husband, Harry, had been taken into custody and she didn’t know what to do.

Harry and Erica married last month; she’s Polish in her late thirties and he’s Indian in his mid twenties.  She swears to me it’s mad, impulsive, passionate love and he just smiles and nods in agreement.  They’re hard working, quiet, pleasant and an asset to the house and, quite frankly, anyone who can put up with binge drinking Tom and not moan to me about it, becomes a star tenant.

The story goes that Harry and two friends had been walking down the street that night. On spotting a police car, they pulled their hoodies over their heads and dashed into Ladbrokes.  The police watched as the men wandered around the shop looking lost and so they drove their police car down the road.  Sensing the all clear, the men left Ladbrokes, carried on walking, spotted the car again and slipped into a newsagent.  At this point, the police felt they just had to stop them for a friendly chat and find out why their acting skills as insomniac gamblers nipping out for a newspaper had failed them so badly.

All three were wanted on immigration charges and one had eluded the authorities for over 13 years.  Harry was released early as his papers were with his solicitor following the marriage and, as the story could be corroborated by his panic stricken wife, they saw no sense in providing a B&B service at the Custody Centre……the other two were kept overnight.

The following day, the very same copper who had arrested them happened to be booked to clean the carpets in all the houses (his second job and he’s very good at it).  Poor Harry came out of his room, found his arresting policeman on the stairs and ran back into his room, terrified.  I was at the house at the time and calmed him down long enough to make him understand that policemen work hard too – and can have other jobs.

£3,000 Fine

“If this had happened after February 2016, would you be demanding a £3,000 fine from me for giving a tenancy to an illegal immigrant?” I asked Simon, the policeman/carpet cleaner.  “Eh?  Why?”  he replied.

“Because from February 2016 landlords will have to check the immigration status of tenants to see if they have a right to rent.”  I said

“Don’t know about that. All I know is we have to document and photograph them and tell them to make their own way to the Immigration Centre in Croydon, before showing them the door. The Centre can process them IF they turn up.”

So, here’s my question:  if the police aren’t going to fine me under this new Immigration Bill/ Right To Rent, do they report us landlords to the Home Office and we await a fine (presuming the landlord is authority-fearing like me and has given legitimate contact details) or do they pop a Post It note in the illegal’s top pocket with the landlord’s name to be found when they reach the Immigration Centre?

Lining Them Up

In the meantime, I’ve found out what dominatrix Linda gets up to in her spare time when she’s not torturing consenting men.  She’s been corresponding with prisoners in the US and whilst she’s been out of town, her post has been piling up.  When she gets home she can look forward to letters from gentlemen residing at places such as:

Oregon Department of Corrections

Fort Federation Correction Institute

Airway Heights Correction Centre

Gatesville, Texas Correct Centre

Let’s hope they don’t all turn up on the doorstep after February 2016 otherwise I’m going to be facing a crippling penalty fine!

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Insuring Your HMO (And Other Precious Items!)

The end of the year heralds house insurance renewal. Every year I promise to apply myself, compare quotes and wallow for the next year in the knowledge that I’ve secured the most competitive deal.

The reality is, when the broker calls I groan with resignation and tell him just to get on with it. As he flicked through his computer information on my claim history, he came out with “Oooo, aren’t you a good client? You haven’t made any claims in the last 4 years so it’ll be easy to get you a good quote”.

“Excellent!” said I “And if I HAD claimed in the last 4 years I presume my quote would have risen to affect the amount paid out?”

Silence.

“Well, yes, that can be a problem” he replied.

Me: “And that’s why I don’t claim. Find me a quote, don’t bore me with the details and just let me know the telephone number for when a house burns down”.

However, how many houses do actually burn down? With HMOs, we are rightly governed by so many fire risk assessments and regulations that, according to my recent chat with a man in uniform, “you can stand in the hallway for 30 minutes without a fire affecting you”. Great, so I’ve informed all tenants that, should a candle set light to the curtains or a cigarette get lost under the duvet cover, come out of the room calmly, stand in the hallway and enjoy the safety the firedoors, smokestrips and fire retardant plasterboard I give you.

Later, whilst chatting to a friend, she asked that, if I’ve never made a claim, why bother with insurance? I explained that with HMOs there is ALWAYS the possibility of a fire.  Especially when the tenants take it upon themselves to put sellotape over the fire alarms or, to my eternal amazement, ignore the backup low battery signal which emits every 30 seconds.

So, it doesn’t matter how well maintained the house is, how many fire precautions are in place or how many baths you replace with showers to prevent flooding, are you willing to risk your cash on the odds of an unforeseen event happening which costs more than the insurance premiums?

So this year I’m leaving a well known insurance broker due to lack of customer service and unacceptably high levels of marketing emails and switching to The Home Insurer.  They understand the nature of HMOs and, from my research, seem to pretty much insure anything else.  I’m also giving their number to my tenants for quotes as it turns out quite a few of them do actually insure their room contents!  (They’re also human beings, very experienced insurers and don’t give in if the computer says “No”).  Click the link or give them a call on 0800 612 5764 and let me know how you get on.

On another note of insurance, the police turned up to take a statement following the case of Simon, his friend, a night out and a broken window. After checking that I hadn’t given permission for the friend to chuck a flowerpot through the window in October, he gave me the crime number for “insurance purposes”. I laughed and said – “Unlikely, Officer!” We’ve settled for a community order whereby, should the police find the young man involved he’s under instruction to pay me the cost of the repair. When I told Simon he replied, “Sod that, I’ve already told his girlfriend I’m going to kick his head in when I next see him”.

There’s nothing like a bit of civil justice, eh?

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Benefit Tenants – The Reality of When It Goes Wrong

You may remember a few months ago I told you the story of Joe who turned up on the doorstep, courtesy of a friend, with pennies in his pocket and a cat called Bill.

His accommodation story has now ended; after being awarded the local housing allowance of £67 a week and various promises of being able to afford the £33 a week top up, Joe received his benefit and managed to spend the lot. Various texts, telephone conversations and letters ensued to which he replied with protestations that he’d been to the bank and paid up. He progressed to a raft of excuses relating to poorly relatives and his own mental health issues, ending up at the “nobody likes me any more, I have nothing to live for” attitude. Eventually, he admitted he’d spent the lot.

But what on? He didn’t look like he was into drugs, drink or gambling but consistently never had any money. Eventually, even the cat got fed up of him and left the house last week and hasn’t been seen since. His housing worker and friend finally persuaded him to give up the room, leave the telly I’d bought and the keys and take up a work offer abroad before I submitted court papers under a Section 8 notice.

On clearing out the room I found out what he’d been spending his money on – SHOES! Pairs and pairs of shoes but none worth having despite us having the same foot size.

Eviction Looming

The current case we’re working on is that of 3 friends all claiming LHA who moved into a 3 bed house. Within a month they’d fallen out with each other (having been friends for over 20 years) and one of them left after the fixed period; they couldn’t find a replacement because they weren’t talking to each other and can’t leave because no other landlord wants the remaining two. They now have their Possession Order dated for next week and their benefit payments have been stopped.

I recently watched an interesting interview with Vanessa from Property Tribes and Kent landlord, Fergus Wilson. He said in one of the videos (you may need to watch both) that he doesn’t believe it’s up to the PRS to house the poor and needy (or in my case, mentally needy). At first I was shocked but after listening to his reasoning and based on my own experience, I’m actually starting to agree that the majority of the PRS landlords are simply not geared up to handle the social issues which accompany those tenants who don’t have a support network and are not mentally or mobility impaired enough to qualify for Supported Housing.

Those landlords like me who are happy to take a chance on someone claiming Housing Benefit are left out in the cold. When Joe’s rent was eight weeks’ in arrears I followed procedure and applied to the council for his benefit to be paid directly to me. At the same time, I emailed the council to find out whether they would act to home the 2 sitting tenants upon receipt of the Possession Order, the expiry date on the Order or when the bailiffs turn up to evict them. To date I have received absolutely no response. (But I’d rather say “Sweet F.A.”.

So, what will bring the plight of those not bright or able enough to hold down a tenancy in the PRS to the attention of the Government? The councils are fully aware of the scarcity of housing and prioritise need based on a banding system but even those people at the top of the waiting list spend their days with their fingers cross to find a secure base to call home. We’re based in Eastbourne and are lucky to have numerous promenade shelters and benches overlooking the sea . Perhaps when these are full and the octogenarian tourists from Up North, on their morning constitution, trip over the unfortunates and their empty cans of Special Brew, someone may raise a cautious hand in protest.

Keeping The Faith

Will I take a chance on a housing benefit tenant again? Of course I will. I like diversity in the HMOs and someone needs to be at home to put out the bins, let the plumber in and give a damn about the house. In fact, I’ve just offered a tenancy to a lovely 28 year old girl with a muscular disease who is currently sofa surfing which exacerbates her condition. She used to work in an office, shared a flat with a friend and was then struck down with this ongoing illness. Suddenly no one wanted to offer her a tenancy after her friend sold the flat. She’s ill enough to qualify for a PIP (Personal Independent Payment) and ESA (Employment Support Allowance) but not ill enough for Supported Housing. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place – that goes for both of us.

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