HMO Tenancy Agreements

Yep, a pretty boring title but I want to put a little thoughtette out there.  When I bought my first HMO it was sold with tenants in situ although nobody had actually told them that I was wanting to keep them on.  On sale completion, I collected the keys from the agent, tentatively opened the front door to be confronted by a load of suitcases and four very anxious tenants sitting in the dining room.  It turned out that the vendor’s solicitor had sent them a letter letting them know the property had been sold but no other information.  I’d already tried to contact the vendor prior to completion to understand who was living there and on what basis, but she hid behind the fact she spoke only Chinese and refused to answer my calls.  As my solicitor pointed out “Well, she understood enough English to buy the property in the first place so don’t believe she hasn’t enough vocabulary to sell it”.  Well, it was the heady, greedy days of 2007 and I was as gullible as an excitable dog chasing a ball over a cliff.

Licences

The tenants had been issued a one page licence which looked on the surface OK and covered most aspects so I continued to run with these for a while until I got a call from the local council.  I’d homed another Sally Army customer and, after discovering his girlfriend locked in the room having had a miscarriage then, a week later,  his naked body and room stripped bare after taking an overdose of drugs, I asked him to leave.  Someone from the council, presumably the lovely Ben Reeve Lewis’ evil twin brother said they would take me to court for wrongful eviction (technically sort of correct, but I didn’t actually chuck his stuff out on the street) until I employed a local, even more, naive solicitor and they let me go on the basis that I did actually save the ungrateful man’s life.  The paramedics said he would have been dead within the next couple of hours if I hadn’t found him AND I even went to hospital clutching grapes – he told me he’d had a bad case of food poisoning!  I’ve only ever seen one dead person and this tenant looked pretty similar apart from the fact rigamortis hadn’t set in.

Assured Shorthold Tenancies

Having been educated that my licences weren’t worth the paper they were written on, I joined a Landlords Association which, at the time, was the best move.  (Having said that, I’ve been given different advice by the same helpline on more than one occasion but nobody died so I’m overlooking that) and issued all tenants with a standard AST.  Phew, legal now.  What struck me right from the beginning of issuing these ASTs is that they are, in the most part, unsuitable for HMOs.  The main reason being, if a tenant is anti-social or carrying out criminal/illegal activity it affects the very people he or she shares the house with.  I appreciate that, with police and witness statements, grounds for possession can be made within a couple of weeks and granted if the court agrees with the severity – however this is a lengthy and costly process for someone in an 80 quid a week room.

Anti-Social Behaviour

How, as a landlord, are you expected to protect four decent law abiding tenants who just want to go to the bathroom or make a cuppa whilst one naughty tenant is running amok?  I had a situation where four frightened girls had to barricade themselves in their rooms whilst a nasty drug dealer, who lied that he worked at B&Q, ran an all night drug trading session and allowed his junkie mates to use the bathroom and kitchen.  How on earth could I have protected those girls, who were absolutely terrified, against the threats and abuse they got whenever they left their rooms?  I got to a point where I was going to move in and play Burt Bacharach at 6am every morning.  I tackled the council about this and, predictably, they couldn’t give me an answer.

Challenge

Landlord Law wrote a blog about house share tenancies which will give you some good guidance.  However, I put it to anyone to provide me with a cast iron HMO tenancy agreement that protects the existing incumbents against having to put up with ongoing anti-social behaviour during the two month Section 21 process.  Yes, the police can be called in severe cases but they’ll only take the errant tenant into custody for one night releasing them back to the house to unleash untold vengeance on the informant.

9 Comments

Filed under Management of an HMO

9 responses to “HMO Tenancy Agreements

  1. You can’t! A legal agreement, which is only a piece of paper after all, can only do so much. It doesn’t matter what people sign up to, if they don’t respect other people’s rights you are going to get problems.

    A legal agreement will only work if the people who sign it respect what it says and honour what they have agreed to. Yes, you can go to court to get an injunction etc, but that is going to cost you time and money.

    The ONLY solution is to be very, very careful who you let in, in the first place.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tessa. I know you’re right and that an AST is an AST whatever the building but I worry for those tenants who can’t get a tenancy because they don’t “check out”. I had one lad this week call me in tears because he was worried I wouldn’t give him a room based on his bad credit record. I told him that I gave up doing credit checks years ago and 90% of my tenants have a terrible credit rating. Doesn’t mean they are a bad person/tenant though. The case for a special agreement comes from many situations but I’m in one at the moment; I took on a great bloke, all checked out OK but now he’s gone back to drugs and has refused contact with me. I don’t know if he’s dead or alive and neither do his family. All I know is that his friends caused a problem whilst he was comatose although I told the other tenants to contact the police – that’s their job not mine. I’m just lucky that he has gone AWOL as, if he was running amok, my poor tenants would have to wait until 13th December before I could start the S21 process and then another few weeks before I held the magic court paper in my hand. No one wants to meet someone so unreliable on their way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

  2. Pingback: Landlord Law Blog weekly roundup from 9 October

  3. What about if you use holiday let agreement? I mean you could rent you your rooms based that they are holiday lets and if the tenant stays more than 2 months than they would need AST. 2 months would be enough to find out what kind of tenants they are. Do you think this could work?
    Thanks Peter
    wrocbloom@yahoo.co.uk.

    • Hi Peter. Sorry for taking so long to reply. I’ve toyed with the idea of holiday let agreements after I spoke to someone who had long term B&B tenants. It could be worth checking out…. I’ll have a look around the internet.

  4. Phil

    You can use a short term serviced accommodation agreement (basically send a cleaner in for 30 minutes per fortnight to clean the communal areas) which gives much more flexibility in “times of trouble” including the option to evict on 24 hours notice. And make sure you know a good locksmith. As you say, AST’s are useless for HMO’s.

    • Hi Phil. I’ve looked into licences (which are similar to the agreements you describe) but have been assured by several legal housing professionals that these won’t stand up in court unless I either lived at the property or the tenant is in approved Supported Accommodation. I know several landlords who do use licences or B&B type agreements and would like to know if any of these have stood up in court.

  5. Jo

    Do you think with HMO properties being evermore popular it would be beneficial to create a new type of tenancy agreement just for these? I’ve had so many tenants give me 2 weeks notice to leave, like it’s a B&B yet if I need someone to leave it takes 2 months…

    • Hi Jo. Yes it would be great to have an HMO specific tenancy agreement but the law currently stands that, if you let out the property by room, each tenant has an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. I just tend to accept that I’d rather they leave if they’re unhappy and there isn’t much point in having someone upsetting the house who doesn’t want to be there. HMO tenants can be transient by nature so I tend to keep my rents low in order to encourage longevity.

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