HMO Landlady vs The Homeless Shelter

This week threw up an interesting case: I met a young girl called Kirstie at our local homeless charity. She had been accepted on a 12 week “back to work” programme helping out in the shop and organising the meals for the Drop In Centre. The support workers had asked me to meet her with a view to letting her a room but decided to be slightly economical with the truth – “lovely girl”, “good worker”, “just needs a chance” whilst looking shiftily over my shoulder.

Regular readers will know that in the past I’ve taken just about anyone on providing they can string a sentence together and aren’t displaying any obvious signs of substance abuse. However, after my narrow scrape last time, I’ve decided to be a bit more cautious as I’m letting the room on behalf of another landlord. On meeting her she came across as a scrap of girl, vulnerable, bewildered and happy to let everyone else talk for her. When I asked about references they all nodded and said “No problem. Her Social Worker, Foster Carers and Probation Officers can all give her a reference”. I bet they bl**dy well could – anything to get her off their case list as she’d just turned 19 and I guess was about to be unceremoniously evicted from the care system that has been supporting her.

During the interview it was difficult to get a measure of HER. I wanted to see her personality, see if she really did want to turn her back on her apparently violent past and was genuinely fed up of the chaotic lives of the friends she’d surrounded herself with, but I just couldn’t find a way in especially as it felt like I had the entire homeless population of the South Coast breathing down my neck, quick to block my intrusive questioning.

For the next 24 hours I pondered, wrestled with my conscience to rescue and give this little girl a clean bed in a safe environment versus using my experienced loaf and knowing deep in my gut that, by the end of the weekend, she’d have invited her mates around to see how well she’d done, they’d all decide it was warmer than their gaffs and I’d have a riot on my hands. Presumptuous on my part, yes, but I’ve been here before – several times.

Time for facts: I banded her name around my existing tenants who all knew her as a feisty little thing when drunk and the family was infamous locally; Mum was an addict, step dad and dad both died from drug addiction followed shortly after by her brother, another brother was in prison and the other teenage brother in B&B accommodation until the state had no legal duty to look after him. OK, so they knew her worst side – there HAD to be a good one. I contacted the local PC who Kirstie said she had a good relationship with (never a good sign if you’re that young and know your local Bobby well). “Put it this way” he said “Last time we had to arrest her it took four officers just to get her into the van. Funnily enough I’m just going through her ASBO and typing up a possession report – I’m really not sure you’re brave enough for this one”.

The following day I went back to the shelter and met with her and the support worker who possesses the Christian belief that everyone has a good side and they just need a chance (which I agree with, by the way). With coffee in hand they finally revealed to me what I’d already found out and I explained that I couldn’t risk putting her in a shared house with four other working tenants. Immediately, their defensive hackles rose and they prepared for attack. “Look” I said “I’ve housed some people you may just know:

Adam – kids taken taken into care and subsequently adopted after he failed to maintain contact, ran off to marry a Thai girl who loved him very much over the internet. Last heard of in the Bangkok Hilton suffering gangrene having trafficked drugs

Pascal – reportedly ex-French Foreign Legion, alcoholic with a knife wielding girlfriend in constant tow. Asked me to marry him during the eviction process.

Jeremy – took a drugs overdose, was stripped and robbed of his belongings and I found him 2 hours away from death. The b***ard never did thank me

Jenny – two kids taken away from her, several suicide attempts, part time prostitute and caused the police to kick every door in the house off its hinges.

Alex – serial shoplifter and drug user and last seen under the “Have You Seen This Person?” column in our local paper

Finally Tom – binge alcoholic and Andrew – trying to make it after a life in foster care. Both still with me, but not without their issues.”

“Oh, you housed THEM?! I guess you do know what you’re talking about then” and they graciously, but reluctantly backed down.

“Yes, just because you give these people good references based on their ability to turn up to the shelter remember you haven’t seen them at 1am on a Saturday night.” We calmed down and I explained that the trouble with finding their customers accommodation is not the lack of deposit or first month’s rent (that can be achieved through various council/charity run schemes) but the lack of CREDIBILITY. They turn up, have a well practised story to hand, cause chaos with other tenants and move on, unable to deal with the responsibility of holding down a job, paying rent on time and being considerate to fellow housemates. Because, for some, it’s boring, conventional and tedious and it’s much more fun having a piss up on the beach and appearing at whichever charity is dishing out the hot meal that day.

Now, I was still open to persuasion so explained to Kirstie that I, and any landlord she comes across, will want references and credibility. “As landlords we have a responsibility to the other tenants in the house. We need to know that you’re reliable and trustworthy which can be demonstrated through your turning up to work (paid or voluntary) every day. We also want to know that you’re a good tenant who is able to respect other people and the need to be quiet at certain times of the day as well as paying your rent regularly. The problem is, you don’t have any of these which is why landlords who are advertising rooms are turning you away. I can show you how to build up those references and how to go about securing a room – are you interested?”

While she was thinking about it, I showed her the local YMCA information. It’s sheltered accommodation with a 24 hour watch, £8 a week top up from benefits and you can only get a bed by being referred through your Social Worker. If she could do some time there, get a reference from the Manager then she’s half way to proving she would be a good tenant; the other half would be to turn up and complete her 12 week back to work programme and get a reference from them too. I’ve offered the possibility of a room which may be coming up later in the year if she can gather her references together. Will she pick up the gauntlet and prove everyone wrong or will it just be too much like hard work? She didn’t looked convinced.

Afterwards I spent a bit of time with the support workers and their customers talking about the legal implications of giving someone unreliable a tenancy. We’re not all heartless carpet baggers, just fed up of having to deal with anti-social behaviour at 2 o’clock on a weekend morning. This interaction has awoken my ideal of Supported Living which you can read about here. Idealistic? Probably, but my waking hours are spent working out a viable, self sufficient plan to create something which is a combination of a Tracy Beaker style home (drama about a children’s home aka The Dumping Ground) and The Good Life – supporting vulnerable/displaced adults to become independent within a safe community. Anyone got a spare £250K and feeling philanthropic?

Next Post: Besieged by tenants’ disgruntled girlfriends – why don’t they learn from “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”?!

5 Comments

Filed under being a landlord, Future of HMOs, Tenant Stories

5 responses to “HMO Landlady vs The Homeless Shelter

  1. What first got me into HMO’s was helping a friend to run a house where he was wanting to do his bit for those down on their luck. The house was maintained by him and the rent paid by the benefit people. The first few we put in were happy to have a home and one guy even played ‘mum’ to the rest. It gave him something to get up for if he had meals to cook for the others.

    However the homeless shelter who recommended our tenants recommended a young lad. He didn’t do much talking for himself and seemed very shy of contact. We took him on and soon found him to be very disruptive. His benefits soon dried up because he couldn’t be bothered to sign on for them. He then took to extorting funds from the other tenants under threats of violence. He had a new tenant evicted from the house (while I was away on holiday) the police barred him from returning to the house even though it was his home. I believe that this tenant had stood up for himself and was a threat to the little racket the other tenant had going.

    We had visits from the noise abatement team, police etc. It took a lot to get rid of this tenant because of the confines of the legal system. His control over the house meant we couldn’t put others into the rooms that were vacant. The house therefore didn’t pay for itsself and the owner abandoned his idea of helping those from the homeless centre.

    I learnt a great deal from this mainly to trust my gut feeling and to ask a lot of questions. I can see why they are only housed in hostels because they aren’t governed by the same legislation as a shared house.

    There is a need for assisted living but it goes deeper than just providing a home. Its about teaching people respect for themselves and others

    • Thanks for your story which I can understand completely. I’ve stopped trying to “save” people now but am happy to help them to help themselves. Many tenants expect landlords to be money grabbing, heartless and neglectful and it does take a while for them to realise some of us are just trying to help. Hostels are set up with security and 24 hour management and I think the YMCA go on to provide practical support too. .Therefore, why aren’t homeless people taking advantage of these facilities? Is it lack of space or the fact that they may have to conform?

      Thank you so much for your ongoing comments and for posting this story – it’s heartening to know other people have similar experiences.

  2. “Anyone got a spare £250K and feeling philanthropic?”

    Have you thought of Crowd Funding? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowd_funding

    “Anything to get her off their case list” haha you’ve worked with councils before I see

  3. Owen

    I think it is disgraceful that any responsible person with a housing duty to discharge is attempting to put tenants into the PRS without making landlords aware of what they are taking on – be that through failure to discover the real facts themselves or wanting to pass the buck.

    There is certainly a need for a form of sheltered accommodation with resident case workers to help people transition from chaotic lives to ‘normal’ living with fellow housemates, however this support is not and should not be expected within normal LHA payments !

    If the state is unwilling to fund this support then this is where the 3rd sector should position itself due to it’s ability to have economies of scale and fund through it’s charitable revenues – however I don’t think that individual private landlords should be taking this on (unless they have specific supporting people funding, the relevant social work training, backup from social workers / probation officers and are willing to take this on )

    – or at least that is my take on the situation !

    • Your comments are spot on and this is an area I’m currently investigating. To be fair, Greg is just being a bit of a bimbo and will soon grow up. However, the tenants that I turn away as too risky definately need Supported Housing – this is possible with B&B payments but you need economies of scale to make it work as a business. E.g 15 or more units/rooms to fund a social worker and 24 hour attendance and that doesn’t include mortgage/lease payments on the building. This is probably why much supported housing is run by charities such as the YMCA. It’s not an easy area to research and there are many career housing people who are very experienced in supported housing – and I’m almost tempted to start a new career but not sure I’d be patient enough with the tenants.

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