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)

1 Comment

Filed under being a landlord, Management of an HMO

One response to “Subletting – A Perfect Storm

  1. Subletting is a scourge in some areas of central London.
    There are some subletters that try to get a tenancy for the same flat time and time again by using companies, other people as fronts, etc.
    The common theme though is that they are very reluctant to show any type of ID, don’t want to do any background checks (by claiming that they are foreigners so the checks wouldn’t show anything) and try to sweeten things with “We will pay cash in advance”. Those are the ones that ring so many alarms that are easy to spot.
    The hard ones are people like this one I heard of: a banker who passed all the background checks and got an agreement for a 5 bedroom property somewhere in central London and then was subletting the property room by room to tourists for short terms. It took the landlord 2 years before he found out what was happening.

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