Category Archives: being a landlord

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

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.

Want to learn how to be a great landlord or letting agent?

We’re pulling together locations and subjects for Easy Law Training’s Workshops which will stretch from Kent to Dorset and delivered by fully qualified legal professionals. If you haven’t done it yet, please click here to enter the survey and let us know where you’d like to meet us.

1 Comment

Filed under being a landlord

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

2 Comments

Filed under being a landlord

Christmas of Domestic Disturbances

Happy New Year and welcome to a first globally bumpy week of 2015!  The events around the world over Christmas and the last few days have certainly put any trivial issues I have into perspective.

Christmas Disturbance

At 11.30pm on Christmas Eve, whilst digesting the contents of Swedish Christmas Eve dinner and discussing the origins of Elk meatballs, the phone rang to say one of the tenants was locked out.  It was minus 10 degrees where I was so I felt sorry for them, phoned a friend who was holding the keys, organised re-entry only to discover in the meantime the tenant had rung the doorbell and, lo and behold, someone bothered to let her in.  Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be too reactive.

A few days later, I was enjoying a bit of TV catch-up Downton Abbey by the fire when a tenant called at 10pm which I ignored and they could leave a message if it was urgent.  His persistent ringing punctuated my daydream of owning a team of domestic workers (Downton had THREE nannies, for goodness sake!) and I threw a coat over my pyjamas to head down to the house.  One very cold night, two police cars, four bored policeman, a tenant clutching an arm, another sobbing in her room and a howling, ranting Portuguese called Amaro banging around in the back of one of the police cars.

Amaro’s girlfriend, Kalina, was 30 minutes late home from work and he was waiting for her.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under being a landlord

Winter of Discontent?

As the relentless rain continues to pour on a daily basis, I’m suddenly finding that the small stain in a room can no longer be treated with Muffycid and is starting to become a threatening, full-on damp patch.  It’s not just happening in my home (where I’ve successfully managed to ignore the growing discolourations) but I’ve been called out to three houses all showing similar symptoms.

It turns out, according to the builder, that most of the Eastbourne town centre housing stock was built between 1880 and 1910.  Bearing in mind a roof has a lifespan of about 50 years this means that all the roofs in the town are starting to fail for the second time since they were built.  And it’s not just roofs – the mortar between the bricks has around a 100 year lifespan.  At first I thought he was joking to get away from the boring explanation of roof felt, but as I look around the town it’s certainly gold rush time for roofers and scaffolders.

And here’s the problem of having all your eggs in one basket – Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under being a landlord, Management of an HMO

Keeping Track of Rents and a Hot Tip from HMO Landlady

How do YOU track your rent payments?  If you have a few properties, the due dates and tenant names are probably buried in your subconscious to be flagged up on or around the day the payment is due.  However, if you’ve grown your portfolio – be it single lets or multi lets – your poor brain can only cope with so much data as daily To Do lists vie for your attention.

With 34 rooms on the go I don’t need a rent alert – I have an inbuilt one when I enter a room and the rent isn’t there. I have two rent collecting days: Saturday and Monday and for eight years most tenants have become institutionalised enough to know where to leave their rent on which day.  I pick it up, leave a receipt, a copy of which stays in the rent book.  Hardly cutting edge, but the philosophy of “if it ain’t there, you ain’t paid” has served me pretty well and I can make a chase up call within a few seconds.

With the popularity of internet banking, this means more enlightened tenants can set up a standing order to pay weekly, four weekly or monthly and I just spend a few minutes checking them off – but into what?  There’s no point writing a receipt as the proof of payment is on the bank statement so I use an Excel spreadsheet to record payments ready for calculation at the end of the tax year.

Again, this works to a point.  The danger is when a tenant decides to combine the two and pay the rent in cash over the bank counter and, in this instance, my bank won’t allow a reference from the payee.  Anyone unable to set up a standing order or declines the cash collection option, normally has a sporadic approach to paying their rent i.e. they do it when they’ve got enough money and happen to be passing my bank on the way to the pub.  It’s easy to track one or two over the counter cash transactions but any more than that and, to be honest anyone could’ve paid, and I spend time tracking down the tenant and the date the rent was really due – it’s easy to sneak in a free week or two with this method.

The Future?

My partner recently won a contract to let and manage twelve student lets which converts to 64 tenants in addition to all his other single lets.  After a summer of madly getting all the buildings fit for purpose, it became clear that an Excel spreadsheet and monitoring online payments just wasn’t going to cut it – mainly due to the students referencing their payments as “RENT” – no source name and no property reference.  We’ve had evenings of tearing our hair out with frustration, especially as the students were in no hurry to complete any paperwork or make payments until 5 minutes before Fresher’s Week started.

I’d been playing around with the idea of building a database for a while as I’m sure I’d been on an Access course about 25 years ago which is probably when it was first invented.  After f**ting around at the design stage, we conceded to Rent Pro who seemed to have done most of the work that I was trying to achieve already.  It’s not particularly sophisticated in it’s overall look and design but it does the job at £78 a month which is cheaper than getting someone to build a database or dealing with my stress levels.

It’ll throw up overdue rents, rent review dates, AST end dates, landlord reports, property reports and so much more!  However, like anything in life, the information it chucks out is only as good as the data you’ve chucked carefully entered in.  I’m still playing around with its capabilities but each day enlightens me a little more and I can see that I will eventually be able to press a button and it will spew out a property’s latest rent report, making me look fabulously efficient.

Hot Tip

Lastly, I would like to thank The Property Podcast for featuring HMO Landlady on their first Property Investment tips and advice podcast which was broadcast on 2nd October http://thepropertyhub.net/tpp080-property-investment-tips-advice/.  I love podcasts and have been a listener of the Property Podcast since they launched eighteen months ago. I’ve picked up some interesting property nuggets whilst walking the dog or watching the kids at swimming.  These types of podcasts prove that routine tasks can be turned into important information gathering sessions and I like the way Rob Dix and Rob Bence bounce off each other, don’t try to sell unrealistic dreams and sift through all the geeky stuff on the internet to recommend tried and tested resources to their listeners.  Rob Dix is a self confessed geek, is a journalist and landlord by trade – all professions he can do whilst appreciating the beach from any global destination.  Rob Bence, by comparison, is voluntarily tied to the desk of his successful UK based RMP Property and together they are bringing sensible property investment to the ears of the masses such as you and me.

The Property Podcast lasts around 30 minutes and is released on a Thursday

Property Investment Tips  lasts around 15 minutes and is released on a Friday. http://thepropertyhub.net/?powerpress_embed=4814-podcast&powerpress_player=default

6 Comments

Filed under being a landlord

Why I Don’t Do Student Lets

InbetweenersIt’s that time of year when students are waking up to the reality of more studying and getting excited about all the possibilities university has to offer.
In the meantime, landlords of student houses have removed the six month old fish fingers from the oven, (hopefully) painted over the coffee stains on the wall, disposed of the empty booze bottles and taken off the plastic from the new mattresses.
I’m not a fan of student lets. Yes, I know the money is great at up to £110 per week plus bills, but my partner is a letting agent and has taken on the mighty task of turning around 12 student houses in the space of 2 weeks as the landlord insists on 12 month contracts. He’s washed unidentified stains out of curtains, sourced chairs, mended broken furniture and is now best friends with a mattress retailer, a decorator and the carpet cleaning man.
At the end of every summer holidays I see the same student landlords racing around town, paint brush in one hand, screwdriver in the other desperately hoping this intake won’t break the bannisters or pull the kitchen cupboards off the wall. They think I’m mad Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under being a landlord