Category Archives: Rent

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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Why I Can’t Afford LHA Claimants Any More

Five years ago, the prime room rental market was students and people in receipt of Housing Benefit.  Put an ad in the paper and 9 out of 10 respondents were those on housing benefit – probably a key reason that so many fellow landlords stuck their nose up at me saying I was “mad” and “do you want to make life more difficult for yourself?”.

Housing Benefit vs LHA

I liked Housing Benefit claimants: they tend to stay longer, were satisfied with their environment and, as they were home much of the day, kept an eye on the comings and goings of the house.  Once you understood how the system worked, the claim process was relatively straightforward: upon production of landlord evidence of a room offer the tenant would approach our local Housing and Legal Aid Centre and a cheque for four weeks advance rent was made payable to the landlord.  The tenant would then fill in their part of the claim form and the landlord would fill in the other parts including their bank details for the benefit to be paid into.  We’d sit back, wait and within 4-6 weeks the rent was paid direct into the landlord’s account regularly.  If there were any queries, I’d call the Housing Benefit team (I knew each agent by their first name), find out at what stage the claim was at or if they were waiting for any more information so I could chase the tenant.

Under the LHA system, the process is no longer so transparent.  The tenant can make the claim, the landlord fills in what’s included in the rent and, even though the tenant signs permission for the landlord to discuss the claim, that is the last I’ll see or hear until the tenant hands over the money.  I’ve tried to chase a claim only to discover that the call centre had moved to Slough (nowhere near us) and, despite being allowed to discuss it, the staff couldn’t give me any information “under Data Protection” and “You’ll have to ask the tenant yourself”.  I want to scream down the phone “I bl***y well would if I thought I’d be getting a straight answer and was prepared to camp outside their room all night until they got home!”.

Why LHA Doesn’t Help Tenants

My tenants don’t mean to not hand over the LHA payment, but when their bank account is in the red, they have no mobile credit, possibly haven’t eaten for a while, eeking out their tobacco pouch so their roll up resembles more Rizla and saffron strands than a good smoke, I empathise with their temptation to hand over £150 rather than the £200 paid by the Council.  In their heads (especially if they’ve recently been working), 50 quid is easy to reimburse within the next couple of weeks.  Then the reality sets in that there’s no financial room to manoeuvre: skimming £20/£30/£40 off the LHA payment to cover the shortfall of Job Seekers Allowance means they end up £300-£400 in arrears before you know it and start to get stressed.   At that point, they do what most of us do when we get stressed – drink more, smoke more, blow whatever cash is available because, let’s face it, it can’t get much worse.  Their girlfriend/boyfriend, friends and parents are probably financially exhausted, they’re drowning in debt, despondent from hitting a job wall – so what if they fall out with their landlady on top?  Life is so chaotic we’ll string her along with a few well honed excuses that used to work on our mothers and teachers.

Greg is £500 in arrears and I don’t want to see him homeless but this is what’s happened to him.  When the process starts I meet with the tenant and explain that this is what will happen and, in order to avoid it, we have to work together.  I’ll happily reduce the rent to reflect the LHA payment provided that the LHA is handed over as regular as clockwork.  “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I promise.  It won’t happen to me and I’ll be working again soon.”  I’ve experienced this time and time again.  The most common excuse is “Housing have messed up my claim AGAIN” – and I can’t check out its validity.

Back to Basics – The Real Reason for Housing Benefit

The market’s changed.  For every ad I place the majority of calls will be from working professionals who have chosen an all-inclusive rate so they have enough salary left over to have a life.  I no longer need to fill the rooms with the slightly odd, vaguely desperate or those that fall out of society’s moral code of conduct.

Back in the late 1940s the Social Security System was so named because:

SOCIAL                 def pertaining to human society

SECURITY             def freedom from danger, risk, etc; safety

There are still at least 1 out of 10 callers wanting a room who won’t pass the referencing process, can’t get the deposit together or will struggle to conform to a landlord’s ideal tenant.

My business head tells me to go with this new professional market demand and fill the houses with law abiding, rent paying via standing order tenants who read and abide by the AST and wash their sheets weekly.  My life will be calmer yet poorer through the lack of tenants educating me on the true meaning of survival and refusal to conform to society’s expectations.

Please, bring back direct payments to landlords so our business heads no longer discriminate against the unemployed.

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CCTV Installed, But There’s Trouble

The week started well with the French accountant duly moved in.  It was a bit complicated trying to explain the digital switchover to him and the availability of a link up to the satellite dish but he listened politely until he said “Is not a problem, I ‘ave ze laptop”.    The next issue came when we were going through the AST and I apologised for not being able to insert the accents on his surname of Désiré (Deziray) so it had come out Desire which, after last week’s post, I felt this was becoming a recurring theme!  “Zat is not my name, it is my middle name” he said “My last name is Durand”.  It pays not to rush through a Tenant Information Form.

CCTV has been installed in the other house and there’s been a few feathers ruffled.  The main issue seems to be that the boys thought I’d have the system linked to my home computer and would spend a girls’ night in watching them walking up and down the hallways in their pants.  They’ve been assured that there are easier and more pleasurable ways to search the internet for men in pants and the footage is only stored on the recorder locked in the cellar.  However, capturing one of them trying to get in the house after a night out then falling asleep on the stairs may just be worth a post on YouTube……

Huddled in the cellar,  the engineer was showing me how to operate the monitor and recorder.  Tom had obviously forgotten the role of the cameras and heard us talking  – the cameras duly picked him up sitting down with his ear to the stair tread trying to listen to our conversation.  A very, very funny moment.

Call came in today from one of the rooms saying that the recorder has been beeping all night so I waited till darkness fell and went to investigate.  Turns out that, when it’s pitch black, the camera’s infra-red lights kick in and make a continuous and annoyingly loud beep.   We’ve rigged up a light to stay on all night and I’ll get in touch with the engineer, even though he said he’d “Never, ever heard of such a thing”.  Well, in that case, he can sit in the dark cellar after hours with strange men theorising the problem and experience the issue for himself.

George, my bedsit tenant is £400 in arrears after Housing Benefit allegedly “messed up the claim” or you can translate it as “I lost my job, didn’t have any money for six weeks and, when it came in, I took the decision that paying you is last on my To Do list”.  I’ve given him a credit limit and told him that as soon as the arrears go over it, I’ll regretfully issue a Section 21 notice.  This gives him time to sort out any issues with Housing Benefit or elect to throw some cash my way to keep him under the threshold.  After all, I’ve got a misbehaving CCTV system to pay for.

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Another Gambling Addict

With half term finally over (which school managed to stretch to a 10 day break) and the children back to learning how to be decent, upstanding citizens, I’ve turned my attention back to HMOs.  My tenants aren’t so well behaved that they stopped locking themselves out of rooms or remembered to pay on time and I’d let my passable organisational skills slip over the holiday, but I’ve bounced back with a whip in one hand and a To Do list in the other.

Andrew

First to screw up his new tenancy is Andrew.  He was the tenant that I predicted to bite me on the bum after being recommended by his work colleague as a suitable tenant for my emotionally rejected but testosterone fuelled lads’ (actually middle aged men) house.  Youngest of them all he soon played the foster child card as an excuse for not knowing how to wash up, flush the loo or realising that revealing your boxer shorts whilst your trousers are tied precariously under your bottom cheeks isn’t a great look when going for a job interview.

Last week he said he’d left his rent for me to collect but my son decided to have a massive tantrum during the rent collection round which meant I was distracted and was so busy dragging him out of the house that I forgot to go into Andrew’s room.  By the time I went back a couple of days’ later it had been spent.  Taking some blame for my folly,  I agreed for him to leave 2 weeks the following Saturday (£180).  Then I forgot again that I was away (took the Sleeper train to Scotland – great trip) and collected all rents a couple of days later by which time there was, of course, no money.  To his credit, he called me into his room, looked up at me with his big, brown eyes, quivering lip and a little tear to add to the effect and confessed to having  gambled away £400 on fruit machines the previous week.

Where To Go From Here?

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this addiction so was able to restrain myself from “Do you know how many shoes/supermarket shops/meals for starving children that money could have bought?” and sternly reminded him that his future was in his hands – go into arrears and get legally evicted or pull yourself together, stop thinking I’m a soft touch and be grateful you actually have a job (albeit a somewhat dodgy one).  Followed by a therapy session, which normally makes grown men cry, he promised to contact Gamblers Anonymous and pay £250 this Saturday.  In the meantime, there is little I can do but have a little faith in him as he’s still in his fixed term period and give him a good talking to which he takes with dignity.  He then went off to pawn his iPad after telling me he didn’t want to end up like his two brothers who’d spent most of their young lives in and out of prison.

Now, I’m not being unsympathetic about the boy/man’s plight (he’s 22 but looks 17) but just because I’m a woman tenants who have developed chaotic lifestyles following their disruptive upbringings always seem to play the “woe is me, nobody has ever loved me” card.  It’s probably true which is how they’ve learnt to say what they think I want to hear in the hope that I’ll feel sorry for them.  I used to cave in but now remind them and myself it’s a tough world out there and with a bit of support it’s possible to survive.

To Conclude

Talking of survival, I have serious doubts over this tenant’s chance in the natural world:

Marco (Polish sommelier for a 5* hotel) “Can you look at my light.  It come, it go, I think it very dangerous”.   Dispatched the builder who made the mistake of hanging around for too long while I took the call and he reported back “It’s the bl**dy bulb!  Couldn’t you have done it?”.  Nope, I’m too busy unlocking rooms and providing free therapy sessions.

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Am I Really Guilty of Breaking the Law?

Landlord Law Blog posted an article about rent books this week which I read with a mixture of interest and guilt.  Since falling into running HMOs I’ve been vaguely aware that it’s a legal requirement for landlords to provide rent books to tenants who pay on a weekly basis.

About once a year I think “I must provide rent books so I don’t get thrown into jail” but the following questions always nag me:

  1. How often will my tenant remember where their rent book is?
  2. Will they remember to leave it out with their rent each week?  I’ve spent years training them to leave their rent in a conspicuous place and don’t enjoy rifling through their underwear drawers or bedside tables to look for it (with their permission!)
  3. How often will I have to replace their rent books when they’ve lost them thereby losing their record of payments from the beginning of their tenancy?
  4. Who’s going to tell me off for not providing them?

I’m not being glib about the need for a record of payments, just about the method.  Maybe the tenants have total trust in me or maybe it’s ignorance but all they care about is that the cash is handed over to me and I provide the accommodation.  I issue a receipt for each payment received, a date for when the next rent is due and, if they’re short or overpay, it’s all recorded in duplicate so we both know where we stand.  Then, I don’t care if they wipe their noses on the receipt, use it instead of a Rizla or file it for safekeeping because my master book has all the payment records for all tenants dating back to the beginning of my landlord career (in case the Inland Revenue want a fascinating read!).

If a tenant is struggling to keep up to date with their rent, I’ll issue a rent statement showing their payment record which also goes onto their file so I can keep track of bad debt for accounting purposes.  Now, if all this sounds like I enjoy being organised – I don’t and have to force myself to stick a book keeping head on for an hour a week.  One tenant’s rent arrears statement runs into three pages when he got into trouble a couple of years ago.  I’m desperate for him to catch up just to save on ink!

The solution, of course, is to get everyone to pay monthly by standing order (excuse me whilst I pick myself up off the floor!) but then we’d miss doing what we do best – having a weekly gossip and catch up.  P.S.  I shall concede defeat and provide proper rent books in case any readers are planning to report me to………………….?

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How Far Do You Let a Tenant Run Up Rent Arrears?

In the normal world of landlording and legally speaking it’s recommended to allow two months worth of arrears to build up before issuing any notices.  However, this isn’t normal landlording otherwise everyone would be doing it!

Every Saturday, my tenants hear my bailiff style knock on the door between 9.30am and 11am. I’m not so archaic that I don’t offer for them to pay by standing order but only one tenant does this – I’m presuming the rest choose collection so the boys can show off their pants to me every week. If I’ve trained them well, they’ll be clutching the cash as they open their door or, if they don’t want to be disturbed, leave it in an envelope poking under the door.

So, what happens when they aren’t proffering the week’s rent?  Again, if they remember their training they’ll have called me a day or so beforehand with a suitable excuse to which I’ll sound suitably empathetic whilst I wait for them to tell me how they’ll sort the situation out and by what date.  If they’re too scared to talk to me or have conveniently forgotten they rent a room at the address, they’ll go AWOL but that’s a different subject which demands an alternative procedure which I made up but is fairly effective.  Another time….!  The great thing about HMOs is that if one room doesn’t pay up the other rooms should be still covering the mortgage and bills so you can attend to the non payer without worrying about repossession or delving into your own bank account.

Liam – An Erratic Payer

Liam rents my bedsit in a licensable HMO.   It’s an attic room with it’s own cooking facilities and he shares the bathroom with everyone else.  He arrived on the doorstep two years ago – muscular, vertically challenged, bursting with testosterone, cheeky smile and looks rather attractive in his underpants (which I found out three weeks into the tenancy, it wasn’t part of the referencing process!).  Liam was a window fitter until the recession when events seemed to conspire against him.  He’s picked up a variety of jobs on building sites, shop work and anyone who’ll have him but it’s been fraught with contracts suddenly coming to an end, broken promises and his inability to manage money.  He received a tax rebate earlier this year when he was £350 in arrears;  I called him to discover he was on the bus to meet some friends “but don’t worry it’ll be there on Monday”.  Was it heck.  He said his mates got him so drunk that he’d blown the lot at the casino – “I felt such a twat” he said.  Yep, he said it not me.

How far do you let someone go and how far do you believe the stories, show compassion, remember what it was like when you were young and rubbish with money?  I’m now short on goodwill after he phoned me on Sunday about the “stupid ****ing council won’t give me housing benefit!  What do they expect me to do?  I’d wring their ****ing necks if I could get past the bullet proof glass!”  It was my day off enjoying a bit of retail therapy and I so wasn’t interested in another set of excuses …. and told him.  “In that case” he said “I’ve got no other option but to do what my mates are doing and sell drugs but don’t worry, I won’t do it while I’m at your house”  Gee, thanks. However, I’m not worried for the existing street dealers just yet as he has as much ability to blend  into dark alleyways to do a deal with a junkie as a market trader advertising the catch of day.

I’ve given him a flexible payment schedule, bunged him a fiver when he had nothing to eat and no parents to call on (I’m such a sucker for orphans), a shoulder to cry on and offered cheaper rooms.  I’ve made him sound like an arrogant idiot but he’s lovely and I’m just annoyed that he hasn’t sorted himself out and is trying to rile me with the drug threat.

It IS possible to make money AND be compassionate when dealing with HMO tenants – the two are not mutually exclusive.  I make my entry level costs to a room affordable i.e. £150 deposit plus one week’s rent in advance, unlike other landlords who demand one month’s rent and one month’s deposit in advance – now that’s alot of money.

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Steve Messes Up

Here we go again – another tenant decides that his accommodation isn’t that important and decided not to leave his rent for me.  Steve came to me as a friend of another tenant a year ago.  He’d had two failed marriages, various children and was desperate for accommodation and, to be fair to him, admitted upfront that he was a gambling addict.  We agreed that he’d ask Housing Benefit to pay his rent direct to me and he’d provide a guarantor as a back up.  The first hurdle was to actually get the Housing Benefit team to give the money direct to me, so when he couldn’t provide proof that he was an addict (note from Gambler’s Anonymous, that kind of thing), he told them to give him a fiver and he’d show them what he’d do with it.  That seemed enough evidence to the Housing Benefit agent and I received his Local Housing Allowance minus money he owed for a previous claim leaving a shortfall of £76 a month which I was concerned was too much for him to deal with.

First Offence

Steve had become increasingly difficult to talk to .  When he started his tenancy he was quietly spoken (I’m as deaf as an old post) but smiled and was charming.  One morning I opened the front door of the house to be blown away by the stench of marijuana.  I absolutely hate the smell as it gets into everything and affects my ability to concentrate!  I adopted my best Nancy Drew tactics (1970s teenage fictional detective), sniffed each door and realised it was coming from Steve’s room.  Answering the door, he opened it and just said “Yeah?”.  “Please meet me in the kitchen” I said – I never go into a tenant’s room and close the door especially if they’re male.  He was so stoned I thought he was going to pass out on the vinyl so I explained the zero tolerance drug rule to empty eyes and followed up with a Section 21 notice.

Justice?

A couple of day’s later I got a call from Tom (one of my bigger tenants).  “Look, I only shoved ‘im a little bit, but he was calling me a grass and was bein’ rude about you”.

“OK, so no damage done?  He’s not going to like me because I’ve asked him to leave” I replied.

“Yeah, but he finks I grassed ‘im up to you, but I didn’t.  That smells been around for ages and we all ‘ate it, but I didn’t ‘urt ‘im, ‘onest”

“OK, but you shouldn’t have got involved as my girly brain managed to work out where the smell came from all by myself so you can tell him no one grassed him up” (For big boys they can be a bit wet sometimes)

Two weeks later I got a call from another tenant “Why haven’t you done something about that animal Tom?  He beat Steve and broke the sink and they looked like they were going to murder each each other!”  So, back I go – “Did anyone actually hit anyone?  If so, did anyone call the police?”  Silence so I let it go.

Moving Room

Six weeks later, Steve had gone back to being his charming self and there’d been no drug odours so we had a chat and he asked to stay.  My lovely, big front room became available and he begged to be able to move in.  I knew that the back room he was in was darker and, being home all day, probably quite depressing also he seemed to want to make a go of his tenancy.  However, it was substantially more expensive and it meant he’d have to pay £112 a month top up but he assured me it was fine as he’d be working at the car boot fairs.

Second Offence

His top ups have been sporadic to say the least – never there on time, bit of cash here – bit there.  He asked me if he could pay me the following week as he was going clubbing in London and needed the money but absolutely promised it would be there the following week.  It was his friends who last week caused me to be called out at 12.30am so, with no rent there AGAIN this week and £112 plus £57 carried over from last month still owing in rent top ups, I’ve got no choice but to ask him to leave again.  I also heard he’d been saving hard to go clubbing in Spain……..

Helping Others

We’re taught as children by grown ups and the Bible that we should help our fellow man wherever possible, but it’s people like Steve that feed the cynic in me and make me vow never to help anyone again.  I’m not quite ready to offer him the other cheek to slap though.

Matthew
5:39
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes  you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

Luke 6:30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back

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