So You Want To Run An HMO?

This post has been borne out of the numerous emails I receive from people wanting to leave the day job and invest in property – focussing on HMOs due to their higher yield.  I answer every email honestly and, I hope, encouragingly but my enquirers disappear back into the virtual world and I never hear whether or not they’ve pursued their dreams.

If you’re considering writing to me for advice on ditching the 9-5 and earning enough money through HMOs to keep your family, go travelling and leave a decent nest egg for the kids, below is a typical response: Continue reading

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Implementing the Immigration Bill

The phone rings late one night last week.  It’s Erica, sobbing hysterically down the phone in broken English that her new husband, Harry, had been taken into custody and she didn’t know what to do.

Harry and Erica married last month; she’s Polish in her late thirties and he’s Indian in his mid twenties.  She swears to me it’s mad, impulsive, passionate love and he just smiles and nods in agreement.  They’re hard working, quiet, pleasant and an asset to the house and, quite frankly, anyone who can put up with binge drinking Tom and not moan to me about it, becomes a star tenant.

The story goes that Harry and two friends had been walking down the street that night. On spotting a police car, they pulled their hoodies over their heads and dashed into Ladbrokes.  The police watched as the men wandered Continue reading

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Insuring Your HMO (And Other Precious Items!)

The end of the year heralds house insurance renewal. Every year I promise to apply myself, compare quotes and wallow for the next year in the knowledge that I’ve secured the most competitive deal.

The reality is, when the broker calls I groan with resignation and tell him just to get on with it. As he flicked through his computer information on my claim history, he came out with “Oooo, aren’t you a good client? You haven’t made any claims in the last 4 years so it’ll be easy to get you a good quote”.

“Excellent!” said I “And if I HAD claimed in the last 4 years I presume my quote would have risen to affect the amount paid out?”

Silence.

“Well, yes, that can be a problem” he replied.

Me: “And that’s why I don’t claim. Find me a quote, don’t bore me with the details and just let me know the telephone number for when a house burns down”.

However, how many houses do actually burn down? With HMOs, we are rightly governed by so many fire risk assessments and regulations that, according to my recent chat with a man in uniform, “you can stand in the hallway for 30 minutes without a fire affecting you”. Great, so I’ve informed all tenants that, should a candle set light to the curtains or a cigarette get lost under the duvet cover, come out of the room calmly, stand in the hallway and enjoy the safety the firedoors, smokestrips and fire retardant plasterboard I give you.

Later, whilst chatting to a friend, she asked that, if I’ve never made a claim, why bother with insurance? I explained that with HMOs there is ALWAYS the possibility of a fire.  Especially when the tenants take it upon themselves to put sellotape over the fire alarms or, to my eternal amazement, ignore the backup low battery signal which emits every 30 seconds.

So, it doesn’t matter how well maintained the house is, how many fire precautions are in place or how many baths you replace with showers to prevent flooding, are you willing to risk your cash on the odds of an unforeseen event happening which costs more than the insurance premiums?

So this year I’m leaving a well known insurance broker due to lack of customer service and unacceptably high levels of marketing emails and switching to The Home Insurer.  They understand the nature of HMOs and, from my research, seem to pretty much insure anything else.  I’m also giving their number to my tenants for quotes as it turns out quite a few of them do actually insure their room contents!  (They’re also human beings, very experienced insurers and don’t give in if the computer says “No”).  Click the link or give them a call on 0800 612 5764 and let me know how you get on.

On another note of insurance, the police turned up to take a statement following the case of Simon, his friend, a night out and a broken window. After checking that I hadn’t given permission for the friend to chuck a flowerpot through the window in October, he gave me the crime number for “insurance purposes”. I laughed and said – “Unlikely, Officer!” We’ve settled for a community order whereby, should the police find the young man involved he’s under instruction to pay me the cost of the repair. When I told Simon he replied, “Sod that, I’ve already told his girlfriend I’m going to kick his head in when I next see him”.

There’s nothing like a bit of civil justice, eh?

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Benefit Tenants – The Reality of When It Goes Wrong

You may remember a few months ago I told you the story of Joe who turned up on the doorstep, courtesy of a friend, with pennies in his pocket and a cat called Bill.

His accommodation story has now ended; after being awarded the local housing allowance of £67 a week and various promises of being able to afford the £33 a week top up, Joe received his benefit and managed to spend the lot. Various texts, telephone conversations and letters ensued to which he replied with protestations that he’d been to the bank and paid up. He progressed to a raft of excuses relating to poorly relatives and his own mental health issues, ending up at the “nobody likes me any more, I have nothing to live for” attitude. Eventually, he admitted he’d spent the lot.

But what on? He didn’t look like he was into drugs, drink or gambling but consistently never had any money. Eventually, even the cat got fed up of him and left the house last week and hasn’t been seen since. His housing worker and friend finally persuaded him to give up the room, leave the telly I’d bought and the keys and take up a work offer abroad before I submitted court papers under a Section 8 notice.

On clearing out the room I found out what he’d been spending his money on – SHOES! Pairs and pairs of shoes but none worth having despite us having the same foot size.

Eviction Looming

The current case we’re working on is that of 3 friends all claiming LHA who moved into a 3 bed house. Within a month they’d fallen out with each other (having been friends for over 20 years) and one of them left after the fixed period; they couldn’t find a replacement because they weren’t talking to each other and can’t leave because no other landlord wants the remaining two. They now have their Possession Order dated for next week and their benefit payments have been stopped.

I recently watched an interesting interview with Vanessa from Property Tribes and Kent landlord, Fergus Wilson. He said in one of the videos (you may need to watch both) that he doesn’t believe it’s up to the PRS to house the poor and needy (or in my case, mentally needy). At first I was shocked but after listening to his reasoning and based on my own experience, I’m actually starting to agree that the majority of the PRS landlords are simply not geared up to handle the social issues which accompany those tenants who don’t have a support network and are not mentally or mobility impaired enough to qualify for Supported Housing.

Those landlords like me who are happy to take a chance on someone claiming Housing Benefit are left out in the cold. When Joe’s rent was eight weeks’ in arrears I followed procedure and applied to the council for his benefit to be paid directly to me. At the same time, I emailed the council to find out whether they would act to home the 2 sitting tenants upon receipt of the Possession Order, the expiry date on the Order or when the bailiffs turn up to evict them. To date I have received absolutely no response. (But I’d rather say “Sweet F.A.”.

So, what will bring the plight of those not bright or able enough to hold down a tenancy in the PRS to the attention of the Government? The councils are fully aware of the scarcity of housing and prioritise need based on a banding system but even those people at the top of the waiting list spend their days with their fingers cross to find a secure base to call home. We’re based in Eastbourne and are lucky to have numerous promenade shelters and benches overlooking the sea . Perhaps when these are full and the octogenarian tourists from Up North, on their morning constitution, trip over the unfortunates and their empty cans of Special Brew, someone may raise a cautious hand in protest.

Keeping The Faith

Will I take a chance on a housing benefit tenant again? Of course I will. I like diversity in the HMOs and someone needs to be at home to put out the bins, let the plumber in and give a damn about the house. In fact, I’ve just offered a tenancy to a lovely 28 year old girl with a muscular disease who is currently sofa surfing which exacerbates her condition. She used to work in an office, shared a flat with a friend and was then struck down with this ongoing illness. Suddenly no one wanted to offer her a tenancy after her friend sold the flat. She’s ill enough to qualify for a PIP (Personal Independent Payment) and ESA (Employment Support Allowance) but not ill enough for Supported Housing. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place – that goes for both of us.

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Confessions of a Tenant

One great upside to this landlord business is how it puts you in touch with people you’d probably never encounter.  I’ve met tenants with a variety of hobbies from body building and fishing to alcohol and drug abuse and a bit blackmailing on the side.  Never, ever, though have I come across Linda’s hobby in either a social or professional capacity.

Linda is 55 years old and a Dominatrix – she doesn’t get paid otherwise this would be classed as prostitution.  The confession came about yesterday after she asked for a bigger room to accommodate her newly acquired wooden Cross.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “What, a crucifix?  Are you very religious?  There’s a church over the road with loads of them”

Linda: “No, it’s a special cross to put people on but I only want to store it here, not use it” Continue reading

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This Student Needs Help

As you may know I’m not much of a fan of students, having witnessed first hand their inability to change a lightbulb or ensure their guarantor completes the correct forms BEFORE collecting the keys.  But today a very nice young lady called Aliya contacted me through the blog asking for help from HMO Landlords.  She’s finishing her dissertation on energy providers for HMOs which needs to be completed by Friday 14th August and she has had little response to the numerous emails she’s sent out.  Hey, could it be the subject matter that has failed to arouse the email recipients?!

She’s not selling anything, just trying to get some answers so please back her and lets get her the data she needs to put together something factual and convincing to pass.  The survey will take no more than a minute, if you’re quick, and can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MQL6RCR

Your responses will hopefully absolve me of all the disparaging comments I’ve ever made about students especially in this post I wrote last year and, on behalf of Aliya, I thank you.

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Free To A Good Home: One (Almost) House Trained Tenant

Arrgh!  I first began this blog as a form of therapy to offload some of the ridiculousness of human nature which us landlords come across on a daily basis.  Thankfully over the last couple of years I’ve either become a better judge of character or God threw me some decent, independent, rent paying tenants just to give me a break.

Throughout the blog posts, Tom has appeared on a regular basis as either the cause of some unacceptable behaviour or as an inspiration with his unique quotes.  On average, every 6 months he goes off the rails, gets blind drunk and throws his not inconsiderable weight around the house and is completely oblivious the next day of anything which occurred 12 hours earlier.  I have a rant at him, produce the evidence and issue yet another Section 21.

He’s been a tenant for 8 years and I’m now convinced he suffers from a learning difficulty and is unable to interpret people, emotions or social situations.  He’s nearly 50 and conditions such as dyspraxia, autism, ADHD, etc. weren’t acknowledged or diagnosed when he was young to the extent they are today.  I’m also convinced that is why he drinks – it’s never at home, always in a pub and he’s always the first to buy someone else a drink.  He has a “friend” who can mend a phone, operate a lawnmower, do a deal on a laptop  or window cleaning but these “friends” never visit, never have a name and are nowhere to be seen on Christmas Day.  When he has only loose change in his pocket, he always makes sure there’s food in the fridge and his sheets and clothes are pressed, the house is spotless and he loves to help out other housemates. This can go on for weeks on end and he has never, ever once been late with his rent top up.

Then, he obtains some cash from somewhere, goes to the pub, comes home with or without a police escort and without provocation becomes so angry the other housemates are scared as he bashes his way round the hall and upstairs to bed.  They’re lucky if he doesn’t p**s himself along the way.  They all say the same thing – what a wonderful, kind man sober, but an incontrollable nightmare when drunk.

According to Tom, he’s been in the Army, worked in the scaffolding and security businesses and run warehouses but I’ve glimpsed his CV and he’s been unable to hold down a job for more than a few months since school.  As someone once said “Run a warehouse?  He can hardly run a bath”.

At the beginning of the year I was at the end of my tether as to what to do with him after he set off the fire alarm thinking it was the light switch.  I contacted social services for advice as I deem him on the verge of vulnerable if evicted as he was previously homeless before he came to me.  I didn’t get a response.  I know the council are under far too much pressure finding housing for those people for whom they have a legal responsibility and as a single man with no dependants, he won’t be entitled to any sheltered housing.

I have no idea what will happen to him or how this particular situation will end but I do know that I’m sorely tempted to wrap Tom up in a blanket one night, place him in a moses basket with a bottle of whisky and a note with his name and NI number and leave him on the doorstep of the council’s housing department to be discovered the next morning.

Have you booked your place on Easy Law Training’s courses yet?  We’re running an Essential Legal Points for Landlords workshop on Thursday 24th September 2015 in Winchester, Hampshire and HMO Law and Practice workshop on Thursday 8th October 2015 in Maidstone, Kent.  Click the links to book.

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