Tag Archives: accommodation LHA

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.

3 Comments

Filed under being a landlord, Tenant Stories

No Home Comforts for Those on Housing Benefits

I’m reluctant to publish guest posts, but this excellent article written for me by Alex Murray of Safesite Facilities neatly encapsulates my experience on the front line of accommodating housing benefit tenants. There’s an additional, heart warming story at the end to prove landlords aren’t all inflexible, greedy sods.

No Home Comforts for Those on Housing Benefits

When “non-smokers only” started appearing in property-to-let listings in the UK, it was widely acknowledged as positive action which directly reflected the attitudes of British society and its wish to be free from the stench and alleged ill-effects of smoking.

Fast forward to 2014.  Although “non-smokers only” still appears, another two words, which first crept in during 2008, have begun to take prevalence.  Again, two little words which are accommodation-ad specific, but once more seem to represent the attitudes of a society  seeking to free itself from something seen as negative, pervasive and pernicious:

“no benefits.”

Sadly though, this advertisement addendum is far from a positive reflection on 2014’s British landlords and society.

How did it come to this?

Since the coalition came to power, the days of government and public benevolence or relative even-handedness towards those claiming benefits have been numbered.  Along with the government, much of the British media have stood in line to condemn benefit seekers as “lazy” or “scroungers” whilst fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as Benefits Street seek to demonstrate to the remaining public who display a live-and-let-live attitude towards others that they might be misguided in not jumping on the judgement band-waggon; after all, an alternative programme title might have reflected the difficult cycles some vulnerable families find themselves trapped in, but no, Channel 4 chose Benefits Street.

After the frosty reception which greeted their plans for the Bedroom Tax and the on-going disability benefits and ATOS Work Capability Assessments (as in don’t give ATOS) debacle, the government then rolled out its Universal Credit scheme nationally in October 2013.  This scheme replaces, amongst others, the long-standing housing benefit and involves making single monthly payments directly to claimants.  From this, claimants are expected to make their own rent payments direct to their landlords.

Government Assurances – for the Landlords

Although the government is adamant that Universal Credit gives landlords greater protection from tenants who fail to pay – review of payments kicks in after just one month of arrears – this hasn’t been enough for landlords.

A recent survey, conducted by SpareRoom.co.uk, revealed that landlords have lacked confidence in the government’s systems for handling benefits, largely since the introduction of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) within the housing benefit system, in 2008.  This change, which also allowed payments to go direct to tenants, was identified by 88% of landlords as having a negative impact on their businesses, through late payments and damage to their property.

With their confidence, revenue and portfolios already shaken from LHA, 6 out of 10 landlords (57%) state that they now refuse to accept tenants on benefits.  Of those landlords still willing to take housing benefit claimants as tenants, over half plan to will stop when Universal Credits become fully functional (around 2016) and several large property investors, including Kent property tycoon Fergus Wilson, have already served eviction notices on current benefit-claiming tenants, as reported by the BBC.

Assurances for the benefit claimants?  Anybody?

With low levels of social housing stock, eviction notices in hand, the “no benefits” banner across the rental sector and the benefit shakeup generally causing unknowns for those finding themselves claiming benefits (including reliable, responsible, hard-working families and pensioners), what hope is there for those relying both on benefits to make ends meet and the rental sector for a roof over their heads?

In truth, not much.

Whilst the landlords can gain the same (if not more) money by letting their properties on the open market, housing benefit claimants have no alternatives, just further belt-tightening.  This is inevitable as any landlords still willing to rent to them increase rents to match their own increased “risk” and to pass on their additional buy-to-let mortgage and insurance costs, which have risen considerably for landlords renting to the benefits sector, as many buy-to-let lenders also coin in extra cash from others’ misery.

As Matt Hutchinson, the director of SpareRoom.co.uk reflects: “the rollout of universal credit is set to make the situation even worse.   With rents rising and the welfare budget suffering from further government cuts, the outlook for tenants reliant on housing benefit is getting bleaker.”  Not only that, but thanks to the divisive “no benefits” mentality pervading the rental sector, the outlook for our prospects as a cohesive, empathetic society looks pretty bleak too.

Thank you, Alex.

55p and a Cat Called Bill

A couple of weeks ago, John contacted me through a friend.  An eloquent, skilled barber who had numerous men’s grooming awards under his belt but, following a breakdown, had been forced into sofa surfing whilst trying to get to grips with his own recovery.  How easy is it to recover your self esteem when you’re sleeping on a lumpy sofa in someone’s living room, with no privacy or hot water?  His only stable, trusting relationship was with Bill, a nonchalant black and white cat who clearly has no idea he holds his master’s wellbeing in the pads of his paw.  All John had to offer was 55p in his pocket and a promise that Bill wouldn’t pee in Jim’s newly planted containers.  All I have to do is to help him fill in the forms, wait around 5 weeks for the claim to be processed and I will hopefully have 2 very happy, contented, mentally stable tenants for a long, long time (and I get to stroke one of them).

18 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Happy HMO Tenants – And How To Keep Them That Way!

With the tantalising onset of summer, comes happier moods and none more so than in my “mature” house.   They’re still recovering from Simon’s outburst last month after he turned the whole house into a gibbering wreck, became paranoid that they were all against him and, as I later found out, had hounded them all into submission with his constant bullying.

This is a house I go to at least weekly, if not twice weekly and the tenants have been with me 7 years – so how the hell hadn’t I seen the destruction that was being wrecked by one person?  Because they were terrified of getting him into trouble with me.  There had been constant weekend parties, late night weed smoking, music playing and what felt like hundreds of strangers running amok through the house.

The tenants are in their 40s and 50s and usually not afraid to speak their minds, but what has come out is the systematic abuse levied by 24 year old Simon telling them that he “had rights” and “could do what he wanted” whilst appearing completely angelic to me.  He’d trashed the garden with BBQ parties and stolen all the kitchen equipment upon his eviction.

To help dissipate the atmosphere Simon left behind, the tenants asked if they could finally do up the garden.   Remember, this is their HOME, not a temporary place to stay until a Council house comes available as they’ve given up on that idea.  As benefit claimants, they don’t have much money and each pound not spent on necessities is a pound closer to saving for clothes or cider.  So, yesterday afternoon, we took a trip to the local garden centre with a budget of £40 and I sat in the car whilst they spent a happy hour choosing plants and compost.  To be honest, it was a bit like taking out a couple of aged relatives as they had a domestic half way round the bedding plant section after failing to agree on Salmon pink or white geraniums.

Back at the house, spent and happy here is the result:

Gardening

We’ve since taken Chris, a 62 year old who enjoys listening to Radio 4, has a penchant for brown clothes, walks his ex-wife’s dog and, quite frankly, has “had enough of bleedin’ wimmin” – we love him!

Moral of this story:

(1) Don’t underestimate the damage one bad tenant can do in an HMO and,

(2) long term HMO tenants are happy to take responsibility for their environment – so give them some cash to make it home and let them choose the household items that make them feel they truly belong.

8 Comments

Filed under Management of an HMO

A Week In HMO Land

Too many events have taken place over the last few weeks to concentrate on just one for this post, so I’ll give you the headliners on what’s been happening in HMO Land.

It started with Adam going AWOL (Absent Without Leave) on me so I ended having to contact his mum to check on his safety.  His Facebook updates told me he was still alive and having fun but, for some reason, he neglected to read my notes, texts and listen to my calls.  Mum obviously got hold of him and he was gracious enough to do a midnight flit leaving his keys on the bed along with a couple of odd smelly socks and discarded packaging of a new phone and number – the lengths some tenants go to in order to avoid me!

Abandoned In The Cold

Then Gareth called in tears – he’d been woken that morning to give his girlfriend a lift into town from her house.  Dressed only in his boxers and T shirt, he grabbed his keys and she ordered him to drive to his houseshare and threw him out of the car with the parting words “You’re dumped!”.   Shivering on a snowy pavement, his bottom lip quivering with the effects of such unforeseen rejection, he called to ask me to collect his belongings from her house.  Not sure it’s in the Landlord’s Guide Book, but I sympathised, laughed and went to get them.  Mainly because his bank cards were in his bags and at least I had an outside charge of being paid his rent arrears.

Gareth then wanted to share his glee in getting a job interview but didn’t possess anything smart enough.  My partner kindly lent him a pair of trousers and I gave him a food package all in the hope that he can start earning some money.  In the meantime, he’s been adopted by a stray cat who is refusing to leave.

It’s Girls!!

Finally, we’ve got some girls!  Nice, working and pretty – the boys have been instructed to be on best behaviour and not to attempt any kind of drunken shenanigans.  Gareth called shortly after “Man, you’re killing me!  I’m heartbroken, desperate for a cuddle and you’ve put these two girls in the house with instructions that I’m not allowed near them.  That’s just unfair.” No, I think it’s a fair risk assessment.

Refuge for the Abused?

I’ve had a small single room vacant for a while as the house is a sensitive one and extremely quiet so only the most well behaved person would do.  Along comes Mark, a gas heating engineer (handy!).  When I asked why he had a huge gash across his forehead he said his girlfriend had hit him a couple of days ago.  “Blimey, she must have thrown you a good punch” I said.  “Oh no”, he replied “She picked up a bit of wood and whacked me with it”.  “Oh, what did you do to deserve that?”  “I don’t know, which is why I want to move before she does something else.”  Perhaps he needs to read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”.

Wild Card

And, lastly, my wild card.  I met Stan this afternoon who was upfront about his needing to claim LHA and his Nan had kindly offered the deposit and rent in advance (it’s great when someone loves them enough to help out).  He’s been sofa surfing and staying at the Downs “The Downs? I’ve never heard of that organisation.” I said.  “No” he replied “The D-O-W-N-S.  Those hills with grass on them.” “Oh, the South Downs! Bet that’s cold.”

So, off he’s gone to fill out the Tenant Information Form, get the proof from BHT (Brighton Housing Trust) that he’s been homeless so it can accompany his claim form and I’ll receive direct payment of his LHA (without having to beg for it)

Narrowly Missed

A policeman has  been referred to me who wants a room but  hasn’t returned my calls.

When I asked Tom what he thought of Stan he said “Hey, I ain’t judging no one.” So when I asked if he’d prefer to have a copper in the house he laughed “Well, I ain’t got nothing to hide but I bet the others wouldn’t be happy.”  Hmmm, a new method of voluntary eviction perhaps?!!

Interview for Property Tribes at The Landlord Law Conference

Last Friday Tessa held a Landlord Law Conference, part of Easy Law Training.  It was an informative and hands on day for landlords and agents.  She has kindly invited me to talk at an HMO course which she’s putting together on 23rd May 2013.  In the meantime, if you want to hear more about running HMOs here’s a short interview by Vanessa Warwick of Property Tribes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Tenant Stories

Hats Off To Housing Benefit, But Brace Yourself For The Cameron Effect!

After years of stalking the local Housing Benefits Manager at landlord meetings, he graciously succumbed and it was a privilege to be invited to talk to his agents at their team meeting.  I realised that taking 20 agents off the trading floor for an hour on a weekday is not done without good cause so I had to make sure I produced something worth listening to.

The talk centred around communication between housing benefit, tenants and landlords.  Most landlords who accept the LHA claimants were cut out of the claiming process loop back in April 2008 when Central Government decided to bring in set LHA rates (good) and pay them direct to tenants (bad).

As I posted here about past dealings with Housing Benefit, the old process worked for everyone.  Since April 2008 it’s been my mission to help the local HB department understand and feel my distress at being cast out of the communication loop, leaving me wandering lost and lonely in the sea of benefit claimants and their lies about not being paid “by Housin’” for weeks on end.  I vowed that, if the council didn’t want to help me, then I didn’t want to house LHA claimants – so there.

Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t work for long as I really like LHA tenants; they’re stayers, make the HMO a home by washing the tea towels regularly, report any suspicious goings on and are happy to wait in for the plumber.  Indeed, to quote Ben Reeve-Lewis: 95.6% of landlords indicated that they would likely rent their properties to tenants on HB if rents were paid directly to landlords (source: Landlord Accreditation Scheme Survey).

The meeting aimed to examine the communication methods between the 3 parties (landlords, tenants, HB) and to share experiences from our respective frontlines.  I’d noticed improvements to the speed of claim processing and service levels which has been helped by the setting of LHA rates.  E.g. In the past one tenant would be awarded £70.53pw, another £73.04 and another £62.50 but with apparently similar circumstances!  The LHA rate for a room in a shared house is set at £67pw and I can then help the tenant to budget for the top up of around £13-£18pw.

One of the other points that I wasn’t sure if the council were aware is that of illiteracy.  I’ve only recently discovered one of my tenants is completely illiterate (hence never receiving a text from him) and another 3 semi-literate; which basically means, they open the letter, scan for numbers to indicate dates and money then chuck the rest in their bedside table top drawer in case the words are important.  Indeed, according to the Daily Mail 1 in 5 adults struggle to read (March 2012).

We examined the letter layouts, methods of contact, etc. and the agents have found that phoning the tenants to request more information or clarity is far quicker than writing to them – a service I think even the tenants are pleasantly surprised at!

The team told me about the local Credit Union service which visits the front office once a week.  One of the tenants paid £50 for a £100, 2 week payday loan and I was livid – if he’d come to me I would’ve only charged him £25 interest, but think that would make me a loan shark.  I’ve sent them all a letter, included the CU leaflet and it appears a lot of them hadn’t taken any notice of it either but at least it’s an alternative to Payday Loans.

I came out realising Housing Benefit are just people trying to do a job.  Considering the depth of knowledge, experience and ability to deal with the general public which is required of them, I don’t think it’s a particularly well paid job.  On top of this they’re facing cuts to their department if Mr Cameron & Co insist on introducing  Universal Credit which will have the added factors of

a) making people feel isolated and confused if they aren’t  able to have a face to face conversation with an agent personally dealing with their case

b) disincline landlords to take LHA at all as they’ll be no safety net if the rent’s not paid

c) embarrassing LHA claimants if they can’t read or don’t have access to a computer

d) the Under 25s will be busy looking for parents to live with, because  we know how easy THEY are to lose, and if they can’t find any, will spend their days desperately trying to avoid street sleeping.

Brilliant, Mr C, you and your government alone will soon be able to bring to life George Orwell’s musings and create a world based on Animal Farm and 1984.  You could even adopt his motto: All Animals Are Equal But Some Are More Equal Than Others.  If Universal Credit is designed to tackle Benefit Scroungers, how are you getting on with limiting the public money spent on your in-house Expenses Benefit Scroungers?

Conclusion:

If you’re going to manage an HMO, make your life easier by getting to know the local Council’s Housing Benefit and Environmental Health Teams; we share the same “customers” and common goals – creating long term tenancies in decent, safe houses.

2 Comments

Filed under being a landlord, Future of HMOs

One Good Turn Deserves Another

My blogs have lapsed over the last six weeks but this doesn’t mean nothing’s been happening and I’ve reached the financial stage where I can stick my slippers on, grab a cocoa, put my feet up and watch “Homes Under The Hammer”.

Instead I’ve been busy setting up two HMO’s for an investor.  It’s taken me back to where I started five years ago trawling the charity shops for decent furniture,  remembering all the items needed to kit out a kitchen and explaining to the electrician the importance of tamper proof thermostats.  The difference this time is the investor was keen to get the project right first time and make the rooms look fabulous so very little maintenance will need to be carried out in the near future.  You can read all about the project here.

In the meantime, last month Andrew got himself a job as an assistant chef in a pizza restaurant and he was so excited that he was finally going to be working legitimately.  We had a chat and I poured cold water on his enthusiasm by asking how he was going to pay his £90 a week rent.

Andrew: “Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought about that.  When will I get paid?”

Me: “Well, more importantly how much are you going to be paid?”

Andrew: “Oh, I don’t know.  About £6 an hour”

So we did some calculations based on his contract and expected overtime, deducted National Insurance and emergency tax after explaining what they were for and discovered that it wasn’t quite the amount he was expecting.  And here was the next issue:

Me: “If you get paid in arrears next month, do you have any savings to get you through this month?”

Andrew: “No, I haven’t got any money.  My ex-missus is screaming for her £20 a week child maintenance, I owe my girlfriend money and I owe you money”

Me: “How are you planning to get to work?”

Andrew:  “I’ll get the train it’s cheaper than driving”

Me: “You don’t have a car”

Andrew: “Yeah, but it’s still cheaper than driving”

So, we left that one.  In summary, he didn’t have any money, had a job to go to in another town the next day and wasn’t going to be paid until 4 weeks later.

Me: “OK, I’ll do you a deal.  I’ll pay for your train ticket to get to work and give you £25 a week for food.  Don’t ask me for any more and contact me when you’ve been paid so we can work out a repayment schedule.  Also, remember it’s the chef’s job and the manager’s to shout at you so don’t retaliate”

Andrew: “Nah, I won’t be there for long anyway.  I got plans.  Anyway, I’m used to my social worker ordering me around”

Me: “Just remember you’ve got no work experience, a criminal record, sketchy reading and writing skills so you need this job to give you some credibility for the future.  You’ll need to stay there a while for it to look good on your CV”

Andrew: “Yeah, good point. “

We made arrangements to meet a few hours later at the railway station so we could sort out his railcard and as I left he gave me an uncharacteristic hug and said “Thank you for helping me out.  No one’s done that for me before”.  I replied “Don’t be too grateful, I still think you have the capacity to screw me over.”

A month on and he’s still in the job, knackered but proud of himself and an expert in rolling pizza dough.  He’s been paid and, after paying his debts, still owes me rent and his expenses but I’m first on the list for October’s pay.  For anyone thinking I’ve laid myself open to be taken advantage of I do have any insurance policy: he accepted a Section 21 notice which will be invoked it he cocks this up.

At the station I noticed he was wearing a Hollister T shirt (clothes shop popular with teenagers).  “You won’t be able to buy those for a while until you get yourself sorted.  My kids put Hollister clothes on their Christmas list” I said.

Andrew: “Buy? Oh, this T shirt – nah I didn’t buy it.  I can get your kids some if you like” he replied.

Me: “Er, no thanks.  They can wait and I’ll give them vouchers”

A couple of days later and he sends me a text to say his girlfriend was about to give her Hollister branded clothes to a charity shop and did my girls want first choice?  “Yes!!” they screamed  excitedly.  There’s a first – I’m now accepting charity from my tenants!

7 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Room Rates Down and Bossy Women Exposed

Last week two lovely ladies from the Council (whom I’ve nicknamed the HMO Inspectors) came to visit for my renewal licence.  They were very complimentary and we had a chat about the challenge of housing LHA tenants.

This prompted some research: I know we’re in a recession and I was on the understanding that LHA rates were set reflecting current market levels.  Why then, has the weekly shared accommodation rate gone from £73.64 in March 2010 down to £71.50 in 2011 then down again to £67.00 in 2012 despite the fact that, looking in our local paper you can’t get a room for under £90pw and some ads were even asking £130pw up from an average of £75pw three years ago!?!  Visit http://www.lha-direct.voa.gov.uk to check out the rates nationwide.

To those who keep a close eye on the rental market, this won’t be news but to anyone else, consider this:

  • Waiting list for council homes is typically 5 -25 years
  • There are no legal requirements to house my typical tenant – over 21 years old, single, in possession of most of their mental and physical faculties.
  • Any market rent over and above the LHA rate must be paid for by the tenant from their other benefits e.g. Jobseekers which is set around £65pw
  • This leaves £42pw disposable income which, depending on your point of view, is either just enough to stay out of trouble or an incentive to work illegally

The ladies seemed surprised when I told them that, despite informing Housing on 7th June  of one tenant being 8 weeks in arrears and requesting direct payment – well over 2 months later I still haven’t had any contact or money from the Benefit department so I shall now reluctantly serve a Section 21 notice before I have to apply for charitable status.

Now, I’m a patient kind of girl and hate to see people being taken advantage of, but is it really any wonder why, according to Landlord Today, that over 59% of ads stipulate no Housing Benefit?

Octavia Hill – My New Heroine

Leading on, I was led by Ben Reeve-Lewis to an article in the Guardian about Octavia Hill, the social reformer who collected her rents in person.   You can read the article here but one of the reply comments said “Octavia adopted a very strong, controlling influence over the lives of her tenants…”

I can see how my methods could be viewed as similarly dictatorial but it remains, as in her day, that we are not all created equal and some tenants want help, advice or just someone to chat to.  I’m careful to be appreciative, even grateful, of any rent received and, if a tenant doesn’t want me to interfere, I’ll happily accept a standing order weekly or monthly which is easier than being given permission to sift through their pants drawer to find the cash because they can’t be bothered to get out of bed.

The benefit of personal contact in ANY market can never be underestimated.  Take Andrew: he’s fed up with his job (street selling) and has got himself an interview as a chef.  With scant reading and writing skills his career options are limited but he phoned me today to let me know the good news.  We chatted about what he was going to say, which questions he might be asked and I reminded him of his positive attributes which he needed to get over to the interviewer so she’d forget about his Community Service Order.  With no family to encourage him and friends who would take the p**s out of him committing to a full time job, I hope that keeping me up to date is mutually beneficial.

Gwynneth Paltrow – Makes Me Want To Try Heroin

Talking of interviews – Times Style interviewed Gwynneth Paltrow on how she juggles the demands of being a working mummy.  Oh to have to worry about dividing quality time between the kids and the yoga instructor, travelling between homes in London and Los Angeles  as well as keeping  a gorgeous rock star husband sexually satisfied.  Somehow I can’t quite see the Sunday media wanting an exposé on how my kids enjoy spending their summer holidays on room viewings, rent collection or tenant chasing whilst I balance life in the fast lane trying to talk to ANYONE from Housing Benefit with day trips to Legoland!

7 Comments

Filed under being a landlord, Future of HMOs