Tag Archives: accommodation LHA

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.

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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.

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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!

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