Tag Archives: good tenant

The End of the Curse of Room 2

For the last six weeks I’d be forgiven for thinking that Room 2 has been cursed.  The first person to occupy was Paul who was evicted  after a week following five separate police visits, a warrant for a recall to prison with a charge of rape thrown in for good measure.  I never told you exactly how he left but I am in possession of his keys and a signed Voluntary Leaving Letter – I’m not a bin bags on the street kind of landlady.

Mario was next.  The one whose mum was desperate to be rid of him and also a well known face to the police, so the offer of a room was withdrawn as he had failed his referencing – even though he probably had a decent credit score.

The next to turn up and ask for the room was Belinda from Portugal.  Smiley, bouncy and recommended by another tenant who worked with her – she didn’t seem put off by the ingrained smell of testosterone or the fact that the toilet seats are permanently up.  Brave girl, I thought and her friend seems nice, also I do like a good recommendation from another, trusted tenant.  She was living with friends after a holiday in Portugal to visit family so struggled to provide a landlord reference.  Just before she was due to move in, Antonio called in distress; he knew her from a house he’d been living in where she regularly “entertained” gentlemen throughout the night and had been forced to return home following a spate of charges against her for dealing.  To be fair, she took the news of the room offer being withdrawn incredibly well.

Then Karim – came across as hardworking and had entered the UK years ago as a Kurdish asylum seeker, but his wife had just left him taking all the money.  During the referencing process the only black mark against his name was the wife who was apparently unpredictable and a “nightmare” manic depressive.  Well, that was OK as his wife had disappeared.  At 10pm on the Friday night before he was due to move in on Saturday morning, he called to say he’d forgiven his wife and could she move in too?  No.  My suspicion is that they figured it was easier for him to find accommodation and then she could surreptitiously get under the bedcovers without anyone noticing.

I took the decision to lay the room fallow (I think that’s what they do to a field to allow it to recover from the trauma of being turned over time and again) and see if anyone suitable appeared in my lap.  My confidence in tenant selection had taken a knock and I needed the current round of room hunting tenants to subside.  This time of year also brings out many of the people who may have been evicted over the summer and they don’t fancy spending a winter under the pier or don’t qualify for the local Winter Night Shelter.

A Familiar Face…

Then Greg called.  This potted history is going to make all our lives appear ridiculously simple: He has two children by two different women of which we’ll call one X,  plus a high maintenance, glamorous, pregnant girlfriend who we will call Y.  In the summer, Greg bonked X then Y.  X  found out, got cross so reported him for breaking his bail conditions not to contact her and he was thrown into prison for eight weeks.  Y was waiting for him when he came out and talked of setting up home together.  The next I knew I was receiving a reference check for Greg and X to take a house together.  I asked Greg if shacking up with the woman who put him in prison was a good idea whilst her arch rival was pregnant with his child, but he said it would be ‘fine’.  And there I thought that he would somehow find domestic bliss……..

Turns out that, once he’d bought new sheets, furniture, car and a Sky dish the relationship foundered within a few weeks as he “was working hard and not getting any”.  He answered my quizzical look by spelling out the word “S.E.X.”.  He’d been offered a roof over his head from friends “but they’re all coked up and I don’t want that life” and had decided he’d been at his happiest renting a room in my HMO where “the landlady was spot on”.  I think that was a compliment.

When I asked Tom what he thought about having Greg back into the fold he said “I’ve got two heads, darlin’ and only one of them’s for thinking and that one thinks it’s great!”.

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Another Job For The Landlord – Noisy Neighbours

How do you deal with noisy neighbours?  It’s a sensitive, subjective matter that incites even the most easy going tenant to tear their hair out.  I’ve had two incidences to deal with this week:

NEXT DOOR NEIGHBOUR

A couple in a room reported that the neighbour in the house next door was playing loud music well into the night and it was driving them crazy.  I suggested they keep a noise diary whilst I looked into it.  The neighbours are Polish and always seemed to be out when I went round, but after having a nosey at the state of the place (garden filled with rubbish, manky permanently drawn curtains) I decided to take someone with me.  We had no joy and the other HMO tenants said they were disturbed but “were used to a bit of noise, however, the peeing in the garden is unacceptable.”

The drama “The Fear” has been on this week about an ageing gangster, losing his mind to Alzheimers, allowed the Kosovans and Albanians to move in on his “patch”.  He agreed in a less lucid moment to give them houses in prime Brighton so they went round and just threw all the tenants’ belongings into the street.  This led to a gun fight and there were way more Central/Eastern Europeans than there were Brits.  I’m sure the intention wasn’t to portray them as mean, nasty and evil but the telly did a damn good job.

With the mean look of the gangsters still fresh in my mind (yes, I know they’re actors) I happened to bump into the neighbours today.  I plucked up the courage, introduced myself and asked for “a word”.  The house was an absolute s**t heap and I don’t reckon they’ll be getting their deposit back.  On the plus side, they were suitably charming, promised to keep the noise down and seemed genuinely surprised they’d caused any bother.

I checked with the other house next door who replied “I haven’t heard nothing, mate”.  It also transpires that my Italian couple had written notes (really don’t know how they did this as every time we have a conversation it takes three times as long while they search for words and an awful lot of sign language) but the neighbours couldn’t confront them as they didn’t know which house the notes had come from.

Conclusion: writing notes of complaint without signing them is cowardly and, in my experience, has done little to solve any problems but lots to increase ill feeling.  Far better to  arm yourself with a huge smile, put your case to the noisy neighbour calmly then have a threat or two up your sleeve for non compliance!

HMO NEIGHBOUR

This has been a bit more sensitive: late last night I received a text from Greg in the bedsit: “the man below is doing my f***ing head in!  I can’t stand another night listening to his snoring.  I know it’s a sensitive issue but please do something!”  What?  Get into bed beside him and nudge him to turn over when he gets too noisy?!  I think that’s taking my landlady duties a little too far.  I had a chat with the carpet man and the builder and we decided the best bet (as I don’t want to lose either tenant) would be to fill the void in the bedsit floor with insulation and top it off with a thick underlay and new carpet.  Yes, I know this is going to cost me money, but the thin carpet was put down five years ago and was only ever meant as a temporary measure.  And, if that doesn’t muffle the sounds, I’ll provide free ear plugs.  I do sympathise as I once woke up an entire army barracks with my snoring and know it’s a blissfully unconscious act but teeth grindingly annoying for the listener.

As we went to measure the bedsit today, I was struck by how impossibly clean and tidy it was.  Perhaps Greg did learn a thing or two during his prison stint!

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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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Dealing With Cancer In An HMO – Nadine’s Story

Ben Reeve-Lewis recently recommended that I interview my HMO tenants to backup this blog’s aim of showing the human side to being a landlord.  Nadine is the first victim and knows why I’m writing about her (just in case anyone is worried about privacy infringements!).

Two months ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately underwent surgery.  The interview takes place from her hospital bed during her second chemo treatment.  She’s mostly positive, we’ve all had a laugh with her wig and NHS “fillet” as she calls it and now I want to understand, from her point of view, what it’s like to deal with debilitating treatment whilst sharing the house with relative strangers.

Whilst Nadine has been renting for years (she’s 45), this is her first experience of a room in a shared house.  She’d been stung a couple of times after someone purporting to be the landlord took a month’s rent in advance and deposit, gave her the keys, until she met a man in the kitchen claiming to be the actual landlord and threw her out, minus her belongings.  When she finally caught up with the original “landlord” he refused to give her any money back claiming that it was his fee for storing her goods!  After seeing various rooms in dreadful states – including one offering just a mattress on the floor – she landed on my doorstep through a contact at the Salvation Army.

How has your perception of house sharing shifted since being diagnosed with cancer?  “I’m less tolerant, which is to be expected.  I’ve always tried to keep everybody as friends but slightly at arms length then you don’t fall out with people or have problems.  I’ve found that I’ve had to involve a lot more people that I wouldn’t normally involve as I knew it would have an impact on their lives as well as mine which has been difficult and trying to get them to understand what’s going on .  I think they’ve sympathised, not empathised as until you’ve been there yourself you can’t empathise.

Have they sat and talked about what you’re going through or kept you at arms length?  “I think it’s brought us closer and I’ve tried to explain as much as possible, leaving booklets out asking them to read and understand what I’m likely to go through.  But it’s not their problem and it’s not fair for them to become too wrapped up in something that’s not their problem.”

I think that’s very generous of you to say that but there are 5 people in that house and it could have happened to anybody.  “Most of the tenants have been absolutely lovely, but I’ve become less tolerant of the noise and the people around me.  Two of them have even helped with the cleaning”

Do you feel comfortable in the house or would you  prefer to be in your own house?  “If I’m honest, of course I would prefer my own house and it’s only going to get worse, like the times when I’ve got no hair and I have to go into the kitchen and meet someone or their friend.  That’s the thing I will find difficult and I’ve discussed it with the others.   I notice I’m sneaking around more in case any of them are drunk!”

Do any of them understand your need for peace and quiet?  “I have tried to explain to them that there will be times when I will tell them to **** off but I don’t mean it, but it might happen and I’ve tried to pre-empt every situation that might go wrong as much as possible.”

Has having Andy there made it bearable? (Andy is Nadine’s step brother and a lovely fellow tenant who is registered partially blind) “Yes, because he’s made me a cup of tea, cooked meals, sorted out the buckets and it would be a lonely hell without him.  He has a calm quiet demeanour whereas the others will try to cheer me up and be positive!   I worry that, as the treatment goes on, it’s only going to get worse and have a profound effect on me and on the house.”

What’s your greatest dream?  “To travel to India, see the world, do voluntary work.  I don’t want lots of money, I want to be free.  Life’s too short and this illness has made me even more determined to achieve my dream”

On privacy: “I’m terrified that when I lose my hair I don’t want to have to put a wig on just to go to the bathroom.   I feel so self-conscious and what doesn’t help is that my room is by the front door so I hear all the comings and goings.”

Did the nurses or doctors show an interest in how you were going to be looked after at home?  “No, not really.  You’re expected just to get on with it and they wouldn’t give me patient transport – they said I had to get the bus.”

How have you changed emotionally through this experience?  “I’m an emotional wreck.  I feel very alone and it’s a lonely journey.  It doesn’t matter how many friends you’ve got, some have backed away because they don’t know how to deal with it or I think they think you’ll become too needy.  I haven’t seen some of them for months, but that’s because I’m probably off the scene.”

It must be very strange to feel alone when you’re in a house full of people.  “It is”.   Do you think it would be better in a bedsit?  “I think it would be the same as it hasn’t got anything to do with the amount of people around you but that it’s something you’re going through and nobody else is.”

Do you get support during the bad days?  “Not so much, because during the bad days you just want to curl up and die, but Macmillan are brilliant on the end of the phone and little texts from people letting me know they’re thinking of me is lovely.”  I’m frightened I’m turning into a neurotic monster but the drugs do make you feel intolerant of other people.”

Stop worrying about other people, concentrate on yourself.  There are far more antisocial behaviours you can inflict on the other tenants than being a stroppy bitch – normally that’s my job.  They’ll get over it and if they want to party they can go to their friends’ houses or the pub.  “I don’t like causing people trouble and I know it has a profound effect on everyone and I’ve spent months preparing them.  It’s very important, when living in a shared house, to keep a certain balance in terms of we all get on and we’re equal and we don’t feel anyone is given preferential treatment.  It doesn’t work if one person tries to be the head of the household or more dominant than the others  and it’s very difficult to keep it like that.  Shared housing is about tolerating.  It’s very difficult to get the exact balance of people.

Do you feel safe in the house?  “Most of the time, but at this point I’d love to have my own place just to have that bit of serenity and calm and you don’t have to worry about who’s coming in and out of the house and if there are too many people drinking there’s going to be a fight.”  These are valid issues that I can do something about.  I’d be livid if there were parties going on in other houses.  But I have to catch them at it otherwise they’re going to think they’re being gossiped about.  ” Yes, they’re lovely people but they do tend to forget.”

In Summary

The point about a shared house  – if you want to party, get your own house, go to someone else’s or go out.  This is where people are living and it has to be kept quiet as tenants have different shift work or routines.  I understand why she doesn’t want to upset anyone but for me it’s a big issue as I don’t want them traipsing around, getting pissed and throwing bricks through the window – yes, this has happened which he still hasn’t paid me back for.

Nadine’s treatment will last until after Christmas during which she has chemo sessions every two weeks which I take her to and bring her home with my builder as back up transport if I can’t do it.  We’ve put an external lock on the downstairs toilet so she can have some privacy while being sick and doesn’t run the risk of coming across the boys’ pee!

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CCTV Babysits While HMO Landlady Goes on Holiday

I’ve just arrived home from a long weekend in Florence.   I could say it was to inspire a new creativity to my writing but , no, it followed an offer I couldn’t refuse.  However, if I’d been a sculptor or painter of Renaissance religious persuasion my mind would be exploding with images of mortals suffering hell and damnation alongside buxom half naked women and lavishly clothed saints displayed on beautiful 400 year old frescoes.

Instead, from day one I was bombarded with texts from Jamie, the potential tenant who seemed to forget what his job was or where he’d been living.  Flattering though it is to boast my very own stalker, it is starting to get a bit creepy.

Jamie: “U ok babe. Come on England” (Think this was a reference to the football?)

Me: “Who are you?” (I don’t tend to keep numbers unless they become a tenant)

Jamie: “4 f**ks sake, its Jamie”

Me: “Go away, I’m on holiday”

Jamie: “It’s a shame, cos ur fit an we could have had a lot of fun lol”

Hmmm, I think the 20ft high statue of the naked Michelangelo’s David holds more appeal even if he was 500 years old and a bit on the quiet side.

Relatively Quiet At Home

Otherwise mostly quiet from the other tenants as I’d put a note under everyone’s door explaining that I’d be unavailable (not away/abroad/on holiday – licence to misbehave) and to let them know that I wouldn’t be there for the usual rent collection so could they please exercise restraint and hold the cash for 48 hours and instructions on what to do in an emergency (call 999 for a fire, ambulance, police or  the builder if they’re locked out or there’s a leak) .   I’ve resorted to notes as they all seem to change their numbers or have multiple phones and I’m always the last to know.

Only Andrew managed to blow his rent between Saturday and Tuesday and another tenant thought I wouldn’t notice or meant I’d be collecting NEXT Tuesday.  Had a chat with Tom who said C.I.D. had popped round looking again for Andrew’s brother as well as several other people as it turns out the HMO address is being widely used by the locals whenever they get arrested.  CID said “I thought the house would be bigger than this considering the amount of names we’ve got registered as living here”.  Tom proudly pointed to the CCTV cameras and said “Not here, mate.  They see that CCTV notice and know not to come here cos if they’re that stupid they’ll find me waiting for them behind the front door.”  “Fair enough” said the copper, “I’ll put a note on the system but can’t make any guarantees you’ll be left alone”.

“Really?”  I said later.  “Do you think the cameras and signs are enough to put these guys off?”

Tom replied “It’s alright Sweetheart.  None of us even get pissed anymore or walk around in our pants in case you look at the recordings”.

I’ve just paid the CCTV installation bill and have decided it’s the best babysitting tool on the market – might even get one for home!

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The Polish Couple Who Moved Upmarket

And so it’s goodbye to Robert and Eva after 4 happy years as Eva’s baby is due next month.  Having moved from an HMO room to a two bed flat in a posher part of town they seem swamped by the space.  Robert called me today to ask if I could help him with the boiler as there was no hot water.  Passed by on my way to school pick-up to find them proudly perched on their little sofa in the hugest living room I’ve seen – I think they forgot they were going to have to furnish the flat but at least the 42″ telly filled a corner.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t help with the boiler so he put me onto the inventory, AST and informing the utility companies of their move as well as asking what to do about the rattling sash windows which wouldn’t open but still managed to let the wind whistle through the flat.

Finding The New Landlord

Apparently he’d tried calling his new landlord to no avail and was told by the letting agent that they couldn’t help or advise which is why he called me.  He couldn’t understand why BT were asking £27/month for a broadband and telephone package when I charged each tenant £5/month.  I tried to explain that my maths wasn’t that great, I set the rate four years’ ago and couldn’t work out how to squeeze a few extra quid out of everyone so left it – they hadn’t realised how much they were going to have to pay out after being used to an all inclusive rate.

Why didn’t the landlord leave a house file explaining how everything worked and where the stopcock was or  even an email address if he doesn’t want to answer his phone?  Why did the letting agent just give them the meter readings but not tell them which utility company supplied the gas and electric?!  So we set about with the admin and I talked him through the bits, told him what to look out for and left them trying to contact the landlord to get the boiler sorted.  I even had to explain the concept of contents insurance.

Before all this I’d spent the day refurbishing their room.  I don’t do much painting these days as I give the work to Tom to give him something to get out of bed for.  However, I’m fed up of giving him a bit of cash, him getting pissed then me getting calls of complaints from the other tenants when they’ve had to step over him at 6pm on a Saturday night.  This time, I decided to pay myself the money and buy a new pair of shoes.

As I cleaned and painted my thoughts wandered back to the time Robert, Eva and I spent together in this landlord/tenant relationship.  My, how we laughed over the years after:

1. Finding the near dead body of Jeremy following his dabble with a hard drug cocktail.  We both looked at his naked body turning blue, wondering who should give him the kiss of life or if it was too late and theorising how he came to be in the recovery position, oh, and perhaps the paramedics should be called.

2. Hiding in his room whilst Mo, a Kuwaiti drug dealer, moved boxes and boxes of viagra to a waiting car then came back and tried to kick down the door whilst shouting obscenities

3. Working out why Freda, the South African care worker, put a note under their door calling Eva a “beach”.  Turns out, it was supposed to read “b**ch”

4. He spent three years complaining his sink in his room wasn’t draining properly and, finally, I asked the plumber to investigate only to find that he wasn’t being pedantic and the whole sink and waste pipework through the house had to be replaced.

Yes, it’s been a happy partnership and I’ll miss them.  I’ve placed the room ad in the paper and this time have specified “quiet, mature working people” – wonder who I’ll get?

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2012 Looking Positive for Tenants!

For the last 5 years January has tended to be a month of tenant depression and apathy.  Casual work is near existent or thin on the ground, most were paid before Christmas so have had to survive an extra 1 or 2 weeks or, as in most cases, it was all spent during Christmas and New Year.  Typically, I’ll have at least 3 tenants starting the month with “Err, can’t pay the rent because [delete as appropriate] I needed to get my girlfriend a very expensive present/I wanted a top of the range mobile/dunno, just don’t have any”.  It’s OK, I budget for this and they usually catch up by the end of the February [if they want to stay!].

But not this year!  Maybe it’s the winter sunshine, maybe it’s because no one can sink any lower in terms of job prospects or maybe they realise the Government training schemes won’t give them a job and they’ll have to do it all by themselves.  The recession in 2008 seemed to hit my tenants first – no longer able to pass themselves off as builders, kitchen fitters or painters as they did in the boom years due to plenty of work and a shortage of decent, qualified people to do it.   Four years of moaning about “this bl**dy country” and no jobs for the unskilled, yet not a peep about the rising cost of beer, they’ve had to learn to be more creative with their job search.

David has finally got himself a retail job in a health food shop (a complete antithesis of all he believes in!), Nadine has become involved in setting up a drug rehabilitation project to further her volunteering skills, Justin’s doing well at his new charity job selling subscriptions on the street and Zitomir (the mad Czech) has been working hard doing “security” and been very quiet after inviting my children to meet his non-English speaking children and “perhaps we could turn it into a date?” idea.  Even Tom is fired up with a new project: having realised he’s not very employable but has some creative skills he’s going to renovate unwanted furniture and sell it on.  I’ve given him a couple of pieces to start with and told him to research the local vintage shops (which are springing up all over) and Ebay.  In fact, Ebay is a bit difficult due his lack of computer skills and, er, computer.  I suggested he gave a house mate 10% of the profits to list any pieces for him.

Alas, the same cannot be said for my Romanian Border Guard.  His command of English is outstanding, his work ethic beyond reproach and he’s always well presented.  He’s desperate to get a card that allows him to work legitimately in the UK, rather than the 4 hours cleaning a day he does at the moment, his paperwork is in order, but the powers-that-be have refused to grant him the necessary permit.  He says that, according to his compatriots in London, it’s because he’s Romanian and the UK Government have issued an order, just before Christmas, not to give any Romanian nationals the right to work here.

On another note: according to the tenants, CSCS cards (permits that allow one to work in the building trade) can be bought from a bloke in the pub for £110.  Alternatively, you can be conventional by studying  the Health and Safety manual and take it up to 3 times free of charge!

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