Tag Archives: homeless

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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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).

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Call Me a Cynic, But…….

A fehomeless-man2w weeks ago I visited a wealthy market town and came across a man sitting forlornly in a passageway wearing dirty clothes.  On the floor in front of him was a sign on which he’d scratched the words “Homeless” and an old tobacco tin with a few coppers in it.

I watched with interest as the police chatted to him, well-to-do ladies threw in a pound or two whilst smiling sympathetically having relinquished their guilt and a bohemian dressed girl from the organic, wholefood restaurant across the road gave him some food and a reassuring hug.

All this took place within about half an hour and he hadn’t hurled abuse at anyone so I decided it was my turn to pitch in: he said that a rehoming charity were trying to help him and he’d come to be near his son and wanted to visit him.  I asked if he wanted me to help him find accommodation Continue reading

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Don’t Judge Your Tenants

If there’s one thing this profession has taught me it’s “Don’t judge”. Along with stopping smoking and cutting down the alcohol, it’s a resolution I’ve made myself New Year after New Year and, becoming a landlord has forced me to uphold the “Don’t judge” one. When I tell anyone who’ll listen about my tenants they look aghast that I’d even consider letting a room to someone with a dubious accommodation history, erratic/non existent work CV and long periods in their lives that even they can’t remember which planet they were on. I admit that when I started, I was naive and daft, tried to see the good in everyone and then was royally “bitten on the bum” by the ones I gave the most help to.

Tom

Tom was different and I count him as one of my best, most loyal tenants who, I admit, I have a rare fondness and affection for. Perhaps it’s because he can tuck a set of drawers under one arm and a mattress under the other or perhaps it’s because he’s helped me out of a few scrapes over the years and shown me a different side of life (we’re the same age).  A homeless referral from the Salvation Army he appeared sporting a massive bruise across his face which he assured me was due to a wardrobe falling on him whilst he’d been helping them out.  Ex- Army, he was guest of Her Majesty for GBH, in numerous custody suites for letting his fists get out of control and claimed to have attended AA meetings on a regular basis but due to his binge drinking, I very much doubt this. Big, fierce and scary looking he is, but he’s honourable and will only bite if provoked – a friendly rottweiler if you will. He doesn’t mug passers by or break into people’s houses, is kind to animals and children and would defend me and my family at all costs to himself – providing he were sober enough.  (He found and refurbished a remote control helicopter for my son last month).

He became my hero three years ago when Adam took a room in the same house as him. Affable bloke, nice girlfriend but it soon became clear that he had problems which I later found out to be excessive weed and gambling on the slots. After weeks of trying to get him to speak to me over rent arrears he finally answered his door with a knife in his hand and showing me his bloodied wrists which were “all your fault for chasing me for rent”. Luckily, he didn’t know how to do any real damage to himself and had used a fairly blunt kitchen knife. I admit I was scared as he was clearly irrational and kept waving the knife at me so there was no way that we could have a sensible conversation about his tenancy – he was beyond that and was begging to be sectioned. Looking back, I think I made him worse as I was furious at having spent hours trying to find him, annoyed that he’d told me the other tenants had stolen his rent, incensed that he was using emotional blackmail (never a good move with me) and cross that I was going to have to buy a new set of kitchen knives. On top of all this I was in the first throes of gastroenteritis and desperately trying not to throw up.

Tom heard the commotion and beckoned me away from the door. It was Friday night and he just said “Go home, I’ll sort this”. I was dubious and he promised not to hit him but I felt so ill and was clearly in a situation I didn’t know what to do. If I’d called the police he would have been sectioned and then I’d never have been able to serve Section 21 on him personally. (Top tip, if a tenant goes to prison/hospital or any institution it’s my belief that the Section 21 notice has to be served on the Governor or person running that institution – good luck!).

On the Sunday, Tom called to say that Adam had taken the last of his belongings in a plastic carrier bag, given back his keys and left peacefully. He’d promised to get some professional help and sent his apologies to me for being such a pain and leaving rent arrears of £600. They’d even cleaned the room together! From that day on, Tom became a bit of a hero for me and I realised that being bossy and officious isn’t always the best way to deal with people but with a little gentle persuasion and empathy, whole mountains can be moved.

New Year’s Resolutions – CONQUERED!

There are other stories where he’s saved my middle class, sometimes pompous, ass and prevented me from throwing my Orla Kiely handbag around. There are even more times when he’s crossed the line as a tenant and let the drink impair his judgement for which he gets a yearly bollocking from me. In the meantime, I’m proud to say that I’ve upheld the other resolutions – recently kicked the smoking and, reluctantly, the drink (for they go hand in hand) and remind myself when I meet someone new “Don’t judge – you may just need them someday”.

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Church Helps the Homeless – Or Does It?!

Up until this week I considered myself to a Christian although not one that feels the necessity to polish one’s halo in public.  This is what changed:

The local churches have got together to set up a night shelter for the street homeless from November through to February.  They appealed for volunteers and invited us along to a training session advertised as being delivered by Shelter.  I mentioned the project to Nadine, one of my tenants, who jumped at the chance to extend her existing volunteer work with the homeless and off we went to sit in a cold church hall.

The meeting opened with a prayer and the bloke doing the training kept referring to his audience as “brothers and sisters” and went on for an hour and a half about his work setting up night shelters around the country with “God’s will” (turns out he wasn’t from Shelter at all!).  He answered direct questions like “should we say a prayer with them before they go to sleep?” and “what happens when they turn violent?” in the true manner of a politician.  By this time, Nadine and I were rolling our eyes and desperately trying not to giggle.  She answered the questions, correctly, about how to manage conflict and I just muttered that it may help if he stopped making the homeless sound like aliens waiting to rape and pillage our little town.

The fact of the matter is this: there are only 15/20 truly street homeless in our town (not including sofa surfers or families who the day centres also serve) and Nadine has been helping in two Church day centres for 5 years and knows most visitors by name.  She doesn’t look for anything from this life except knowing she’s helping others less fortunate; she doesn’t lust after fast cars, fast men, new clothes or handbags.  She’s always on the lookout to rescue unwanted animals and people.  Having worked extensively with the mentally ill, she handled babysitting my three children brilliantly and had them wrapped around her finger with her extensive knowledge of Eastenders and ability to get down on the floor to play games.  Got the picture?  Nadine genuinely cares and carries out her voluntary work in the name of a big heart and compassion for her fellow human being.

I wanted to do the night shift so I could not only get some experience for my project but also to watch those that I’ve had to evict in the past wake up in horror in the middle of the night to see my face!

We filled out our forms and availability and handed them in to the Project Co-ordinator.  Nadine explained that, because she doesn’t belong to a congregation at a particular church, she couldn’t fill in that information.  Do you know what he said?  “In that case, we can’t have you on board.  We can only have people who belong to a church”.  Despite my protestations and the personal references of people from the Sally Army and her Church volunteer group, he was absolutely adamant that she couldn’t be part of the project.

Nadine was devastated and hurt, I was angry and embarrassed.  She’d come up with good questions such as “will you let them in if they have a dog?” and has more experience in her little toe than all those do-gooder Christians who manage to ignore the subject of homelessness for most of the year.  I’m guessing it’s an opportunity for them to build their next step towards heaven.  So, to the homeless of our town – if you want to be patronised and gawped at, go along to your local church.  Be alcohol and drug free, behave yourselves, brush your teeth before bed and don’t forget to thank the kind ladies and gentlemen as you depart in the morning for their hospitality for they will thank God that they never have to experience your way of life.

 

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HMO Tenants – What Happens When They’ve Got Kids?

This week, I placed an ad in our local paper and received a call from a guy who wanted a room for himself, his wife and two children.  I used my ususal excuse of “Under the terms of my insurance, I’m not allowed to accept children.  Very sorry”.  A lame excuse? Possibly, but to put a whole family in one room would get right up the nose of my other tenants – not to mention the creation of a queue for the bathroom.

What Do You Do If a Tenant Has A Child?

Now, tenants with children come in different formats: girl gets pregnant whilst in a house share, families can only afford one room (I often find this of foreign sounding applicants so maybe they don’t qualify for housing benefit help?) or, typically, bloke has been ejected from his marriage and home for a variety of reasons and desperately wants access to his child.  We have a house which I renamed “Fathers For Justice” House as all the tenants were aged 20-30 years old, had fallen foul of the missus, lost all their money as I’m guessing their other half dealt with the finances and all they had left was a suitcase, a battered ego and a promise of child access.

Stories

Jason turned up on the doorstep clutching my phone number exactly 3 years ago this month.  He had no money, a pile of debt, an angry ex-wife and two children.  He’d been recommended by an existing tenant and, as regular readers know, I’m a sucker for a sob story.  He’s a proud dad and pictures of his children are blue tacked all over the walls, they regularly come to the house and he keeps their scooters and a few toys in his room.  When he was broke he still remembered their birthdays, kitted them out from charity shops in an attempt to provide and made sure he never missed an access visit.  He’s now debt free, works hard and his kids are absolutely delightful – they’ve never stayed over for the night as Jason’s mum lives nearby.

John, a  great bloke, handsome, but unreliable and slightly hygenically challenged.  Claimed his wife had him done for domestic abuse and kept moving so he couldn’t make contact with her or their three children.  He was with me for over a year until I had to evict him for non payment of rent, but we left on friendly terms and he’d managed to trace his children via Facebook.  Domestic abuse?  I doubt it, he visibly cowered when I had to give him my “I’m your New Best Friend before homelessness” talk.

Simon: has been with me for over 3 years and is in his mid twenties.  He has a 9 year old son, Billy, who lives with the mother and her heroin addict boyfriend on a council estate.  Simon trys hard, earns little and is a constant worrier – he also managed to get his new girlfriend pregnant earlier this year so he and I had to have a chat about “responsibility”.  Billy has been somewhat a victim of tug of love as his mother decides as and when Simon can see him and it can be very irregular.  Simon misses him when he’s not allowed access (for no good reason), can’t claim legal aid to challege any access issues but showers Billy with fatherly love and discipline when he stays over, especially as he was on a threat of a junior ASBO.  By the way, Simon doesn’t want to move in with his girlfriend as he’s enjoying the houseshare so much and she has three other kids!

Neil: again, mid twenties and a bit of a wide boy with a beautiful three year old daughter.  She used to stay over every other weekend until one my female meddling tenants suggested that the sleeping arrangements were “inappropriate”.  She narrowly avoided a punch.

Tom: the saddest case of all.  Two years ago his wife revealed that his 18 year old son wasn’t actually his and to this day they still haven’t spoken…………

The Point I’m Trying To Make

HMOs are NOT a suitable environment for a child to grow up in, not least due to the transient and unreliable tenants but also because children make noise at 6.30am and enjoy running water with the basin plug left in whilst expressing themselves through wall art.  However, who am I to say that a tenant can’t have reasonable access to his child?  He’s lost everything and the only accommodation he can afford is a rented room in a shared house or a park bench.  The bond between the parent and child should be allowed to grow during the difficult circumstances he’s found himself in and it may just be the one thing that doesn’t turn him to drink, drugs or beating up other tenants.

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HMOs – Seems Everyone’s At It!

Not so long ago, as an HMO Landlady I was looked upon as the poor relation in landlord terms.  I would attend meetings and be one of the only HMO landlords NOT housing students and my peers would sniff disdainfully or snigger as I defended my market.  How the world is a-changing…  (well, my world – I think the actual world has enough on its plate).

This week I was asked to advise a landlord who was hoping to rent to students but has changed market due to an oversupply of accommodation and our town’s university cheekily about to charge the same annual fees as Oxford and Cambridge – talk about delusions of adequacy.  I was flattered that he’d asked me to help give him some tips and advise the layout – no one’s normally interested when I wax lyrical about HMOs.  He told me he was going to place the ad online only to attract working people and to presumably deter anyone not suitable from seeing the ad in print as they wrap the newspaper around their bottle of vodka.  He’s going to do just fine as he’d already decided on a comprehensive referencing technique and drawn up room contracts – it took me 2 years to get to that stage!

Then, I was asked by a letting agent to look at a six bedroomed house that he’d been asked to tenant.  OK house, OK rooms but with a prevailing smell of damp, unfinished bathrooms, but all the fire regs were in place and the landlord wanted £400pm PLUS bills.  Now, bearing in mind my most expensive room is £100pw incl all bills for a huge room, that’s steep.  He also revealed that the landlord was trying to raise £2.5 million to buy more HMOs.

The next call came from someone wanting to give out my number to a family member who wants to get into HMOs for their yield.  In the five years I’ve been operating HMOs not ONE landlord has ever thought it was a good idea to let property this way and advised me to jump ship in favour of students.  (Not my market of choice due to their lack of domestic skills – even my own children manage to clear up after themselves).  They didn’t understand that, buying at the height of the property boom in 2007 meant I HAD to do HMOs otherwise the buildings couldn’t pay.

The Effect

So, for five years I’ve been paddling away, becoming accustomed to the sneers, riding the storms with the help of my landlord association saying “Well, what did you expect?” and having many moments of wanting to winch myself to safety to hold down a normal job.  Judging by the number of ads in the paper this week, lots of landlords are riding the Room Letting wave – but will they stick with it?

I put an ad in the paper this week and only received two calls: one from a bloke who, asked where he’s living now, said “On the street” and it took every ounce of will to tell him I couldn’t help and hang up.  For the next half hour I was going to call him back but my head took over to remind me how many time I’ve been proverbally shafted by the homeless over the years.

The next respondee was Ashley: he told me his ex-girlfriend was having an affair and managed to get him sectioned based on false evidence of depression and self harm with a supporting testimonial from his mum.  He has now been released and is being housed in a B&B at a cost to Housing Benefit of £140pw plus a top up of £40pw and an £18pw service charge.  Perhaps I could throw in a bowl of cornflakes and a cuppa every morning and charge £198pw!  To summise: plausible story, the first I’ve ever heard involving sectioning and, as I’ve said before I’m a sucker for a sob story.  Unfortunately, he failed my referencing test – he couldn’t look me in the eye without jumping from one leg to another.

So, once the reality of HMO landlording has worn down even the sharks, the bottom feeders such as myself will still be going strong…………….!!

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