Tag Archives: How to be an HMO Landlord

Smokin’ Sounds The Alarms

Today’s post focuses on our foreign and immigration-approved (I think) tenants – we may share a commonality as EU citizens but the last few weeks have shown that we’re definitely still worlds, continents and nations apart.

It started off with a faulty fire alarm.  The two storey maisonette was classed as an HMO by the council as it was part of a three storey building even though we don’t own the flat below which has its own entrance.  Under the HMO regulations we were required to install a Grade D alarm system providing every room with their own hard wired smoke alarm and linking it to the flat below.

There’s been quite a bit of room changeover recently and this HMO has one very grumpy English man, a Czech lady, two Portuguese men and a Spaniard.

The smoke alarms started to go off at seemingly random times but mainly throughout the night so we asked everyone to check their own alarm to see which was flashing red to show which one was faulty.  Everyone denied seeing any red lights – I’ll clarify – anyone who read and understood my texts denied either hearing the alarm or bothered to report it sounding.  It was only the frequent calls from the Englishman and the lady in the flat below which gave us an idea of what was going on.

After seeking advice from the manufacturer and various alarm system engineers we went into the rooms to remove one alarm at a time to find the fault.  What we found: Continue reading

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British Gas Engineer Escapes Unhurt

Before Christmas I received a friendly letter from British Gas asking me to contact them to arrange an electricity meter change at James Street as it had come to the “end of its life”.  It lingered at the bottom of my in-tray until I was ready to spend a quiet afternoon on the phone listening to elevator music.  However, the call went surprisingly quickly and we made an appointment for a few weeks later.

At the next rent collection/coffee/gossip stop at the house I asked if anyone was going to be around for the four hour window to wait in for the engineer.  Sarah  said she’d only let him in if it was a straight swap i.e. standard dumb meter for dumb meter as opposed to the installation of a smart meter.  The word “smart” hadn’t been mentioned during the call or in the letter so I assumed it would be the dumb one.  A few days before the meter change, an email was sent to me saying that BG were looking forward to making my life a million times better with the forthcoming Smart Meter installation.

I went back to Sarah who, quite frankly, went berserk.  To be fair, she was active at the anti-fracking protests and I have a feeling I saw a mild version of her pro-environmental passion.  I called BG again to ask why this was the first I’d heard of it when the call handler said it was for gas AND electricity AND at a completely different address!  Well, by now, I had the distinct feeling that something fishy was going on so said I hadn’t received any communication about the other house.  “Oh well” she said “whilst you’re on the phone, I’ll book smart meter installations there too”.

“Er, no you won’t” I replied.  “If I’m being offered something so brilliant that it’ll change my life and it’s free, I want to know more”.  During all this, Sarah risked her life accessing the wi-fi to print off information about smart meters and, whether it’s true or not, here is a summary of why many people don’t want them in their homes:

  • Smart meters monitor, measure and communicate private electricity, gas and water usage data to utility providers
  • They transmit intense bursts of microwave radiation (known as RF EMF) 24 hours a day – the same kind as emitted by mobile phone masts
  • More than 5000 studies show RF EMF radiation is harmful to humans, plants and animals
  • Utilities will become available to energy companies and any potential hackers at a moment’s notice even allowing the providers to disconnect their services without entry to the property
  • UK Government has said Smart meters will cost tax payers £11bn for estimated savings of just £25 per home/year – and that saving only possible if customers change their behaviour and have TWO Smart Meters

(Information provided by www.stopsmartmeters.org.uk)

By the time the engineer turned up, Sarah had cancelled her dentist appointment to be there, put up three “Do Not Install Smart Meter” signs on the front door, meter box and hallway and was ready and waiting to not only inspect the equipment he was installing but checking he hadn’t sneakily attached any smart devices.  To my knowledge, he was eventually allowed to leave peacefully…… and in one piece.

On The Other Hand

As you know, I like to give a balanced article so in contradiction to our belief that the meter company (acting under the British Gas banner) is trying its damnedest to dish out cancer and other nasties, the lovely call handlers this morning saved me from a long, drawn out heart attack.

I’m involved in a new project which involves moving the gas and electricity meters a few feet to an external wall.  So imagine our surprise when we opened the shiny new gas meter box only to find no bl**dy meter! In past experience, the engineers simply moved the meter and hooked the supply back up again.  Apparently, that simple, clever system stopped ages ago and you now have to contact your supplier to disconnect the meter, book another company to relocate it, another to dig up the road if need be and your supplier to come back to reconnect the supply.  Experienced pros will know to book all these on the same day and preferably in the right order.  For some reason, I didn’t receive or read that bit of advice so this morning had a plumber with no gas supply and a builder about to lose his electricity supply as the “digging gang” had turned up to look for electrical wires in the middle of a busy street.

Two hours and eight phone calls later, Yarin from British Gas took me under his wing, played “Greensleeves” to calm me down whilst he put me on hold and assured me in his silky tones that all was in hand and an engineer would turn up in the morning to disconnect the meter, actually engage in some kind of meaningful conversation with the “installation gang” from the other company then set a time to come back and ensure a wonderful fast, capacious and efficient phase 3 electrical supply.

This house is round the corner from Sarah’s so let’s hope the engineer doesn’t find a spare smart meter in his van just to get me back.

However, This IS Smart!

If you haven’t discovered it yet, I recommend the British Gas mobile app which allows you to enter meter readings on site.  I used to write all the meter reads down on the back of an envelope and try to decipher which house the numbers belonged to.

British Gas app

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How To Spot a Red Flag During Interview

So here we go again.  First respondee to the room ad, following the Paul scenario, was another English guy who sounded normal on the phone and, despite the fact his name was distinctly Italian, he was born and bred in the area and had a crop of red hair.   I thought he must be the worst identity thief in history, until he produced his photo I.D. confirming his name.

Call me paranoid or just smarting from the last experience, I launched into interrogation mode.  From his answers I gathered that:

1)      He has a fiancée who, in turn, has her own children.  Red Flag #1: why isn’t going to live with her then and isn’t that a lot of responsibility when you’re only 24?

2)      Mum will pay deposit and a month up front.  Red Flag #2: Why does mum want you out of her house so badly that she’s willing to pay when I’m only asking for deposit and a week up front?  She also sounded a bit desperate on the phone.

3)      Dates on the Tenant Information Form.  Red Flag #3: Lots of crossings out and too much time trying to work out dates and where he lived.

4)      Work.  There was a Supervisor’s name, no company and his job title was Ground Worker.  Red Flag #4: I interpret this to be the equivalent of a modern day chain gang rebranded as Community Service.

5)      He was 25 minutes late to the viewing and hadn’t bothered to call or text to let me know.  Red Flag #5: Demonstrates no consideration or awareness

Landlords, learn from this!

Take this as a lesson to all HMO Landlords: when the red flags start flying on points (1) and (2), if you can’t get satisfactory answers, leave the interview.  Often I’m so determined to find something “right” about someone or any nugget of information that will add credibility to the Tenant Information Form that I’ll ignore the frantic waving of red material as I have an unhealthy belief that the majority of people are honest and not pre-programmed to pull an entire wool sack over my eyes.

It was only once it had been confirmed that the deceitful little sausage had just come out of prison and was another well known character round town, that I gave up and withdrew the offer of the room on the basis that he had marked “No” to the question about a criminal record. Depending on his conviction and sentence, renting him a self contained unit wouldn’t be a problem, but putting him in a shared house with established tenants just wouldn’t be fair on them.  In our parting phone call he finally admitted to being known to the police for a variety of offences but said he’d grown up and wanted to show everyone he could behave.

By 9am this morning he’d left a voicemail and sent a text begging me to reconsider the offer of the room:

“I have been in trouble with the police in the past when I was a teenager, but I’m not violent. This room was an answer to my prayers and again I implore you to reconsider.  I’m an amiable guy and the other housemates would get on with me.  I wouldn’t often be there as my work can sometimes take me quite far afield – Bognor Regis, for example.”

Chequered Flag

Chequered Flag

Final red flag (or perhaps I should call it the chequered flag): begging for a room once your short and previous history has been uncovered is simply undignified.  Also, Bognor Regis is quite commutable from our town, but when you’ve been banged up in HMP Lewes for a while I suppose it could feel quite far afield.

Note: This is NOT a blog post intended to be biased against offenders, but with data protection preventing landlords from knowing about previous convictions, they are putting the other HMO tenants and the landlords and managers at risk.  Offenders straight out of prison should seek temporary accommodation via Supported Housing or the YMCA to build up tenant references, credibility and allow enough time for the police to forget their name.

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