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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Yet Another Wake Up Call

Do you remember me telling you in past posts to REFERENCE CHECK YOUR TENANTS by whatever means possible?  I don’t waste the money on credit checks as most of my charges would fail miserably, so usually turn to past landlords, work or family members (if they’ve never rented or worked).  I’ve even checked them out with their probation officer, housing support worker and the agent at the Job Centre – then considered their interview, checked their answers matched the ones on the phone (liars always forget their first answer) and consulted my gut.

If you’ve read my book, you’ll see there’s a Tenant Information Form in there purposefully laid out on one side so the tenant can’t “forget” to complete the information on the reverse.  If they want the room, this is the first piece of paper they MUST complete before the referencing can commence.

99% of the time I practice what I preach.  However, as you read in my last post, I had one more room to sell after two weeks of 14 tenants moving or leaving and I was riding high on the success rate.  One more room sold meant I could ignore unknown numbers, avoid telephone interviewing whilst watching the kids at swim club, and not have to slow the car down long enough to throw them into the house before going off to conduct a viewing.

The Wake Up Call

Paul was quite posh, involved in setting up his father-in-law’s call centre, he needed a room temporarily.  His girlfriend seemed nice, he didn’t pounce desperately on the room and appeared to consider its pros and cons, came up with the deposit and rent, shook my hand and acquainted himself with the other lads.  After all, no one with anything to hide would live in a house with CCTV, right?

The first warning was two days later when Anthony called to say Paul had woken everyone up at 4am, crashed around the kitchen then went upstairs to throw up all over the bathroom floor before going to bed.  An odd way to ingratiate himself into the household, but hoped it was a one off.  A day later Simon called to say the police had woken him up at 3.45am by shining their torches through his bedroom window (it’s downstairs, they’re not the Flying Squad) looking for Paul.  I contacted him to ask for an explanation to which he coolly replied that the alarms had gone off at work and he was the only keyholder (my God, he’s good!).  The next day (Friday) another two officers appeared and tried to arrest poor Serghei as he came out of the bathroom and only let him go once he’d found some ID and apparently screamed like a girl.  Sitting at another kids club (those without children, consider yourself lucky that you get to go to the pub at 7pm on a Friday night) Anthony called to say he really didn’t like the new guy and why does he wear a hoody with the hood up when wandering round the house?  I said I’d talk to him when I visited the following day.

Went home, finally got the longed for wine and the phone goes again at 10.30pm.  This time five officers, looking for an excuse to the kick the door down, turned up intent on catching their prey.  After they left empty handed, I called my friendly copper who obligingly collected the keys from me to hand to the Night Custody Sergeant thereby avoiding any need for the Boys In Blue to flex their muscles on the new front door.

The following morning, I found a note from Paul to apologise his rent wasn’t there, he’d lost his phone, but he’d been called away and he’d pay me next week, but perhaps I’d like to email him?  At that moment, another two officers arrived (if I was a girl into uniformed men I would have been in heaven by this point!).  It turned out he was wanted on a recall to prison but they couldn’t tell me what for (good old data protection) despite clutching no less than four pages of criminal activity reports (he’s only 26!) and they strongly advised me to have someone else with me when I met him.

They left, promising to return, and I surveyed his scarce possessions and nine empty wine bottles.  I emailed him and said that as we both know this has got bugger all to do with keyholder duties, could he let me know what was going on?  He replied that he was up on a charge of rape, had gone into hiding and received an email from the police checking he was OK and could he present himself at a police station to ensure his safety as he had been found at a well known suicide spot.  Unfortunately for the police, he wasn’t falling for it and resolutely stayed under their radar.

Tom, to his dismay, had been absent during all of this as he’s been in his new job for three weeks and we’re very proud.  He asked why I’d chosen Paul because “I didn’t like the look of ‘im from the moment I met ‘im.  I ‘ave a sixth sense about these things and I’ve never been wrong, ‘ave I darlin’?”, I replied that he had been too sensible for too long and thought Paul could be a bit of sport for him.   We decided to look at the CCTV recordings to check if he really did wear a hoody to go to the loo.  When the builder saw him he said “I know him!  I saw him dragging my neighbour’s daughter down the street by her hair last year”.  You see, he may have been wearing a hoody, but he forgot to put on a face mask – not that bright after all.

His details have now been uploaded to the excellent Landlord Referencing Service website which lifestyle references tenants and reveals details no credit report ever could.  It’s simple to use, reasonably priced and the more landlords who upload tenant details, the less chance we have of unwittingly becoming the next victim.  (You can also upload your good tenants too). Please note that I have no financial interest in this company, but support its aim.

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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.

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HMO Landlord Course Now Launched!

Following the popularity of “Renting HMOs Sussed”, I am now delighted to announce the launch of three course dates for “How To Be A Successful HMO Landlord”.

– Choice of  half day seminars on Saturdays 15th June, 13th July and 14th September 2013

– Convenient Brighton location

– Thinking of investing in or already an HMO Landlord?  This course is definitely for you!

This course will give you everything you need to run a happy, successful HMO with minimum tenant turnover and maximum rental yield.  I will talk you through the HMO market, how to make the most of your HMO and, most importantly, how to run it successfully for you and your tenants.   Local HMO landlords will be on hand to answer any questions and give advice.  Click here for more information and to book – I look forward to meeting you!

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