Tag Archives: landlord

Easter Break In

Happy Easter to all and I hope you’ve had a good break.  I spent the holiday in Sweden without children and had the unique experience of sampling Elk meatballs, Swedish Easter pop then falling asleep in a posh garden shed by the lake in -5˚C with no toilet.  By happy chance, I’d managed to lose my mobile just before leaving the UK and reckoned that my HMO world could survive without me for three days and thank goodness I did leave it behind………….

Burglary – An Inside Job?

On my return one of my tenants, Jason, had used his initiative and found my home number which is posted on the communal notice boards after I failed to respond to any of his numerous texts and calls at 1am on Saturday morning.  He’d been pounding the streets all day selling key rings on behalf of a creative businessman in the guise of a charity (which I won’t go into as I’m sure it’s legitimate if questionably moral).   As manager of the “gang” he’d taken £1300 worth of takings back to his room and then gone out for the evening, got back in the early hours of Saturday to find his door had been smashed in, the cash taken but Playstation, laptop, etc. left well alone.  Neither the front nor back doors had been forced so it became a foregone conclusion that it had been an inside job.

Now, my lot tend to act before they think and throw their weight around, accusing the person who looks the most scared or not there to defend themselves.  As it was the long Easter weekend most of the other tenants were either visiting their families or working extra hours but Jason and the police managed to track down and establish everyone’s whereabouts apart from Greg in the bedsit.  By the time I returned on Monday morning, Jason had gathered fictional evidence, tried and sentenced Greg for the pure reason that he had disappeared for four days (as it turned out he was visiting his children and got lucky with an ex), reported his suspicions to the “Big Boss” who phoned me to ask for Greg’s personal information which I refused to give.

Meeting the Local Gangster

The problem when you’re dealing with people when they’re emotional and suspicious is that they’re just not thinking straight and nothing you say will appease them.  Later that morning I visited the house myself to check out the damage and try to get a measure of the situation.  Before I knew it, Andrew had opened the front door and three men burst up the stairs toward the bedsit stopping when they saw me, started smoothing their hair and pretended they’d popped in to check out the landing carpet.  I asked what they were doing and they said they “just wanted a word” with Greg and to “ask him a few questions”.  I pointed out that subtlety wasn’t their strong point and suggested we continue the discussion in the kitchen (mainly for my safety as the communal lights kept going out).  The Boss (short stature, hard eyes, well dressed) wanted details of everyone in the house and how he “was going to get his money back” whilst his associates/flunkies shifted from one foot to the other, snarling and refusing to take their hoods off.

Intimidated?  Me?

To be honest, I was a bit worried /annoyed and explained that if they wanted to “interview” all the tenants they could do so OUTSIDE the house and  I considered it very rude that they barged in with no evidence to talk to people they’d never met.  These were my tenants, my house and my bloody rules and if anyone is going to throw their weight around, it’s me.  Eventually, the Boss said “I ain’t wasting my time here, we’re off.  It’s not about the money, it’s the principle and I want someone to pay”.  I kind of understand where he’s coming from but also pointed out that the only person in the house who knew that money was there is a self confessed gambling addict (who also works for him), could be placed at the scene of the crime and was probably also stupid enough not to have either (a) broken down the other room doors so Jason’s room wasn’t singled out, (b) forced entry via the front door to look like an outside job or (c) open the house front door to the Boss and allow him and his boys to run amok unaccompanied.

What Now?

So, here I am with a house full of unhappy tenants, ready to throw a punch at anyone who dares to accuse any one of them.  Jason has narrowed the culprit down now to Andrew but there’s no hard evidence and I’m left with not just a room door to mend but also tenant trust – not easy when the likely perpetrator is still in situ.

If you feel sorry for them, think about this poor fella!

On a lighter note:  whilst getting ready for the new term I found my son swinging his lunchbox around the kitchen and talking to it.  A few minutes later, he appeared in tears saying that the zip had broken and he needed to open it quickly.  Cursing cheap products, I went to chuck it in the bin and realised that there was something inside so cut the lid off only to find a very scared, sick looking guinea pig!  We turned the lunchbox upside down, cut out a door and called it “home”.

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Another Gambling Addict

With half term finally over (which school managed to stretch to a 10 day break) and the children back to learning how to be decent, upstanding citizens, I’ve turned my attention back to HMOs.  My tenants aren’t so well behaved that they stopped locking themselves out of rooms or remembered to pay on time and I’d let my passable organisational skills slip over the holiday, but I’ve bounced back with a whip in one hand and a To Do list in the other.

Andrew

First to screw up his new tenancy is Andrew.  He was the tenant that I predicted to bite me on the bum after being recommended by his work colleague as a suitable tenant for my emotionally rejected but testosterone fuelled lads’ (actually middle aged men) house.  Youngest of them all he soon played the foster child card as an excuse for not knowing how to wash up, flush the loo or realising that revealing your boxer shorts whilst your trousers are tied precariously under your bottom cheeks isn’t a great look when going for a job interview.

Last week he said he’d left his rent for me to collect but my son decided to have a massive tantrum during the rent collection round which meant I was distracted and was so busy dragging him out of the house that I forgot to go into Andrew’s room.  By the time I went back a couple of days’ later it had been spent.  Taking some blame for my folly,  I agreed for him to leave 2 weeks the following Saturday (£180).  Then I forgot again that I was away (took the Sleeper train to Scotland – great trip) and collected all rents a couple of days later by which time there was, of course, no money.  To his credit, he called me into his room, looked up at me with his big, brown eyes, quivering lip and a little tear to add to the effect and confessed to having  gambled away £400 on fruit machines the previous week.

Where To Go From Here?

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across this addiction so was able to restrain myself from “Do you know how many shoes/supermarket shops/meals for starving children that money could have bought?” and sternly reminded him that his future was in his hands – go into arrears and get legally evicted or pull yourself together, stop thinking I’m a soft touch and be grateful you actually have a job (albeit a somewhat dodgy one).  Followed by a therapy session, which normally makes grown men cry, he promised to contact Gamblers Anonymous and pay £250 this Saturday.  In the meantime, there is little I can do but have a little faith in him as he’s still in his fixed term period and give him a good talking to which he takes with dignity.  He then went off to pawn his iPad after telling me he didn’t want to end up like his two brothers who’d spent most of their young lives in and out of prison.

Now, I’m not being unsympathetic about the boy/man’s plight (he’s 22 but looks 17) but just because I’m a woman tenants who have developed chaotic lifestyles following their disruptive upbringings always seem to play the “woe is me, nobody has ever loved me” card.  It’s probably true which is how they’ve learnt to say what they think I want to hear in the hope that I’ll feel sorry for them.  I used to cave in but now remind them and myself it’s a tough world out there and with a bit of support it’s possible to survive.

To Conclude

Talking of survival, I have serious doubts over this tenant’s chance in the natural world:

Marco (Polish sommelier for a 5* hotel) “Can you look at my light.  It come, it go, I think it very dangerous”.   Dispatched the builder who made the mistake of hanging around for too long while I took the call and he reported back “It’s the bl**dy bulb!  Couldn’t you have done it?”.  Nope, I’m too busy unlocking rooms and providing free therapy sessions.

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The Art of Giving – What do you get tenants for Christmas?

As the Christmas decorations are dug out of the attic and dusted off, the Christmas cards are laboriously written (I am, yet again, the last person to get round to writing any), thoughts to Christmas presents.  Kids are easy as they’ve had all year to think about what they want and my youngest wants the entire toy section of the Argos catalogue – which he may just get, each and every page carefully cut out and wrapped up!

 

Each year the houses receive a token gesture from me to remind them that it is, indeed, Christmas and a time for giving and sharing rather than a licence to spend their rent money on drink and the new girlfriend’s to-die-for present.  As any company gives its customers a “thank you”, I think it only right to say “thank you” to my lot – thank you for mostly paying your rent, thank you for not giving the police an excuse to break down the door, thank you for not flooding the bathroom but most of all thank you for wanting to stay in the house and giving me something to do.

 

What do you give a house full of completely unrelated people in terms of interests, personalities and tastes?  In the early years I used to turn up with enough items to have a drink with each other but soon realised that the first tenant home that night would drink everyone’s share, leaving the shortbread and the booze was probably inappropriate for recovering alcoholics.  Easter’s easy – everyone gets a Cream Egg with their rent slip but it’s only this year that most of the tenants have admitted that they hate Cream Eggs and were only being polite.

So, what to give?  I want to go back to giving them a couple of bottles of wine, half a dozen beer cans and a tin of chocolates/shortbread but expecting them to sit down together and wait until the cocktail hour is probably pushing the realms of possibilities.  So I went to my local Co-Op and bought the individual houses let to families a box of Black Magic each – small enough to get through a letterbox and tasty enough to satisfy the kids even after they’ve been battered and squashed by Royal Mail.

For the HMOs, I’ve settled on tins of shortbread and a big tub of Celebrations which should be something for everyone and, in return, their present to me will be NOT to call on Christmas Day to ask for the internet password or tell me they’ve locked themselves out!

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Am I Really Guilty of Breaking the Law?

Landlord Law Blog posted an article about rent books this week which I read with a mixture of interest and guilt.  Since falling into running HMOs I’ve been vaguely aware that it’s a legal requirement for landlords to provide rent books to tenants who pay on a weekly basis.

About once a year I think “I must provide rent books so I don’t get thrown into jail” but the following questions always nag me:

  1. How often will my tenant remember where their rent book is?
  2. Will they remember to leave it out with their rent each week?  I’ve spent years training them to leave their rent in a conspicuous place and don’t enjoy rifling through their underwear drawers or bedside tables to look for it (with their permission!)
  3. How often will I have to replace their rent books when they’ve lost them thereby losing their record of payments from the beginning of their tenancy?
  4. Who’s going to tell me off for not providing them?

I’m not being glib about the need for a record of payments, just about the method.  Maybe the tenants have total trust in me or maybe it’s ignorance but all they care about is that the cash is handed over to me and I provide the accommodation.  I issue a receipt for each payment received, a date for when the next rent is due and, if they’re short or overpay, it’s all recorded in duplicate so we both know where we stand.  Then, I don’t care if they wipe their noses on the receipt, use it instead of a Rizla or file it for safekeeping because my master book has all the payment records for all tenants dating back to the beginning of my landlord career (in case the Inland Revenue want a fascinating read!).

If a tenant is struggling to keep up to date with their rent, I’ll issue a rent statement showing their payment record which also goes onto their file so I can keep track of bad debt for accounting purposes.  Now, if all this sounds like I enjoy being organised – I don’t and have to force myself to stick a book keeping head on for an hour a week.  One tenant’s rent arrears statement runs into three pages when he got into trouble a couple of years ago.  I’m desperate for him to catch up just to save on ink!

The solution, of course, is to get everyone to pay monthly by standing order (excuse me whilst I pick myself up off the floor!) but then we’d miss doing what we do best – having a weekly gossip and catch up.  P.S.  I shall concede defeat and provide proper rent books in case any readers are planning to report me to………………….?

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Tenant Gets The Sack – Part 2 of Don’t Judge Your Tenants

Continuing on the maintenance theme (somehow I think this could be ongoing!) I’m in the midst of a continuing dilemma:

Tom has been a tenant for 4 years after being referred to me by the Salvation Army.  He’s an asset to the house when sober but a pain in neck when drunk as he can never get his key in the front door when he staggers home and is often found on the stairs having forgotten which room he lives in!  He’s unemployed, survives on Value noodles, spends his days ironing his clothes and keeping the common areas spick and span – talents picked up from his Army days.

The only time he has cash in his pocket is when he’s picked up a bit of work, but it doesn’t stay there for long.  He’s told me of all the things he’s going to save for: a trip to see his mum in London, visit his brother in Ireland, upgrade to a bigger room.  However, while the cash burns a hole in his pocket he just can’t help himself but go to the pub, followed by a ticking off by me after some of the other tenants complain about his behaviour when he gets home.

According to Tom he has lots of skills and is a trained HGV driver, scaffolder, builder,  gardener, bouncer and  can put a bullet in his enemy’s head from 5 miles away. Unfortunately, he can’t pass his CSCS (Construction Skills Certificate Scheme) test which is needed to work as a labourer on a building site.  He says he revises but is thwarted by the multiple choice answers and the job centre will only pay for him to take the test 3 times.

In this vein, and in recognition of the fact that he tries his hardest to be a decent member of society, I give him some painting work.  To be fair to him, the finish is excellent but I’m not 100% sure about his preparation.  He tells me what he’s done, the products he’s used but always seems to have finished the work in a quarter of the time me and most legit decorators do.  The point is, it keeps him happy, makes him feel useful and I compensate him for his time as well as giving him a little bit of credibility down the pub.

And here’s the problem – no sooner has the cash hit his pocket then he’s suited and booted, off to town and staggers home in the usual fashion.  Another tenant, Jason, called me the other night “Have you given Tom some money lately ‘cos he’s off his face, banging on the front door and I can now see him p***ing in the porch.  I ain’t answering the door because I swear I’ll smack him one!”.  Luckily, my recently trafficked Romanian border guard graciously let Tom in and pointed him to the right bedroom.

Next day, I spoke to Tom to say that he’d put me in an impossible situation – I can’t give him my money just to drink and, whilst I appreciate once it had changed hands it became his, I was having to deal with the repercussions.  Also, I’d done him a favour so he could visit his mum on her birthday.  I’d previously mentioned that the hallway and outside the house needed doing but I’m going to retract those offers now – if he could cause havoc with £40 in his pocket imagine what he’d do with 10 x that amount!

At another house, a tenant called to say he’d got into a fight last night, the other bloke followed him home and put a plant pot through the window – could I get it sorted as it was letting in a draught?

Guess my maintenance budget really is being p***ed up the wall!

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HMO Tenancy Agreements

Yep, a pretty boring title but I want to put a little thoughtette out there.  When I bought my first HMO it was sold with tenants in situ although nobody had actually told them that I was wanting to keep them on.  On sale completion, I collected the keys from the agent, tentatively opened the front door to be confronted by a load of suitcases and four very anxious tenants sitting in the dining room.  It turned out that the vendor’s solicitor had sent them a letter letting them know the property had been sold but no other information.  I’d already tried to contact the vendor prior to completion to understand who was living there and on what basis, but she hid behind the fact she spoke only Chinese and refused to answer my calls.  As my solicitor pointed out “Well, she understood enough English to buy the property in the first place so don’t believe she hasn’t enough vocabulary to sell it”.  Well, it was the heady, greedy days of 2007 and I was as gullible as an excitable dog chasing a ball over a cliff.

Licences

The tenants had been issued a one page licence which looked on the surface OK and covered most aspects so I continued to run with these for a while until I got a call from the local council.  I’d homed another Sally Army customer and, after discovering his girlfriend locked in the room having had a miscarriage then, a week later,  his naked body and room stripped bare after taking an overdose of drugs, I asked him to leave.  Someone from the council, presumably the lovely Ben Reeve Lewis’ evil twin brother said they would take me to court for wrongful eviction (technically sort of correct, but I didn’t actually chuck his stuff out on the street) until I employed a local, even more, naive solicitor and they let me go on the basis that I did actually save the ungrateful man’s life.  The paramedics said he would have been dead within the next couple of hours if I hadn’t found him AND I even went to hospital clutching grapes – he told me he’d had a bad case of food poisoning!  I’ve only ever seen one dead person and this tenant looked pretty similar apart from the fact rigamortis hadn’t set in.

Assured Shorthold Tenancies

Having been educated that my licences weren’t worth the paper they were written on, I joined a Landlords Association which, at the time, was the best move.  (Having said that, I’ve been given different advice by the same helpline on more than one occasion but nobody died so I’m overlooking that) and issued all tenants with a standard AST.  Phew, legal now.  What struck me right from the beginning of issuing these ASTs is that they are, in the most part, unsuitable for HMOs.  The main reason being, if a tenant is anti-social or carrying out criminal/illegal activity it affects the very people he or she shares the house with.  I appreciate that, with police and witness statements, grounds for possession can be made within a couple of weeks and granted if the court agrees with the severity – however this is a lengthy and costly process for someone in an 80 quid a week room.

Anti-Social Behaviour

How, as a landlord, are you expected to protect four decent law abiding tenants who just want to go to the bathroom or make a cuppa whilst one naughty tenant is running amok?  I had a situation where four frightened girls had to barricade themselves in their rooms whilst a nasty drug dealer, who lied that he worked at B&Q, ran an all night drug trading session and allowed his junkie mates to use the bathroom and kitchen.  How on earth could I have protected those girls, who were absolutely terrified, against the threats and abuse they got whenever they left their rooms?  I got to a point where I was going to move in and play Burt Bacharach at 6am every morning.  I tackled the council about this and, predictably, they couldn’t give me an answer.

Challenge

Landlord Law wrote a blog about house share tenancies which will give you some good guidance.  However, I put it to anyone to provide me with a cast iron HMO tenancy agreement that protects the existing incumbents against having to put up with ongoing anti-social behaviour during the two month Section 21 process.  Yes, the police can be called in severe cases but they’ll only take the errant tenant into custody for one night releasing them back to the house to unleash untold vengeance on the informant.

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One Mad Czech and a Washing Machine!

It’s been a week of washing machine malfunctions – whoever said Landlording was glamorous?  The first washing machine to fall foul of its duties was in HMO number 1 but I’d been very organised and taken out a repair warranty on it.  As most of my tenants in that house are occupationally challenged they waited with eager anticipation for the washing machine repair engineer – it really was the highlight of their day and they were glad to be doing something useful.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the engineer was deaf and so the machine’s problems were communicated via sign language.  He came back the following day only to condemn the machine and issue a ticket for a brand new, sparkly one free of charge under the terms of the guarantee.  My tenants are very, very excited to get to learn something new.

The next misbehaving washing machine was in HMO number 2.  I received a text saying “Water on kitchen floor – please sort” so I trotted over to inspect said water.  Yep, it was on the kitchen floor so I took the executive decision to call a plumber.  You see, I’ve tried several times to send myself on a light maintenance course but can’t find any and have given up trying to diagnose any problems so instead refer to my little black book of maintenance men.  Left instructions for tenants not to use washing machine.  An hour later I received the following text from Zitomir – a Czech security guard with dreams of being a porn star or, failing that, the opportunity to have sex with any willing female – “Just got in to see your note.  It wasn’t me.  It was that bastard Robert, I know it him.  I said hello and he ignore me and put washing on.  He ignore you.  Next time I hit him”.  I’ve learnt not to rush round to put myself between two testosterone fuelled Europeans (they’re ALWAYS greeting me with a kiss, very un-British) and left them to it.  Half an hour later another text “It’s OK, it not his washing in machine.  I not hit him.”  See?  Some things are just best left to sort themselves out.

Tomorrow I shall be heading off to a long weekend break in Europe with some girlfriends.  I’ve left the receipt book, kids and keys with Mr HMOlandlady but haven’t told the tenants as they’d probably either suffer separation anxiety or do something naughty.  The last time I went away, a tenant did a midnight flit and the time before that, there was a fight.  Nope, I’m not telling them.

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