Tag Archives: tenants

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned!

Have you come across the phrase? I’ve never had the energy to take revenge on men who’ve let me down, but can’t help secretly laughing at my tenants’ love lives:

Regular readers will know that Greg, who rents a room, is still in prison and I eagerly anticipate his release in a couple of weeks as his rent hasn’t been paid since the beginning of January.  What you don’t know is how he got there and the story started last year (based on what I’ve picked up, not judicial evidence!).

Greg had a girlfriend, Jess, with whom he fathered a child.  This relationship failed so he started seeing Nicky (leggy, beautiful, smart, high maintenance).  Jess made allegations that Greg had hit her, it went to court and he was unceremoniously banged up in July last year then released on licence with instructions not to go near her or the child.  Nicky stood by him and all was well for the rest of the summer until they fell out after she produced a bag of cocaine after a night out and started to punch Greg so he hit her and she went to the police.  Telling me the story later his version was “I told her you don’t allow drugs in the house, she kept punching me as she was so pissed so I told her if she did it again I’d punch her back.  She did it again, so I punched her – after all, I had warned her”. Yes, but then he went on the run so the local Bobbies took the opportunity to come to my house for a cup of tea and the master room keys.

Greg went to Jess for comfort, Nicky let herself into his room whilst drunk/high, poured oil in the iron and kettle, smeared moisturiser on his clothes and fell asleep outside his bedroom door.  The other tenants nudged her a couple of times to check she was alive then did the sensible thing and left her to it – stepping over her on the way to the bathroom.  My tenants may not be rocket scientists, but they’re clever enough to know when not to get involved.

Greg phoned to say what had happened, Nicky sent me a long apologetic text and I just laughed – after all it wasn’t my clothes or love life.  They kissed and made up – much to Jess’s disapproval.  She went to the police to say that Greg had broken his licence conditions and, before you could say “Show me the evidence”, he’d been rearrested and thrown back into prison.

That’s not the end: Jess called to ask to be let into his room for retrieval of her jogging bottoms and, being the empathetic kind of girl I am, said if she got a signed note from him or was accompanied by the police, I was happy to oblige.  In the meantime, Nicky contacted me to ask if she could “do the room up” as a nice surprise for Greg when he got out – just a feature wall, new lampshade, etc.  He’s given her a key so I don’t think I can technically stop her but did suggest that maybe he’d appreciate a chilled bottle of Asti, soft music and her dressed in Ann Summers instead.

Andrew also fell out with his girlfriend.  Apparently it was down to the fact that she’s a bit posh and likes him for being rough and roguish but in the last year he’s become a bit too sensible by looking for a job and learning to budget.  We bumped into each other outside Sainsburys where he said even though it had been three days, he was really missing her.  The next day she called to say she wanted to get back with him, didn’t know she could trust him so could she see the CCTV footage of the last few days to check he hadn’t had other women in?  I said no on the basis that I promised the tenants the CCTV wasn’t there for spying only for incidences they’d reported.

“Thanks for that” said Andrew “As I did have a couple of girls sleep over and she would’ve flipped her lid”.

“Andrew!  It’s only been a few days – is that how you get over a broken heart?”

“Yeah, what else did you expect me to do?”

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‘Twas The Rent Collection Before Christmas

The weather’s miserable, the odds for a white Christmas are as wide as Tom being sober for the next 48 hours and the Christmas Spirit has yet to touch the hearts of my tenants.

This weekend I played a poor version of Santa and gave everyone a net of not only chocolate coins, but BANK NOTES as well!  However, the irony of me giving them money along with a rent receipt seemed completely lost on the tenants.  For good measure, I also gave each house a huge box of shortbread to share if they come out of their rooms on Christmas Day.

First off: Greg is spending his Christmas Day at Her Majesty’s Pleasure AGAIN.  I’m confused as to what happened exactly but it involved a court appearance, expectation of a slap on the wrist which became handcuffs and taken down to serve five weeks (or five months I got a bit lost on the story at that point) of his licence.  Luckily his housing benefit is being paid direct to me and his girlfriend is going to take in his net of money as a small consolation.

The Poles next door are getting into the swing of the yuletide festivities by partying and arguing all night.  No amount of police visits, banging on the door pleading to keep the noise down is helping.  Tenants are now on strict instructions to keep a noise diary, contact the police when the noise kicks off and we’ll try to find the landlord.

On top of that, there’s a clash of personalities.  I’m not entirely sure what’s going on but the accusations involve running up and down the stairs in the small hours of the night, followed by door banging which has produced genuine confusion between the perpetrator and accuser.  Having just received some personal bad news and said goodbye to my own children for the Christmas period I’m in no mood to sort out the squabbles of others – especially those that are old enough to make a cup of tea and sit down to sort out their differences.

The Good News:

To salvage a little Christmas magic, I’m pleased to report that Nadine has now finished chemo which has left her without hair and feeling worse for wear but ALIVE!  She starts radiotherapy in January and is sporting an array of woolly hats mimicking strange furry animals.  Stewart came across an enormous Christmas tree in a back alley which he’s shoved in a bucket and is looking forward to it dominating his room.

And Tom: I was given a nearly new washing machine to put in the house – rather than see the old one (which is on its last legs) go to the tip, he reckoned he could spruce it up and do a deal with the bloke on the corner to get some cash for it.  Fine, I said, but if you get more than twenty quid you have to give the remainder to a good cause – that means a registered charity, not the pub.

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Why I Can’t Afford LHA Claimants Any More

Five years ago, the prime room rental market was students and people in receipt of Housing Benefit.  Put an ad in the paper and 9 out of 10 respondents were those on housing benefit – probably a key reason that so many fellow landlords stuck their nose up at me saying I was “mad” and “do you want to make life more difficult for yourself?”.

Housing Benefit vs LHA

I liked Housing Benefit claimants: they tend to stay longer, were satisfied with their environment and, as they were home much of the day, kept an eye on the comings and goings of the house.  Once you understood how the system worked, the claim process was relatively straightforward: upon production of landlord evidence of a room offer the tenant would approach our local Housing and Legal Aid Centre and a cheque for four weeks advance rent was made payable to the landlord.  The tenant would then fill in their part of the claim form and the landlord would fill in the other parts including their bank details for the benefit to be paid into.  We’d sit back, wait and within 4-6 weeks the rent was paid direct into the landlord’s account regularly.  If there were any queries, I’d call the Housing Benefit team (I knew each agent by their first name), find out at what stage the claim was at or if they were waiting for any more information so I could chase the tenant.

Under the LHA system, the process is no longer so transparent.  The tenant can make the claim, the landlord fills in what’s included in the rent and, even though the tenant signs permission for the landlord to discuss the claim, that is the last I’ll see or hear until the tenant hands over the money.  I’ve tried to chase a claim only to discover that the call centre had moved to Slough (nowhere near us) and, despite being allowed to discuss it, the staff couldn’t give me any information “under Data Protection” and “You’ll have to ask the tenant yourself”.  I want to scream down the phone “I bl***y well would if I thought I’d be getting a straight answer and was prepared to camp outside their room all night until they got home!”.

Why LHA Doesn’t Help Tenants

My tenants don’t mean to not hand over the LHA payment, but when their bank account is in the red, they have no mobile credit, possibly haven’t eaten for a while, eeking out their tobacco pouch so their roll up resembles more Rizla and saffron strands than a good smoke, I empathise with their temptation to hand over £150 rather than the £200 paid by the Council.  In their heads (especially if they’ve recently been working), 50 quid is easy to reimburse within the next couple of weeks.  Then the reality sets in that there’s no financial room to manoeuvre: skimming £20/£30/£40 off the LHA payment to cover the shortfall of Job Seekers Allowance means they end up £300-£400 in arrears before you know it and start to get stressed.   At that point, they do what most of us do when we get stressed – drink more, smoke more, blow whatever cash is available because, let’s face it, it can’t get much worse.  Their girlfriend/boyfriend, friends and parents are probably financially exhausted, they’re drowning in debt, despondent from hitting a job wall – so what if they fall out with their landlady on top?  Life is so chaotic we’ll string her along with a few well honed excuses that used to work on our mothers and teachers.

Greg is £500 in arrears and I don’t want to see him homeless but this is what’s happened to him.  When the process starts I meet with the tenant and explain that this is what will happen and, in order to avoid it, we have to work together.  I’ll happily reduce the rent to reflect the LHA payment provided that the LHA is handed over as regular as clockwork.  “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I promise.  It won’t happen to me and I’ll be working again soon.”  I’ve experienced this time and time again.  The most common excuse is “Housing have messed up my claim AGAIN” – and I can’t check out its validity.

Back to Basics – The Real Reason for Housing Benefit

The market’s changed.  For every ad I place the majority of calls will be from working professionals who have chosen an all-inclusive rate so they have enough salary left over to have a life.  I no longer need to fill the rooms with the slightly odd, vaguely desperate or those that fall out of society’s moral code of conduct.

Back in the late 1940s the Social Security System was so named because:

SOCIAL                 def pertaining to human society

SECURITY             def freedom from danger, risk, etc; safety

There are still at least 1 out of 10 callers wanting a room who won’t pass the referencing process, can’t get the deposit together or will struggle to conform to a landlord’s ideal tenant.

My business head tells me to go with this new professional market demand and fill the houses with law abiding, rent paying via standing order tenants who read and abide by the AST and wash their sheets weekly.  My life will be calmer yet poorer through the lack of tenants educating me on the true meaning of survival and refusal to conform to society’s expectations.

Please, bring back direct payments to landlords so our business heads no longer discriminate against the unemployed.

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CCTV Installed, But There’s Trouble

The week started well with the French accountant duly moved in.  It was a bit complicated trying to explain the digital switchover to him and the availability of a link up to the satellite dish but he listened politely until he said “Is not a problem, I ‘ave ze laptop”.    The next issue came when we were going through the AST and I apologised for not being able to insert the accents on his surname of Désiré (Deziray) so it had come out Desire which, after last week’s post, I felt this was becoming a recurring theme!  “Zat is not my name, it is my middle name” he said “My last name is Durand”.  It pays not to rush through a Tenant Information Form.

CCTV has been installed in the other house and there’s been a few feathers ruffled.  The main issue seems to be that the boys thought I’d have the system linked to my home computer and would spend a girls’ night in watching them walking up and down the hallways in their pants.  They’ve been assured that there are easier and more pleasurable ways to search the internet for men in pants and the footage is only stored on the recorder locked in the cellar.  However, capturing one of them trying to get in the house after a night out then falling asleep on the stairs may just be worth a post on YouTube……

Huddled in the cellar,  the engineer was showing me how to operate the monitor and recorder.  Tom had obviously forgotten the role of the cameras and heard us talking  – the cameras duly picked him up sitting down with his ear to the stair tread trying to listen to our conversation.  A very, very funny moment.

Call came in today from one of the rooms saying that the recorder has been beeping all night so I waited till darkness fell and went to investigate.  Turns out that, when it’s pitch black, the camera’s infra-red lights kick in and make a continuous and annoyingly loud beep.   We’ve rigged up a light to stay on all night and I’ll get in touch with the engineer, even though he said he’d “Never, ever heard of such a thing”.  Well, in that case, he can sit in the dark cellar after hours with strange men theorising the problem and experience the issue for himself.

George, my bedsit tenant is £400 in arrears after Housing Benefit allegedly “messed up the claim” or you can translate it as “I lost my job, didn’t have any money for six weeks and, when it came in, I took the decision that paying you is last on my To Do list”.  I’ve given him a credit limit and told him that as soon as the arrears go over it, I’ll regretfully issue a Section 21 notice.  This gives him time to sort out any issues with Housing Benefit or elect to throw some cash my way to keep him under the threshold.  After all, I’ve got a misbehaving CCTV system to pay for.

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HMO Landlady Places an Ad and Receives a Proposition!

Spent the week painting the two available rooms to let and laying carpet – four years’ worth of spilt coffee, food and Heaven Knows What but at least it made painting easier, I didn’t have to put down dust sheets and managed to spill most of the paint on the old carpet.

Placing the ads in the local paper I noticed that, when I started doing HMOs I’d get around 1 person in 10 who was working, didn’t sound pissed or desperate and understood the concept of a deposit.  Now, the ads attract 9 out of 10 normal, coherent sounding people who I’d have no hesitation in meeting and was lucky enough to receive around 15 enquiries this week.  First to view was Pierre, a French accountant from Paris, who looked absolutely terrified at having found himself in a small seaside town in England following a job offer.

I had high hopes for the next applicant: James sounded lovely on the phone, said all the right things and we agreed to meet yesterday morning.  On showing the room he kept asking questions about me so I thought “Good, he’s interviewing his landlady so it shows he has some integrity and wants to know what kind of set up we have here”.  He’d looked at 14 rooms all of varying states of decay and cleanliness and was showing positive signs about this one.  He told me he was 25 years old, a trainee architect in London, so it was good the house was near the station and had just broken up with his girlfriend and was fed up of living in a hotel.  Wow!  A hotel!  Most of mine get fed up of living on a friend’s sofa or park bench.

We agreed he’d go off and have a think about it and let me know his decision by lunchtime.  Gut instinct screamed “Yes!  He’s polite, sensible, working and we can get along just fine – hope he takes it.”  An hour later the following text messaging ensued:

James: “Hi.  Just look last place, your house is definately the best. Can only see 1 problem!”

Me: “Call me and I’ll address the problem – is it the parking permit?”

James: “Possible problem could be finding your landlady very attractive. x”

Me: “James, I am far too old and stroppy for you.  Do you want the room or just to flirt?”

James: “They say age is justa number dont they?  What if I said just to flirt?”

Me: “I am flattered but think flirting is unwise.  This doesn’t affect the offer of the room but, if you take it, it’s strictly business!”

James: “Ok well no harm in a cheeky flirt.  You are very attractive sorry if I offended you”

Me: “No offence taken but do you want the room?”

No response so I moved on to Wayne, a coach driver, who has been renting a room for two and a half years in a well known DSS hostel for £125/week.  He said it was getting a bit noisy and he couldn’t get a good night’s sleep which was affecting his driving.  We agreed £95/week for the room plus £150 deposit but he had no idea what Deposit Protection meant.  His landlord was holding £350 and he hadn’t received any kind of paperwork.

A Twist In The Tale

This morning I got another text from James “If room still available or any others please consider me. Had enough of hotel life now. Ha. James”

Me: “Hi James.  I’m really sorry but someone came to look at the room last night and agreed to take it.  I will text you my friend’s number and she nice bedsits.  One may be available (she’s got a partner!)

James: “OK thank you. I dont make a habit of telling women their attractive you know.  If you ever fancy a cuppa you have my number”

Later, I met my friend in the school playground and she put the question to me “That bloke you sent me.  On a scale of a bit of dandruff to full on leprosy, how flaky do you think he was?”   “I thought he seemed decent – good job, story seemed to stack up, gut instinct said he was a safe bet” I replied.  “Me too!” she said “Until I checked his references – he told you he was an architect but told me he was a personal trainer, the number of his ex landlord wasn’t recognised and the gym he said he works for have never heard of him!!”

OK, so hitting on me wasn’t quite on the scale of Pascal, the ex French Foreign Legion/Special Forces commander who said “If I wasn’t ‘omeless, I’d marry you” or Pete who lay naked in bed, threw back his duvet and invited me to “Come and get the rent”, but for a brief moment it made this 42 year old believe she still “had it”!!

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Easter Break In: An Update

Ok, so those of you who read my last post Easter Break In will know that an HMO room suffered a burglary where only cash was stolen (all other valuables left intact, including four bottles of champagne which proves it wasn’t me as I would have nicked the champagne first).  After discussions with the victim and the other tenants, who are quick to deny culpability, the badge of suspicion was laid on Andrew.  I’ve since found out that he’s not only a self confessed gambling addict, but is also on Pub Watch (this means he’s been banned from every pub in town for punching someone) and is on probation doing community service for holding up a bookies (not sure what with though).

I’ve been mulling over a solution to this problem as:

a)  There’s no evidence it was him

b)  The tenants are known by everyone in town that they repeatedly forget to lock the back door

c)  I actually like the guy, he’s paid his rent bang on time every week and is adamant he’s innocent.

Watching My Move

In the meantime, I’ve got five other tenants watching what I’m going to do about it – one of which is never there and only uses the room to store his stuff following his bankruptcy, another who is at work all day, a Romanian ex-border guard working for a hotel, Tom the alcoholic when he’s got cash – salt of the earth when sober and the victim – a guy who is Andrew’s manager and recommended him for a room in the first place.  They’ve all been quick to lay the blame and “threaten to punch the first f****r” to put a foot wrong but shy away from any confrontation when I try to bring them all together to find a solution considering their suspicions are based on little more than reputation.  And, to be honest, I have no idea who it was either.

The trouble is, as landlady, I have to be seen as impartial, fair, law abiding and on every tenant’s side.  These tenants, either through their own making or circumstances into which they are born, carry their vulnerabilities around with them until being defensive becomes a means of communication and, before I’ve even opened my mouth, assume what I’m going to say or interpret what I am saying as a personal attack on them.

The Solution

I had decided to tell Andrew that I wouldn’t let his contract turn into a periodic at the end of his fixed term in July.  Whilst the Section 21 would be a no fault notice, I felt that everyone was gunning for him, tensions were high and it would be better for all concerned if he found alternative accommodation.  In fact, I have a room coming available that would suit him perfectly then, at least if anything else happened in the house, he couldn’t be blamed for it.

Before I’d even started the car engine the “Big Boss” was on the phone to me pleading, yes, pleading for me to let him stay in a call that lasted 28 minutes.  This was weird because I’d heard that even he thought Andrew had committed the crime and was waiting for him to mess up again and he wanted to know why was I “chucking him out?”.  I let him rant for a bit before explaining that I felt I was playing fair and then threw back to him – What would he do in my position?  Wait for the inevitable showing of fists (note: showing NOT using), arguing and then everyone phoning me at midnight in the mistaken belief that I’m the police and can break up five grown men (two of whom are bound to be pissed)?

I left it with him that moving to another house may calm everyone down and allow Andrew to lead his life without preconceptions from fellow tenants; he suggested that I install CCTV cameras and security grilles.  No to the grilles but last year I had been thinking about CCTV in the communal areas even though I really, really don’t want to see tenants in their pants going to the bathroom.

Whilst I check out CCTV costs, anyone got any other ideas?  Or the number for the United Nations?!

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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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