Private Landlords – Here We Go Again

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The recent release of ‘Mamma Mia – here we go again’, the sequel/prequel (it’s a bit of both) to ‘Mamma Mia’ brought to my mind the very first training session I devised for landlords; the songs of Abba provided the (sometimes tenuous) links between the different points I hoped to make. The landlords enjoyed it, though it may have been the croissants and jam and the idea of a working breakfast, but it was a lot of fun.

As Bjorn and Benny were persuaded to re-visit their original idea, I decided I would follow their lead and do the same, as 15 years on, the points are still relevant, so, ‘Private landlords – here we go again’.

Let’s start with ’Knowing me, knowing you’. Regular readers will know how much store I place on full interviews before a tenancy is allocated and as much referencing as is possible.  A change is that all prospective tenants must now provide documents to prove they have the right to rent. Don’t be caught out – penalties are heavy if you find yourself with a tenant who is here illegally.  

‘Money, money, money’ – it often seems as though the subject of paying rent is somehow vaguely questionable, as though landlords provide properties with no expectation of receiving rent and then have the nerve to demand it! It does not take a Judge Rinder to decide whether that is reasonable. Don’t be ashamed that you expect a return on your investment and take firm action if you don’t get it! You are not a charity.

The tenancy has started, and the landlord discovers that the quiet religious girl he accepted as a tenant has changed into ‘Dancing Queen’ and is upsetting all the neighbours with the noise and unsalubrious company she keeps. Warn her that the tenancy is at risk if the noise nuisance continues; no-one wants to be a kill-joy but there is a time for partying and the middle of the night, disturbing others in the vicinity, is not it.

‘One of us’ is a song with the lyric ‘Someone’s lying crying’. In the film, this refers to heartache; in the private sector, one would imagine it would be the person about to be evicted, perhaps for anti-social behaviour, more often for rent arrears. Shelter will make a case for the victimised tenant, but just as often it will be the landlord, devastated that a trusted tenant has fallen into rent arrears and the landlord now faces the expense and distress of a court hearing in order to get an ungrateful tenant out.

‘Fernando’ a very weak link into housing refugees and migrants, based entirely on a foreign name!  Make sure there is a right to rent, that documents look legitimate, but also – how you will communicate with someone whose first language is not English. Please believe that the person whose English is quite fluent enough to persuade you to give a tenancy is also the person that will appear mute and uncomprehending when being asked questions by local authority officers – particularly relevant if benefits are needed to pay the rent. Make sure you are aware of translation services etc.

You have been a good landlord; helpful and caring but eventually, the tenant who falls into arrears or does not co-operate with the landlord will meet his ‘Waterloo’. If the landlord has followed all the advice around, worked to the letter of the law, then it should be a victory for him over the tenant. At this point, it should be ‘The Winner takes it all’, but sadly this is often not the case. Benefit dependent tenants will have little from which the landlord can recover costs or rent arrears; what the winner takes away is a bad taste in the mouth and some hard-earned lessons.

The tenant has gone; you’ve had to pay court costs, stand the debt, perhaps have to spend hundreds (if not thousands) in bringing the property back up to standard, but ‘That’s the name of the game’ – accept that for the very good tenants, there will always be one that costs you money.

It’s a great film; lots of tenants will go to see it. But if you go again – remember the song titles can give good management hints.

Take heed of them – you don’t want to find yourself saying ‘here we go again’.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon