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Happy New Year

Well, 2009 has now well and truly departed, and we are now 4 full days into 2010.

Welcome 2010! I really hope that you will prove to be more accomodating than your predecessor was.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, 2009 was full of opportunities and challenges, highs and lows ( maybe more lows than highs), tears and laughter, joy and sadness, losses and gains. Quite a rollercoaster, I’d say. When all is said and done, good ol’ Grumpy is glad to see the back of 2009.

The agenda for you, 2010, promises to be just as varied, and hopefully more fun.

To all Landlords, have a cracking year and may your portfolios be fruitful.

To all Tenants, give your landlords a stress-free year. Pay your rents on time and keep the properties well, and I’m certain you will have a cracking year too.

When all is said and done, it takes two to tango – dunnit??

    Posted in General.

    Ghost homes: why are properties empty?

    According to a recent report released by UpMyStreet, privately-owned properties that have been vacant for more than six months are on the rise. And we get the usual stuff about it being a sad sight, attracting pests, crime etc., and devaluing neighbourhood and all that jazz.

    So, why does it happen?

    The facts
    Figures released by the Halifax Empty Homes in England Survey showed that between April 2003 – 2008, the number of long-term empty properties has risen above 300,000. The North West has the highest number of vacant properties at 66,691, followed by Yorkshire & the Humber with 41,299, and the South East with 34,663 homes.

    With first-time buyers being priced out of the property market, and record numbers of people waiting on housing lists, there are growing calls for action to be taken against this developing trend of vacant homes.

    Why are houses left empty for so long?
    Properties are left empty for many different reasons. Some are purely financial; an owner lacks the funds to redevelop or make a property habitable, is awaiting planning permission for structural alterations, or the property is vacant pending sale.

    Other reasons can be more personal. The homeowner may be hospitalised on a long-term basis, with little access to their property or affairs, or there could be legal issues surrounding the dissolution of an estate.
    Either way, the impact of any of these scenarios can be very real for your home, and your neighbourhood. Read our tips below to see what you can do to help get empty properties back in working order.

    What can you do?

    It can be hard to tell if a property has been abandoned, or is left empty, but here are a few things that might arouse a suspicion:

    • No-one is seen leaving or entering the property
    • Mail, flyers and catalogues are left discarded at the door
    • The property is in a general state of disrepair
    • Vastly overgrown front and rear gardens
    • An increase in the incidence of vermin or pests around the property
    • Refuse being left or dumped in the garden over a long period
    • Noticing people entering in suspicious circumstances, e.g. squatting or illegal activities

    If you have any suspicions do not approach the property yourself. Contact your local council who will investigate on your behalf.

    Several local councils employ an empty property officer whose job it is to get properties back in use. They can use contacts to remedy the situation, make a compulsory purchase of the property in extreme circumstances, or enforce a sale if the owner has debts with the council. All of these options can be discussed with your local council.

    My Comments
    All very well and good saying talk to your local council. As if the Council care two hoots!! I have approached them in the past about empty properties, only to be stonewalled (the usual Data Protection Act excuse) or passed from pillar to post.

    A landlord will not generally leave a property empty for no good reason. Afterall, it costs us money. The issue of empty homes and the underlying reasons needs to be looked at more carefully, and measures put in place to assist owners to get them back into use.

      Posted in General, Property.

      Law and Justice – still definitely not the same thing

      Not the best way to start a new week, but there you go – it happens.

      I sent a form N325 (warrant for possession) to the court on 14/12/09 by royal mail first class recorded delivery. I telephoned the bailiffs office on15/12/09, but the request had not arrived. It eventually arrived on thursday 17/12/09, 3 days after it was posted. Wow! now that, dear Royal Snail Mail, is what I call first class service. And I had the priviledge of paying extra for it too. I might as well not have bothered and just popped it in the post as normal and hoped for the best … on a wing and a prayer.

      Reminds me of another incidence with royal mail in October when I sent a letter by Special delivery, paid £5.40 for the service that guaranteed the letter would be delivered by 1pm the next day. You know what I am about to say don’t you?. The said letter did not arrive before 1pm. So, I’m jumping up and down, making phone calls to each and every royal mail customer service number I could find, but could they help, oh no! The best the staff could do was tell me that it was on its way to be delivered, the postman must have been delayed, apologies etc.etc.What the heck is an apology going to do? Is that what I paid extra for? What about the repercussions of the letter not getting to its destination on time? And they get away with it too because frankly, there’s nothing in the system that enables one to take Royal Snail Mail to task for its sloppiness and inefficiencies. I’ve made complaints a number of times already, on other cases, and each time it takes forever to get anything done, and then the classic response is “its been so long” that they can’t trace the postman in question, or the whatever other thing needs tracing, and so apologise. Whose fault was it that it took so long? definitely not mine. But who bears the repercussion? yours truly. I’d rather pay more for a service that will be given, than this apology of a service we seem to have now. No offence to any postie out there – a lot of you guys and gals are doing a good job (I’ve got two postie tenants btw). The system just stinks.

      Anyway, back to the bailiff. So I ask when the warrant will be executed, and was told mid to end January 2010. That of course goes down well-not! red rag to a bull I nearly hit the roof, but I reign in my temper and ask why, only to be told the bailiff was now on holiday and won’t be back until 4/01/10 and the defendant has to be given at least 2 weeks notice. So, still holding my temper (with some difficulty I might add), I ask “why did bailiff not give notice on 17/12/09 then?” the reply came back “because she went on holiday on 17/12/09″. Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!! I managed a short but polite rant, apologised to the lady at the end of the phone for the rant, and wished her a merry christmas through gritted teeth.

      So, between the acts of my errant Tenant, aided and abbetted by the County Court System, and in connivance with Royal Snail Mail, I am about to lose another month’s rent. Not good tidings of joy is it!

      And the gofmint calls this an “accelerated possession process”!! Pleeeeeeeeeease, give me a break. There is Law and there is Justice, but when will the two meet?? Hopefully sometime in my lifetime-and they had better hurry……

        Posted in Tenant Eviction.

        Shelter Report on implementation of LHA

        Shelter has released a report on its findings on a study monitoring the implementation of local housing allowance. I like the report title – For Whose Benefit. Very apt question indeed. There is a summary report for those who don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole thing.
        Having read the report, I would say that this gofmint had better read it and take not of its findings, use them its recently announced public consultation on housing benefit. Or be damned.

        The report says what we Landlords have known all along. OK, bear with me and I’ll give you the jist…

        1. Most claimants would prefer to have the LHA paid directly to the landlord. Did you hear that, gofmint. In your consultation paper, section 6.8, you make assertion that direct payment is an important component of reforms to the system, providing your customers with the responsibility for handling benefit payments and paying their rent which they will need when moving into work. You assume that (i) all claimants want to work and (ii) all claimants can manage money. Both assumptions are wrong, okay. And I can prove it to you.

        2. Claimants were finding it hard to find landlords willing to rent to LHA claimants or affordable homes. Why would we want to open ourselves to legalised fraud? Yes, dear gofmint, you have legalised daylight robbery aimed directly at private landlords – the very ones that you claim in 6.4 of your consultation paper “play a crucial role in providing flexible housing choices for people who cannot afford or choose not to buy their own homes“. If we play such a crucial role, stop treating us with such contempt and put your money where your mouth is!!

        3. Need for top up payments was a problem, which means LHA award is not sufficient, hasn’t and isn’t being calculated properly. This basing the rent on a Broad Market Rental Areas thing needs a revamp.  The amount of time I spend chasing topups…. its reduced now I use DD to collect rents and top ups.

        4. 95% of claimants they surveyed were finding it difficult to manage their finances. doh! I could have told them that … people who have not been taught money management or ever learnt it or worked for it, can’t suddenly become responsible money managers can they??. Its not their money is it? easy come … easy go. But the gofmint claims in section 6.8 of its document that” many customers now operate bank accounts successfully, in may cases for the first time, as a result of this reponsibility“. Many have also defrauded the tax payer and not paid the benefit to the landlord-but gofmint does not see that as fraud, does it?

        5. LHA payment cycles of 2/4 weeks causing problems with rent arrears – not aligned with monthly rent dates that landlords require. The very nature of the system encourages LHA claimants to breach their tenancy agreements. from the get go. LHA is paid 4 weekly in arrears – so the service is already provided before the rent is paid. And if some bod at the benefit office decides that the claimant was not entitled to it, then they don’t pay it. And who has lost money? dear old trodden-upon landlord!! Do they care, these bods, no sir, they don’t …. afterall they will tell you “we are just following gofmint guidelines“… yeah, right!! Bet they wouldn’t be so complacent if they had shortfalls in their paypackets because they were deemed not to have done their jobs properly during the month!

        6. Reduction in LHA when people move into work is a disincentive to work … eh, yes, common sense tells us that, doesn’t it? why not find a way of easing the transition period, or better still set the LHA rates to better reflect the going rents?

        7. Claimants felt that the administrative process of the LHA was a problem … LOL, ROF, ha ha ha, ho ho ho …. excuse me, but I had to laugh at that one. Don’t we just know it. As a landlord, I am the one at the receiving end of the cockups, sorry, administrative errors, that the councils make in administering the scheme.

        Thank you Shelter, for that incisive and unbiased report. I will most certainly be putting in my input into the consultation process – bet I will. Question to other landlords is “will you participate??” I really really hope so.

          Posted in LHA.

          Local Housing Allowance – Government Consultation Document released

          Well, well, well, looks like this gofmint is finally listening. Not a very strong point of theirs, one must admit. But, lets give them credit, at least in taking the first steps toward putting right, this travesty of a regulation.

          The gofmint has now released a Consultation Document to look at how the LHA is being implemented, amongst other things. You can read or download the whole Consultation Document, just so you have something to look at later or use as firelighter when you get the bbq out next summer.

          Let’s have a look at a few points made in the summary, shall we:
          1. The Local Housing Allowance introduced last year has already brought in a fairer way of calculating Housing Benefit for tenants who live in private rented accommodation. Our objective was to reduce barriers to work by giving people more responsibility for their Housing Benefit payments and to provide a better service based on simpler rules.

          Hmnn, yes its a fairer way to calculate entitlement, but this thing about giving people more responsibility for their housing payment, in reality, means giving them licence to steal from you and me as the benefit is not used for its intended purpose but for booze, fags, toys like 40inch LCD TVs and the latest gadgets.

          2. The complex interaction with other benefits and weekly adjustments in payments for those who work variable hours can also reduce the incentives for work

          you got that too right! b****y nightmare. I have a couple whose LHA has varied every single 4-week period due to the hubby working, that I just want to get rid and give myself some peace. Not their fault obviously, but its low paid work, benefit gone down from £94/wk to something like £30/wk, and they are getting further in arrears. Frankly, he’d be better off not working. But then he wants to work, and I support that.

          3. The way in which rates are set has meant that customers in some areas have benefited more than others. In some areas, Housing Benefit can support customers to live in accommodation that many people in work cannot afford. This makes it harder for customers to come off Housing Benefit when they move into work. Furthermore, including high rents when setting Local Housing Allowance rates has driven up benefit levels and has contributed to the annual Housing Benefit budget rising more than it otherwise would have done

          If the gofmint had thought it through, they would have seen it coming. We landlords knew that, but as they don’t consider us worthing of being listened to, they went ahead anyway. I told you so, dear gofmint!!

          4. It also sets out our long-term aspiration to move towards greater integration of Housing Benefit into the wider tax and benefit regimes

          oh dear! the system will become so complex, no one will be able to work it out properly – not even Gordon himself who is very clever at putting together indecipherable (at least to the common man) tax and benefit schemes. Means tested schemes where those who need it most, don’t get it and those who don’t need it get it, and then gofmint complains there’s pots of funds left unclaimed. You work that one out.

          5.  More integrated benefit provision is not something we could introduce overnight. Change of this order will take time if it is not to involve unacceptable cost and be difficult to implement

          The final caveat and “get-out” clause!! yes of course, dear gofmint, we understand perfectly. These things do take time, which you, thankfully-hopefully, do not have.

          Fellow landlords who take LHA claimants, I hereby appeal to you, to ensure that you give the gofmint your views on this matter, tell them your experiences, good and bad so they get a balanced view, and hopefully, things will change for the better. I’m not holding my breath though!! ha!

            Posted in LHA.

            Tenant keeps her word for first time in months…… refuses to vacate

            Wonders will indeed never cease.You recall the tenant I told you about on the on Friday 10thDec, well, she has surprised me. I really really was hoping that she would keep true to type and not keep her word. Sadly for me, she has kept her word.

            What the heck am I on about. well, Mrs F was given a court order to vacate and give me possession of my property yesterday 14/12/09. However, her solicitor had advised her not to leave, and to stay till I got a warrant of possession. Well, considering that Mrs F has been promising to pay her rent since August and has come up with every excuse under the sun for not paying, I had come to understand that her word could not be trusted, and she could not find it in herself to tell the truth or keep her promises. Surprise, surprise, she kept her word this time, and did not leave on the due date. Aaarrghhhh … the one time I wanted her to be true to type, and she fails me. Oh well. I suppose it just makes the saga more interesting.

            I sent someone to go and visit the property, and she duly knocks on the door and Mrs F opens up and asks her in. My agent says she’s come to check if Mrs F had left or was leaving, and Mrs F promptly replies that she has no intention of leaving. I’m told that the christmas tree is up, with decorations and lights, not sure if there are presents under the tree … maybe an inspection is due!!

            It never ceases to amaze me that the tenants who claim not to be able to afford or pay their rents are the same ones who can find money to spend on frivolities and luxuries such as 40inch flat screen TVs.

            I duly filled in the N325 form yesterday afternoon, wrote out a cheque for £95 made out to HMCS, and promptly sent these off by first class recorded delivery to the court. I telephoned the court mid morning today, and actually spoke to the bailiff. But thanks to questionable services of Royal Mail, the warrant request had not been delivered. The bailiff was quite a nice man actually. He took the case number, went away to check their mail for the day, and called me back to let me know they hadn’t received the letter.

            I then went onto the Royal mail website to see what the heck was going on, entered the tracking details for the letter and got the message “…. being processed through the system”. What b**lsh*t. First class is not 1st class anymore. You just can’t get the service nowadays, can you. Courts don’t work, royal mail doesn’t work, the gofmint doesn’t work, the banks stopped working ages ago, and pretty soon BA won’t work. The world is going to pots all around us.

            Oh, and whilst I was on the phone to the bailiff, i asked him why it was that the system encouraged tenants to flout orders to vacate until bailiffs are called. He didn’t know. He sympathised and all that, but had not answer, mind you, not that I expected he would have an answer. I just thought perhaps he could give me an insight into that side of things.

            What is a landlord to do?? We can but keep pressing and pushing for our rights and try and keep our tenants paying rent in the face of all the odds stacked firmly against us.

            We shall overcome some day.

              Posted in Tenant Eviction.

              Christmas greetings to a tenant who did a runner

              We decided not to send christmas cards this year, but have had to make one or two exceptions. Afterall, it’ll be nice to wish certain people good cheer, even though they dont deserve it. So, I have just put together a little christmas card with a nice letter to a lady who used to rent from us a nice 3-bed detached house with lovely countryside views. Yes, she is an ex-tenant, but not one I would wish on any other landlord.

              Lets call her Mrs T. So, Mrs T rents this house, and she’s ok for a little while, then falls into arrears because she claimed her salary payments were erratic. Anyway, we agree a payment arrangement to spread arrears over 6 months, to help her get back on track. She makes the first one ok, the second one is late and only half of what was due – she claimed someone had stolen money from her account and the bank was looking into it. So many tenants pull that one nowadays… banks must be getting quite sloppy. Mrs T pays the third installment and then stopped altogether. Wouldn’t respond to calls, letters even visits. Eventually, I find her in one day and she claims to have lost her job and was depressed etc.etc. Yeah! right!! so why bury head in the sand and think it will go away? I can get quite depressed too you know, if I let my tenant’s shenanigans get to me. Goodness, gracious me, I’d be permanently depressed if that were the case.

              Anyway, she turns on the waterworks (it always works) and as she has kids, I agree to let her stay provided she paid going forward and put something toward the arrears. Let’s just say after 2 payments, she defaulted again, and this time, I went straight to court on a S8 ground 8 basis. She did a runner before hearing date, so I got immediate possession. And I was also able to get some housing benefit paid direct to me-but that was another fight in itself with the respective council. Oh boy, that story will be told later.

              Needless to say Mrs T left the house in a mess, utter and complete mess, and it’ll take some doing to get it back into tenantable condition. thankfully, no structural damage, just decor and rubbish, and cleaning. Oh, and an empty brand new box for a 37inch LCD TV (now did I say she was in arrears???!!). The white shower tray looked like it had not been cleaned in months, and outside tap that had broken was not reported, and she just piped the water via a hose into the drains which ofcourse just backed up and oveflowed due to the constant water into it. Junk and rubbish in garden. So many toys for her kids left behind, so we know what the rent money was used for. She’ll probably be spending more of her rent money on more toys to replace the ones she left behind. Perhaps if she shopped at TopChristmasToys or StrictlyChristmasGifts, she’d save some money and still be able to pay some rent to her new unsuspecting landlord.

              As I now know where she’s moved to, I’m about to surprise her with a christmas card. Which is very thoughtful of me, or so I think anyway, though you might beg to differ. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when she opens the card and finds her statement of account and a copy of the court order with the money judgement.

              Merry Christmas, dear ex-tenant Mrs T. I’ll see you in the new year, or shall I say a high court sheriff will be calling on my behalf.

                Posted in Post Eviction.

                Law and Justice – still definitely not the same thing

                This gets better and better. I was back on an even keel after the unfortunate telephone call of Tuesday, and was quietly gearing myself for next Monday when I received an email about 40 minutes ago. This time, I was amused, even though it wasn’t really funny, ha, ha! My tenants solicitors emailed to tell me that it was highlighted to me during the conversation that “possession of the property could not be obtained without a Warrant of Possession. This is irrespective of the fact that an Order for Possession was granted by the Court“. And that if in doubt I should seek legal advice. As if I need any legal advice on the injustice of the system. The beauty of the email is the last bit “if there is any attendance by the Claimants at the property, or Agents of those persons and they seek to forcibly evict our client from the property, proceedings will be instituted against the Claimant for illegal eviction“.

                So there you have it, my amusement for today. Not only is the tenant owing thousands of pounds in rent arrears, she’s getting free legal aid to try to buck the system and stay on rent free for as long as the system will allow her to. This legal aid system that she is now taking advantage of, is funded by taxpayers money, including what I pay on hard earned income, income that people like her try to take away through this kind of shenanigan. You’d think that the solicitors would at least try to encourage their clients or help them find legit means of paying their debts. Oh,no! they’d rather spend their time on unfruitful stuff, and cause landlords to spend even more money trying to get their property back.

                In effect, the solicitors are saying that the court order does not matter. Ignore the court order anyway. Is that not contempt of court then? Why can’t we take these guys to court on that basis?? 

                I know what I have to do, which is go to the property on the appointed day, establish that the tenant is still in residence, then apply to the bailiffs to evict. Of course that will not be till after christmas/new year now will it. So another month when rent arrears will no doubt increase. She can spin it for as long as the system will allow, but not for ever.

                In the meantime, I have put in a money claim for the outstanding arrears to date. She should get the court papers in a couple of days. I wonder what she’s going to do with that, tell her solicitors to threaten me even further??

                Law and Justice. What can I say? The law is an ass. There is no justice, at least not for landlords. The government beats us over the head with all kinds of sticks, and regulate us till there’s nothing else to regulate. But will they give us any help where it is required?? oh no! small enterprise should be choked and burdened with red tape …. of course this is a labour gofmint, innit!!

                  Posted in Law.

                  Law and Justice – Definitely not the same thing

                  A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way to Court for a Possession Hearing. I was listening to Radio 2 (as you do), and Terry Wogan (I will miss him) commented that Law & Justice were not the same. This was said after a track (can’t remember the artist) that contained words to that effect. I thought how apt it was, considering my destination. Anyway, I came out of the hearing completely convinced, yet again, that Law and Justice DEFINITELY are not the same in this country. This was a S21 case-judge had given tenant 6 weeks to vacate – the maximum time the law allows. I challenged this and requested a variation. But, apparently, the defendant had to be given 14 days notice, and it had to be a hearing, and of course taking all the time into consideration, the hearing date was barely 2 weeks from possession date. I wasn’t expecting the Judge to vary the order or bring it any closer, but I must admit, it still hit me in the gut when the appeal was dismissed.

                  So why am I going on about this … because I’ve just come off the phone and I’m absolutely livid that a solicitor is advising her client, the subject of this hearing, to stay put in the property and not leave on the date possession is supposed to be given. She had been trying to negotiate for her client to remain in the property based on more futile promises to pay, and I said no, I would be checking her out on due date. This tenant had made so many promises to pay and not paid, that it if she said to me that the sun was shining, I’d have to go check myself. She even lied to the Judge at the hearing, saying she was expecting some money in and would clear the arrears by last week. Anyway, then Solicitor said I couldn’t just turn up and expect her to leave, that I’d have to go back to court. At which point I interrupted and asked her point blank if she was advising her client not to vacate. Guess what, after much prevarication, and me insistently asking the question, her answer was yes, that’s her advice to her client. She then proceeded to lecture me on the court process – just as if I didn’t already know that the court process stinks anyway. Needless to say, I completely lost whatever cool I had left at that point, told her conversation was over and cut off the call. What blooming cheek. I don’t normally do that, that is put the phone down on people, but this woman incensed me something terrible. And a solicitor at that. I’m just glad I’m not her client.

                  Anyway, I’m going to make a cup of tea, then continue with the task I was so rudely interrupted from, which is ….. chasing rent again … and just hope the day gets better than this.

                    Posted in Law.

                    What is the difference between Guarantor and Witness?

                    That my friends, is a valid question. You may laugh, but that’s what I got this morning.

                    One of our HMO tenants is in arrears. We chase for the payment, and she claims she’s left the bedsit!! She has an AST, signed by her and her Guarantor, and witnessed to boot. Tc & Cs are all in there, but she still doesn’t think she needs to give notice. If I’d asked her to leave in a moments notice, she’d be off to the Council like a shot and they, bless their red-tape keeping, do-gooding ways, will be on my back like a ton of bricks telling me about the illegality of my actions etc., and trying to teach me the housing law!! The hypocrites!! If they knew half as much of the housing law and the benefits law as they should, we won’t have three quarters of the problems that we do.

                    Anyway, my dear tenant then comes back with the idea that the guarantor, who incidentally is her mum, is not her guarantor at all and has never been her guarantor. That in fact the guarantor was someone who did some work for us ages ago, who witnessed her signature on the first AST she signed back in Jan/Feb 08 at a previous bedsit. Confused? Hmnn, I’d be too if I didn’t know better. I’d like to know what she’s on. It might help me with dealing with folk like her.

                    I have of course already written to the Council to tell them their customer is not paying the housing benefit …..

                    Then it turns out she still has her stuff in the bedsit, and of course still has possession of the keys to the building and to her bedsit. But according to her she’s left and doesn’t live there anymore!! Now, considering she never gave notice, nor informed our local staff that she was leaving or was checked out, and still has all the keys, if I went in with my key, turfed out her stuff and re-let the place, I could be done for illegal eviction. But as the tenant, she can claim to have left, and there’s nothing much I can do, AND if I want the place back, I have to spend more money, waste more time, lose more rent and apply to court for a possession order, or take the risk and change the locks, still leaving myself open to the charge of illegal eviction. The law stinks, doesn’t it? But we all know that. Law and Justice are not exactly the same thing.

                    And then it turns out her mum is still her guarantor anyway, as i already knew since I have the signed paperwork. surprise, surprise – not. And she’ll pay the arrears as she wants the daughter to keep the bedsit. Oh well, thanks for the generosity, dear guarantor, but, I already have you where it hurts – so says the Deed of Guarantee you signed.

                    Goodness knows where the girl is living at the mo … and I really don’t care. I just want them to show me the money, and whether they do it willingly or I have to go to court to get it, they will show me the money. That’s a promise – to them and to myself :twisted:

                    have a good week guys and gals. I can tell I will – having sent out what seems like hundreds of letters to our various errant tenants last thursday and friday, i expect a lot of calls this week ……. and I am looking forward to them.

                      Posted in Lettings and Management, Property, Tenant Behaviour.

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