Having a tenant from hell – it can make or break you as a landlord
Last month, during filming for the next series of ‘Bad Tenants, Rogue Landlords’ (due to air on Channel 5 later this year), we carried out an eviction in Cardiff.
Although Landlord Action features in a programme with the term ‘rogue landlord’ in the title, I’m a little tired of the phrase being bandied about so freely in the press that the adjective ‘rogue’ seems to permanently precede the word ‘landlord’.
There are some ‘bad apples’ out there, as there are in any industry, but the phrase ‘rogue landlord’ is now used so heavily that it is starting to tar every landlord with the same brush, when in fact statistically there are far fewer rogue landlords than rogue tenants!
This account by one of my landlords that illustrates this point very well – Stuart Haines, from Cardiff, recently instructed Landlord Action to gain possession of his property. Here is his story …
“Waiting at the front door to our flat with the bailiff and locksmith in front of us was a very anxious moment. The bailiff was knocking on the door to see if the tenant was still living in our property. We had been verbally told that the lady may have mental health issues, so we didn’t know what to expect if she did come to the door. As it turned out, she wasn’t in and so the locksmith had to break the lock so that we could gain entry. Sadly, we were not prepared for what was behind the door!
Forgive the cliché, but as we walked into our flat it truly was like a bomb had gone off. If this had been a one-off investment and my only flat, I think I would have broken down in tears at the state of the place and I feel for any landlord who has found themselves in this position. The bedroom was covered in feathers, there were quilts and piles of clothes covering the floor, the bed was broken and pushed against the wall, the bedroom door was also smashed on the floor and the wardrobe doors had hammer holes all over them.
In the bathroom, the sink was shattered, the bath unusable, the toilet was full to the brim, the tiles on the wall all had hammer holes indented and the floor was again covered with rubbish. We had to wade through piles of clothes and personal photos covering the hall way floor.
Into the front room there were bags of rubbish and clothes piled all over a small sofa in the corner where we believe the tenant slept. There were hundreds of cigarette stubs all over the floor and black writing on the walls. The kitchen was indescribable – let’s just say the whole kitchen is going to have to be ripped out, re-tiled, a new floor laid, and all new white goods installed. We are just in disbelief someone could possibly live like this.
Aside from the distress at seeing something you have worked so hard for treated in this way, the finance side of this situation for some people could completely break the bank. We have:
Over £5,000 in rent arrears
Over £2,000 in court fees
An estimated £15,000-20,000 to completely refurbish the flat
Our tenant was in receipt of housing benefit which at first was not a problem, the money came straight to us. However, then the tenant was required to take some papers into the council offices, which she failed to do. This meant that all of a sudden our rent payments were suspended until the tenant produced the paperwork.
We are at a loss as to why as the landlord we were penalised when we continued to house the tenant. As a result of this experience, we have now decided not to let any of our properties through councils. I have also heard of a number of landlords with similar experiences who have taken the same decision.
We are in a fortunate enough position that we have a property portfolio to buffer some of the expense we are going to incur and since we are builders, the condition of the flat does not put us off. However, I believe for many an experience such as this would break them mentally and financially – something has to be done.”
Being a landlord in today’s market, with added tax liabilities, greater regulation and increased costs, is challenging enough. It’s not just a case of buying a property, sticking a tenant in and waiting for the value of the property and rents to go up. Sustaining and maintaining a tenancy is harder than ever in today’s private rental sector.
Yes, there are some criminal landlords, and I am pleased that powers of enforcement to enable local authorities to tackle the real ‘rogues’ are increasing. The government recently announced that they are providing £2.4 million to 60 local authorities, which will assist with further training and appointing more environmental officers on the ground.
But, is what happened to Stuart’s property not criminal activity? If you walked into a restaurant and trashed it, it would be! The government’s recent decision that all landlords will be required to belong to a redress scheme will be welcomed by the majority of landlords. It will help landlords exonerate themselves from the term ‘rogue’, but I hope it will also help landlords have redress against tenants.
When you hear a story like Stuart’s, losing the best part of £25,000 thanks to a tenant trashing the property and not paying rent, it’s easy to see why landlords feel they are currently not being given the protection they need.