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I am very aware when I write these little pieces that there can be no generalisation in the average landlord (or landlady). The readers of these pieces could hold enormous and exceptionally expensive portfolios.
For some, portfolios worth millions are only a dream, or require extensive management to support them; others will own only 3 or 4 properties but will be worth £2-3 million. These ‘wow-factor’ properties will, simply by virtue of their small numbers and the very profitable rents, perhaps be easier to manage and more lucrative.
But what of the aging landlord or landlady, who bought properties towards the bottom end of the market and is unable to operate the close management they used to? They will not have a multi-million-pound portfolio and may still be in negative equity following the drop in the market during the early years of the century.
The issue was brought home to me in a recent meeting with a very respectable and caring landlady I have known for a very long time. No longer able to visit her properties daily; no longer since the introduction of Universal Credit able to maintain a close relationship with housing benefit officers, who understood her method of working and the issues of working with the often vulnerable tenants she accepted; she finds her tenants falling into rent arrears and the income she relied on no longer as certain.
This landlady is asset rich, but struggles to pay the heating in her large, old house. It is tragic to see someone who has helped so many people into a home now finding that she must stay in bed as long as she can, to stay warm. Had her tenants lived in these conditions, Environmental Health would have taken action against her, as tenants have a right to live in habitable conditions. It appears that she does not.
I know the arguments that say a landlady that cannot afford to live despite the properties she owns should dispose of them. But these properties are this landlady’s life; they are her interest, her family, her reason to get up (eventually); I also know that it is the disregard of many tenants now, who refuse to take responsibility for their benefit claims, which lead to some at least of these incidents occurring.
Combine that with the complexity of Universal Credit, the harshness with which they are sanctioned for infringement of the rules which punishes the landlord far more than them and allows arrears situations to increase. The landlord (or in this case the landlady) is left feeling as though they are running an unsanctioned charity, without the kudos that recognition of the true situation would give them.
My advice, despite being a kind person, must be to evict. And what do these money-grabbing, greedy landlords say and do? They say they cannot evict at this time of year; that they are sure the tenants will make up the debt.
One hope for the New Year – that private sector landlords are given a fairer crack of the whip than they have been used to; not all landlords are massively wealthy, not all landlords are uncaring of their tenants; they deserve far more respect than Shelter, Crisis, local authorities, sometimes give them.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon