Landlords are used to problem tenants; those that don’t pay the rent, those that cause nuisance to neighbours, that damage properties through malice or accident. But perhaps the saddest nuisance tenants are those with serious mental health issues. Those that find themselves totally unable to discard what most of us would see as rubbish, but which to them is a lifeline, on which their security is based.
These are the tenants that hoard. Old newspapers, empty tins and bottles, it seems anything that they come into contact with, remains in the property, attracting vermin and often stinking.
Hoarding seems to be an increasing problem; but sympathy for the mental health issues that are causing people to keep what the majority of us would discard, cannot disguise the issues this causes. In the event of an emergency, such as a fire or a serious health scare, fire fighters and ambulance men are hampered in fire-fighting or providing medical attention simply because they cannot get in easily.
Where the resident is the owner of the property, it is their loss, which could mean their life, as well as their ‘treasures’. The same cannot be said when the hoarder is the tenant of a private sector landlord. No landlord would voluntarily take a tenant that, within a short space of time, would replicate Steptoe’s yard. But of course, this facet of their personality is rarely exhibited in that first important interview after a prospective tenant has applied for the tenancy.
Landlords cannot, sadly, afford to keep a tenant who exhibits this type of behavior. Insurance would probably be invalidated because of the increased risk of fire. There is usually so much combustible material around that what in a normal situation would be a quickly extinguished smoulder turns into a massive conflagration. Finding the source is difficult for fire officers and there is a serious risk to them of injury if the materials are in towers.
Even without fire, clearing the property should the tenant go into some care facility, is a mammoth task. Undetected leaks may have caused damage. There may be infestations of mice (or worse); total re-decoration may be necessary. Sympathy is one thing, but a business investment is quite another; to put it back into a letable state will cost a considerable amount of money, a lot of effort and a long time.
What can you do in the first place to guard against taking someone who could put your investment at risk?
Try and visit the prospective tenant in their current property. Always get references in writing. Remember that the current landlord may give a good reference simply because they want them out of the house, so get one from the last landlord but one – they already got rid of the tenant so are more likely to give a truthful reference. Ring referees up, in addition to the written reference – they may be more inclined to be completely honest, verbally, than in writing.
Always give a 6 month tenancy agreement to start with, so you can evict the tenant using a s.21 notice at the earliest opportunity, should problems start to occur. Regular inspections are the best safe-guard against a hoarding situation becoming unmanageable. If the tenant will not allow regular inspections, serve an s.21 notice at the earliest opportunity (ie after 4 months). You may be getting the rent, but there is no landlord-tenant relationship there. Better to start again, with a new tenant that communicates with you, as well as pays the rent. Remember, the tenant who will not let you inspect is also the tenant who will not allow gas safety checks and not advise you of necessary repairs.
We all understand the importance of allowing people to live their own lives. Failure to vacuum the carpets, dirty pots and pans left for days are irritating and unpleasant. But the tenant is unlikely to die because of it (unless from food poisoning!). The same cannot be said of those with a hoarding habit, where deaths have been recorded due entirely to being a hoarder. Most landlords treat their tenants’ idiosyncrasies with respect and great patience. Perhaps too much, as it is their good will, peace of mind and a valuable investment, at risk.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon