(TRO Ben Reeve Lewis considers bad tenants he has known …)
Most readers of this blog know me as someone voicing opinions on protecting tenants from criminal landlords but also hopefully as a council enforcement officer who doesn’t hate landlords as a species and recognises that despite the violent and sometimes insane nut-jobs I have to deal with on a daily basis most landlords are decent, fine people.
I might not always agree with even the decent, fine ones but …..well……..its a free country.
In 25 years of protecting tenant’s rights for an inner London borough I have seen some astonishingly unpleasant behaviour……………..from both landlords AND tenants.
One of the things I always hate as a Tenancy Relations Officer and I would imagine are hated by other TROs, is having to utilised laws designed to protect tenants from the worst in ways which in fact protect the worst tenant against a normal landlord.
False harassment claims
Perhaps the most common scenario I encounter is the tenant who once installed in the property doesn’t pay any rent, refuses to answer the phone or otherwise engage with the landlord and then makes a complaint to the TRO that the landlord is harassing them for money.
Now. Section 40 of the Administration of Justices Act 1970 makes it a criminal offence to make demands for payment which cause “Alarm, distress or humiliation”. It’s a thin line where reasonable demands for rent payments, driven by panic at an inability to meet the mortgage payments, trips over the admittedly blurred boundary into a Section 40 breach.
But as the TRO I’m the one who has to make the call and advise the landlord to reign it in and/or go for possession on the basis of rent arrears, a procedure that both I and they know will take months and even if successful may still not claw back the missing money.
I hate making those calls and despite what understandably angry landlords say to me I do as much on their behalf as I can. I always advise the tenant that they need to bear in mind that when it does come time to leave their prospective new landlord will ask their old landlord for a reference and to think ahead about what that reference may say.
Fairly recently I encountered a case where the tenant, conveniently holding the landlords bank account details for rent payments and date of birth, embarked on a spending spree in the landlord’s name.
The landlord asked for my advice but sadly my answer was that stealing a person’s identity wasn’t covered by any housing law I am aware of and that she needed to contact the police, however the police, as they do so often heard the words “Landlord and Tenant” and deemed it a “Civil matter”.
I failed to see how identity theft and fraud were a civil matter and could only suggest that she complain to the police for not investigating the allegations. All I could advise on was….yes….you guessed it, evict the tenant, which is going to take months. Meanwhile the tenant’s shoe collection kept growing.
Risk free renting
Nightmare tenants and rogue landlords are part of the landscape of renting, part of the possible risk you take when getting into the game. As one wag said to me recently “If a landlord wants a risk free investment, then buy a house but don’t rent it out to anyone”.
I also talk to loads of landlords of rogue tenants who tell me that they have been renting for 20 years and never encountered a problem until now. It’s a lottery as is so much of life.
Tenant hands over £3,000 in deposit and rent in advance only to find agent walks off with all the money – landlord happy to let to nice woman and three charming kids who end up smashing the place to pieces within a few months – tenant spend fortune furnishing their home only to find its an unauthorised council sub- let and they have to get out.
All very common scenarios.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for watering down laws in place to protect tenants from the violence and intimidation of criminal landlords but I would support any law which helps landlords evict nightmare tenants more quickly.
I’m not qualified or erudite enough to suggest in detail how this could be done by I do know enough to comprehend that any changes would have to be made within the framework of the general legal system of proof and accusation, so it wouldn’t be just a case of “Well if they owe me money I should be allowed to change the locks”. That would be a naïve way of approaching it indeed.
Checks are vital but …
Can you run checks on tenants in advance to minimise the risk? Yes you can and you should, as should tenants with landlords but Experian will only give you so much.
A person might have a poor credit rating from years back but be otherwise solvent now and with a perfectly clean balance sheet when it comes to rent.
Even criminal record checks aren’t too instructive. I myself have a criminal record. Do you know what for? I got caught handing out leaflets for a Madonna concert whilst standing on the wrong area of the payment of Earls Court. What a cumbersome vile recidivist I am. I’m surprised anyone will let to me at all.
Many landlords I know rely on gut instinct. Fair enough but I doubt its 100% reliable.
I met a guy the other day Rahim Hassanali who runs a sort of speed dating event where groups of landlords and prospective tenants get to meet over wine or some such and check each other out in person before going down the legal route.
Wouldn’t fancy it myself but different strokes and all that.
It’s a risky business being a landlord and I wouldn’t do it myself. In the cases I mention above I can’t see how any checks could have picked up the possibility that a tenant might steal a landlord’s identity or smash the place to bits unless they had done it before.
Whats your story?