Ben Reeve Lewis at 2012 The Property Investor Show

Ben Reeve Lewis at 2012 The Property Investor Show

20:43 PM, 20th April 2012, About 12 years ago 9

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A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur – or if you prefer, A Tenancy Relations Officer at a Property Investor’s Show.

Around 120 years ago Mark Twain wrote the classic fish out of water tale about a modern American transplanted to mediaeval Britain. Today I participated in my own version by delivering a presentation at the property investor’s Show at the Excel Arena in London’s Docklands.

Mark Alexander suggested to Nick Clark, the show’s organiser that I might be an interesting, left-field bet. Someone whose job it is to prosecute landlords for harassment and illegal eviction, presenting to a bunch of people for whom I am the anti-Christ.

To be honest I was crapping myself beforehand. Frazzy and even my ex-partner were sending supportive text messages. The latter of whom said “Well if it all goes tits up at least you will have a great anecdote”.

As a housing law trainer I am well used to difficult audiences. Mainly council staff who don’t want to be on the course but who have been told they have to attend by their manager. In housing land the first job of any trainer is to win over the cynical and manage the people who habitually try to derail the course with personal agendas based on office politics and gripes that I have no previous knowledge of.

I thought I would be up against the same resistance at the Excel. I presumed that the only reason that landlords would turn up for my presentation was to take out their frustration at the treatment they had received from their own councils.

I’m tough, I can take it. Although I admit I had a large Jack Daniels before taking to the podium.

Readers? I had a blast. Everyone in my room were wonderful. They were really keen and eager to learn about a little bit of housing law and the reasons why councils make the decisions that they do. Despite my fears of being an alien punch bag they mad me feel very welcome.

I wish that Shelter could have been in the room with me. There wasn’t a rogue among them, just the mainstay of landlords that I have come to know. Decent people who want to know more about their profession and try to do the best they can in their chosen field.

In the morning before I went, I had to deal with a disturbing problem of a woman and her pregnant daughter being intimidated and threatened by her landlord and his brother and father who arrived late last night, assaulted the pregnant girl and threatened to kill the mum.

In this Shelter are right. These are the rogues but it is easy to forget, when you deal with this stuff day after day that they are really the freaks. The exceptions.

Most landlords are like my audience today we should be spending our time and energy supporting and advising them.

I truly believe that if we can develop working relationships with our landlord community, the freaks will be marginalised and we can put them out of business by professionalising the PRS in partnership with the landlords.

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Mary Latham

21:00 PM, 20th April 2012, About 12 years ago

I am so pleased that you were treated with respect Ben.  I am proud to say that most landlords I meet really are prepared to learn and if you show them respect they return it.  I wish I had been there to heckle you hahahaha

I know how you felt I once had to do a presentation to a room full of EHO's at a CRISIS meeting and I felt the same.  They too were are great audience - I did begin by telling them to get the garlic out because I am a landlord.

Those of us who all want the PRS to succeed are on the same side and by working together we all win.

21:18 PM, 20th April 2012, About 12 years ago

I think it can be a truism that the vast majhority of LL have goodwill to carrying out their responsibilities correctly.
They may not know exactly what they should be doing; but there is the willingness to learn.
The rogues out there are a minority and as such should be readily identifiable and be able to be dealt with.
So education of LL rather than prosecution can make a TRO's life a lot easier.
Appreciate that such educational advice won't give you the prosecutions that your senior management may require.
Your way of doing things IS the better way!

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

21:27 PM, 20th April 2012, About 12 years ago

I'd like to bet that a room full of landlords would give you a standing ovation Ben if you were to tell a few stories about the real rogues you've managed to get locked up. In fact, why don't you write some stories about them. I'm sure our readers will be shocked and even more supportive of your good work. The true minority criminal of the element operating in our profession earn us all a bad reputation. The sooner you and your colleagues can deal with them all the better as it will give you more time to provide the much needed education of the landlords who make genuine mistakes without realising they are doing so.

13:21 PM, 24th April 2012, About 12 years ago

can you tell me where i can view the propaganda put out by newham council
tony altman

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

13:35 PM, 24th April 2012, About 12 years ago

Hi Tony

There was plenty of it strewn around the exhibition hall and in bins but like most people I didn't keep hold of a copy. Sorry, I'm not being very helpful am I? Obviously I should have kept a copy but logic faded away in the red mist. The only thing I can suggest is that you call Newham Council and ask them for a copy of the leaflet/brochure their chief EHO and the Mayor of Newham were giving away at last weeks Property Investor Show.

16:18 PM, 24th April 2012, About 12 years ago

thanks mark will do
tony a

16:39 PM, 24th April 2012, About 12 years ago

Hi ben
As you say all landlords dont have horns
seeing your picture i would say im a bit older than you and can remember the dark ages when EHOs were trained as witchfinders to hunt down and exterminate vampire landlords
 Im glad to say that that situation has changed completely and the relationship between landlords and councils is cordial and friendly in most areas of the UK which is in everyones interest
Infact I have to say in our city the council has put more effort into that relationship than some landlords have
,At our local association meetings I told landlords who complained about the council that although it was legitimate to complain when they thought something was wrong in fairness they should be equally quick to praise when things are done right
 ,I will reserve judgement on the newham documents untill I have read them but it would give me cause for the gravest possible concern if Ithought we were heading back in time to the way things used to be
all the best
tony altman

Devon Landlord

10:49 AM, 14th May 2012, About 12 years ago

I am so pleased that you had a great time in the Excel Arena and that landlords did not eat you alive. I work with landlords a great deal of my time and most good landlords belong to associations that represent them, educate them and support them when things go wrong. I also work with local authorities to try to help bring the PRS closer to working meaningfully with them. This is partly because most decent people (landlords included) have a social conscience and also from the self interest perspective that councils spend millions of pounds on providing LHA from which landlords can benefit as part of their business portfolio.
The problems for authorities is that they are 'between a rock and a hard place' at the moment. They are strapped for cash and they have an ever increasing demand upon their services. This often causes them to react negatively with landlords who have direct payment tenants. They listen first of all to what the tenant says which may be far from reality but which never-the-less impacts upon the private landlord. The tenant can request that the LHA be paid back to them (it is after all not a housing allowance) and this often results in subsequent non payment. The local authority are not interested until the tenant is removed so fitting the bill of NOT being intentionally homeless. This then results in a downward spiral of trust. Things will only get worse when the Universal Credit comes in and there are no direct payments. A recent article on Credit Unions showed how to help solve the problem and it would if joining a CU was made compulsory, but it is not.
There are two other solutions to the problem which should be at least considered by the powers that be and they are: firstly, removing LHA from the Universal Credit product and make it specifically for housing. Then let local authorities manage the process and pay all LHA direct to Landlords. Secondly, that any LHA award becomes part of a tri-partite contractual agreement (Tenant-Landlord-Local Authority) so that all parties have an equal interest in the process and an equal say in it being continued or withdrawn. In this way, at least the landlord will have some measure of control. Authorities can then stipulate that direct payments will only be made to landlords who tick all the compliance boxes. The deal can be terminated by any one of the three partnes giving proper notice.

I believe that in its present form the Universal Cresit is a train crash waiting to happen. The PRS is on the cusp in many areas at the moment and the negative attitude to those on benefits (Which I personally believe to be generally unjustified) will result in many landlords refusing to consider housing benefit claimants altogether, which would be a tradgedy and your job, Ben more frustrating. I hope that I am wrong.

15:15 PM, 14th May 2012, About 12 years ago

I think as has been discussed before on other posts on this site CU's are the way to go.
Prospective and existing LL will insist that any tenant of their's on LHA must join the CU and have payments made via the CU.
The tenant will have a simple choice to either join the CU or lose the tenancy.
Using this method will remove for ever the possibility of LL suffering any clawback.
It will be for the council to clawback from the tenant;  which of course will never occur,  or maybe would at a £1 a month for the next 30 years!!!
One of the reasons I don't take LHA is because I do NOT want direct payment, in the event of LHA not being passed on by the tenant.
I have just sufferd 2 moneths void at a cost of £2000 when I could have taken on LHA, but no way was I prepared to do that.
This as I cannot afford the risk of clawback;  it would bankrupt me!!!
Therefore CU's ARE the solution as the only payment method by which payments may be ringfenced away fron the tenant getting their hands on that money.
CU's should be the default position for receipt of all benefits.
Magically you then might find more LL prepared to offer properties to the LHA sector,  even in Newham!!!!

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