Hands on HMOs – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #2Make Text Bigger
When a tenant has a beef with their landlord, I’m the guy they go to. My job is to either negotiate or prosecute, depending on the circumstances. This occasional and random series aims to let landlords know the common complaints that are made about them, the laws that cover them and how to deal with it.
My flatmates and I have big rows about bills and I am freezing and the landlord is ripping us off.
I can’t tell you how many times I get this complaint.
You let out an HMO to 5 or 6 tenants and they bring many issues with them- as so many HMO tenants do. There are 2 house styles for dealing with it:-
- You chuck a gas card and an electricity key at them and leave them to it.
- You take rent inclusive of bills and stick a lock on the timer, set to your own personal thermometer.
Method number 1 causes fights and arguments between the tenants, you get sucked into things as they bitch about lost cards and keys and who is using more than everyone else.
Method number 2 means you get the hump because they are using more than you consider they are paying for.
Either approach is akin to “light the blue touch paper and retire”, as the old instructions on the firework boxes used to say. An expression I always found strange as
a) I am too young to retire
b) Why do I have to give up work just for lighting a firework?
Anyway, I digress.
A short lesson in Anthropology
I once studied social anthropology at what was then Thames Polytechnic/now Greenwich University. When you study that stuff you understand that when groups of people get together they create social systems automatically, a bit like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which many of us have studied at school.
Cliques form, hierarchies are established, pecking orders get created.
This is not a healthy system, especially in an HMO where drink and drugs are not unknown aggravating factors. And who gets the backlash for this? Landlords of course.
Setting up a letting with no control over the utility bills is to light that blue touch paper.
2 Types of landlord
I have a theory that there 2 ways to run a letting;
- Hands on
- Hands off
Both have their uses and roles but I err towards the hands on approach for running HMOs, not because I see what happens when a landlord doesn’t do it, which causes me so much grief as the official ‘complaining officer’, but also from the HMO landlords I know who are brilliant at it. It isn’t that they don’t encounter problems but their response is far more philosophical, which causes them far less stress and their hands-on approach over-rides the power struggles in the house.
Leaving a bunch of people in a shared house to find their own level is madness in the extreme. As with any social group the loudest voices will dominate and a backbench will form to undermine the authority that took control without being appointed. Before you know it you have a war-zone on your hands.
Fights break out about who uses more electricity; people come to blows when someone wants the heating on in August that the non-lizards have to shell out for. Locks on timers get broken off, landlords have to keep replacing as well refereeing never-ending arguments about use of supply. Why put yourself through this?
Help is at hand
In the next few years every home in the land is going to have to install Smart meters for bills. Electricity and gas meters that can be read online – an end to estimates and the geezer with the torch who has to pull everything out from under your stairs periodically to get a reading.
There are companies around who install these things. I only know of one company, there may be more, who install special landlord/tenant tariff ones that allows them to chase ex tenants for outstanding bills and don’t bother the landlord for missing dosh.
Spark Energy have a deal where they do just that (I don’t have a deal with them honestly, I just think it’s a great idea) where they can individually meter each room. If a tenant runs into trouble they can reduce supply without actually disconnecting. I also think is quite a humane way of dealing with it and at the moment I understand they install them for free.
The results are no more arguments over bills between the tenants, less discord and less hassle for the landlord, who can just charge a small fee for the common parts. As with rent protection insurance I think it’s a no-brainer really.
Your HMO tenants are going to argue and fight with each other anyway, that is basic Social Anthropology for you, but you can at least avoid being drawn into their arguments over use of utilities and you might even encourage a little self-responsibility into the bargain. Plus you won’t have to keep replacing the locks on the timers.
And most importantly, I won’t have them coming through my front door telling me that their landlord is Satan incarnate and have to phone you up for a row over something I am in full agreement with you on.
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