One indication that you’re properly grown up is having friends who are not only married, but divorced. Now there’s another sign: when your mates are landlords.
I have friends lumbered with houses they can’t sell, and so in the interim, they must let them. It’s not all good. One was shafted by tenants who did a runner owing a fortune in arrears. He’s not a scumbag landlord who ignored repairs; he simply needed to cover his mortgage when he’d been compelled to move.
‘Forced Landlord’ is the slightly melodramatic term for this new and growing phenomenon. Even though I generally write from the tenant’s point of view, it’s still a major cause for concern. One of my friends bought a house at the height of the madness, but now she wants to move.
Several houses carry ‘To Let/For Sale’ boards on her street. It’s not the nicest area in the land: a mix of student HMO’s, family houses and some rough spots. Certain houses are visibly nicer, and judging by the amount of skips blocking the pavement, owners have been doing them up, so they’ll sell or be let first.
Being a landlord is harder than anyone imagines, especially of you aren’t a property magnate by choice. Rents are falling, and fast. Letting agents devour around 15% of rental income (if tenants ask for repairs, they’ll be referred to the owner.)
Even well-intentioned owners who go it alone are frequently ill-informed about new deposit protection schemes, Energy Efficiency Certificates or HMO licences. They are also blithely unprepared for voids, where they must go without rental payments when in between tenancies. As for insurance, burglar alarms, fire precautions and their own repair obligations? Don’t get me started.
The amount of forced tenants is also increasing. They want to sell their house but can’t, so they let it, and rent temporarily while house-hunting to avoid a chain. Do not mess with them. They know exactly what they want, which is never a shabby hovel that owner never got round to refurbishing, but a safe, empty, clean, neutral-toned, well-insulated family home.
Landlords with only vague memories of their own student renting experience may have bought a draughty wreck and filled it with cracked vinyl sofas and crusty unsprung mattresses. It’s not good enough for anyone, let alone the children who might live there.
Forced landlords might be happier if they saw tenants as long-term house-sitters, and cast aside any resentment that the property conveyor-belt has stalled. They’d also benefit from treating tenants not as trespassers (that’s how bad landlords still regard those unfortunates kind enough to safeguard their mortgage and underwrite their pension) but creatures after their own image, in similar circumstances, and to cherish that thought.
Ultimately, this craziness is creating an absurd carousel of owners renting property to residents who in turn own a house that they are also renting out to another home-owner. To rejig a childhood rhyme:
“Tall landlords have small landlords
Upon their backs to bite ‘em
Stuck landlords have broke landlords
And so on, infinitum.”