Think like a landlord

Thursday, 29 May 2014 - 12:04pm

There are times when you wish your predictions wouldn't come true.  It’s a dispiriting experience to have to tell the press and politicians that, just as our research told us they would, landlords are withdrawing from letting to tenants receiving benefits.  

Photograph: EEPaul (Flickr)
Photograph: EEPaul (Flickr)

The NLA’s quarterly landlords’ panel survey has tracked a steady decline over the past three years, from 46 per cent of respondents telling us in 2011 that they let to benefit claimants, to 22 per cent in 2014.  However much this adds to our credibility, we know that behind the bare statistics are the human stories of people finding it harder than ever to find homes in an increasingly pressured market.

This withdrawal comes down to two things: risk and hassle.  Like everyone else, landlords want to minimise both, and for the majority, letting to tenants on benefit or offering housing to homeless people is seen as involving too much.  With a growing, readily available pool of tenants who are not relying on benefits to pay the rent and who appear to lead more orderly lifestyles, for many, it is a relatively straightforward decision to shift their attention and their business. 

Our research is also telling us that it is the experienced, professional landlords who have continued to house the more challenging tenant groups.  They have the experience to find the properties which they can bring to an acceptable standard and still make the return they need at the kind of rents they are likely to get, and who are confident that they can manage the tenancies properly.  They are not naïve, and so will not be put off, are prepared for the difficulties and believe that they can work through them if they have to. 

Very few started letting with the intention of providing a social service, and while they would not consider themselves as social housing providers, they recognise that they are housing those who might traditionally have been considered social housing clients, and that there is inevitably a social element to the way in which they operate.

With this in mind, there are several things homeless charities can do to make it easier for a landlord to decide to take their clients:

• Identity verification – Prove that the tenant is who they say they are.  This will become all the more important next year when the Immigration Act provisions come into force and landlords will be obliged to check that their prospective tenant has the right to reside in the UK before granting a tenancy.  
• Tenant referencing – We recommend that landlords always undertake a full tenant check before offering a tenancy.  It may not be possible to run a standard check on homeless people or those being housed after leaving social housing, but the principle remains sound.  The landlord needs to know who they are dealing with and understand their past history, so that they know in advance of any potential management issues and can ensure that the tenant is housed appropriately – for their benefit as much as others.
• Support - These landlords understand how the system works and appreciate the need for and involvement of the multiplicity of agencies which might support a client.  Indeed, they may well already have established relationships or built up their own informal support network.  It will help if they know what support a tenant will need.  Preferably, the support should already be in place.  It will also help if the homeless charity continues to be involved at some level in supporting the tenancy itself, at least through the initial stages.
• Tenant Training - Crisis found that tenancies are more likely to last beyond the six-month point if the tenant was given some rudimentary explanation of their responsibilities, and what they could expect from the landlord in return, before the tenancy started.
• Deposit, Bond or Incentive Bonus – If there is a financial offer available to support the prospective tenant, make sure the landlord is aware, and is clear on the terms on which it is offered.

Remember, the landlord’s ultimate objective does not change: they will still want to minimise their risk and hassle, even if the fact that they are still in this market shows that they are willing to deal with a higher level than some.

Richard will be part of an expert panel session discussing ways of ensuring sufficient access to affordable housing at Under One Roof, Homeless Link’s national housing and support conference and exhibition on 8 & 9 July. The two day event will offer masterclasses, workshops and debates on the challenges facing those supporting homeless people.

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Richard Lambert

Chief Executive Officer, National Landlords Association

Richard is Chief Executive Officer of the National Landlords Association, the UK’s leading organisation for private-residential landlords, with over 21,000 members, ranging from full-time landlords with large property portfolios to those with just a single letting.