December Q&A with Vanessa Warwick #AskTheLandlord

In our third edition of the #AskTheLandlord campaign, we speak to the property industry celebrity Vanessa Warwick, who kindly answered the questions sent into ideal flatmate by our users this month.

Vanessa Warwick is a long-running landlord, property investor and founder of Property Tribes. We discussed due diligence and managing difficult tenants.

Do you take housing benefit tenants? Why do lots of landlords refuse them?

I personally tend to let to families and young professional couples.  However, I have had tenants lose their job and go onto housing benefit, and I have continued the tenancy on the basis that they will get back into work, and they always have.

A lot of landlords refuse tenants in receipt of benefits for a number of reasons.

  • It may be a breach of their mortgage to let to tenants in receipt of benefits.
  • It may be a breach of their insurance to let to tenants in receipt of benefits.
  • The landlord may regard the tenant profile a higher risk one and not wish to be exposed to that risk.
  • The landlord may be concerned about non-payment of rent, and finding it hard to get the direct payment to them in the event of the tenant going into arrears.
  • There are extremely high arrears rates for tenants in receipt of Universal Credit, and many landlords do not wish to be exposed to this additional risk.

Have you ever had people taking drugs in one of your properties and how do you react?

I actually had a problem with a tenant NOT taking drugs!  Unknown to me, and not evidenced via referencing or meeting him, the tenant had mental health problems and was taking medication.  One Christmas, he stopped taking medication and became very depressed, and disappeared from the property leaving all his personal belongings, his phone, his car keys.  He did not pay the rent. When I found out he had gone missing (he also failed to turn up for work), I contacted the police and they were very helpful and reported back to me that he had done this before and had a history of mental health issues.

The sad outcome was that he was found in a distressed state in London six weeks later, and was sectioned.

When he finally returned, we discussed his tenancy, and it was agreed that he should return to his parents house as he could not maintain the tenancy.  My husband helped him pack up all is possessions and drove him there.

It was a very sad story all round.

What’s the most frustrating thing for you about being a landlord?

I would say lack of communication by both tenants and lettings agents.  I can only understand and assist with a situation if I am communicated with.  I am a reasonable person, and if, for instance, a tenant gets into difficulty with paying their rent, provided they communicate with me, I will work with them to help them stay in the property and get themselves back on track.

If someone shuts down all communication, then it forces me to act in a manner that I would prefer not to act in, as I am left in the dark and therefore have to consider more formal ways of resolving a problem.

How involved in repairs are most landlords when there are issues with one of your properties and people have complained?

Landlords have a legal obligation to deal with repairs in a timely manner.  My properties are all fully managed by lettings agents and I expect them to deal with repairs and maintenance promptly.  I expect them to respond to the tenant within 24 hours, and, if an emergency, such as no hot water, get a tradesman out asap. If a less urgent repair, I expect them to get it booked in within a few days.

All landlords have to authorise repairs when using an agent, and I endeavour to respond via return to authorise the repair.

I personally have not had any complaints, as I have always acted in a timely manner or ensured that the agent has.

What do you think tenants should be more aware of when it comes to renting from a private landlord?

I would like all tenants to undertake due diligence on prospective landlords, so that they can avoid renting from a rogue or criminal landlord.

Put the landlord’s name into google and see what comes up.  Do they have any criminal convictions? How do they comment on property groups and forums?  Do they talk about evicting tenants for asking for a repair, or refer to them in an inappropriate manner?

You can also ask to speak to another of their tenants, ask what professional bodies they are a member of, ask if the property is available long term, ask how long they have been a landlord …

No ethical landlord would mind this.  If the landlord does take exception, then that would be a red flag to avoid renting from them!

Do you have advice for anyone that is thinking of becoming a landlord?

Yes, become and expert at research and due diligence!  That is why my husband and I founded  Due diligence significantly reduces risk and using forums like Property Tribes means that you can use others’ hindsight as your foresight, and therefore avoid the many pitfalls.

I would also recommend that you must treat being a landlord as a business.  You are becoming a service provider and are legally obliged to provide a safe and compliant home for your tenants.  There are over 160 Government statutes and regulations that you must comply with. If you are not sure of these, then you should, at least initially, work with a reputable lettings agent who is a member of a professional body such as ARLA, RICS, or NALS.

Finally, I would say that investing in a property and letting it out is not a case of watching the money roll in every month.  It is the beginning of a commercial relationship with your property, your tenant, and other suppliers and businesses and these need nurturing and taking care of.  If you do not have the time and inclination to do this, then perhaps being a landlord is not for you?