The accidental landlord: I’d like to help drive out the ‘slumlords’

A TV documentary on rogue landlords prompts the accidental landlord to find out if she can offer a home to tenants on benefits.
I was appalled by the recent episode of Panorama on BBC1, The Great Housing Benefit Scandal, which highlighted the plight of tenants living in squalid accommodation provided by what the Beeb politely called rogue landlords and what the rest of us would call low-life scum.
 
The programme showed a mother and her little girl living in a damp caravan that was so cold in winter there was ice on the inside of the windows, a cockroach-infested house with sewage in the garden, a hostel with walls covered in mould and a house in Lewisham where once 40 people had been squashed into accommodation licensed for just 12.

 
It’s shocking to think that landlords get paid by councils to house people in such rank conditions. Instead, we should fling these “slumlords” into a prison cell.
 
However, watching the programme made me feel uneasy because one of the reasons those lacking in any moral compass are able to exploit tenants relying on the state to pay the rent is that landlords like me, who provide affordable, good-quality accommodation, won’t touch these tenants with a barge-pole.
 
It’s not that I think tenants on benefits — or the Local Housing Allowance as it is called — will be any more of a pain, it’s just that whenever I have explored this option I have come across too many obstacles.
 
I would get less rent, no deposit, payments would be made in arrears to the tenant, not to me, and if I wanted to sell my property, it would probably be tricky to get the tenant out as they would have nowhere else to go. They might just sit tight until a court evicted them.
 
Anyway, most mortgage lenders bar landlords from letting to tenants on any sort of benefit. Or so I thought.
 
My conscience pricked by the programme, I called my mortgage lender to discuss this possibility and it told me it has recently relaxed its policy.
 
I discovered that my local council has also gone a long way to remove some of the financial obstacles for landlords accepting Local Housing Allowance tenants. In fact, it has introduced financial incentives to encourage us to do so.
 
If I take a tenant from the council, in addition to the monthly rent — paid directly to me, not to the tenant — I’ll get an “incentive” upfront payment of £2,500. Apparently some other London councils are offering even more.
 
My council will also pay a deposit of a month’s rent and give me a month’s rent in hand to compensate me for the fact that benefit payments are made in arrears. I will be able to choose from a list of tenants waiting to be housed and the whole process should only take two to three weeks, says the council.
 
I have been warned by other landlords that the paperwork when dealing with local authorities can be horrific, but the woman I spoke to at the council seemed to think it was quite straightforward. I would have to accept less rent, as the Local Housing Allowance cap for my property is about £150 a month lower than I’m getting now, but the £2,500 payment would sweeten the pill.
 
As tenants on benefits tend to stay longer, I’d have zero marketing costs and, hopefully, less hassle. I must say I’m tempted to explore this option further next time the property becomes available, and it might save a family from a slum.
 
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock  

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