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When landlords hit the headlines it tends to be for the worst of reasons – what we don’t tend to hear are the stories of tenants who live in properties in good condition, where the owner quickly replaces the fridge when it breaks or organises for an electrician to fix the flickering light fitting.
There are about 1.5 million residential landlords in England, according to the 2018 English Private Landlord Survey, and in 2020-21, the private rented sector accounted for 4.4 million, or 19%, of households in England.
Earlier this month, a committee of MPs reported that more than one in eight of these homes posed a risk to safety, and that it was “too difficult for renters to realise their legal right to a safe and secure home”.
This week there has also been news of a major charity failing to look after the homes of some of its tenants.
But alongside the problem properties, and the landlords who are doing everything they should be a doing, there are some owners who are going the extra mile for their tenants.
“We’re not all terrible landlords,” says Heather Scott, 41, a copywriter, who started renting out her dad’s property in Whitstable when he went into care, charging the tenants less than the market rent. “We both liked to put our morals where our mouth is and the rents here are astronomical,” she says.
They decided to rent out the property to a friend and her three children who were “living in a tiny house” nearby for which they paid £760 a month. For the same money the family now live in a three-bedroom detached house with a large garden and parking close to the children’s school and a 10-minute walk to the beach.
“We worked out that level of rent would cover my dad’s care home bill and she would have a lovely place to live,” Scott says. “Dad has since died but I’m happy with the renting situation as I know the children have stability in their lives, I have long-term income coming from the property, which I no longer have a mortgage on, and it isn’t losing value.
“Yes, I could probably charge double the rent but in a town where a three-bed terrace house costs at least £1,300 a month in rent and the average wage is about £20,000 a year, it didn’t seem right.”
As in many tourist hotspots, there are only a small number of properties to rent in Whitstable. Pointing to the rise of holiday lets in the coastal town, Scott says she can “count the key safes down the road”. She says there are 20 empty homes on the street. “I know I could earn at least four times as much renting through Airbnb but that would mean taking a home away from a family who have roots and work in our town,” she says.
‘I try to keep rents low’
Homeless at 19 and sleeping in sheds, back gardens and train stations, Lara Oyedele, 55, is perhaps an unlikely landlord. But those tough beginnings led Oyedele to study a master’s in housing, move into a career in social housing and become a landlord herself. She has a portfolio of 10 rental properties in Bradford.
“The first properties (prior to 2014) were bought purely for investment,” she says. “I was working full-time within the social housing sector, so I was doing my bit. But even then, I was determined that my rents would be affordable. The properties acquired after 2014 were bought with the full intention of creating a portfolio of affordable homes so I could support others and be a good landlord.”
Oyedele, who is the vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, says: “I remember that feeling when I eventually got a council flat. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was in a grotty block with two bedrooms but I could shut the door and it was mine.”
She keeps the rents on her nine properties as low as possible. “I’ve never charged market rates,” Oyedele says. “It’s not fair on people. If I don’t need the money and can make an OK profit and be kind to other people [that’s good enough].”
She is also flexible and willing to stagger payments or help out tenants at times of crisis. “A couple of years ago my tenant had issues with family stuff and I said: ‘Listen, don’t pay the £350 in rent in December, just put an extra £100 on top of your rent for the next few months,’” she says. “I have one tenant who can’t work, her rent is cheaper than the mortgage. I try to keep rents low so people aren’t stressing out about paying rent, and I organise repairs as quickly as I can.”
On top of providing homes, she says she recently bought baby items for tenants. “I also do coaching and help my tenants with interview skills. I say I’ll help you get a job, send me your CV. Although one tenant did say to me: ‘It’s my personal life; it’s not your business.’”
Moira Beattie, 60, who lives in Chertsey, lets out four bedsits in the building above her hair and beauty salon via Rentstart, a charity that works with landlords to offer properties to people facing homelessness.
“I think everyone deserves a chance,” Beattie says. “I’ve got to know a lot of the 20 tenants who have lived here since I bought the building in 2008 and have helped several with trips to the jobcentre. Many have gone on to find jobs. I quite like being this kind of landlord. I like helping people. People can’t get a job or bank account if they don’t have anywhere to live. Once they have somewhere to call home they can start rebuilding their life.”
Beattie keeps rents as low as possible. “All I want to do is pay my mortgage. I’m not in it to make money from my tenants,” she says. “My investment is the building.”
‘The father messages to say how happy they are’
When Jacqui Furneaux, 72, a retired nurse and travel writer living in Bristol, bought a two-bedroom flat in Clevedon last year with money her brother had left her she knew she wanted to do something “useful” with her inheritance.
“I set the wheels in motion to let it out to refugees and contacted North Somerset council, who allocated it to a lovely family from Afghanistan who I believe had helped the British armed forces,” she says. “It seemed like a nice way of saying welcome.”
The couple and their three-year-old son moved into the property in December. “I’ve met them several times, they’re lovely,” Furneaux says. “I’m so pleased to have helped. The father messages to say how happy they are.”
Furneaux, who rents out the flat for £850 a month, says she was told by estate agents that she could receive rental income of more than £1,000. “I don’t miss the extra money; I’m in a fortunate position that I have the state pension and an occupational pension,” she says. “It’s comforting to know a family who have helped the forces have a home.”
‘A landlord charging a fair rent … should be the norm’
Lee Coates, an ethical money and environmental, social and corporate governance consultant, says there is nothing intrinsically unethical about being a landlord.
“Those who cannot buy and need to rent need landlords to provide a property to rent,” he says. “How the landlord acts, however, is where ethics come in. We all know of instances where problems are not sorted and landlords do not meet even basic requirements – making an extra few pounds at the tenant’s expense. A landlord charging a fair rent and meeting their obligations, keeping the property in good condition, should be the norm.”
Richard Blanco, a spokesperson for the National Residential Landlords Association and the owner of 14 rental properties, says most tenants have a positive experience with their landlord.
“It’s a small minority of landlords who misbehave,” he says. “There’s some accidental landlords who don’t know the regulations and some downright stupid or negligent ones. You only hear about the small proportion because it’s much more newsworthy to report on the evil landlord. No one ever calls the local authorities to say how wonderful their landlord is. Hearing about a landlord repairing the boiler is really boring.”
Of his own properties, he says: “If someone reports an issue to me, I want to fix it asap.” He adds: “Knowing the tenant individually and understanding their lives is important. You’ve got to help them and encourage them to stay on top of their rent.”