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Buy to Let & Letting

Helping The Homeless – How Far Would You Go As A Landlord?

Today I’m going to share a story with you – it’s called David’s Story. David is a real individual.  But I do not believe his case is individual – I believe this sad story happens many times over in our modern society.

This handwritten letter was received by David:

Dear Gorgeous Homes,

Due to the fact that I could not afford the rent shortfall each month and being in and out of the hospital most of the year I had no choice but to become homeless.

I have nowhere to go so could not take my belongings with me. If you can use them for another tenant then please do.  Please keep my rent deposit to pay off some of what I owe.

I am sorry for how things have turned out, I am very ill and my life is a complete mess.

If you need to contact me, you have my number, but you may have to leave a message as I will be in hospital.

Please tell Sam I am thankful for all her help.

With sorrow,

David

So let’s go back to the start – that is: June 2009 when David walked into the letting agency I own. He is homeless and an alcoholic – but he is trying to get clean.  He has been chucked out of the Salvation Army and he has nowhere to go. He begs me to help him.  He is 32 years old – just a couple of years younger than me – the same age as my younger brother. He is destitute and desperate.

I feel terrible – I actually have a vacant property and I could help him…

I call the council and explain the situation, they talk with David over the telephone and he goes down to see them. An hour later they call me and ask if I would be willing to re-house him as they have assessed his circumstances. He is homeless, they have nowhere to put him and he will have to sleep on the streets unless I take him in. They agree they will pay his rent in full and pay a deposit upfront.  They agree that all future rent payments will be made direct to me as he is vulnerable. They fax confirmation that this will all be paid within a matter of days. I move him in that day.

David assures me he will not let me down. He is grateful for this opportunity to try and rebuild his life and he will make a real go of it.

The first month’s rent and deposit was received from the council via BACS within a matter of days.  But the next month – nothing.  I call the council and ask what’s happening.  But nobody knows anything of what’s been agreed – even when I produce the fax.  I try to get hold of the original member of staff who had agreed everything with me – but to no avail. I am passed from pillar to post.

Some 10 weeks later and I receive a payment into my bank account and a breakdown from the council.  I check the amounts and see that the rent is over £100 short per month. I call the council and query this shortfall.  “That’s all David’s entitled to. He is only entitled to a single room rate”. But, I reply “This is a 2 bedroom house and you agreed that you would pay his rent – how can you go back on this?”.

Weeks go by and I try calling different people in the council, trying to escalate the query – but I get nowhere. They now state that David has to make up the difference.  “But, he can’t afford it!” I tell them “and you told me you would pay the rent in full for him because of his circumstances”. It falls on deaf ears.  The council are no longer interested – David not paying rent is now my problem, not theirs.

6 months in and the council have now reduced the rent even further – so much so that I am now more or less paying for David to live in my property.  I explain to him gently that the council are not paying the rent they said they would and, while I would love to continue to help him, I also have bills and a mortgage to pay.  At this stage David is in such heavy rent arrears I knew there was no way it was going to be paid.  He tells me he will go to the council to try and sort it.

Then I hear nothing. I try to call him but his phone is switched off. I try calling round but he is never in. All letters go unanswered.

I don’t know what to do. The rental arrears are building at an alarming rate and nobody at the council can help – added to that I can’t even get hold of David.

Then out of the blue some weeks later, he calls me:

“Sam” he says “I am so sorry, I had my phone nicked and I’ve been in and out of hospital that’s why you couldn’t get hold of me. I promise you I will sort this. I’ve been to the council; I’m trying to sort it.  I don’t know what to do, they said they would pay the rent and now they’re saying they won’t pay it. I don’t know what’s happened. I really am sorry. I want to stay and I’m trying to get myself together”

He sounds so desperate. And, I too, am desperate. I want to give him a second chance. I don’t blame him. It is the council at fault. He is just trying to get on with his life.

“Right” I say “I have a plan. If you want to give this a proper go – here’s what I’ll do. I will forget all the rent arrears up till now and reduce the rent on the condition that you start a payment plan for the future contributions towards the rent”

The rent arrears at that point totalled several thousand.

“That would be great – yes, I’ll do it – I’ll pay every week” David replies

We agree that I will send him some bank paying in slips and he will start the next week. And so he does. In the meantime I contact DWP for him to see if he can get any assistance for top ups due to his circumstances. I inform David and he tells me will go and see them.

Money goes in every week. For four weeks. Then it stops. I call him. He tells me he has received the water rates bill and it was £235 and he had to pay it otherwise he would have no water. He was scared of getting cut off. I explain to him that he could’ve paid the water rates monthly, not all in one go!

The next few months’ communication is sporadic and payments stop altogether. He is in and out of hospital all the time. He kept apologising for letting me down.

I don’t know what the final tipping point was or why he felt he suddenly had to leave.  But I know I am sad for David.  I am sad the system let him down so badly. I am sad that I could not afford to help him more. He was clearly ill and needed help.   

********

David’s story in photos:

This used to be a clean and tidy house:

Furniture polish – how ironic!!!

David never had a proper bed – I offered him one, but he said he was happy with his “bed”:

Inside the kitchen, cupboards have no food – just small carriers bags tied neatly with bagged domestic rubbish.

There are many discarded beer cans and cigarette butts…

And so there I am today with my scruffs on and some heavy duty gloves and I am ready to do business. I am going to get this property back in shape!

So I decide that I may as well start clearing all the rubbish (there was a 2 week wait for the council’s bulky rubbish collection and the cleaner had quoted £650!) here is my first trip to the skip – I had another 7 car loads like this:

So there I am clearing up and moving the beer cans into the rubbish. And I’m surprised because some of them feel half full – “Gosh that’s odd” I think to myself, “Given he was an alcoholic, I wouldn’t have thought he would leave any beer in a can”. And so I grab 4 cans and turn them upside down in the kitchen sink to drain – while I went back to the other room to collect more…

I was just turning back with more cans in hand when I got closer to the kitchen sink “What the hell is that smell?”

“OH MY GOD”

In that moment I realise that the half full beer cans are actually full with human urine…and the bottles all over the house…they were also full of urine!  They are everywhere…

And then in the bedroom hidden underneath a draped sheet (circled above)- I find this orderly collection: Words Fail Me.

11 comments
  1. suzie bates

    Oh Sam how sad 🙁

    You did your best to help him so don’t beat yourself up, a lot of landlords would’ve kicked him out the first time but you gave him several chances.

    Hopefully he will get the psyciatric help he obviously needs now, poor guy.

    I had a similar problem where a guy tried to commit suicide by hanging himself from the banister, luckily the rope snapped and he called his ex wife sobbing, who then called me. He ended up in a psyciatric unit where I visited him, sat talking for hours and gave him ‘self help’ books.

    The guy lived alone and was estranged from his ex wife and his Father and felt very lonely. I was helping him sell his house with an ‘Assisted Sale’ as he’d been threatened with eviction for not paying his mortgage for a year.

    I encouraged him to make contact with his Dad, and he’s now living happily with him and still texts me now and then to say thanks for my help but I still felt guilty that I was effectively ‘pushing him out of his home’.

    You sound like a good, kind person and I think you did the right thing.

    Best of luck with the clearing up chick x

    1. Sam

      Thanks Suzie for sharing your story also, it is a very difficult situation to be in.

      Jo – thanks for the link I will have a look

      James – crikey I thought it was the least I could do!

  2. Tony Rowe

    Hi Sam,

    Very sad situation, having only met you once for just a short while, my instinctive feeling was you are a very kind caring person deep down, otherwise you would not be writing this.I can imagine what must be going through your head, my mortgage, my investment at risk, anger fury, sleeples nights may be,you certainly would not have bothered about writing this.
    I deal with nearly all middle to extreme high end developers and buy to let customers, many would have sent someone round and dragged the person away into the night. I know it happens but damn hard to prove. I do hear about bad stuff happening so you should hold your head up proud. My American wife is always saying most people are only three pay cheques away from losing their homes in the States, loose your job, fall sick and it’s curtains. Sadly the welfare state is not any longer there to pick up the pieces or often too late when it does. To end on I think you showed compassion and care for another human being, it was important to your ethical and moral integrity and I admire you for that,I really do.
    Next time I see you the first one is on me, fortunately we can endulge occasionaly without problems!-Best, Tony

  3. Steve Ball

    Hi Sam,

    The care and support you extended to David just goes to prove what a compassionate person you are. He was extremely lucky to have you as a landlord; as Tony said there are many that would have been FAR less caring. I agreed to take a recovering alcoholic some time ago but in the end she decided to go else where.

    I hope you manage to get it relet ASAP

    The thing that is really disappointing

  4. James McSwiggan

    Hi Sam – what you did for David would have given him that tiny bit of comfort in his life for that time you were involved with him.

    I can only assume with the urine bottles that he was saving water?!? Very odd indeed!

    James

  5. Rich Greenland

    Hi Sam, that really sounds like a hard situation you found yourself in. We have a moral duty of care to show humanity to others, but at the same time we are running a business, not social workers. It’s not easy.

    The urine bottle thing seems to be surprisingly common. There is no rational reason for it but I have come across it several times in the course of my work as a builder. A symptom of mental illness of some sort – as arguably is alcoholism.

    One question comes to mind with the council being so stubborn on rent. Why not offer him a one-bed flat?

    Cheers, Rich

  6. John Corey

    The story makes for a good read.

    I take away two messages from the story.

    1. A person with problems (self-imposed or inherited) was given help but not useful help given the totality of the situation. Some of the time we want to be helpful yet we lack the skills to recognize what really needs to be done and we lack the resources even when we can recognize the underlying situation. The housing folks at the council cannot really address the root problem. Even if they ran a completely water tight process, the individual would still have left the containers, they would have gone missing in the hospital and other issues.

    The root cause of the problem is a medical condition that needs more holistic treatment. Not something a landlord can get solve if the other pieces are missing.

    2. The housing system is not perfect. It will never be. There actually is no right to housing and there are limited resources. Sleeping rough is an option for some. Not a great option yet it will continue to happen. Unless people want to pay more in taxes or we re-allocate the current taxes, there will be shortages. When ever housing or something else is given away there will be folks who take advantage. That makes it worse who those who honestly should qualify for support. The more we try to cover all needs the more we need to tell individuals they have no say in the matter. A balance between an individuals right to choose and excessive taxes on some for the benefit of others.

    John

  7. Rich Greenland

    I disagree slightly. I think everyone should have a right to decent housing – IF they are prepared to look after it and IF they are willing to contribute to paying for it within whatever means they are able to muster.

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