How I Changed My Mind About Being A Landlord (And Learned To Embrace Landlord Life)

As a landlord, I’ve got used to being the baddie.

To many, I am a scourge on society, a parasite, scum of the earth. To others, a role model.

It’s a strange position to be in, and one, which until the last few years, I don’t think I was fully aware of.

The vitriolic hatred, I mean. And the job shaming.

In my mind, I do good for society: I provide homes for people to live in.

I make no apologies for the fact I make a profit from what I do, because that means I can improve properties. For those who don’t own property, I can tell you they go wrong very often, and they’re expensive to maintain.

As a landlord, I also have to contend with a lot of regulation, and I have to be up-to-date on the constant changes. The government like to tinker, a lot.

In the last few years, they’ve made it a lot more challenging to be a landlord, and a lot less financially lucrative. One could argue it’s part of the ‘levelling up’, but I’m unsure who’s the winner.

You see, landlords have been leaving the sector. Fed up with the hiked taxes, increased costs and pared down ability to run their business, they’ve said ‘Enough!’.

I get that, I started selling earlier this year as well. I got fed up, frustrated, annoyed how everything is always against me.

And I don’t want to sound like a whiny victim, because I’m certainly not, but I don’t like being forced to run my business with one hand tied behind my back, which is sometimes how it feels.

Covid was an important test.

We all learned how vital our homes were. We got locked down in them. Stared at the same four walls for months on end.

The government, in their misguided wisdom, decided tenants could have breathing space, that landlords were the bully boys and snatched away any rights we had. That meant landlords were not allowed to evict tenants even if they weren’t paying rent, even if they were anti-social and causing issues.

Within this maelstrom, the position of a landlord became pretty precarious. Media headlines claimed (still do) the tsunami of evictions about to hit our shores. They speak little of the financial catastrophe many landlords have faced. How some landlords risk losing even their own home because they own a rental property.

The landlord’s voice has been pretty silent in all of this. The media don’t want to know, it’s not good for business, doesn’t make news.

What does make news is rising house prices, increasing rents.

When landlords exit the business and the property falls into non-landlord hands, that property is taken out of circulation. It’s no longer a resource of the rental market. Who cares, you may say.

Tenants, I reply.

Post-covid, rents have risen stratospherically. There is little supply and huge demand. Even for somebody like me (cynical, keen to sell up and get out), I’ve been astonished by the rent hikes.

And maybe I’m being mercenary, but I’ve changed my plans. I’ve managed to sell some (nowhere near as many as I’d hoped), but it was enough to loosen the noose, so to speak. That money has been earmarked for exciting stuff: chimney pointing, roof repairs, new kitchens and bathrooms, heck I’ve even thought about a mansard roof balcony, that’s how *fun* I am.

But the craziest thing?

I am genuinely excited.

I’ve been in this business way too long to feel such thrills and I was looking to exit. To do such a turnabout can either mean I’ve completely lost the plot, or I’ve found the wood in the trees.

And its uncanny how life works, because it was within this turbulent time The Telegraph approached me to write about life as a landlord.

I hope you enjoy it.

OMG Why Does It Take So Long To Sell A Property?

So, it’s been a while since I last wrote and that’s been due to a number of things, but mainly because I’ve been trying to sell some buy-to-let properties and that, dear reader, has not gone well.

I don’t know what to say about this hotter than hot market, apart from the fact I believe it to be a media myth.

Yes, the market may be scorchio when it comes to offers and people promising to buy your property, but let me tell you, it’s a different breed of sheep when you’re trying to complete on a property.

I honestly have no idea how anybody right now is managing to book the removal men because this has got to be the slowest, most labourious state of the market I’ve ever known.

And I know we’ve got Covid – I haven’t been living in a shed up a remote mountain for the last 18 months – but for Chrissakes, how can it be so difficult to send a frigging email?

I mean I just don’t get it – you’ve got these gazillionaires all prancing about with their multi-gazillion making bank accounts and putting rockets into places and spaces I’ve never heard of and doing all sorts of fancy pants things, and yet me here, I can’t even get a property past the finish line.

Which has made me wonder if I’m really cut out for this sales malarkey?

I mean, I know I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I’m struggling with the current piss-taking of every single property professional inhabiting the planet right now.

Just why is everything taking SO LONG?

I swear, this isn’t a difficult process.

But every single person seems to think it is and then quintuples whatever time estimate you think it would reasonably take to complete a sale.

I’ve been so close to losing it on several occasions it’s a wonder I’m still here. I think it must only be the copious amounts of Absolut and Mint Aero’s and ear chewing of my friends as to why I haven’t sacked every estate agent and told them where to stick their ‘For Sale’ boards.

And if I sound angry, you’re damn right I am.

If you’ve tried to sell a house and you’ve managed to complete the sale within a period of less than five months, I would like to know your secret. Do please spill the proverbial because I’m struggling to understand why everybody is so S-L-O-W.

Don’t they know another lockdown may be just around the corner? Hasn’t the pandemic taught us anything?

Like, life is for living now and let’s get done today what we can get done today because tomorrow may not happen?

I shake my head when I recall the property I bought earlier this year and which completed in under two months AND you had Christmas and New Year in-between AND the solicitors were closed for two weeks.

I mean, how can I buy a property so quickly and yet everybody else seems to be waiting for the number 12 bus (which is likely discontinued or diverted or delayed due to some random covid-related reason).

Anyway, my life right now involves a lot of waiting and not losing my shit. That means this blog post is a pure rant, because I think if I said what I really felt to anybody involved in my sales, they’d tell me to do one.

And I don’t really want to do one, I just wish people would understand empty properties are expensive; they’re a liability and they’re a security risk. I just really wish someone somewhere would pull their finger out of their orifice and do something productive on the keyboard instead!

Why I Am Selling My Buy To Let Properties

So, it would appear I have hit a point.

A really sharp, stab-your-finger sort of point.

I don’t know if it’s lockdown fatigue (and the excitement of being out and about again), or too long in this business.

But the point I’ve reached is: I’m selling, not letting.

And the whole thing kinda took me by surprise. You see, I was getting the properties ready to rent again. I was busy okaying various quotes for various works where various tenants hadn’t (yet again) looked after a nice property. And yet again, here I was replacing carpets that were just two years old.

And it struck me, like a weird idea (although it’s really not): I do not have to put up with this shit any longer.

Out of nowhere this blinding realisation came. And I know it sounds dumb, but you see as a landlord and property investor, you don’t really tend to sell properties you rent. As a landlord, you rent properties, it’s buy-to-let, eh?

Of course, I have sold properties over the years. But something about this time feels different. It’s like I’m actively looking for my exit.

And I’ve surprised even myself, because in the last 10 days I have now listed three properties. Three properties which I was about to list to let and instead have listed to sell.

20 years is how long I’ve owned one of the houses. The other two, are 18 years and 17 years respectively. If they were children, they would’ve finished school and would now be going to university!

So, I’ve pondered to myself what’s driving this (because if any more tenants give notice, I will also sell those). And I’ve realised it’s two key things:

  1. I’ve been in this business too long and I’m tired of the constant tenant trouble
  2. The current climate makes landlords too weak

Just to be clear, I’m not against tenants getting protection, there are some asshole landlords about who’ve made life very hard. But, little people like me, we play by the rules and we just continually get stiffed.

I dread reading the updates about what’s happening next in the world of landlording. The ‘breathing space’ regulations are something I have yet to check in detail, purely because I cannot face the prospect of trying to understand for how long can a tenant live without paying rent, while the landlord has to juggle everything to try and make the numbers stack.

And it drives me insane how powerless I am. Currently, we have some non-payers and a particularly anti-social tenant (part 4 needs it be written but I haven’t mustered the words yet). To have to give six months’ notice to gain back a property in these circumstances is not reasonable. And if the tenant doesn’t leave, I only have a long wait for court and bailiffs to look forward to. I can’t even begin to think what damage may be caused by such a delay.

And what I’ve realised is: the constant worry is draining me.

The worry about will a tenant pay the rent, will a tenant look after the house, will the tenant let the gas man in, will the tenant not fight with the neighbours and on and on and on.

And I just don’t think I can do this anymore. There are so many things, more worthwhile things, to worry about.

That’s why I have got to give myself some breathing space. And that is why I am selling.

How I bought a house the week before Christmas and completed before the Stamp Duty deadline

No, I wasn’t buying cash.

No, I wasn’t buying at auction.

Yes, I did need a mortgage.

Yes, there was a small chain.

The doomsayers (if you read the mainstream media), said it couldn’t be done.

It took me precisely: 7 weeks and 6 days from offer acceptance to sale completion.

Oh, and that was during the Christmas and New Year break when the solicitors were closed for two weeks.

And I guess I should mention, but I think you’re already aware, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and there’s this great frenzy to complete before the Stamp Duty holiday which has caused a logjam up and down the country meaning most purchases are taking approximately 20 weeks to complete.

How did I do it?

What’s the secret to my success?

Good communication.

Excellent people.

Lady Luck.

I cannot stress enough how important communication is. It is everything. And when I say that, I really mean it. I communicated everything with every person, even if maybe on the face of it, they didn’t need to know it.

And I don’t just mean emails, they are second rate when it comes to making sure shit happens. If you want to get things done, you pick up the phone and talk to people and then send an email after the conversation to recap your conversation.

There’s nothing like emphasis.

That meant from the offset the estate agent and solicitor were looped into every stage of what I was doing. They got informed when my mortgage application had been submitted. They got informed when I applied for searches, they got informed when the survey was booked, when the survey was back, when the searches were back, when I made a cup of tea. You get my drift.

All of this I did to ensure they were aware of progress and could ensure their vendors were also doing the same. Call it chivvying along, call it healthy competition but really, who wants to be the one left behind?

Regular updates means nobody ever forgets who you are and what you’re buying. And that means it keeps everybody else on their toes to make sure they’re holding up their end of the bargain.

The pressure trickles down and around the chain.

The estate agents I was buying from then applied pressure to the estate agents who my sellers were buying from. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about estate agents, is that they like a good old fashioned pissing contest.

Just add some fuel.

So the other thing I did differently, was the legal work.

Most of the time you apply for searches and do all that sort of gumpf after you’ve got the survey back. With a huge bottleneck at local councils and a likely surge of yet more requests, I decided to switch the order of things.

We applied for the searches before we’d got the surveyor’s appointment and before my mortgage application had even been approved.

The potential downside to this line of action was if the survey was unfavourable, I would lose the search fees and be liable for any legal work up to that date. The upside was if the survey was fine (which I was anticipating), then I would be ahead of the game by some six to eight weeks.

That, I knew, could be the difference between making the transaction happen before the stamp duty holiday ended or not.

The downside was losing a few hundred quid. The upside was saving several thousands.

I wanted the property and believed it would pass, so I pushed ahead.

The searches were back within days. I have to admit; I was astonished given the delays I’d read about in the news.

And the survey? Well, unbelievably that also got booked in pretty quick. From the time of my mortgage application to the date of the survey, it was just over three weeks. That is exceptional going when you consider Christmas and New Year was also in that intervening period.

It then took twelve days from the date of the survey to the mortgage offer.

But, I have to confess to being organised when I submitted my mortgage application. I didn’t fanny about and spend days oohing and arrhing about the rate and getting my paperwork together. The decision was made and all relevant paperwork submitted that same day.

If you’re going to hit a deadline, you have to prioritise to make stuff happen.

Of course, things were going too swimmingly and even I thought that.

I called the estate agents to touch base on I don’t remember what, maybe general pestering, to discover they had all come down with Covid and had closed the office. It was by sheer chance I’d managed to catch the boss.

I told him to focus on getting better and to give me the vendor’s number. We would sort it out from here.

And this is where Lady Luck comes in (although she’s been sitting on my shoulder since the start, but it was here she really made her presence known), because, what you won’t know, is that when I called the estate agents to discover the entire team was ill, was only three days after those same estate agents were meant to show me the property again for me to do some final measurements.

As it was, on that day, the estate agents were so busy, they had asked the vendors of the property to let me in instead.

And so it was, I met the vendors for the first time, struck up a rapport and avoided, as it later turned out, coming into contact with an agent who later tested positive and who’s meeting would’ve meant I would’ve had to self-isolate – in the worst case, could’ve potentially given me Covid and made me sick.

Take nothing for granted.

As I say, everything had been going swimmingly, so swimmingly in fact that we were due to exchange last week.

But then the vendor’s solicitors, having agreed a completion date, went AWOL. They didn’t answer my solicitor’s emails or calls and everybody was rather stumped.

So I asked the vendor to pop by their solicitor’s office (which was local to them) to find out what was happening.

It was in darkness.

So, doing what all good desperate people do, they banged on the door.

Nobody answered, but five minutes after their visit, they got an email which they sent to me which simply said:

>not today

>we’ll contact you when we’re ready

Which I have to confess was a curveball I hadn’t seen coming.

The last few days have been a bit stressful, not for any other reason than the fact the vendor’s solicitor was refusing any sort of communication with anyone.

Then suddenly yesterday they sent an email and said: ‘we’re ready’.

And so, that was it, I have no idea what they were doing, and I guess in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter: because I’d bought the house!

So there, dear readers, is the story of how I bought a house the week before Christmas and completed before the Stamp Duty deadline.

My Tenant is Causing Damp to my Flat: Episode 3 (The Unexpected Twist)

Honestly, it feels like I’m writing some sort of damp-based drama series for Netflix, but real life is stranger than fiction, so here goes…

If you’ve missed episode one and two, you can catch up via the hyperlinks.

* * *

I think there’s a saying that all plans are made to be screwed up?

If there’s not, there should be.

Because that kind of feels like where we right now. However, let’s skip back to The Plan.

So, having been threatened with the tenant reporting us (by ‘us’, I mean me as the landlord and the agents as the letting agents) to the council, we decided to shortcut the process and contact the council ourselves. Help is what we needed to try and get this situation under control. And we were happy to make it official, we had nothing to hide and everything to gain.

But, this is the council.

I don’t know what we were expecting, having sent proof of the flat before he moved in and now two months later and the humidity readings, but to be quite frank, the response was lacklustre and non-committal. I guess the only good thing is that they did attach an up-to-date damp and condensation leaflet to give to the tenant, silver linings and all that.

So, the next plan.

Big boss letting agency man said we should get commercial dehumidifiers in the flat. This would then remove some of the humidity to a stage where we could deep clean the property to try and get the place back on a more even keel.

An electrician was also contacted to install humidistat fans throughout which would kick in when the humidity levels got too high and extract the air to more normal levels, thus preserving the fabric of the building. We decided on the silent type so as not to be too much of a noise nuisance.

We also decided to get an expert in to see if we could boost the insulation and see if there was anything more that could be done, from our end, to prevent the damp and mould.

And I have to admit, it’s an infuriating situation to be in, because there’s a lot of cost involved here, when all the tenant has to do is open the windows. But I have to be pragmatic and future focussed.

Doing nothing is not an option.

And when you look at the potential damage to the building – and the cost of rectifying that, I guess, in comparison, this is cheaper. Not as cheap as opening a window, granted, but I try and not harbour on this. Sometimes tenants will not do the simplest things to help themselves, and thus I have no choice.

To regain control of this situation we need to force air into the property, whether the tenant likes it or not. 

So this was The Plan. Stage one of contacting the council had been completed and thus it was time to move to the next stage. But then the phone rang, it was the tenancy liaison manager.

‘Sorry SL, I’m calling you with more bad news about this flat.’

‘OK,’ I reply, nervous as to what else could be happening.

‘The police attended last night.’

‘The police? Why were the police there?’

‘The tenant had an illegal lockdown party and they were all high on monkey dust.’ At this, I quickly typed ‘monkey dust’ into google, to learn it’s a synthetic drug (MDPV) which causes powerful hallucinations and paranoia, with many users climbing trees and buildings, plus it makes you violent. Highly addictive and unpredictable, the effects can last for several days. It can be bought for as little as £2.

‘Oh dear God,’ I reply.

‘So the tenant in the downstairs flat had to leave last night and stay with friends because it got so noisy.’

‘Oh my goodness, was it him who called the police?’

‘No, it wasn’t him, it was the tenant.’

‘Which tenant?’

‘The tenant who was having the party.’

‘Sorry, did I hear you right? The tenant who was having the illegal lockdown party where everybody was high on monkey dust was the one who called the police on himself?’

‘Yeah, you got it, he said he wanted the people to leave.’

‘Well, why didn’t he just ask the people to leave? He was the one who invited them there.’

‘That’s the other thing SL, I think we have a bigger problem here.’

‘What’s that?’

‘He thinks he works for CID.’

To be continued….

My Tenant is Causing Damp to my Flat: Episode Two

If you missed episode one of the tenant damp saga, you can read it here.

* * *

So I email the big boss of the letting agency to find out why inspections are not being carried out, to be told they are. There was some sort of misunderstanding.

‘OK,’ I say.

‘We’ve sorted an inspection, we’ll update you when we know more.’

My phone rings on inspection day.

‘SL, I’m really worried, I’m going to send you photos of the damage, but I think we need to get a roofer out there quick.’

‘OK,’ I reply, ‘but that’s a bit weird because I had a roof survey done last year and it got a clean bill of health.’

‘Just you wait until you see these photos!’ The tone is dramatic and I wait for some sort of equally dramatic music to kick in. It doesn’t, I’ve been watching too many drama series. The agent continues, in full emphasis of every word, as if delivering a Shakespearean tragedy. ‘And he has got the heating on. I don’t know if he was just doing it for my benefit, but it was really hot, way too hot. I thought it was like a sauna to be honest, there was water trickling all down the windows like in the tropics.’

I put the phone down and look at the THIRTY-SEVEN photos I’ve been sent of this one-bedroom flat. I swear I want to cry. Having refurbished this flat at great expense a couple of years ago, to see walls peeling with paint and black splodges reminiscent of a giant ladybird makes me so, so angry.

I decide to take a deep breath (that’s what the mindfulness book says I should do) and focus on my feet. Apparently, because they’re furthest from you, it grounds you more.

I make a tea.

I mull on the photos some more, while breathing very heavily and remembering to count to eleven on the out breath. Again, that’s what the mindfulness book told me to do in stressful situations.

How can it be the roof? If it was a roof leak how would you have saturated walls in every room? And if it was a roof leak, wouldn’t it start from the ceiling?

I can’t stop the questions flooding into my brain.

I inspect the photos closer. If it were a ground floor flat, I’d tell you it had a sudden attack of colossal rising damp, but as a top floor flat, it didn’t make sense.

I text the tenancy liaison manager back.

>I’m not convinced that’s a rook leak; can you show the big boss.

Now, the handy thing about the big boss at the letting agency, is that he’s also a builder.

Later that day, he sends me a message, he will attend himself.

He calls me. ‘SL, the tenant is clean and tidy, but the walls are saturated. It’s not the roof, it’s his lifestyle. He’s running the flat at humidity levels in excess of 75%!’

I’m not going to get into the long science of this, but this article explains why the hell you don’t do that. In a sentence: it’s bad for your health and the property.

‘I’ve confronted the tenant with the meter readings from my Protimeter Hygrometer, which shows the humidity.’

‘And?’ I ask.

‘It’s not my fault,’ was his position.

‘It’s nothing to do with me,’ was his default.

‘I pointed out to him he was distilling cider 24/7, I talked to him about the fermentation process, I told him how this was creating the excessive levels of humidity and causing the damp and that he needed to ventilate the property by opening the windows.’

‘Oh yes,’ I reply, already knowing how that old chestnut of opening windows so hated by tenants, but the easy cure all to every damp problem, would go down.

‘It’s blimmin freezing, I can’t be doing that,’ was his reply.

‘So I told him, that’s what he needed to do, and he replied, he wanted the damp sorting and it wasn’t good for his health.’

‘But he’s not willing to open a window and solve his own problem he’s created?’ I swear under my breath. I count to five. ‘So where do we go from here?’ I ask.

‘It’s OK,’ big boss replies, ‘I have a plan.’

To be continued… 

My tenant is causing damp to my flat.

6.15pm I make a pina colada. Before you ask, just because.

6.16pm the phone rings.

I glance down and scowl, it’s a handyman. I take a sip and answer the phone. The coconut cream has barely a chance to touch my tongue when the acrid taste of being a landlord overwhelms my senses.

‘I’m really sorry to bother you SL, I didn’t know who else to call.’

I hold my tongue, I want to say the agent, but manners dictate I reply not.

‘I’ve come to this property where there’s been a report of damp and it’s crazy.’

‘OK, what’s crazy?’

‘Well, this flat, this guy who’s moved in a couple of months back, there’s black in places where I’ve never seen black. I’ll send you photos now.’

I take a deep breath. I don’t want photos. I don’t want to hear about condensation mould. I eye my drink longingly and look at the Spotify music list I’d been about to play. I sigh and flick to the WhatsApp photos pinging through.

I’m pretty pissed off when I see them.

‘How has this happened?’ I ask.

‘The guy says he can’t afford to put the heating on. But he’s there brewing cider and there were four or five other people just sat on the floor drinking – they were all drunk!’

‘Sorry, did I hear you right? We’re in lockdown and what’s happening?’

‘There’s no furniture SL, there’s no bed, he’s just sleeping on a quilt. Can you see it in my photo I sent? Not even a cover on it! There’s no tv, no chairs, they’re just all sat around on the floor drinking his homebrewed cider. They’re well pissed, and they’re loud, making a right racket. I’ve had to get out of there as they’re making allegations.’

‘What sort of allegations?’

‘They’re saying the building is unsafe and so he doesn’t have to pay his rent.’

‘How is the building unsafe?’

‘They’re saying about this black mould everywhere.’

‘That he’s caused by not putting the heating on, by brewing cider and by having loads of people around like it’s a pub? Not to mention breaking the law given it’s a national lockdown!’

‘Exactly, that’s what I said to him. I said to him, “Listen mate, this is rented as a home not a pub, I’m telling the agent.” And then I called Mrs Violet at the letting agent and told her she needs to do an inspection straightaway to put the guy to rights, but she told me she wasn’t allowed because it’s lockdown and I says to her, “But how can I be allowed to come here and its lockdown?” and she says it’s because I’m maintenance. And so, I had to call you SL.’

‘I understand, well thank you,’ I reply.

‘I don’t want to be telling you all this bad news, but you know I have to be straight. If you don’t do something pretty quick that whole flat is gonna be covered in black within the next month.’

‘I understand, thanks.’

‘Oh and there is more…well, I bumped into the neighbour down below the flat where this guy is brewing cider and he’s not happy.’

‘I can understand.’

‘No, you can’t, it’s not just the noise and all them people, one of the cider vats fell over last week and leaked all through his ceiling, he was showing me the damage.’

I take a very large sip of my now bitter tasting pina colada.

To be continued…

Why I Hate Property Educators.

So I read in the news today that allegedly some uber successful businessman is buying the UK’s “largest” property education network.

I use alleged and air quotes freely as I have no clue as to the veracity of these claims.

And I wonder about the rest.

Anyway, if I’m to believe what I read then said successful businessman has decided to capitalise more on his company’s success and bought said company from the property educator.

Now, I don’t know what you have to do to bag the title of ‘property educator’, I wrote a book – The Secret Diary of a Landlord, and so I’m wondering does that get me into this hall of fame?

I think not.

You know the reason why not?

Because I tell the truth.

I do not share any secrets (apart from life in property is way less glamourous than what any sucker will have you believe) and I do not charge any subscription fee. I also have no course to sell.

I have no retreat for you to holiday at.

I have no deal to spin you.

I have no secret knowledge to impart other than the words on the pages of that book – which you can read for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. There is no further upsell.

Seriously, I have nothing to sell you other than the experiences in that book.

You see, dear reader, I am a real property investor.

I do not make money by selling smoke and smiles and promising you really big things that you dream about and will make your life great.

No, I present to you the reality of property. The battles and the fights, the legal wrangles, the fuckwits you will have to deal with and the stress that will likely see you want to top yourself at some point in your career.

Because, in all honesty, that’s how this business is.

It is not all smiles and holidays and jamborees and sexy deals over dinner.

No, running a property business is much like any other business. It’s fucking hard work.

It takes time, it takes money, it takes effort, it takes sleepless nights, it robs you of joy, family time, friends and peace of mind.

In short: there is no quick win to being a property millionaire.

But that, dear reader, is not what man on the street wants to hear. He wants to hear how easy it is, how you just have to cross a palm (any palm will do) with gold and breathe three times and do a twirl and some other NLP shit and everything will be alright.

Do you know what: WAKE UP!

It’s because people are not willing to put the work and effort and understand the truth about this business why property educators continue to flourish.

When you decide to finally build a property business you want to be proud of and that will make you money: Start it.

Take action. Understand life will be hard. Really hard. Then get over it and learn to work your business.

Business means business, treat it as such and stop looking for an easy answer and a quick buck.

OMG I got a letter about cladding

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the cladding horror.

I’ve read enough and heard enough heart-breaking stories to know cladding is truly the scourge of the housing market. People have been left with homes that are effectively dangerous and worthless, and they are trapped in them.

It is horrifying how this happened or even been allowed to happen.

So being the prudent person that I am, I risk-assessed the leaseholds owned a couple of years ago. I was relieved to see the buildings were not classified as tall (high risk), and knowing I didn’t own in any tower-blocks (old or modern) gave me some small comfort.

Over the last three years I’ve seen management agents toughen up on fire regulations (a good thing), and I’ve upgraded various doors and contributed towards various changes which meant we complied.

So it was with terror, and I mean terror, that I opened a letter from a managing agent to inform me they were investigating cladding at a building where I own a leasehold flat. They had organised a survey and they would let me know in due course.

My first move?

Straight onto the property details. Scanning all over the property, all I could see was a small section, some four metres by five metres of decorative timber work, above the archway to the carpark.

Phew, I said to myself, that must be what they’re referring to.

But then my mind decided to catastrophize. Because, you know, in these sort of situations this type of thinking is helpful. Not.

Cue the rabbit warren of the internet.

It is a dangerous place to be.

Especially, when you’re searching for the latest updates on cladding. I learned:

  • There’s no longer a vertical height restriction (previously only buildings of over 18 metres and 11 metres were deemed to be at risk).
  • To sell a property, even if it hasn’t got cladding, you need an EW1S form and there is a huge delay on getting these surveys.
  • Without an EW1S form you will struggle to get a mortgage (although there were some changes to government policy, but it wasn’t clear lenders were fully on-board).
  • Even if you get an EW1S form the value in some cases was being set at zero.
  • The cost of putting-right works was enormous.

And as you’ll know when you search on the net, a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. You soon think yourself an expert, when clearly you’re not.

And so I found myself watching a YouTube video on how to identify cladding on a building.

Cut onset of sicky tummy.

You see, prior to watching this video, I had believed we had concrete painted rendering on the outside of our two-storey built block. But now, with my internet expert hat on, I started to wonder if that was actually the case.

Was it in fact polystyrene?

Was my flat clad in flammable materials?

Would it need to be removed at huge cost?

What should I do?

My mind went into overdrive as I compared and contrasted various schemes from stories I found online and searched through the bills people had received. They were eye-watering. I’m talking six-figure sums.

And so I started making some notes to try and figure out how much of a bill it would be…And before you know it, questions and costs started spiralling.

So then I decided to search through the planning documents of the building and see if there was anything there about the materials used. Alas, given it was built in the 1980s there was nothing available online.  

So I called my friend for advice. And he told me to call the managing agents.

Good call and dumb move I hadn’t thought of the obvious before.

So I call the agents to discover I, like many other owners, had called in rather panicked. They apologised profusely for the ‘lack of specificity’ of the letter and explained the survey was just for the timber clad area.

Relief flooded through me.

I know I’ve been lucky. This cladding scandal has only just begun.

Leasehold Shock: The Scandal of Section 20 Notices

Today started well. I woke early and decided to accompany my morning tea with a programme about Dorset rather than the news.

It made me feel way much better about the world.

And then I decided I better put the rubbish out and on the way back I should check the mailbox.

I wish I hadn’t.

What had started as a good, sunny, promising day has rather gone backwards.

The reason being?

I have just opened a Section 20 notice for £8,371.63.

Of this, I had no warning and no idea this was about to hit. I am stunned. This is my 8.33% contribution of the total £100,459.50 block costs towards works for brickwork repair, concrete repair, overhaul repair and redecoration of timber windows and frame and bay roof covering renewal.

I have no idea where the bay roof renewal comes in, as there is no bay roof at the property.

And it gets worse: this is just for the rear of the property.


Truly, I thought I was prepared for most things, but suddenly opening this bill for these works has side-swiped me.

And the worst thing is?

Despite the invitation for observations, I know I will get nowhere. No matter what I bring up (like how the hell does this work cost so much, it’s not even new windows????), I know every single thing I try will fall on deaf ears.

And the reason for that being?

There is already a long term qualifying agreement with the contractor and thus, the job for them is in the bag, regardless.

Me trying to observe how ludicrous this sum of money is, how we should get comparison quotes – none of this will be addressed. I will be informed there is a long-term qualifying agreement, I was informed about this before yada-yada and to be frank, it’s a waste of an email.

It’s a waste of time me even trying to rail against what is frankly a scandalous system.

And it pains me to admit defeat before I’ve even started.

But, that is the system when estate managers have agreed long-term qualifying agreements: You get no say.

The estate managers will inform you, something along these lines: ‘we told you we were entering into this agreement and you had a chance to make observations’. But very often, these contracts are wide-scale and based on a number of different estates they manage (and of which I have no knowledge) and thus trying to make any sort of competent observation about these matters is fruitless.

I know this, because even when I was specific about our site and brought up the issue of the caretaker not being around for the last 18 months and yet we’re paying an annual salary of £37,670, I was ignored.

I was told the caretaker was there.

Despite the fact he wasn’t, and I couldn’t even sort access for the gas man to undertake works.

But I digress.

Fact is, this is the reality of owning leasehold. There is very little control. And that is the shocking reality.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) estimates there are around 4.3 million leasehold homes in England. That’s an awful lot of people not being in control and having the potential shocker of a bill to wake up to one fine day.

Right now, the best I can hope for is a decent payment plan over an extended period of time.

And that shocks me. It shocks me because I have quit on even trying to argue. Even trying to attempt to argue.

And that feels wrong on so many levels.