Sunday, 14 September 2008

When I was a little boy I wanted to grow up and become a diabolical "scum of the earth" landlord.

Having suffered at the hands of a diabolical landlord, and knowing others that have done so too, I'd like to use my experience to write a guide to becoming one. As a form of disclaimer, and to cover my back in case someone misinterprets this, I don't actually condone being an evil landlord. And if you're looking for some of my usual observational humour you're looking in the wrong place. However if you are looking for an incoherent rant then read on.

My wife and I suffered under one terrible landlord, and I really struggled with this guy. He really was a nasty, lying, thieving piece of work. I'm picking my words very carefully here. I found it very difficult to comprehend how someone could make our lives so difficult, and somehow get away with it. At times I felt so angry, so wired, so at the mercy of this guy and so helpless that it was messing with my sleep.

The question that my mind kept asking was this. How does someone become a despicable landlord?

"And what about you, Billy?", the teacher asked. "What would you like to be when you grow up?"

"I'd like to be a big bad wolf Miss" he replied.

"Don't be silly darling, you know that isn't a realistic answer. Have another try." "OK then", said Billy, pausing for a moment. "I'd like to be a diabolical "scum of the earth" landlord when I grow up and make lots of money."

"Now that's a lovely idea Billy, well done!"

Anyone who is contemplating a career change may find this article helpful. Perhaps you would like to become a diabolical "scum of the earth" landlord?

This is not going to be a list of ways to be nasty to tenants, so if you are an evil landlord looking for tips I would look elsewhere. I've heard that has some excellent material.

This is more of a psychological guide, which will hopefully help you sear your conscience and destroy your soul, which is necessary to be an evil warlord. Sorry, I meant landlord.

You need to understand that it is not easy to achieve the true diabolical lows I'm speaking of. For starters, you need stop thinking of tenants as human beings. Human beings have rights, needs, and all sorts of tiresome requirements such as hot water, heating and ventilation. By distancing yourself from the whole human being thing, and seeing tenants as nothing more than dirt then you are on the right track.

Never, for one moment, think about what you would like if you were renting the place. That will confuse matters, and provide an angle of reality that will not be helpful. The last thing you need is to kindle the fires of empathy. To become a really nasty, filthy landlord you must think of what you would least like if you were living in the property, and then make it happen.

You must always treat the law, tenancy agreements, and tenancy regulations with a pinch of salt. They're all open to interpretation - rather than being there to ensure health, safety, welfare, fairness and all that guff.

Take the requirement that all rented accommodation must have running hot and cold water. The key words are "must" and "running". One man's "must" is another man's "may". One man's "running" is another man's "trickling".

There is one point of view that encourages landlords to invest in their property, as this will lead to happier tenants who will stay for longer terms, guaranteeing rent payments, and will also lead to lower maintenance on the property in the long run.

This point of view should not be entertained by anyone aspiring to be a diabolical "scum of the earth" landlord. No landlord who has achieved true diabolical feats has ever held this point of view for long.

Withholding tenants' deposits for unfair and arbitrary reasons is a step in the right direction. First of all, you must never provide a breakdown of costs, invoice or receipt, as this can lead tenants to challenge the costs. For example, if you state that carpet cleaning cost 100 pounds, then they could legitimately point out that the carpets were stained and threadbare when they moved in. However if you just withhold an arbitrary amount - 90% is a good guideline - under the guise of "cleaning", then they may just grin and bear it.

As far as arbitrary amounts go, always set them high, as this allows room for manoeuvre. The 90% you withhold may be challenged, but the tenants may be appeased if it is reduced to 70%, which is still a tidy sum for yourself.

If you are planning to develop a property then there are some ingenious ways to raise funds for it. For example, if you were converting a large student house with 13 tenants into 4 flats, then a neat trick would be to withhold their deposits for "carpet cleaning" and "decorating", even though you are planning to rip up the floors and knock down the walls. The students won't know because they will have left by the time this happens. Dishonesty is the key to your success, but not, may I add, your salvation.

As far as building maintenance goes, a do-it-yourself policy is best. This will help you achieve the admirable goals of doing a shoddy job, saving money, and ripping the tenants off. By doing a shoddy job this will guarantee more problems, which will give you more reasons to rip them off. I will provide a few examples to get you started.

Never replace water or waste pipes, even if three independent plumbers all confirm that they are beyond repair and that any repairs will fail within a month, leading to more leaking and damage. If a water or waste pipe needs replacing, just patch it with resin or blue tack. This will hold for a few weeks, before causing more flooding, damp and mould, and providing you with reasons to charge the tenants for carpet cleaning when they leave.

The same applies for leaking toilets, cisterns, or bathroom taps. Don't fix them, bathrooms are wet places anyway, and mouldy, soggy, wee-drenched carpet never hurt anyone, right?

Letting through an agent can provide an excellent safety buffer. It protects you from the angry ripped-off tenants, and also introduces helpful delays in correspondence. And contrary to the popular belief that letting agencies are an irritation, preventing you from ripping tenants off freely and unhindered, they actually can make things better.

Remember that the letting agencies are in it for the money too, and their French-Manicured agents are driven by commission and "letting agent of the week" incentives. While they should (in theory) be checking that your property meets regulations, the reality is that they "can't be bovered".

Take this hypothetical scenario. You buy up an old Victorian terrace house and convert it into three flats. You've done the conversion so badly that the door to the top flat is actually too narrow to fit any standard appliance through, let alone to be valid fire escape.

Never mind the fact that anyone living there will not be able to get a cooker, fridge, washing machine or sofa up there. It will probably only end up being an immigrant who lives there, and the letting agent is unlikely to notice. The fact that it breaks all sorts of fire and tenancy regulations is inconsequential.

You haven't bothered to clean or replace the carpets, so these 40-year-old carpets are thread-bare, stained, and are black in parts with mould. Not to mention the sticky patches of goo, a gross combination of cat hair and Coke.

The letting agency finds new tenants to move in. Probably because available flats are so scarce in the city that they had no other option. Remember, if all you landlords collectively lower the standards then there isn't much drive for quality anyway.

Soon after this the waste water pipes from the top flat burst causing extensive flooding. The ceilings of the middle flat are covered with brown droplets, the walls have streams of dirty water down them, and the carpet is soggy with upstairs' waste water.

At this point it is clear what you should do. Under the pretence of sending out a plumber, patch the pipes yourself with a bit of resin or blue tack. Mind you, you shouldn't act immediately. The tenants of the middle flat are perfectly capable of waiting several days in this state. Meanwhile the tenants of the top flat are unable to use their sink or bath.

This beautiful scenario should put a smile on your face, as tenants of your flats are locked into a waste-water death match Eventually the top flat will give in to the need to wash, or simply forget, and flood the middle flat. Give them a week of this, then patch the pipes with resin.

This will ensure that the pipes leak again within a month. Don't concern yourself with the tenants' plight, remember that you are in it for the money (and to earn your pass to Hell).

The tenants terminate their residency and move out. Due to early termination, start to demand the rent that you have lost, via the letting agency of course. Claim that the flooding was caused by their negligence.

Negligence is a powerful word in this context, it implies that the tenants are careless, selfish, incompetent imbeciles, whereas you are the responsible, down-trodden landlord. You're the one who is suffering. You're the victim. In addition, withhold 90% of their deposits with the justification of cleaning - I mean, they soaked the floor with dirty waste water and smeared the walls with filth, the scum.

The "buffer zone" provided by the letting agency means that every letter of complaint from the tenants will be delayed by a week. To start with, just ignore the letters. Well, burn them actually, they are an excellent alternative fuel.

The moment a letter seriously threatens legal action, don't panic. Most tenants can be placated if you return another 10%-20% of their deposit. If this still doesn't work, threatening them with legal action is a good trick. Of course, the law is the last thing you want involvement with, and it should give you nightmares given your daily display of gross negligence and exploitation, but hey it should scare them, and will hopefully put an end to their tiresome, pitiful complaining.

I hope this will have aided you in your quest to become a diabolical "scum of the earth" landlord.


badly dressed boy said...

Sorry, not sure about the new layout...

However, this blog is a masterpiece, the "aspiring landlord's Screwtape Letters" I might say.

mo.stoneskin said...

the new layout? you just don't like change

badly dressed boy said...

Layout.. I meant 'look'. It looks a little unfinished.

Edward Rhodes said...

Of kings and courtiers how the fools complain!
Nor blame their word inord'nate love of gain.
None think that while dire landlords they allow,
To kings and knaves they'll still be doom'd to bow.
None think that each by favouring the deceit,
Himself's a foolish party to the cheat.
Few can be landlords; and these very few,
Must, to succeed, their brethren all undo.
Yet each low wretch for lordship fierce does burn,
And longs to act the tyrant in his turn!
Nor longs alone, but hopes before he dies,
To have his rents, and live on tears and sighs!

Thomas Spence (1750 - 1814)

As I have quite a few new readers since I became a "Jelly Biter" I've put this up here again. To understand the context you must read this post!