Lodger in bad arrears - landlady needs advice

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    Lodger in bad arrears - landlady needs advice

    I've been letting rooms in my houseshare for ten years and it is my main income. I try to be a firm but fair landlady and have only come a cropper twice despite having had about 70 people live here over ten years. On those two occasions men got into rent arrears then did a moonlight flit.

    Four years ago Annette, a feisty and forthright lady took one of my rooms and said she'd only be there from time to time because she is a respite carer living inside her client's homes. She needs somewhere to call home, to keep her belongings, and where she can go in between jobs. I didn't realise that she'd only spend on average ten nights a YEAR here. Because of this I have never raised her rent above the original £70. As she only comes home about once every three months she's not using any utilities, and to be honest it is so great getting money for a room that is empty 355 days out of 365 that I didn't want to scare her away by increasing the rent. Her bedroom is next to mine, so her not being here means no noise from her room, total privacy for me; one less person using the bathroom and kitchen.

    When Annette is here she is a nuisance. She ignores any house rules that don't suit her, including smoking in her room, though this is a no-smoking house (it drifts under the door and wafts up the stairs and landing). She has the tv on all night, coughs very loudly the whole time; brings noisy grandkids to stay; leaves the bathroom in a mess. I never say anything, because it's only ten days a year. Surprisingly, once she has gone, her room does not smell of tobacco at all, as she uses a lot of Febreeze, opens the windows.

    I get the feeling that, although Annette is a plain-speaking and expressive person, while working she is basically a skivvy, at the beck and call of cantankerous, bossy clients. The last thing she needs is to come home to a bossy landlady, so I am always welcoming and friendly, and never give her a hard time about the mess or noise.

    Right from the off she has been extraordinarily erratic with the rent, which she pays be bank transfer as and when she chooses. She'll pay (for example) £70 one week, £350 the next, then nothing for two months, then £140, then nothing for a month, then £420, then £70 the next three weeks, then nothing for two months, then £280, then nothing for a couple of months, then she'll suddenly turn up in person and whack £560 cash into my hand as she hugs and kisses me hello and says how thrilled she is to be back in her lovely room in her lovely home, which flattery pleases me greatly of course.

    That has always been the pattern. On 31 Dec each year I tot it all up and hey presto, it always adds up. Till this year.

    In the summer, I realised how vulnerable I was when she went two months into arrears. With the other lodgers, I hold a month's deposit and if they become two weeks in arrears I give them two weeks' notice to move out. That way, the deposit covers that four weeks. With her, I hold only £130 deposit, so I wrote to her saying I was increasing hers to £280. She flatly refused to pay me the extra, citing our contract and saying I could not change it without her consent.

    Yes I do realise that this was the moment that I should have put my foot down and not been intimidated. I should have replied: "I hereby give you two weeks' notice to quit. If you wish to apply for your old room, which will become vacant in two weeks' time, then you are very welcome to do so, but please note that the deposit will be £280." The fact is, I am always scared that she will leave and I will have someone who is here all the time. So I dropped the matter.

    The other lodgers pay me in cash and I see them daily. If they are so much as one day late with their rent I mention it to them. Strangely, I am really strict with them, yet Annette has got me habituated to such erratic rent-paying that I never say anything to her. I doubt whether it would do me any good, anyway: she's so scarily headstrong that I think whatever I said she would just continue to pay her rent as and when she pleases.

    Now, I'm not one of those people who logs into her online bank all that often. Yes I know I am lazy; I know I am bad; I know I should take more interest, be more organised.

    In November I suddenly had one of my spasmodic bouts of interest in all things financial and started looking at my accounts. I noticed she was three months in arrears, so I contacted her she said she'd lost her job and hadn't worked for a month or so. However, she'd be home at Christmas and she would sort it all out with me then.

    I was actually scared at the thought of having the confrontation with her. I told a friend the situation and he said, you MUST keep her sweet, because if you upset her, she will NEVER pay you the arrears at all, she'll just move out!"

    When she came home on 22 Dec for three nights we sat down and had a nice, long, friendly chat. She'd made a couple of payments and we agreed that she owed me £490. However, she was really really sorry, but she had no money at all to pay me. Her next £280 was due on 30 Dec. She promised faithfully that she would pay that rent, and something, as much as she could, off the arrears. She'd got a new job.

    I could see that she was showering her family with Christmas presents and treats, but what with it being the festive season, I didn't want to be like Mrs Scrooge and start a fight with her about it. I even bought her a Christmas present, to keep things friendly.

    I decided to wait till she'd paid up all her arrears, then terminate her contract and offer her a new one, with £300 deposit, AND tell her that if she ever goes two weeks into arrears again I would give her two weeks notice. Get the power back on my side.

    However, she has not paid her rent due 30th Dec or anything off the arrears. I feel so angry that, after promising me to clear (at least some of) the arears she has actually increased them! Grr!

    So today I am feeling complete vulnerable because she owes me £770 and I only hold £130 deposit, so that's £640. She really has me over a barrel.

    If I come down on her really strongly, what is to stop her just saying, "I take offence at your tone, and will come to collect my belongings on Sunday".

    I feel such a MUG. On 22 Dec she owed me £490 in rent, yet I let her and her two noisy grandchildren stay here for 3 days! What was I thinking? Can you imagine any hotel that would let someone come and stay for three days when they had not paid their bill for their last visit?

    The onus is on me to fix this situation. But I don't know what to do.

    Could I send her a message (or ring her mobile) and tell her one of the following?

    (1) You aren't setting foot in this house until you have paid what you owe me. If she says anything about coming to collect her things, I will tell her to sue me for them, and tell her I will concurrently counter-sue her for the £640 she currently owes me, plus costs! (I would of course let her have any personal papers, passport etc.)

    or

    (2) That I will auction her entire belongings on Ebay for a set price of £640 + fees. She can buy them and pay me, then take them.

    or

    (3) That I am giving her two weeks' notice as of today, and if she hasn't paid her arrears within 14 days, I will sell her belongings to try to get back some of what she owes me.

    (I should point out that all the furniture in the room is mine, that her personal belongings would not fetch more than a few pounds (if that) on Ebay, but I believe she may have a sentimental attachment to many of the items, collected over years.)

    Are any of these options feasible? Legal? Advisable? Is there any way I can persuade her to pay me the £640 without resorting to such threats? Can she insist legally on getting access to her room and taking her belongings even though she owes me so much money?

    Once this is no longer her address, I won't be able to sue her as I'll have no address for her. She has a daughter and grandkids in a town 50 miles away but I have no clue as to the address and as the dau lives with her boyfriend and as I don't know his surname I cannot trace them via the phone book. I have sent the dau a message via Facebook asking what is your address, as I have something to send you... but whether she will tell me, who knows??

    Alternatively there is always option

    (4) pay me HALF of what you owe me (half the £770 equals £335) and I will write off the other half, in return for which I want (a) rent increased to £75 (b) a £300 deposit (c) full next of kin contact details (d) her never to go more than 2 weeks into arrears at any time; if she goes one day over that, I will issue a notice to quit and give her 14 days to remove her belongings, and readvertise her room. (Ideally I would like a direct debit, but she is paid erratically so that does not suit her.)

    As I type that, it sounds quite appealing. It gives her the chance to put things right with me, and if she doesn't then at least she isn't racking up more and more arrears. The quicker I can get her out, the quicker I can get someone else in there.

    I must confess, though, that I would much rather fix things with her than throw her out. I would much rather have her, with all her noise and chaos and yes, even the smoking (!) here for ten days a year than anyone else here 365 days.

    The problem is, if she refuses the whole offer, I am back to square one.

    Sorry its been such a long posting, but I wanted to tell everthing to save respondents having to ask me all the details then have then scattered all over the thread.

    I thank anyone who gives helpful advice as to how to handle this very tricky and delicate situation, avoid court proceedings, and keep my relationship with her on an even keel, and restore my power as landlady instead of letting the feisty, headstrong Annette run rings around me all the time.

    #2
    Okay, you can't hold her belongings to ransom or sell them.

    You can evict her, giving reasonable notice. If items are still in her room at the end of the notice, you must keep them safe but you can change the locks.

    Personally, I would try softly-softly until the rent is up to date - then give notice.

    You could sue for the missing rent. You only need last known address. Presuming you win by default you could get a third party debt order against her bank account or her employers.

    Comment


      #3
      Firstly, you cannot do anything which involves withholding or threatening to withhold Annette's belongings. (It also sounds very unlikely to succeed as a tactic when her possessions have no value).

      While I appreciate the advantages of having a lodger who is hardly ever there, the downside is also fairly significant - arrears and feeling intimidated in your own home when she is there; so don't let the benefits blind you to this. Imagine having a nice quiet lodger who paid you on time instead. Treat Annette the same as you would anyone else.

      Don't deduct the deposit from the debt. She owes you £770 not £640; otherwise, if you do negotiate a deal, and when and if she pays you, you'll have no deposit as security.

      Personally, I'd be inclined to call her bluff, give her notice to leave and tell her you intend to issue a county court claim for the arrears. She sounds like a bit of a bully and, generally, the only way is to stand up to bullies - I very much doubt her clients boss her around, more likely they are vulnerable people who are as intimidated by her as you are.

      If she disappears owing you money, you can pay a tracing agent to find her. Just google "tracing agents" - I believe you can get it done for around £75 and some places offer to refund the fee if they can't find the person. Alternatively, while she is still living with you, you can serve the claim on her at your own address, using Money Claim Online, which would serve as an effective wake up call.

      https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/csmco2/index.jsp

      Is she self-employed or does she work for an employer? If the latter, you can enforce a CCJ by applying for an attachment of earnings, which means her employer would be ordered to deduct installments from her wages to pay off the debt.

      Comment


        #4
        Yes; leave possessions out of it.

        I would;
        (1) call her to raise concerns about rent and that as she did not pay you when promised. You are feeling let down as you have given her the benefit of the doubt. Either arrange appointmnet face to face next day or continue with talking by phone
        (2) Say she now owes you X amount of rent, and you will not let it go on any longer
        (3) Say that you need her to pay Y within Z days or you will have to give notice to quit of whatever you think is reasonable (sooner the better)
        (4) The rest of the arrears must be paid £A per week or better , or you will give notice.

        When the arrears are cleared you then tell her that any more than 2 weeks in arrears and notice will be given.
        All posts in good faith, but do not rely on them

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        Comment


          #5
          Thanks to everyone for being so kind as to wade through my long email.

          Since my initial posting on here I have been thinking about this all day and came to the conclusion to offer her the deal to pay me HALF of what she owes me (half the £770 equals £335) and I will write off the other half, in return for which I want (a) rent increased to £75 (b) a £300 deposit (d) her never to go more than 2 weeks into arrears at any time; if she goes one day over that, I will issue a notice to quit and give her 14 days to remove her belongings, and readvertise her room.

          The problem I have with her possessions is, she has an awful lot of stuff (clothes, soft furnishings, ornaments, books, toys for the kids, etc) and there is absolutely nowhere in this house that they can be stored. I have a big house but there is no storage space at all; four beds but three are let and I have the smallest and it's packed to the brim with my own stuff. I don't even have a garage or basement or anything. How is someone in my position supposed to store someone's belongings till they collect them.

          It does seem unfair that she can withhold £770 she owes me, but I cannot withhold £100 worth of possessions. Grrr, British law huh? It's always on the side of the defaulter, never the victim.

          Westminster: "Alternatively, while she is still living with you, you can serve the claim on her at your own address"

          Even if she's not here and unlikely to be here for probably three months (going by her past record)?

          "Is she self-employed or does she work for an employer?" - She gets the jobs through an agency (unknown), but once settled in I believe the client or the client's family pays her direct.

          Bel: I did what you advised in point 2, "Say she now owes you X amount of rent, and you will not let it go on any longer". I thought I would leave points 3 and 4 for after she replied.

          I wrote to her via Facebook (it is the only means she has given me to contact her!) said I want the arrears paid. I also added that there is building work going on in the house (true) and that I need the money asap to pay the builders (not true, but injects a sense of urgency).

          This is her reply:

          "In response to your message, i am so sorry that my problems have ended up becoming your problems, i really feel terrible about it and have sleepless nites as i do not like being indebted to anyone. It is not a deliberate act of intending to treat you badly, it is a case of unforseen circumstances that have unfortunately affected you.

          I do not have the 770.00 cash to pay, if i did i would pay it over. The only thing i can offer is that from this thursday i pay an extra 70 pounds together with the weekly rental, that is 140.00 per week, until the arrears are paid off, that would take 2 months to pay the arrears, I do not know what else to do.

          I await to hear from you, and I AM SO SORRY."

          These fine words just aren't buttering my parsnips, are they?

          I just remembered: to fob me off at Xmas, on 24th she said she had arranged a bank loan which would come into her account "any day now". Funny she is not mentioning it now. Should I bring it up?

          Wondering what to do next. I guess her reply is exactly what I expected - ie that she has "no money" (I wonder what she spent on Xmas presents?) But I didn't expect her to offer to pay £140 pw from Thursday onwards. I guess that is a good offer and I should grab it.

          However, I feel that I want to add something to that promise of hers, which could be yet another false promise to fob me off. Can anyone think of a way that I can ensure that she keeps to it? I suppose some kind of threat of consequence? Or should I just reply saying OK Annette, pay me £140 on Thursday then every Tuesday after that (her rent is due on a Tuesday)

          Comment


            #6
            if you think the offer is acceptable then accept it but make it clear to her that you do not rent rooms out of choice but that you need the money and if she can't stick to this agreement and then also pay her rent regularly from now on that you will have to find someone who will.
            She may be aconvenient lodger with regards to her lifestyle but sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on.
            Surely someone who is there all the time but pays on time is better than someone who is hardly ever there but hardly pays the rent.

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by Sussexlandlady View Post
              Westminster: "Alternatively, while she is still living with you, you can serve the claim on her at your own address"

              Even if she's not here and unlikely to be here for probably three months (going by her past record)?
              Yes, assuming it is her primary residential address. She pays rent for it, so I think that even if she's hardly there, that's sufficient to make it so.

              I wrote to her via Facebook (it is the only means she has given me to contact her!) said I want the arrears paid.
              You might even be able to serve the claim via Facebook if she disappears owing you money. You'd have to apply to the court for permission. See link

              But I didn't expect her to offer to pay £140 pw from Thursday onwards. I guess that is a good offer and I should grab it.

              However, I feel that I want to add something to that promise of hers, which could be yet another false promise to fob me off. Can anyone think of a way that I can ensure that she keeps to it? I suppose some kind of threat of consequence? Or should I just reply saying OK Annette, pay me £140 on Thursday then every Tuesday after that (her rent is due on a Tuesday)
              It's a reasonable offer. The only threat I can think of is that you'll give her notice to quit, and tell her she will have to return the keys and collect her belongings on the day the notice expires, failing which you will charge her £x per week in storage charges, and for changing the locks.

              Comment


                #8
                Originally posted by Sussexlandlady View Post

                This is her reply:

                "In response to your message, i am so sorry that my problems have ended up becoming your problems, i really feel terrible about it and have sleepless nites as i do not like being indebted to anyone. It is not a deliberate act of intending to treat you badly, it is a case of unforseen circumstances that have unfortunately affected you.

                I do not have the 770.00 cash to pay, if i did i would pay it over. The only thing i can offer is that from this thursday i pay an extra 70 pounds together with the weekly rental, that is 140.00 per week, until the arrears are paid off, that would take 2 months to pay the arrears, I do not know what else to do.

                I await to hear from you, and I AM SO SORRY."

                These fine words just aren't buttering my parsnips, are they?

                I just remembered: to fob me off at Xmas, on 24th she said she had arranged a bank loan which would come into her account "any day now". Funny she is not mentioning it now. Should I bring it up?

                Wondering what to do next. I guess her reply is exactly what I expected - ie that she has "no money" (I wonder what she spent on Xmas presents?) But I didn't expect her to offer to pay £140 pw from Thursday onwards. I guess that is a good offer and I should grab it.

                However, I feel that I want to add something to that promise of hers, which could be yet another false promise to fob me off. Can anyone think of a way that I can ensure that she keeps to it? I suppose some kind of threat of consequence? Or should I just reply saying OK Annette, pay me £140 on Thursday then every Tuesday after that (her rent is due on a Tuesday)
                You could say that you only accept her offer if she signs a new lodger agreement with any the following conditions added to it, which should be signed as a deed as witnessed independantly:

                (1) Interest is payable on the remaining arrears at a rate of 4% above the bank of england rate (perhaps she would prefer a loan)

                (2) She understands that any further lapse in payment and one weeks notice will be served while she is in arrears. There will be NO FURTHER DEAL to extend.

                (3) She signs a new lodger agreement that will enable you to take control of her goods if she does not remove them within the notice period eg:

                "If you leave any personal items in the Property (the items) at the end
                of your occupation, the following will apply:

                a) We will send you a notice in writing to the forwarding address provided asking you to remove them.

                b) This notice will be sent to the forwarding address given to us by
                you, and will be either delivered by hand or sent by recorded
                delivery. (note: You can also use facebook in addition)

                c) If the items are not removed within 14 days of this notice being
                sent or delivered to you, or if you have not provided us with any
                forwarding address, we will be entitled to sell or otherwise
                dispose of the items.

                d) You will be responsible for paying our reasonable costs for
                removing, storing and disposing of the items. We may deduct
                these costs from the sale proceeds (if any) of the items. You
                will be responsible for paying any balance to us. Any net sale
                proceeds will belong to you.

                e) Storage in-house will be chargable at £10 per day (your room rate)"

                NOTE: if you use her possessions to pay off arrears this is more complicated procedure and probably not worth the effort.

                I would say do not let her off half of the rent owed. But thats your choice.

                ALso do not justify to her why you are demanding what is due to you; puts you in a weaker light.Heck; she owes you!
                All posts in good faith, but do not rely on them

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                  #9
                  Thanks Chappers and Westminster for your input.

                  I'm going to accept her offer of £140 on Thursday then every Thursday and drive home the fact that Chappers points out:

                  "make it clear to her that you do not rent rooms out of choice but that you need the money"

                  She is perfectly aware that I have no job and therefore should realise that it is my bread and butter income that she is withholding. But yes I must drive home the point that she has reduced my income by 1/3 without my permission, and without cause.

                  I've been feeling much angrier towards her this evening. Kind of got to how dare she "borrow" money from me without my consent, which is a kind of theft, morally (if not legally) speaking. If the money isn't in my account by Friday morning at the latest, I will revert to offering her the 50% deal.

                  If she ever pays off her arrears, I'll terminate her contract and offer her another at a higher rent and a higher deposit, and be stricter about arrears.

                  Originally posted by westminster View Post
                  Yes, assuming it is her primary residential address. She pays rent for it, so I think that even if she's hardly there, that's sufficient to make it so.
                  None of her mail comes here so assume it goes to daughter's and today I have got hold of daughter's address.

                  Originally posted by westminster View Post
                  The only threat I can think of is that you'll give her notice to quit, and tell her she will have to return the keys and collect her belongings on the day the notice expires, failing which you will charge her £x per week in storage charges, and for changing the locks.
                  That sounds more satisfying -- charging her for storage.

                  Hopefully it won't come to that.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by Bel View Post
                    ALso do not justify to her why you are demanding what is due to you; puts you in a weaker light.Heck; she owes you!
                    You are of course absolutely right.

                    I'm so soft and unassertive lately that I have been inflicted with this stupid idea that I somehow have to justify why I need the money so urgently and so badly. I know it's bolox: she approached me and voluntarily signed a contract to pay £70pw for the exclusive use of that room, and that is all we need to focus on.

                    God I am weak. I need assertively lessons from Bel, for sure (or any of you!)


                    Having now re-read Bel's email == wow some fantastic ideas, and Bel you have caught me just in time - I was about to reply accepting her offer.

                    Originally posted by Bel View Post
                    You could say that you only accept her offer if she signs a new lodger agreement with any the following conditions added to it..................... etc

                    I love all these conditions! I love the idea of calling the shots, asserting my rights and getting the power balance back where it belongs.

                    But I forsee a problem: if these conditions are attached, she is so stroppy that she may reply "OK then I'll send my son in law for my things tomorrow, goodbye" and that will be the end of any chance at all of getting any of the money she owes me (other than the £130 deposit that I hold).

                    Isn't it better to accept the offer of £140pw and see if she keeps it up, then once the power is back on my side (ie once she has paid some/all the arrears) then hit her with the new contract? Then if she gets stroppy, refuses and moves out, at least I have regained some/all of the money she owes me.

                    Bel I like these conditions and will definitely be using or tweaking then using them if my business relationship with Annette continues past next week, plus the principles they embody will stand me in good stead in my future lettings, so I am truly grateful for your input.


                    Originally posted by Bel View Post
                    I would say do not let her off half of the rent owed.
                    The rationale is, firstly it sounds tempting so might persuade her into paying me £335 now, which is better than nowt. Also, the extra £5 a week rent and the extra deposit will repay all the rest in the coming year, so I will get it all back in the end, so it's not letting her off.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Just look at the plus side of calling all the shots.

                      If she does as you ask; you win

                      If she leaves, then at least it was because you had the guts to stick up for yourself and you can move on without the grief she is causing you that is shortening your valuable life.

                      There is nothing onerous that you are asking. All that stuff is standard in tenancy agreements.

                      If if she leaves she still owes you the amount and you can claim it back through money claim online (I'm no expert here) Thats why you should not let her off half of the arrears as you may want to claim through the court process at some stage.
                      All posts in good faith, but do not rely on them

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                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by westminster View Post
                        Personally, I'd be inclined to call her bluff, give her notice to leave and tell her you intend to issue a county court claim for the arrears....
                        If she disappears owing you money.....
                        I now have her daughter's address. It's a permanent one, a family home with children; it's where Annette lived before she moved in here and it's where she'll have to go if I chuck her out, leastways till she finds somewhere else. Even if she does, any letter sent to her daughter's house would always reach Annette. They are extremely close, the only members of their family in this country (they are white South Africans)

                        Comment


                          #13
                          THANK YOU Bel for your post. I do get your point about pride, guts and assertiveness etc. I guess I am thinking that playing along with her for a few days to see if she does indeed pay me £140 on Thursday (its only 3 days away) would gain me some money. I need money slightly more than I need to feel good about myself. Then I can see if she pays the following Thursday etc, take each week as it comes. Soon as she defaults, then I can take different action. I don't feel able to issue any ultimatums until I see whether or not she defaults on Thursday.

                          Originally posted by Bel View Post
                          you should not let her off half of the arrears as you may want to claim through the court process at some stage.
                          Now THAT is a point that I had not thought of. And it's exactly why I came on here, so people like your good self can point out the flaws in my plans, so THANK YOU for that.... yes, I see now that saying I am "letting her off" (even though in reality I am recouping it another way) weakens my claim in a court.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by Sussexlandlady View Post
                            I need money slightly more than I need to feel good about myself.
                            I like that snippet.

                            You are sounding more balanced now. Good luck.
                            All posts in good faith, but do not rely on them

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                            Comment


                              #15
                              Well I wrote to her last night and said OK pay me £140 this Thursday and every Thursday, adding that it must be on a Thursday and not late, and the full amount, etc, as she will place me in great financial difficulties if she does not keep to this agreement.

                              Now I will wait till Friday morning at the latest (giving the bank a chance to transfer it to my account).

                              I am crossing my fingers now and praying she will pay at least something before I am forced to terminate her (!!!)

                              Still, it's another lesson learned in life: don't be so darned easy-going, understanding, lenient and lackadaisical when dealing with people who are supposed to pay you money. Luckily (almost) none of my other lodgers have taken advantage of my good nature in this way.

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