Regular readers of this blog will all know our regular guest blogger, Ben Reeve-Lewis. Now you can find out a bit more about him. Here is his story.
1. Please introduce yourself. Say a bit about yourself and your company
I am a number of things. All housing related. I work with landlord and tenant law on a variety of fronts. Defending people in court in possession proceedings brought by their banks for mortgage arrears and dealing with landlord harassment cases and prosecuting cases of illegal eviction.
I also work as a trainer of landlord tenant law to housing advisers, lawyers etc., marking course work for housing law diplomas for the Chartered Institute of Housing and have recently signed up for a franchise with the new model of letting agency HomeXperts Ltd. Poacher turned game-keeper you might say.
2. How did you first become involved in property?
Haha. In a very weird way. I began my housing life sorting out fights in a 1,200 bed direct access night shelter in Peckham, South London, called “The Camberwell Spike”. George Orwell stayed there and wrote about it in “Down and Out in Paris and London”. Huge dormitories that held 40 men in a building designed by the man who built Dartmoor Prison, It was a workhouse in 1820 and hadn’t changed a bit in 180 years. I learned a lot about the root of housing problems there.
3. What do you think is your greatest achievement so far?
Two things. Saving countless people from eviction by their mortgage lenders during the past 18 months and training refugees to get involved in housing work.
What I have learned is that there is very little difference between a broken nosed rogue landlord wielding a baseball bat to get possession of their property, and a bank and its lawyers. Give me a rogue landlord anytime, the latter are doing the same thing but hiding behind the law to do it.
I am involved in teaching and tutoring the Reach-In Project, a joint initiative between the Chartered Institute of Housing and HACT. Mentoring refugees through the CIH Level 3 housing law diploma and getting them into housing jobs where they can use their experience and perspectives to really make a difference in housing.
4. Do you or your company have any exciting plans for the future?
Oh yeah. I have taken my expertise into accommodation agency work through the HomeXperts Franchise group.. I am constantly appalled at the level of knowledge and service offered to landlords and tenants by incompetent and unknowledgeable accommodation agents. My aim is to be an honest, transparent and skilled agency that works for everyone, and every single thing I do is By – The-Book.
I am also about to launch a new report telling people in mortgage arrears how to fight mortgage lenders at their own game and save their home. Teaching people how to fight the banks and win. The stuff I have learned through countless court appearances.
5. What do you think are the greatest problems facing the private rented sector today?
The proposed changes to Housing benefit regulations. Things are going to get very difficult for landlords and tenants past April 2011. Caps to benefit levels, the increase in age limit for the single room reference to 35 years of age, meaning any benefit claimant will be stuck renting a single room until almost middle age.
Benefit levels being cut by 10% every 12 months. Landlords will get hit by this and totally dis-incentivised to let to benefit claimant. Where will they go? Back to the 40 bed dormitories at the Camberwell Spike probably!
6. What do you think are the greatest opportunities?
Believe it or not I am a firm believer in the idea that the more we are restricted by circumstance the more creative we become. When I first started out in housing we said there was a housing crisis and there still is, but people continue to get by. Bring it on I say. It is in the area of the biggest problems that our opportunities lay. I have heard that the Chinese use the same pictogram for ‘Crisis’ as they use for ‘Opportunity’, that makes sense to me.
7. We have a new government. What would you like them to do for the private rented sector?
I have a firm view on that…..bring in compulsory licencing for accommodation agents. They are supposed to be housing professionals and yet they repeatedly act unprofessionally, even dropping their clients in the s**t and leaving them open to huge awards of damages (Deposit protection anyone?) and criminal prosecution. All because most of them are as clueless as ‘Dave down the pub’. There should be a law against them.
8. Do you use social media (blogs, twitter, LinkedIn etc)? What place do you think it has in the future of the property industry?
Absolutely. I hate all of it, but it is where things are at. It doesn’t make any sense to be King Canute in these matters hahaha
9. What is the most important lesson you have learned during your time in property?
If you are a landlord, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is just about rental income, numbers on a tally sheet.. You have to be part landlord, part social worker. It is good money but it isn’t necessarily easy money.
When you give a set of keys to anyone you are into a relationship with them. The laws surrounding letting properties are stupidly complicated and if you get it wrong you are probably committing a criminal offence. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Look for a different way to make money.
If you are a tenant reading this. PAY YOUR BLOODY RENT ON TIME, YOUR LANDLORD HAS A MORTGAGE TO PAY.
10. What advice would you have to someone thinking of entering the property industry today?
It is an an excellent way to invest. There is always money to be made from property. Don’t expect it to go easy though. Talk to your tenants; build a relationship with them, tenants become part of your life, not just a page on your bank statement.
Thanks for that Ben, and I think many of us will agree with what you say, particularly about licensing letting agents.
If you want to hear more from Ben, tune in every Friday to read TRO Confidential.
PS Ben now has a website with help on mortgage repossession with some free downloads and a kit you can purchase if you are having problems with your bank or mortgage company.