Private landlords in London link up with humanitarian letting agent

Today, he is a tenant who was helped into private rented accommodation by a lettings agency with a difference.

Real Lettings is a specialist agency which is part of a London-based homeless charity, Broadway.

Ottavio’s life was turned around when Real Lettings accepted him on to its scheme and got him into long-term rental accommodation.

Today, he says: “Having a regular roof over my head means the world to me. With the support and help of Real Lettings I can now go to college and train and strike out in the world again.”

He has now started a course in complementary therapy and has even acquired a cat, Priscilla.

Last year, Broadway helped 4,327 people to make their journey from street to home.

The charity provides a full range of services to help people get accommodation, improve their physical and mental health, gain training and employment and to live successful, independent lives.

Broadway is about helping to provide long-lasting solutions for homeless people. Its remit is about helping people turn around their lives, not just changing immediate situations.

As part of that effort, Real Lettings leases properties from private landlords and then sub-lets them to homeless people, offering landlords guaranteed rent and full management and maintenance cover.

Private landlords

What is in it for landlords? If you choose the totally ‘hands-off’ service just described, benefits include rent paid direct to the landlord, no voids and no letting agency fees.

However, you can opt for a tenant introduction service, which is again feefree.

Furthermore, there is a £500 incentive or a six weeks’ rent deposit, and a free inventory. There is also support for the tenant for eight weeks.

With both types of service, should you require it, there is a mediation service, and all utilities and bills are arranged.

Broadway set up the specialist lettings agency in 2005 in response to the lack of suitable housing available for the 50,000 people across London who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.

Ottavio is one of about 170 tenants currently being helped through Real Lettings scheme which promises to help to reintegrate homeless people into society as well as provide a good deal to landlords.

Phil Spencer, the TV property presenter, has supported the scheme ever since it was established, and says: 

“The beauty of the scheme is that not only does it help the homeless find a place to live, but it can also make sense for landlords from a commercial point of view.

“A standard landlord has to take lots of risks. They have to source a tenant or get a letting agent to do it, paying a hefty commission in the process. They then have to arrange the ongoing servicing of the property, and when the old tenant vacates they often have to redecorate and start the whole process again.

“The joy of Real Lettings is that they guarantee finding a tenant for the long term – say, five years – so there is no chopping and changing.

“They pay a decent rent for the property, which is often higher than what you’d get through a conventional agent once you take away all the charges and hidden costs.

“Best of all, they maintain the property and guarantee to return it in as good a condition as it was let. That’s a pretty good deal for landlords.”

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of Broadway, the charity behind Real Lettings, says:

“From the landlord’s point of view it can be a great deal. They get to lease their property for three to five years, get a guaranteed rent, and get their property back in the same condition they let it.”

Types of property

Most of the properties taken on by Real Lettings are studio or one-bedroom flats, but the agency will rent bigger properties for families.

It currently has properties in 13 London boroughs, but Sinclair’s ambition is to provide homes in all 32 boroughs.

Tenants are supported through the process of moving in, applying for benefits, setting up utilities and paying bills. Then
Real Lettings’ specialist coordinator visits the tenant regularly to make sure they are coping.

Real Lettings is the only lettings service in London offering this type of service to landlords and tenants. Sinclair is now
hoping to increase the numbers of properties to 500.

He says: “Almost all – 95% – of our clients successfully maintain their tenancies, and 88% of the landlords renew their leases – so it is working for everyone.”

Regardless of all the support provided, however, surely it must be a bit nervewracking for landlords to hand over their properties for the first time to someone who was formerly homeless?

Sinclair says landlords should not worry:

“We go through a 19-page assessment to make sure tenants are suitable for Real Lettings. We assess that very carefully and match them with a property. Often if you exceed people’s expectations in terms of the property they get and the behaviour to go with it, they will live up to it.“Also the risk is totally removed from the landlord. Even if a tenant is not successful in their tenancy and moves on, the landlord will continue to receive rent and will not bear the brunt of any of the costs of reletting the property”

Real Lettings landlords are also singing their praises. ‘Kishore’ has a one-bed property in Camberwell and inquired about
the services Real Lettings could offer him. He has now leased his property with Real Lettings for over three years. He says:

“It’s great to be part of such an innovative business initiative. The service has been excellent. The Real Lettings staff are receptive and have a clear understanding of the business market of property lettings.

“Money has always arrived on time and all of the communication that I’ve had with the team has been extremely professional.”

Many landlords are concerned that the new housing benefit reform and changes to Local Housing Allowance will affect the
money they receive. However, there are no such worries for landlords whose properties are let through the Real Lettings scheme.

“We sign a lease with the landlord, meaning their rent income is protected for the full term,” says Sinclair.

“For all new leases we continue to ensure they are competitive. We have completed some in-depth comparison work and were delighted to find that even with the LHA changes, Real Lettings still comes out higher in terms of rent once all the costs of renting privately or through an agent have been deducted”

Real Lettings is looking for landlords and also letting agents who are interested in getting involved in this initiative, whether
it is to provide properties, advice or volunteer to support tenants.

www.reallettings.com or telephone: +44 (0)207 710 0595

HOMELESS FACTS

• The most common cause of homelessness is relationship breakdown.
• The average person is just three pay cheques away from being homeless.
• “People who are homeless are amongst the poorest, most vulnerable and least healthy in society,” (Health Development Agency, Homelessness, Smoking and Health 2004).
• In England tonight, more than 500 people will sleep rough on the streets and a further 50,000 will sleep in hostels for the homeless.
• Homelessness is not a popular cause in the UK. The top three causes donors support are medical research (20%), hospitals and hospices (15%) and children and young people (14%). In contrast, homelessness receives only 4%, which even falls behind animal welfare in popularity.
• For every one homeless person you see sleeping on the streets, there are 100 people living in hostels and 1,100 households living in unsafe, insecure accommodation.

Tenant Case Study

After many years of marriage, Joanne went through a very traumatic divorce. Due to the stress of this, Joanne used alcohol as a coping mechanism and developed a drink problem. Becoming too ill to work, Joanne lost her job and found herself in a mountain of debt, which led to her losing her home.

Joanne was determined to get back to work to resolve her debt problems but found it hard to find work with no fixed address. She was unable to rent a flat privately as she could not afford a deposit. This is where Real Lettings came in.

Real Lettings assessed Joanne to see if she was able to manage a tenancy and pay her bills and then matched her up with a flat. With the one-to-one support of Real Lettings staff, not only did Joanne settle back into her own accommodation but she was also supported in addressing the issues that led her to lose her home in the first place. Joanne has been sober for three years. She is now a lecturer in law and is saving to buy her own home.

She says: “I was in the gutter, and I’ve learnt a lot from being there. I think unless you’ve been there, you don’t appreciate what you have. Now, everything’s wonderful.

I have peace of mind. Without Real Lettings I don’t know where I would have ended up.”

Have your say on this story using the comment section below