Where in the landlord lifecycle are you?

July 28th, 2014

Overlooking something as simple as proper landlord insurance or protecting the tenant’s deposit could mean you face penalty fines or even break the law.

Being a landlord is not easy; there are plenty of laws that govern the private-rented sector and the consequences of not knowing, or understanding them can be disastrous.

Help is at hand from deposit protection experts, mydeposits with a free Landlord Lifecycle ebook.

It explains renting, and how to get it right before, during and at the end of the tenancy, covering key topics:
• Preparing and marketing your property
• Carrying out an inventory and tenant checks
• Getting the right insurance
• Protecting the deposit
• Successfully managing your property
• Dealing with end of tenancy issues

Supported by experienced landlords…
Experienced landlord and contributor to the guide, Richard Blanco says, “I’ve been a landlord for 11 years and have heard countless stories from new landlords who’ve been caught out for not understanding their obligations, what to do or when to do it, so I’ve helped write the Landlord Lifecycle video to pass on my experiences, help others avoid the potential pitfalls and ensure a happy tenancy for all.”

Download your free Landlord Lifecycle ebook here.

This article was contributed by myDeposits.

Answering the call for Housing

June 11th, 2014

This week a couple of SpareRoom staff visited the Shelter helpline, which is run out of an office in central Sheffield. We weren’t sure what to expect, but thought it might be a good idea to find out what they do here – particularly since this year we’ve committed to fundraising £75,000 to support the helpline. What we discovered was inspiring and disturbing in equal measures.

Shelter Helpline Staff

Shelter Helpline Staff

Inspiring team

The room was abuzz with people facing monitors and speaking into headsets – just what you’d expect from a typical call centre. What struck us though, was the professionalism and care with which the team approached their work. Unfazed by the sometimes emotional subject matter of the calls, they had boundless calm and a seriously impressive knowledge base to call upon. In a very unshowy way, they matter-of-factly took their clients through acts of parliament and county court applications as if they were as every day as supermarket shopping or ordering a pizza.

I sat next to Dan* and listened open-mouthed as he carefully listed the options that the caller should explore to get resolution to their housing plight, without referring to notes or aides-memoire, finishing by wishing the client well and hoping it is all resolved quickly. Even if the person on the phone had been in tears or angry, you got the impression he’d have dealt with them in exactly the same composed manner, which resulted in a hearty thank you and a big sigh of relief on the end of the line.

Disturbing issues

Over the course of an hour or so I was privileged to hear how Dan responded to the cases that came through. There was huge variety between the issues that were raised, some more complex than others. By chance, all the callers I heard were female, and I was saddened to hear many of them were suffering from domestic abuse. This had triggered their need to move out of home, and resulted in some alarmingly difficult housing situations for these women and their families.

Debbie* needed advice on how to move into a new home, when she didn’t have the means to scrabble together a deposit. Her daughter was doing GCSEs and had self-harmed in the past. She was pregnant and had no partner.

Quoting the Children Act, Dan advised Debbie on how to access help from Social Services to get temporary accommodation for her and her children, and how to search for grants or access credit unions that could help her with the deposit she needs to find stable accommodation in the private rented sector.

Astrid* from Nottinghamshire was living in a refuge with her kids after suffering domestic violence. She had been in secure social housing but had to move out and needed to know what her options were next. Dan showed his incredible knowledge on everything from domestic abuse to credit issues, all of which have an impact on homelessness and housing issues.

Vivian* from Northumberland called about a dispute with her landlord and letting agency, who were trying to charge her rent for a house she’d served notice on, moved out of, and handed the keys back for months ago. Worried she’d never get her deposit back, as well as being charged £450 a month for the rest of the year for a place she was no longer living in, she couldn’t afford legal advice and had turned to Shelter for urgent help. She ended the call confident that she had the facts on her side and knew what to do next. In fact the agent and landlord had overplayed their hand. Their lack of attention to detail meant she could claim up to 3 times the deposit amount. It might not need to come to that, and she was sure she’d be able to get an amicable resolution, thanks to Shelter’s advice.

Jean* from London had a complicated question that involved domestic abuse and manipulation by her former partner, young children in school, and issues around secure tenancies and the private rented sector. Being unaware of her rights and responsibilities until now, she had got herself into a tricky situation where she could potentially become homeless. Dan consulted his supervisor on this one, as it was a very complicated mix of issues, before calmly explaining the pros and cons of each of her options, and leaving her to mull it over.

“What are the most important qualities a Shelter helpline advisor should have?” I asked him. “Patience and empathy are so important, not just having the information at your fingertips. Staying calm even if the caller is in distress,” he replied.

What was clear to me after listening to a number of these calls is how crucial it is that Shelter can offer clear impartial advice to anyone in housing need. Whether it’s someone facing eviction immediately, or struggling to get a fair solution from their landlord or agent, Shelter can help put them on the right track. There’s also a Helpline Plus team that can take on complex cases and take them through to their legal conclusion. All the work is funded by individual donors and corporate fundraising. The helpline is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, weekdays until 8pm and weekends until 5pm.

Andrea, the Helpline Operations Manager told us how they recruit for aptitude and attitude – the team members don’t have a legal background or in depth knowledge of housing before they start. “It’s such a fulfilling job,” she says, “they really feel good about what they do”. They take 3 months to train before they even answer a phone. Last year they responded to 112,563 calls for help, up from 85,000 the previous year. But they’re only able to respond to 60% of calls and need to recruit, train and pay for more staff to fulfill demand for the service. The average call length is 23 minutes, during which time the advisor diagnoses the problem, and gives advice or next steps, referring the caller to a Shelter solicitor if necessary.

If there’s one message the Shelter helpline team wish they could get across to everyone, it’s “Know your housing rights”. Whether you’re a homeowner, a tenant, a lodger or a landlord, you never know when you may need them. You can always find out more about your housing rights and responsibilities on the SpareRoom and Shelter websites.

Can you spare £1 to help keep the helpline open, to allow Dan or his colleagues to spend a minute on a call to someone facing serious housing issues? Please donate to our HomesForGood campaign. Every penny goes to the Shelter helpline.

* All of the names in this piece have been changed to protect the identity and privacy of those involved.

A million thanks…

May 21st, 2014

We recently reached another little milestone we’re quietly pretty pleased about – 4 million registered users. A big thank you to everyone who’s registered to use our services over the last decade, and for helping to make us the nation’s favourite flatshare website.

Yes, it’s been ten years since we started – SpareRoom was launched on 1st April 2004 and the rest is history.

We celebrated our decennial with a little style and lots of cocktails at a bar in Manchester in late April. It was fantastic to see how much the company has grown, and how committed to the cause everyone who works here is. We just can’t help wanting to make flatsharing better.

Happy Birthday SpareRoom and here’s to the next 4 million people joining the flatshare community!

10th Birthday cake

The crazy things we do to raise money for Shelter

March 4th, 2014

When we first started talking about forming a partnership with Shelter our staff got very excited, coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas to raise money for the housing and homeless charity. Keen to show a personal commitment, alongside the donations the company will be making to match the generosity of our customers, everyone at SpareRoom is planning their own personal way of adding to the fundraising effort. We’ll be filling you in on the ups and downs of our efforts along the way. Here’s the first of the stories.

Our Head of Marketing, Sam Cowen, led the way by signing up for a challenge that would strike uncontrollable fear in the minds of lesser mortals. A keen snowboarder and wakeboarder, Sam’s been learning to kitesurf for the last few summers and is now finally at the stage where’s she’s “no longer a total liability”, in her own words. Along came a challenge she couldn’t refuse – she’d heard that a bunch of kitesurfers were planning to beat a world record, kitesurfing along the South Coast of England, and raising money for charity at the same time. The Big Charity Downwinder was being organised by pro Kitesurfer Lewis Crathern (he of the insane Worthing Pier and Brighton Pier jumps – Sam was entrusting her life to this madman?!?) and by youth charity Snowcamp, and also planned to raise money for the RNLI, but Sam also wanted to raise money for Shelter at the same time, so her fundraising would be split three ways.

Called a “downwinder” the event was unusual, as most beginner kitesurfers spend all their time trying their best to kitesurf upwind, and now suddenly they were being required to do the opposite. The total course length was an exhausting 46 miles, split up into 3 legs. Sam was planning to ride from Hayling Island, the start point, to Pagham, the first third of the journey. Having never kited beyond her home beach and off down the coast before, Sam figured that would be a sizeable challenge, and she’d leave the full 46 mile downwinder to the experts.

Prior to the day of the challenge, excitement was building, amid news that Sir Richard Branson would be joining the intrepid kitesurfers in their record breaking attempt. Virgin were now sponsoring the challenge, paying for all the safety boats and GPS equipment necessary, which meant all of the money raised would now go straight to charity. The event had in fact been renamed the Virgin Kitesurf Armada, and the date of the challenge was set for Sunday 15th September. And then a major storm was forecast. You guessed it – Sam and her fellow kitesurfers would be battling these galeforce winds in the name of charity fundraising.

Here’s Sam’s report of what happened on the day of the challenge:

“We set off to the South Coast in glorious sunshine then waited for the wind to pick up. Branson went out first on a 16m kite but by the time I launched nearly 2 hours later, it was gusting over 40knots and I launched my 9m kite with trepidation. The first mile was fine and then the water got choppier and choppier, a sea of moguls moving in front of me, snatching my board off my feet 8 times. I made it as far as East Wittering before I had to call it a day. But we’d broken the world record – with 318 kiters consecutively kiting in the mile at Hayling Island, and I’m enormously proud to have been part of that. Amazingly some of my friends made it to Pagham, and an elite few as far as Lancing – the whole 46 miles (they did set off when conditions were less challenging but it was still nasty conditions when they got there!).”

Well done Sam, for battling wind and waves, and making it safely back to shore! Her name has joined the others in the Guiness Book of Records, for the largest parade of kitesurfers, and she raised over £1000 for charity.

Sam - at Hayling Island before the challenge

Sam - showing her support for Shelter - at Hayling Island before the challenge

Sam with some kitesurf friends, and a certain Mr. Branson.

Sam with some kitesurf friends, and a certain Mr. Branson.

SpareRoom’s new partnership with Shelter

March 3rd, 2014

Homes for Good

Today sees the launch of a new partnership between SpareRoom and Raise the Roof’s main supporter Shelter. We’ve pledged to raise £75,000 a year to help fund Shelter’s free advice line, through a combination of SpareRoom donations, staff fundraising and contributions from our 3.8 million users.

Find out more about Homes for Good and why we’re keen to support Shelter in their work.

Our Homes for Good campaign is launched

February 28th, 2014

This week marks the official start of SpareRoom’s partnership with Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity. Today we launch our Homes for Good campaign, to raise awareness of the amazing work Shelter does to help people facing homelessness and living in poor housing conditions, and to raise money to keep the Shelter helpline open.

We think nobody should have to live in poor or unsuitable housing. Whilst we help thousands of people every year find suitable and affordable quality accommodation, there are thousands in the UK who are at risk of eviction, or living in dangerous conditions, and who need Shelter’s support.

We’d like to do more to help, and we’d like to get you involved too. So over the next few months we’ll be blogging about our efforts to raise money for the Homes for Good campaign, to keep the Shelter helpline open. We’ll be matching your donations, and doing a few crazy fundraising challenges ourselves to show our commitment to the cause. If you can donate just a few pounds, that could mean for someone the difference between keeping their home and losing it. How to donate

Read more about why we’re supporting Shelter, here.

Homes for Good

Landlords: Researching a new property? Start here

November 28th, 2013

If you’re a landlord who’s thinking of investing in additional properties, you need to do your research. There are lots of property related websites where you can enter the postcode of a place you’re interested in buying, to get related data, but you won’t get all the information you need from a single source.

Until now. Our friends at Property118 have built this handy tool to search across multiple sources, to give you the information you need to base a decision on. The beauty of it is, you only have to enter one postcode. And it’s free.

In one single step you can look at information sourced from the three major property sites – RightMove, Zoopla, and of course, SpareRoom, together with information on planning applications, local crime rates, LHA rates and more.

You can use it now – here!

UK Property Research Tool
What you need to know and where to find the information

Making fees transparent

November 5th, 2013

For many tenants they are the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and the bane of their rental lives. Fees are a contentious subject, though, and ask any lettings agent and they’ll probably tell you it’s essential to be able to cover their costs. Fees have been banned in Scotland for a while and there’s an argument that says if agents and landlords can’t charge fees, then they will just charge higher rents, and there’s some evidence of this happening already in Scotland.

Whether fees are charged for admin, tenant referencing or drawing up a contract, it’s only fair that the tenant should know how much they’ll be expecting to shell out, in advance of making a commitment. The biggest single problem with fees has been the tendency for them to raise their ugly heads only at the last minute, when the tenant has already given notice on their current place, and it’s too late to back out. Stories of agents deciding to disclose the fact that there are hundreds of pounds to pay in fees, on the day of moving, before handing over the keys, are only too common.

So it’s a universally good thing that fees now have to be transparent. The recent CAP ruling came into force on 1st November and means that any party charging a fee to tenants (be that landlords or letting agents) must disclose them right from the start. That means the amount to be charged and what they cover must form part of every property advert. Tenants will now know from the start what they can expect to have to pay, before committing to a rental.

Room ads will be subject to the CAP ruling just as much as whole property ads. From now on, any landlord or letting agent advertising a room on SpareRoom will be asked to disclose the fees at the point of advertising. There’s a new tickbox to show that fees apply, and further details should be outlined (what the fees are for, and how much they typically will cost a tenant) in the ad details section.

Here’s to a new era of transparency, which should mean no more nasty surprises for unsuspecting tenants.

Why we’re supporting Shelter with our Homes for Good campaign

July 26th, 2013

This week we announced SpareRoom’s forthcoming partnership with Shelter and our Homes for Good campaign, committing to raise £75,000 a year for the charity. Why are we doing this?

In the nine years since SpareRoom launched we’ve seen the difficulties people go through to find somewhere to live or someone to share with. As a result we’ve developed a range of information and advice services to help with issues such as taking in a lodger, HMO regulations and Tenancy Deposit Schemes. We also launched our Raise the Roof campaign in 2009 to lobby government for an increase to the Rent a Room Scheme tax threshold. Why? because we believe it’s important for us to engage with the issues that most affect our users.

We want to do more though, so SpareRoom has committed to raising £75,000 this year to help Shelter with their vital work. We’re planning to get there with the help of contributions from our users and staff fundraising efforts, as well as matching your donations with our own contribution to the cause.

Shelter works tirelessly to help people in poor housing or facing homelessness, and this money will go towards keeping their free advice lines open.
The Shelter Helpline is open 365 days a year, from Monday – Friday 8am – 8pm and Saturday and Sunday 8am – 5pm. Your donation of just £1 could pay for one minute of invaluable advice for someone facing homelessness or unsuitable living conditions. You could be helping someone like Ben.

Ben’s story
Ben was a teenager when his parents split up. They moved in with new partners and neither wanted to take responsibility for him. Neither his mum or dad would sign the forms to help Ben access funding to carry on his education – this meant he had no choice but to leave school. He had no job, no money, no home. Aged just seventeen Ben found himself on the streets.

He went to his local council for help and they suggested he stay with friends. For the next seven months Ben did just that – moving from one friend’s sofa to another. All the time he continued to ask the council for help and was told they were investigating his homelessness application.

The day before his 18th birthday, Ben got a letter from the council. The letter told him that he met all the criteria to be found a new home, except ‘priority need’. Priority need applies to the elderly, pregnant women or people with children, those who are vulnerable including physical and mental disabilities and young people still classified as children (under 18s).

Not knowing what to do next and having outstayed his welcome with friends Ben called Shelter’s Helpline. Shelter discussed Ben’s options with him and provided him with a list of local hostels and day centres where he could eat, wash, and change his clothes. They also referred him to their local Advice Centre in London for more in-depth and face-to-face support. They challenged the council’s decision (based on Ben’s age at the time of his application). In the meantime, they referred Ben to the job centre to explore what support he was eligible for. He continued to live, on and off, with friends and on the streets.

Shelter continued to fight on Ben’s behalf and finally, three months later, the Council agreed to find Ben somewhere to live. With Shelter’s help, Ben was finally able to settle down in a safe and secure home from which to start taking positive steps in his life again.

Campaigning for a better private rented sector

Homes for Good isn’t just about raising money – it’s also about raising awareness. By engaging with issues affecting all sides of the private rented sector we hope to generate debate and raise the profile of shared living in the UK. Sharing is more important than ever right now and we want to see that reflected in the way housing policy is formed.

We’re aware Shelter is outspoken in its campaigning and this sometimes causes concern amongst landlords, who see Shelter as anti-landlord. SpareRoom believes that the majority of landlords work hard to provide a good service to their tenants and it’s the minority of bad landlords who need to be dealt with. By engaging with Shelter we aim to address the needs of everyone, landlords and tenants alike and, together, make renting better for everyone.

Shelter charity number England & Wales: 263710 Scotland: SC002327

How to find flatmates to ‘banter’ with

July 3rd, 2013

One of the delights with a website as large and complex as SpareRoom is that it’s often our customers who show us interesting ways to use it that we’d never thought of, but that really strike a chord with other users.

Case in point: Map search. It’s been on the site for a while, and once we launched it we didn’t really have much to say about it. It works, showing rooms on a map rather than in a list, so you can make a beeline for ones in the precise area you’re looking in, much more easily. Beyond that we really didn’t think it would rock anyone’s world.

Until @nickw84 tweeted a link to a map search he’d created, which showed a spark of genius. He’s used SpareRoom’s map search to show all the rooms in London which included the term ‘banter’ in the ad, which seem to cluster around South West London. So whether you love a bit of banter between flatmates, or this kind of thing fills you with abject horror, you can quickly identify parts of London to head for or avoid.

Flatshares which include banter in the description

Nick’s tweet went viral yesterday, and appeared in an article about online trends in The Independent this morning. Since then, people have got busy creating flatshare maps of vino drinkers, “LOL” users and those who are anal about cleaning – apparently these are rarer the further north you go. Why not create a flatshare map of your own? Use the advanced search tool on SpareRoom to search by keyword in an area of the UK, and then show results on a map, and share with the world! You never know what insights it may lead to.