Mediation

Linking with landlords: Interview with Aisha

Linking with landlords: Interview with Aisha

At the start of our second year in Southwark supporting private tenants at risk with holistic housing and legal support, we added a new role to the team. Our Housing Link Worker, Aisha, tells us more about how it works.

Q. Can you tell me a bit about the work you deliver and your role on the project?

As a Housing Link Worker, it’s my job to mediate between landlords and tenants to see if I can strengthen an existing relationship to sustain the tenancy, or where someone’s tenancy cannot be sustained, to network and reach out to new landlords and agents and build relationships with them to accept new tenants.

Q. Can you tell me about some mediation you have done with a client and landlord?

Recently, I mediated with a landlord who was taking their tenant to court to evict. The tenant had been issued a notice but at that point was refusing to leave, so I visited them at home to find out more. The client was really upset; they felt the landlord had been harassing her. The tenant had had little contact with the Council, and the landlord also didn’t know what was going on. There were no arrears either – the landlord was entitled to the property back, but the tenant had no-where to go. While I was at the house, I called landlord and introduced myself. I let them speak for a while and explained what I could do to support them both. This calmed them down a lot, and said ‘OK, I won’t come over again tomorrow and I’ll leave it in your hands’.

Since then, opportunities for tenancies have come up and fallen through. The landlords calls and messages quite regularly, to find out what the tenant is doing in terms of moving on. Often tenants don’t update them because so much mistrust has built over time. The landlord thinks the worst, that the tenant is not doing anything. I will get in touch with then to let them know what viewings are coming up, what the tenants are up to, and it eases their mind.

‘Thank you, it was just nice to be able to have someone to talk to when everyone was making me out to be a bad landlord, in fact, I wasn’t getting paid the rent putting me in financial trouble, I appreciate having someone to listen to me and help get me get answers.’

Most of the landlords I’ve worked with just want to be heard. Sometimes they complain they don’t have support themselves from other service or the Council, and that sometimes the advice they give to tenant contradicts what’s right for them. Not all of them have it easy. One landlord was badly affected by Covid; she had reduced rent for tenant so they could keep up with payments, but she lost her job and so became dependent on rent as her only source of income and had to pursue eviction as a result. When it comes to paying off arrears, for example, many landlords are willing to give it some time while we apply for benefits, DHPs and other things to improve incomes. Then we can negotiate repayments in way that is affordable for the tenant and the landlord can trust the process.

Q. You came into a new role in the team in a position we hadn’t had before, the Housing Link Worker. We realized that we needed good relationships with landlords and were able to find suitable properties for our clients. How was it starting off in a completely new role?

What attracted me was the job description, because of experience in the kind of thing, so I wasn’t intimidated initially. But it was quite daunting starting out as it was up to me to start building connections and relationships with agents and landlords in the borough. The first few months were tough! And its hard when tenants have knockbacks – one client called me this week after being turned down by a landlord and she was devastated, and I know how hard it’s been for her.

Q. It can be difficult finding landlords with who are willing to rent to tenants who are low income. What kind of responses do you get from new landlords when you first approach them with a client?

We do work with landlords who rent specifically to tenants referred via the council and so have a longer experience of doing so. But whether they are experienced or not, often its all about relationship building and trust.

One landlord we now work with will take on any client we bring because he trusts what we are doing. They key is once we’ve housed someone with them, they feel more comfortable with new tenants we bring to them. I will often coach tenant before viewings, just to make sure they present the best of themselves.

There are landlords that prefer to deal with myself because of my relationship with the Council and the incentive scheme. We can discuss the administrative side of things, go through tenancy agreements, set up Universal Credit, all of that. For example, some tenants get stressed moving from, say, ESA to UC. Most landlords insist that they have UC, so I can say that I am going to sit down with them and make sure it is all set up properly and this eases their minds.

‘They are both absolutely excellent. They are balanced, honest, friendly, reliable and kind. They respect confidentiality, clearly know the legal and ethical aspects of their role and deal with challenges in a mature way. It’s really obvious that they care about their work and want to do their best. Even if this particular tenant situation does not come to any resolution without legal proceedings, it does not detract from their exceptional attitude and energy in trying to move this on.’

But when it comes to incentives, I’ve had to be quite headstrong negotiating as there are landlords who are aware they can receive competing offers from other Councils. But we try to take advantage of this for the tenant. If the rent is affordable for them, I’ll check in with the Housing officer as to how can be offered. The landlord almost always asks for more, so I’ve begun to negotiate longer tenancies in return, to guarantee that there is more security. So I have got a few 24 months tenancies for clients, at rent that is affordable for them, and we know they will be stable for at least a couple of years. Its about convincing everyone that the terms are right for them.

Q. It’s been hard work by the sounds of it – but are you feeling proud of what you’ve been able to achieve?

Yes! Finally housing a number of clients within the last couple of months has felt great. Particularly one that I’ve worked with for 6 months, who had been in temporary accommodation after being evicted and who has just moved in this week. There have been so many knock backs in that time, and it’s been hard for her and hard for me too. We’ve gone on a real journey together.

Also, building relationships with landlords and bringing them into our fold is something I’m really proud of. I always get excited when I see a text or email from landlords saying we’ve got these properties, or they call me and tell me the properties they got! Its feels like we’re building new possibilities in the borough for renters, and it great to be a part of it.

Posted by kineara in Community, Health and Wellbeing, Housing