National Volunteers Week: Running a lettings business with a mission
The Week 1st Junen-7th June marks National Volunteering Week. In this article first published in our award-winning magazine Property, here we shine the spotlight on landlords and partners Sharif Owadally and Nikki Love, who are passionate about running a lettings business that helps vulnerable people turn their lives around, Victoria Barker talks to them about this and their work volunteering in the community.
Landlords Nikki Love and Sharif Owadally have always been committed to helping others, so when they received a call enquiring about flats to house vulnerable people they didn’t think twice.
That was seven years ago and since then they haven’t looked back, with their three blocks of flats in Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taff, South Wales having been home to 30 tenants, including some couples, who had been classed as homeless.
Most of the tenants the couple rent to are low risk offenders* or so-called ‘sofa surfers’ who have just left prison and who are on probation.
And while such tenants may be considered high-risk by many landlords the couple said the decision to get involved was an easy one.
“As I was speaking to the charity, then called the Wallich, now called Pobl on the phone, they explained they had a number of people who were quite vulnerable, looking for somewhere to rent. It was clear to us that there wasn’t a lot of options available to these people, so that’s why we decided to get involved” says Sharif.
And so, their lettings business, with a strong social element was born.
Sharif and Nikki, who are both motivational speakers and keen adventure runners, are the very definition of ‘hands on’ landlords.
Whether it’s popping round to the flats to have a catch up with the tenant and their support worker, helping to create payment plans or even providing paint for tenants to redecorate should they wish, they like to go the extra mile.
“We arrange to visit our tenants together with support workers to ensure they are happy and settled”, says Nikki, adding:
“If the tenant is facing any issues such as rent arrears, they can let us know at those visits and communicate with support workers so we can put a support plan in place.
“Working closely with many co-agencies and probation officers across Gwent and RCT gives both us and the tenant a sense of security as we know tenants can access support if they need it”.
The couple can list countless examples of tenants transforming their lives while living at their flats.
“We once rented to a young lad who was on probation. We got chatting to him and realised he had a passion for DIY and he ended up helping do some painting work in his flat.
“We provided some paint, as we do for all our tenants, and he did a really great job and eventually volunteered to do the whole building. He has since moved on a has his own place now.
“We also had a good relationship with two young people who actually started their relationship while living in a homeless hostel. They moved in together to one of our flats and because they had the freedom to live independently, it was staggering how much their confidence grew.
“They too have now moved on to rent a larger house.
“It is amazing to see how much you can help someone’s rehabilitation by providing them with a place to live.”, says Sharif.
Nikki and Sharif are the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy and there have been challenging tenants but said it has not dulled their enthusiasm for what they do.
“At the end of the day we are a business and not a charity. We have learnt to take the rough with the smooth. We’ll never proclaim to be saints or anything like that, but we know we are doing good where we can”.
It’s not just their tenants’ lives that the couple are having a positive impact on. They also go the extra mile- quite literally - for their community.
In their spare time, Nikki and Sharif swap their lettings for leggings, and take part in charity marathons.
The couple enjoy leading community running groups, and in 2017, Nikki ran 63 marathons in 63 days from John O’Groats to Lands’ End, to raise thousands of pounds for charity. This year, she is embarking on a challenge to run 100 marathons in 100 days.
But, probably their favourite thing to do is to visit primary schools and give assemblies about their adventure runs and marathons around the world, to inspire youngsters to get active.
"As an adventure runner, I like to share what I get up to with the schoolchildren,” says Nikki, “For me it’s all about encouraging them to find their own adventures, and chase their extraordinary, whether that be running or something else altogether.
“We don’t sugarcoat things and tell them about the tough races as well, the times we nearly didn’t finish. The purpose is to explain to them that they achieve anything if they put their minds to it, and that’s definitely a message we want to share with all our tenants as well”.