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INTERVIEW: The pioneering private landlord with a social purpose

lorraine thomas landlrd

Private landlords as a group are often portrayed unfairly by some housing campaigners as greedy, concerned only with raising rents and increasing profits.

But in general, this is not true. There are many landlords who have social purpose to their rentals whether it be simply restricting rent rises or at the other end of the scale direclty helping those in need of affordable accommodation find somewhere decent to live.

Lorraine Thomas (main picture) has been doing the latter now for at least seven years in London via her business View From My Window.

Her firm is both a landlord and developer offering affordable homes to both those on benefits but also first time buyers and also providing property investment mentoring and coaching to young people a few of which are, or have been, her tenants.

But while there are dozens of mentoring companies like this operating within the housing market, Lorraine’s approach for the whole business was born out of a desire to do more than just help people make money.

Big change

It all started when back in the noughties she was working as a law firm in the City and then her father became ill and she decided to quit her job and help care for him.

“The issue was - how was I was going go from a big salary to almost nothing,” she says. “I thought – is this going to be my life from now?”

Then a friend emailed her to ask if she’d be interested in helping young people being looked after by the local authority to find accommodation and, after having spent six hard months looking after her father, took up the offer of earning some money and working two days a week.

Lorraine says it turned out she was good at persuading private landlords to take higher-risk tenants by getting them to buy into helping young people – but they often wanted rent up front and the properties were not ideal.

“So I thought, we can do this better ourselves and, with money from my father as an early inheritance, bought our first property at auction,” she says.

“We made every mistake possible, but it was a good learning curve

“We made every mistake possible, but it was a good learning curve and that’s where we source all our properties now – which we then do up and then rent to young or disadvantaged people, most of whom are from the local black community.”

Many of her tenants are on benefits fully or partially or just “working three jobs” to survive but, although she acknowledges it can be a difficult market to operate within, she recounts how when her parents arrived in the UK with little money, someone gave them a chance to better themselves and she wants that legacy to continue.

“While like many smaller landlords at the moment we’re facing a tough economic environment, our purpose is strong,” she says.

“The idea is that people aspire to much bigger things whatever their circumstances, and all they need to achieve those aims is to have a decent roof over their head where mushrooms aren’t growing off the walls or the radiator isn’t hanging loose, for example.

“They need someone to trust them and we do, even though often they are not able to pay a deposit - but can spread it over a few months - and the rent they pay is less than the market rate.

Given a chance

“What we ask in return is for them  to consider that they’ve been given a chance, and therefore to do something with that.”

Lorraine says people, when given this chance, “push through” to make their lives better and a few have joined her mentoring programme to become property investors.

“The idea behind that is that it helps them get on their feet financially but also the hope is a little bit of our social purpose rubs off on them too,” she adds.

But to grow the business faster and help more people, Lorraine says she needs more people like her to buy into the idea of landlording with purpose and she is looking for landlords and investors to join her in this journey, saying those who already have are attracted by its more altruistic aims, whether they are established or not financially.


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