Some Neighbourly Advice from Leeds’ ‘Best Small Landlord’

From finding a student house ruled by a ferret to secret bedroom stashes, we chatted with Leeds’ ‘Best Small Landlord’ about housing advice and what he really thinks of students.

The distribution of student houses in Leeds is well underway, with most of (if not all) the best ones already gone.

Steve and Carol Rowley run their own private landlord agency called Lingard Bell Ltd. – and they’re so good at it they’ve won ‘Best Small Landlord of the Year’ for two years running, as well as being runners up in the ‘Best House’ and ‘Best Deal’ categories.

We spoke to Steve to get some advice on how to handle the (potentially) horribly frustrating task of finding a house and got him to dish the dirt

Who wouldn’t want this pair as landlords?

Steve, how long have you been a landlord for?

Full Time, 13 years, but as a family business, 53 years.

Any advice to students looking for houses (either late or early)?

Looking early you’ll be more likely to find a big house. There are not as many big houses around (8 bedrooms and above) so they get snapped up earliest. Most of our larger houses go in November/December time!

When it comes to the Unipol start-date towards the end of January there are not as many large houses left, which is a shame for those students who’ve waited for the Unipol listings to come out only to discover that the majority of the 8, 10 or 12 bedroom houses have already been let.

Unipol are very good at what they do, but they need to adapt the message. If you are looking for a larger house, start looking earlier, as long as the landlord/agent is Unipol accredited.

Weirdest story from your years as a landlord?

Every year at the end of the summer term when we’re clearing our properties and flipping beds there’ll be an accumulation of used tissues, or the odd forgotten sex toy still lying around. The hardest thing is trying to find where to get rid of them!

How do you know if something is dodgy (landlord or property)?

If you go into a property and suddenly smell fresh paint, it is likely landlords or agencies could well be trying to cover something up. Or, perhaps, if the landlord/agent won’t allow you to talk to the current tenants in the house. Again, this could well be the case that there is something to hide, or perhaps the students may feel intimidated talking to the prospective viewing tenants with the landlord standing next to them.

If you like the house, go back without a landlord or agent and talk to the students currently living there. A good landlord will let you take the contract away to be checked out with the Student Unions/Unipol contract checking services before you sign.

Headingley or Hyde Park?

Depends what you want! Hyde Park now is about £10 a week dearer, and Headingley properties are having their rent reduced to attract students back. As a company, we (Lingard Bell) prefer Hyde Park, as that’s what we really know.

We have one house in Headingley and it is our hardest house to rent at the moment. It’s all cyclical though – in two-to-three years time Headingley could be buzzing again, especially since there is a Nando’s coming!”

What do you think is the fairest way to distribute rooms?

If there is one tenant who has done all the hard work, I believe that they should get the first choice of room. Or, ask the landlord if there are any cheaper rooms in the house –  it may be easier to divide rooms up by necessity first.

This also applies if there are one or two smaller rooms in a house (single rooms etc) – ask the landlord to discount the smaller rooms. Once those equations are out of the way, then names out of a hat!

Favorite pub?

The Royal Park, it’s my second office!

How would you go about finding private letting agents, and how can you tell if they’re safe?

The Unipol website is probably the best way of finding private landlords, as they are all listed there. But the best way to check if they are safe and trustworthy is simply to go back to the house and ask the current tenant what the landlord is really like.

Try to go with a Unipol code landlord as then you will have the support of Unipol if you have any problems.  Look for the thumbs-up logo for Unipol code landlords.

Any horrifying house stories?

A few years ago, in one of our ten-bed houses, the group went home for Christmas leaving a ferret in the house. For four weeks this ferret had rule of the house, with little food bowls in every room for it.

So when I went in to do the Christmas check (seeing if the house was secure etc), I opened the door to be faced with this ferret. We had to get the RSPCA in to catch it!

What do you really think of students?

Love them, absolutely love them. Students aren’t just tenants, I get to know them. It’ll take me all year, but I’ll learn everybody’s names and I get to know them as individuals. I really believe I have the best job in the world.


With that, Steve thanked me for the coffee and hopped in his car, apparently off to one of his other properties where he was installing a new ‘thank-you bathroom’ for a group of students that have been his tenants for 3 years.

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