Each to their Own – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #5

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

Each to their Own – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #5

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Each to their Own – Don’t Shoot the Messenger #5

When a tenant has a beef with their landlord, I’m the guy they go to. My job is to either negotiate or prosecute, depending on the circumstances. This occasional and random series aims to let landlords know the common complaints that are made about them, the laws that cover them and how to deal with it.

My landlord complains about the way I keep the place.

I’m going to break from the legal aspect of common tenant’s complaints this time and go into a far more nebulous area. The realm of personality traits and temperament. By which I mean the personality traits and temperaments of landlords.

Let’s get down to basics. There are 2 terms used in the lettings business these days, Rogue landlords and Tenants from Hell. Most tenants are fine but even 1 single tenant from hell can create misery for so many. Not just the landlord but the neighbours as well.

I was a landlord once. I got messed around by a tenant who was a friend of a friend who I did a favour for and as you would expect it left a bad taste in my mouth. She lived imprudently and irresponsibly and then tried to make all her problems out to be mine.

Sound familiar?

Bad tenants are an occupational hazard of the landlording business. Thankfully, I’m sure most of you agree they aren’t routine but 1 bad one can make you feel like all tenants are like that. Similarly, most landlords are fine but one rogue can colour people’s attitudes so that they lump all landlords in together.

My question for you here is, what temperament do you need to survive and thrive as a landlord?

We all have our personal leanings. I would love to earn the money that an accountant makes but I don’t have the temperament for it. It’s too sedentary an existence and far too procedural to ever make me happy.

I am a housing law trainer and I love it. The different dynamics and personality types I have to deal with on a course and the fact that every group is unknown territory and you have to think on your feet ideally suits my temperament, whereas most people I know faint at the thought of standing up in front of a group of strangers.

I don’t knock anyone’s passion for dealing with property, nor their desire to make money from the endeavour, fair play to you all but I regularly see landlords who simply aren’t temperamentally suited for it, and who have a miserable time. I could presume that it was just the business of landlording that gets to them if it wasn’t for the fact that I also know landlords who sail through the process with a smile on their face.

It doesn’t mean that they don’t get fed up some times or feel like they’ve been used but they bounce back quickly and shrug their shoulders about the experience.

This comes to me in the form of complaints from tenants that their landlord won’t leave them alone and when I call the landlords they are at their wits end because maybe the property they are renting out was once the family home and they are broken hearted that their tenant isn’t as clean and tidy as they would like them to be.

Do you remember House Doctor with Anne Maurice? Or Sarah Beeny’s property developer show on TV? The drama in both programmes was centred on the project going pear-shaped because of the client’s inability to step back from things, to de-personalise what they were doing.

Every landlord experiences problems with tenants at some time or other but the happiest landlords don’t take it personally, some even manage to maintain some affection for their worst offenders. I have recently come across this wonderful lady who I am a big fan of “HMO Landlady” and her funny, world-wise HMOLandlady blog.

I can’t remember the last time I received a complaint of harassment made against a portfolio landlord with more than 5 properties and I think that this is because for them it really is just business, they don’t take the actions of their tenants personally.

I don’t say these people are necessarily better landlords, just happier and more relaxed ones.

Last week I sat on a garden wall chatting to a landlord whose tenant, with our help, had taken an injunction out against him. He told me that we had gotten involved the year before in advising one of his other tenants that his notice was defective. He estimated the delay cost him £6,000. I shook my head and said “Wow, you must love us” and he laughed and replied “Well put it this way, you won’t be getting a Christmas card, or if you do….don’t open it”. We both laughed and chatted for an hour.

Now do you know what? I would happily recommend that landlord to anyone. But why? I hear you say. Injunctions? Defective notices? That’s just stuff that can be corrected. His tenant is bound to lose the injunction hearing anyway and I gave him my personal number so that when he next serves a notice he runs it by me first to stop this happening in the future. I intend to keep the guy in my little mental list of good local landlords.

It is his attitude that I like. He didn’t punch me, he laughed, appreciating that I have a job to do and he is able to shrug about the crap his tenants throw his way as just being part of his job. That is a rare skill and a happy landlord makes for happy tenants. That’s what I want, happy landlords and happy tenants, not pointless bloody prosecution statistics.

Listen, this is the best wisdom I have for you.

If you know that one day you will look back and laugh about all this, why not laugh now and save time?


Mary Latham

7 years ago

Every landlord should plan to write a book. It is not important whether (s)he actually writes it or not what is important is that (s)he will begin to see every experience as a part of the story of a landlord. When a tenant gives me problems I always tell them "it will all be in the book". I have been asked if I will name them and I always say "of course" and laugh. Little do they know I have names of my own for them. hahahahaha

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

I think many people are attracted to landlording for the prospect of what is perceived to be easy mony and the hoary old idea about 'Safe as houses'. And property is a relatively safe bet. But being a landlord isnt actually about bricks an mortar,its about relationships with people.

the original boss of MacDonalds, Ray Krok once said that people have got it wrong if they think MacDonalds is in the food business. He said "We are actualy in the real estate business". Which apparently is the driver behind selling burgers for them.

So many landlords seem to hate tenants, or at very least see them as an unpleasant necessity between their bricks and mortar investment, which is the sole focus. I wonder why they dont get into a better line of work.

Last year I was training a bunch of housing officers in North London how to deal with aggressive clients. As they were sharing their stories one woman, new to the job and having spent her life in an insurance office said "I'm getting a bit worried hearing these tales that my collegaues have to put up with from tenants. The way I look at it is, I'm not paid to be sworn at". My reply was "Do you want the truth? Yes you are!" I enlarged on my theme telling her that feelings run high in housing and that she couldnt expect to get through her days without a fair bit of aggro. I added that I could understand that she didnt like it, but stressed that expecting to be a housing officer without dealing with troubel was a bit foolish and suggested that she find some other line of work.

Mark Alexander

7 years ago

There was a similar quote from Walt Disney when his contractors asked him why he wanted Cinderella's castle built before any roads or infrastructure were put into Disney World. He said something along the lines of "I want everybody who works here to know they are not working in the construction business, they are working on the business of entertaining people"

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