The Boomerang Effect for Landlords?

The Boomerang Effect for Landlords?

16:22 PM, 7th October 2011, About 13 years ago 21

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“Respect seems to be like a boomerang in the sense that you must send it out before it will come back to you.”

I have been giving a lot of thought to the relationship between a landlord and his tenants. Many tenants have landlord stories and many landlords have tenant stories but sadly neither seem to want to tell stories in praise of the other. Why is this? Why is so there little mutual respect between many tenants and landlords? Why is there so little respect for landlords generally?

Is this a historic thing?

Most landlords cringe when they hear the name “Rachman”. “Peter Rachman (1919 – 29 November 1962) was a London landlord in the Notting Hill area in the 1950s and 1960s. He became so notorious for his exploitation of tenants that the word “Rachmanism” entered the dictionary as a synonym for any greedy, unscrupulous landlord”

Why, when there are so many good landlords in the business, are we still living with the legacy of one man? There are now estimated to be 1.5 million landlords in the UK, how can so many people be tarred with one brush? I realise that there are still some unscrupulous landlords who live up to the poor reputation that we are given but then there are many, many of us who work very hard to provide decent, well managed homes for an estimated 3.4 million people. So why is “landlord” such a dirty word?

In this article, Richard Lambert, the new CEO of NLA, says “The private rented sector is not a housing problem; it’s a vital part of the solution.”

Richard is right, and all local authorities recognise that without private landlords they will fail in their duty to house homeless people. So why do so many of their officers still distrust landlords? Is it because they mostly come into contact with the bad boys, while good landlords just get on with their business and do not attract attention?

I have often come across tenants who have had bad experiences with previous landlords and when I have sensed this I have always met it head on. I don’t want to “live” with mistrust and I encourage tenants to tell me about their concerns. I have heard many stories from these tenants and, to be honest, if what they are saying is true, I too would be concerned.

So my question is: What can landlords do to repair our reputation? Clearly just being a good landlord and providing nice, well managed homes is not enough.

I suggest that we landlords throw the boomerang first and let’s see if it really does come back to us.
To do this we need to accept that there are some issues that are at the core of mistrust of landlords. Many of them are Chinese Whispers but the fact is they are damaging the reputation of good landlords and therefore we need to lay them to rest. Working to the spirit, rather then just the letter of the law might be a good place to begin.

I want to pick up on just two issues that tenants and local authorities often talk about.

  • Landlords entering a tenanted property without the tenants consent.

There has been much debate recently about the legalities of landlord right of entry v tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment and I don’t propose to revisit that here. Let’s move forward and look at the realities of the issue. I love my home and when I lock my front door I know that no one will enter my home without my consent. This is fundamental to my well being and security and I believe that this is fundamental to the well being of all human beings. Life is full of stresses and strains but when I come home I know that I can be me, I can do whatever I need to do to relax. I don’t need to worry what anyone else thinks, I don’t need to concern myself with whether I am being PC or socially acceptable or “normal” because I am in my home, my safe place and I can do whatever my heart desires. I cannot imagine how I would feel if one evening a person unlocked my front door and came into my home uninvited. I can imagine how I would react and it would not be a good experience for that person. I would be aggressive and unreasonable and I would demand that they left. I would then call the Police and expect them to arrest that person. Would I feel secure in future? No I would not and the first thing that I would do is change all of the locks on my outer doors to make certain that this horrible experience could not happen again.

I know that the majority of landlords would not treat their tenants with such disrespect but the fact is that there are many, many stories of tenants who have been subjected to just such an experience. When my youngest daughter went to university she called me one night and told me “Mum I think that the landlord has a hole in the wall. Every time of us is coming out of the shower to go back to our bedroom the landlord is in the living room”. I was angry and concerned and I rang the landlord. He told me “It’s my property and I will go and check it whenever I like” I pointed out to him that he must give the tenants a minimum of 24 hours notice before he goes to the property. He replied “I don’t care what the law says, it’s my property and no one is going to stop me inspecting it when I like”. I went the next day and changed all of the locks. The landlord forced the door open on his next visit. I took action and he was made to see the error of his ways but that’s another story.

The first boomerang I would like to throw is this.

Give your tenants total control of the doors to their home.

Ask your tenant if they are ok with you having a key and explain that you will never use it without their consent. Making a tenant feel in control will help to balance the feeling of some tenants that the landlord has power over them. No one is at their best if they feel that they are under the control of others. Corner a little mouse and watch it become a lion.

  • Essential repairs being delayed or not done at all

Things breakdown – this is a simple fact of life. The central heating is not going to breakdown in August it is going to wait until the deep midwinter, when gas engineers are up to their necks in work and parts are sold out. The washing machine is not going to break down just after a tenant has done the weekly wash it is going to wait until the drum is full of washing and water and just stop, this is usually on a Friday night after 8pm. The oven will wait until the tenant has a dinner party planned, the lawn mower until there is rain forecast for the next month. With the best will in the world landlords can only do what can be done. Often tenants have not owned their own homes and therefore they have no idea of the problems that can arise when calling engineers at a busy time or obtaining parts that are not in stock. When explaining delays to a tenant we need to accept that they might be thinking “She doesn’t want to spend the money” or “It alright for her but I am paying rent”. Going the extra mile will help to make tenants realise that we do care and that we do understand their needs. We cannot do the impossible but we can make it easier for a tenant to accept that there is a delay. If we cannot get an engineer out to sort out the heating we can offer portable heaters to be used while they are waiting. This may increase their fuel bills and offering to contribute towards that cost is an acknowledgement that the tenant is paying for a service that you cannot provide at that time but that you will cover the cost of emergency cover. If we cannot get a part for the washing machine we can offer to cover the cost of the tenant using a laundrette. This is not about the landlords legal obligation to ensure that everything he provides is kept in good working order throughout the tenancy, it is about respecting that a tenant is paying for a service and ensuring that the tenant does not suffer because of delays.

Boomerang 2: Acknowledge that tenants expect to get what they are paying for.

Try to see it from their point of view. Respond quickly to requests for repairs. Take the time and trouble to explain why there is a delay. Offer an alternative at your expense

  • Landlords not being fair with tenants deposits

The Tenancy Deposit legislation seems to have done very little to put this one to bed. Only around 6% of all tenants, whose deposits are protected through, raise a dispute, only 39% of these are accepted as a dispute and only 50% of that small number actually go to arbitration. A tiny proportion of all deposits taken. Yet there are tenants who withhold the last months rent because they are nervous that the landlord might not return their deposit.

It is important to have the conversation with your tenants at the start of the tenancy. Apart from giving them their deposit protection certificates and the information we are legally required to provide to a tenant to tell him how the tenancy deposit protection system works, we should do everything we can to make him understand that we don’t want to withhold deposit we just need him to understand our expectations. A well worded tenancy agreement should detail what the deposit is meant to cover and the procedure for repaying the deposit at the end of the tenancy. A well presented inventory will include the condition and location of everything that is provided and record the fact that the manufacturers In Use and Safety Instructions have been given to the tenant. Offering to demonstrate the use of everything in the property is useful for those tenants who either have not been used to running their own home or who have not lived in the UK before now. It is dangerous for a landlord to assume that a tenant will instinctively know how to use the items provided as they should be used.

At the end of the tenancy we need to be realistic about our expectations and take account of the nature of the tenants that we house. If we accept smokers then we must accept that there may be odours or stains, we do not need to accept burns or major discolouration of walls and furniture. If we accept pets then we need to explain that the tenant will be expected to have the carpets and soft furnishings cleaned to remove hairs and odours at the end of the tenancy. If we let to sharers we need to realise that no one will accept responsibility “someone else will do it” often leads to heavier wear and tear but, since this type of tenant group usually offers a higher return, it is part of the facts of letting in multi occupation. Both parties having realistic expectations from the start is key to avoiding fall outs over deposits and damages at the end of the tenancy

Boomerang 3: Establish realistic expectations on both sides from day 1.

If a tenant has been a good tenant and paid rent in full and on time be prepared to live with small costs of repairs and replacements. Take account of the length of the tenancy and the client group involved. Begin from the position that you want to return 100% of the tenants deposit and try hard to achieve that aim.

My beloved mother was a vegan and she brought me up to respect all living creatures, this has not always meant that this respect has been returned, but I am the eternal optimist and over almost 40 years I have enjoyed excellent relationships with a huge majority of my tenants. On the occasions where we have not worked well together I just bite the bullet and wait for the tenancy to end because people are as they are and you cannot win them all over no matter how hard you try. I probably would not have remained in this business for all these years had most of my boomerangs not come back.

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Ben Reeve-Lewis

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16:54 PM, 7th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Mary I suspected that you would post on this. Our brief online tweet yesterday made me think too and I wrote todays article as a result

Anyone with a mortgage would be understandably outraged if someone from Barclays bank suddenly let themselves in while they were watching TV and asked them what they were up to and yet this happens so often in the PRS.

I was trying to advise a landlord about this the pother week and he said to me in an incredulous tone "You arent seriously telling me that there is a law that says a man cant do what he wants with his own property".

If my landlord let himself in unexpectedly I wouldnt feel comfortable there any more. Many victims of burglaries have to move for the same reason. as you state, our home, whether rented or bought, is one of the places where we feel safe and have control over our lives, a respite from the world.

Having said that I am also concerned at the image of landlords. i dont think it necessarily comes from incidents like this. I think it goes deeper than even Rachman.

I bumped into an ex client of mine in the street the other day who told me about his time with one of our local rogues who I had prosecuted once for beating up his tenant. He told me that he hadnt suffered anything like that. I asked him about his experiences and he just smiled and shrugged and said "He's a landlord isnt he?". I was glad he didnt suffer the worst excesses but was a bit depressed that the guy just accepted and expected bad behaviour simply because he was talking about a 'Landlord'. How depressing is that?

At a recent meeting with senior managers about our landlords day, an event where we could get to know our local people and form relationships, a question was asked about where would be best to hold the meeting given that there would be around 200 people. Some suggested the Town Hall, which has the chambers and big meeting rooms. One person chipped in saying that we had held similar events in the past and the council werent happy about letting landlords on council premises?!?!?!?!?!?!

What did they think they were gonna do? tear down the lighting? urinate in the council chambers? Rape the female staff? I burst out loud when I heard this.

I suspect that people have pre determined ideas about landlords without necessarily having known one, simply because people may recoil at the thought that someone else has an element of control over their home. Just a theory.

I earn my pay under false pretences. My job description tells me that I have to investigate allegations of harassment and illegal eviction and prosecute where necessary, but I dont really. I have an unshakeable faith in people, that means landlords and tenants too, and I think human nature creates many of the problems and my job is to untangle things and get people talking again. The 21st century housing version of the mythical 1930s copper who resolved conflict by banging heads together and getting people to shake hands.

For ages now I have been thinking how great it would be to gather together the practices of great landlords, to champion them and create a club of the best. There is too much wittering on about Rogues. dont get me wrong, there are rogues. Look at the recent case of Regina v. Chyna Grey, a Croydon landlord who kidnapped her rent owing tenant, tied him to a chair and repeatedly stabbed him in the back with a scalpel. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt "Evil is banal". I dont need to spend too much time thinking on these pathetic characters, instead, lets big up landlords, good ones and great practices. Despite my job, I know loads.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

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17:31 PM, 7th October 2011, About 13 years ago

My council is committed to building relationships with our local landlords, to change the way we interact with each other and yet there is still an anti-landlord prejudice I can sense in the air and I think it goes deeper that Rachman or just bad anecdotes.

At a recent meeting about where to hold our Landlord’s Day, an event to build relationships, one committee member said the town hall wasn’t appropriate as the council weren’t happy about letting landlords onto council premises haha. What did they think they were gonna do?

I think people essentially don’t like the idea that one person has some form of control over something as basic to them as their home and that is entrenched beyond Rachman.

The Law Of Property Act 1925 states that a tenant is effectively the owner of the property for the period of their lease. How would any homeowner feel if a representative of Barclays Bank let themselves in with a key and asked them what they were up to?

Most landlords don’t do this but enough do, to make this particular complaint a major part of my working week.

But as you say Mary, what about good landlords? Enough is spoken about rogues. Given my job I am up to here with it. But I’ll let you into a secret. I cheat on my job description, which is to prosecute landlords for harassment and illegal eviction. I take the 1930s copper approach, bang heads when needed and encourage warring parties to shake hands.

What is needed is not the focus on rogues but an understanding of what makes a great landlord. To champion great practices. Despite my job I know some wonderful people. Why don’t Shelter get behind a campaign to promote great practices and champion wonderful people instead of looking to boost their image by being the tenants champion?

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

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18:03 PM, 7th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Ben, you're the man! Your final sentence is exactly what Shelter need to do. They need to campaign for accreditation through education. The frameworks already exist to pull not push. Encourage education and not regulation and the sector will grow. Growth in itself will force the rogues to shape up or ship out due to competition.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

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18:32 PM, 7th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Mark if punishment alone worked we would be living in a world with no murder or armed robbery let alone lock changes. Earlier this year a Croydon landlord called Chyna Grey was put in prison for nkidnapping her tenant, tying him to a chair and stabbing him in the back repeatedly with a scalpel. I have see these cases many times over the years but even I admit that even in Sarf London they are rare. Most rogue landlords act out of legal ignorance and frustration they need motivating, educating, even mentoring, which I try to do. Leave enforcement for the Chyna Greys of the world

Mary Latham

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13:27 PM, 8th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Ben Would that all your colleagues were like you.

What really concerns me is that those organisations, that are there to help tenants, do not see the damage that they are doing to those people. Selling fear is unhelpful to everyone - unless I am missing the point and its a secret job creation scheme?

We MUST all begin working together to dispel tenants fears of private landlords and our properties because this is where they will be living in future and that is a fact. EDUCATION is the answer to all the PRS problems. Educating landords to understand the both law and the spirit of the law. Educating tenants to understand that landlords are in business to make money but that they are our customers and they have a right to expect a home "fit for purpose" but that they must keep to their end of the bargain too. Both landlords and tenants have obligations and we all need to understand those obligations and to meet them.

There are just two parties to a tenancy agreement. The Tenant and the Landlord. Everyone else is on the outside looking in and if they choose to become involved in this relationship they should do so ONLY to help to resolve issues that cannot be dealt with by those two parties. Resolving issues means finding solutions not pointing fingers and cutting new sticks with which to beat either party.

Here is an Idea Ben. You become the King of your world and I become the Queen of mine and working together we WILL make a difference because we are both problem solvers.

Mary Latham

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13:31 PM, 8th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Spot on Mark! Ben and I will let you be a Prince in our new world.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

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15:09 PM, 8th October 2011, About 13 years ago

The longer I operate in my area of the business the more I am convinced that it is the area of attitudes and eduction that we need to concentrate if we are to change the relationships between landlords and tenants, not the law.

Shapps said they wouldnt regulate landlords because there is already enough legislation in place and in that I agree, there really is. In response to my Guardian article Shelter asked me to write my own report and recommendations which I sent off to them yesterday. I point out the difference between having the laws in place and how logistics and bureaucracy make prosecutions unwieldy and impractical.

My recommendations are all based on working with landlords to raise standards of both properties and awareness. Helping them to do it rather than simply threatening them when they get it wrong.

In the report I stress that they need to look at the term ‘Rogue Landlord’ being so widely used these days. When the term rogue landlord is used for all iffy landlord behaviour, without differentiating the rogues can hide amongst the gang but if we can raise the bar in terms of the way landlords and tenants relate to each other the “Real” rogues will stand out like a sore thumb and we can mop them up.

I’ve said this until I’m blue in the face, that most acts of harassment are done out ignorance and frustration by amateur landlords, often because they don’t know what else to do. I should know, for 21 years I have been the guy who deals with these complaints but Shelter do love a populist campaign bless ‘em, and “Violent thug landlord” makes a better newspaper headline than “Frustrated, worried landlord acts rashly and later apologises”, which is closer to the truth most times.

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12:36 PM, 11th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Mary- really enjoyed the article. 'Rogue Landlords' and what to do about them has quite rightly been getting a lot of publicity lately. Your article adds a lot to the debate. A lot of what you have written seems to point to improving the way landlords communicate with each other. Totally agree that setting clear expectations at the beginning of the tenancy is absolutely vital.

To Ben and Mark's points, education of landlords (and tenants) is also important. In order to set expectations you need to understand what is expected of you.

I think a combination of better education and much more transparent communication is the way forward for improving the landlord tenant relationship.

Tessa Shepperson

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19:32 PM, 12th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Excellent article Mary.

Re keys, I don't think there is a problem with the landlord HAVING the keys so long as they only use them with the tenants consent. For example it may be very useful for tenants who lose their keys! They can then just get another set cut.

My tenancy agreements specify that the landlord has the right to hold keys for the property but then goes on to say that that they will not be used to enter the property without the tenants consent (save in emergency).

Jonathan Clarke

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0:01 AM, 15th October 2011, About 13 years ago

Communication is the key between tenants and landlords to reduce the tensions. This communication is often of poor quality and the conflict cannot be resolved by the parties alone as the feelings are often too raw and one or both parties lack the self control and the ability to problem solve. They are in the midst of a maze and the red mist syndrome blurs their thought process panics them both so peripheral senses are sidelined. They both need help

By offering them both a vehicle to exchange their very different viewpoints and to really listen to each other an airway of communication would be opened up. I have spent a lifetime in the field of conflict resolution breaking down barriers between opposing parties by mediating and negotiating a settlement. Tenants and landlords both want a voice and an escape route out of the hole they often dig themselves.

We have face to face mediation services for domestic disputes, neighbour disputes, family breakdowns disputes, victim v offenders disputes and the like. Why not have a hands on face to face facility where both parties can meet in a safe neutral venue and engage in a open honest exchange together with a trained facilitator. This service though expensive ( but not as expensive as court and could be centrally funded) would provide much relief from the heartache caused to both sides where they both feel the potential loss of control to one of the most important physical assets they have.- The home -

Both landlords and tenants want naturally to be in control their own destiny and that often will start with the control over what they BOTH perceive to be their own home. It is of course both of their homes in their minds but their legal rights tied up in that home are of course at odds with each other hence the conflict. Both parties need to step into each other shoes for a while and then the penny may drop and peace will be the winner!

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