by Mary Latham
16:22 PM, 7th October 2011, About 12 years ago 21
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 MyDeposits.co.uk, 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
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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