A Tale of Two Surveys
“There are lies, damned lies and statistics” – Mark Twain
This phrase came to mind last week when the results of two different surveys were delivered to my inbox. On Thursday morning I received an email with the headline: 37% of tenants would not rent from their current landlord and in the afternoon my inbox had another email telling me: 73% of tenants are happy with their rent!
Me too, so let’s take a closer look at possible ulterior motives behind these surveys…
The first survey was commissioned by The Tenant’s Voice a website that, as its name suggests, wants to help tenants get a better deal. The majority of tenants who would visit this site are doing so because they have a problem with their landlord or agent and so respondents to their survey are more likely to have landlord problems.
The second survey was commissioned by the National Landlords Association (NLA). It is obviously in their interests to promote the idea that landlords are wonderful people who are letting their properties out of the goodness of their hearts and are offering quality property at a fair rent.
So, two surveys from opposite ends of the landlord/tenant spectrum, and both have an agenda to promote. So what is the truth? Are landlords universally disliked or are tenants deliriously happy with their property? The answer is a bit more complicated, but it can be boiled down to two words: SERVICE and COMMUNICATION.
When a tenant rents a property they believe that the rent is the right market rent. In over 25 years of letting I have never heard a prospective tenant use the phrase “The rent is too high...I’ll take it”. If the perception is that the rent is not offering value, a prospective tenant will look elsewhere. So if we accept that when tenants move into a property they believe they are paying a fair rent, then why do a quarter of them change their minds? Tenants pay rent and in return expect their property to be safe and well maintained by their agent or landlord. They expect them to comply with current legislation and to treat them fairly at the end of the tenancy when it comes to return of deposit.
Ironically, it isn't the big things that upset tenants, it’s the little annoying things. As a rule, as long as tenants are kept informed they will be patient about large maintenance issues like a leaking roof or changing a boiler. It is when a landlord takes months to fix a broken fence or mend a dripping tap that gets tenants angry. They see the large works as unforeseeable and understand that these cannot be fixed immediately. The lengthy wait for a minor repair, however, is seen as a signal that the landlord does not care about either his tenant or his property. Landlords often forget that their tenants are their customers and should be treated as such.
So here are my top 5 tips for good landlord/tenant relations.
1. Keep your property well maintained
Do repairs in a timely manner. No-one is saying you need to send a maintenance man to your property within 15 minutes when the tenant reports a dripping tap. However 6 months is too long a wait!
2. Keep your tenant informed
If there are unexpected problems with repairs that will cause a delay, let your tenant know. A lot of the problems we come across are when landlords keep their tenants in the dark. The tenant will just assume the landlord is doing nothing.
3. Comply with regulations
Have you registered the deposit? Is your gas certificate up to date? Does your furniture comply with fire regulations? If the answer is no, then rectify it immediately. Do not pass go, do not collect £200!
4. Use an independent inventory clerk
The majority of disputes come at the end of tenancy. Usually because the original inventory was inadequate, and was prepared by the landlord who is not exactly unbiased. For all of our managed properties, we use a qualified inventory clerk. He prepares a full inventory with photos, he checks the tenant in and he will check the tenant out. He charges the landlord for the check in and the tenant for the check out so that he is neither the landlord’s inventory clerk nor the tenant’s. He is an impartial middle man. By using an inventory clerk we have reduced deposit disputes by over 90%.
5. Back up deposit costs with a realistic receipt
If, at the end of a tenancy, a property needs cleaning or some maintenance, back up what you are charging with receipts for the work. Disputes occur when tenants believe they are being ripped off. To give you an example, at the end of a tenancy it was agreed that cleaning of the flat was required. The landlord cleaned it himself and charged the tenant for doing the work. Unfortunately, the landlord decided to charge the tenant at his hourly rate and, as he was a senior partner in a law firm, the rate was £300 per hour. Unsurprisingly the tenants disputed the charge and took the case to arbitration, where the charge was kicked out!
Use a recognised contractor to do any deposit works and get a proper invoice not a figure written on the back of an envelope. If you do insist on doing the work yourself, ring around contractors for quotes, and use this as the basis for your charge. And don’t forget to keep receipts for all materials.
Of course, not all tenants are angels either, far from it. However, the vast majority of tenants and landlords just want an easy life… meaning, things work as they should and money matters are dealt with efficiently and professionally.
The key elements to successful landlord/tenant relationships are service and communication. Keep your property well serviced, remembering that your tenants are your customers, and keep the communication flowing. If you adhere to these basic principles then you can expect the easy life you’re looking for!
I hope you found these thoughts useful.
Many thanks once again for taking the time to read this blog, and please feel free to drop me a line with any reflections or queries of your own.