How To Be A Landlord
8th January 2018
As a landlord instructing a lettings agent, your biggest expectation should be peace of mind that your property is being properly managed. You want your rent to be paid on time, in full, every month and for the tenant to respect your property as if it were their own, after all, they will be living in it. You also don’t want the headaches and hassles of finding new tenants should the old tenant move out. It is especially important to try and hold on to good tenants because they are few and far between, weeding out the good tenants from the bad, however, is our job. However, it isn’t always this simple and if it were, I daresay we’d all be out of a business (letting agents, that is). In this article, we’re going to discuss the diverse ways to ensure your relationship with your tenant remains positive.
Effective communication is key. It is the best way to maintain a tenant’s level of happiness. In being proactive and calling your tenant just to see how they’re getting on in their new property or to inform them of an upcoming inspection, you also have the perfect opportunity to ask if there are any repairs that need doing. You can’t expect everybody to be able to make time to make a phone call to inform you of a minor repair, instead, they may wait until inspection, so you can discover it for yourself. However, this can lead to the problem getting worse and it is always best to complete repairs in good time to prevent them becoming worse and therefore more costly to repair and to also ensure your tenant has a comfortable home to live in.
Other times, tenants will get in touch with you to inform you of every single repair as the repair presents itself to the tenant, this can be somewhat inconvenient, but it is important to realise that, as the landlord, you are responsible for many repairs. However, you can be forgiven for ignoring certain repair requests, for example, a cupboard handle is loose as many times, internal fixtures are the tenant’s responsibility as are changing lightbulbs. You are responsible for the internal fixtures, lighting and any repairs in communal areas as the landlord, however. You should always give the impression that is important to you that the issue is fixed, even if it is something as trivial as changing a lightbulb. Keeping the tenant updated on repairs, even mundane repairs, is more likely to build up trust with you as a landlord and a reputation that you are reliable, therefore the tenant will be likely to continue paying their rent, stay longer and feel like they’re being looked after well.
One of the biggest causes for deliberate withholding of rent by the tenant is disrepair of the property, therefore, it is important to ensure repairs are carried out in a timely manner, not to mention, putting your tenant’s health/life at risk because of not carrying out repairs in a timely manner may leave you open to criminal prosecution or disputes from tenants which may find them suing you for negligence. What you should remember always is a landlord/tenant relationship is two ways, they pay the rent and in return, they have every right to live in habitable conditions, it is like going to the hair salon… You pay for your haircut and you have every right for the person cutting your hair to do so adequately and safely.
Just imagine how you would feel living in the same living conditions as the tenant in your property, would you be happy to pay the rent for such living conditions? If your answer is no, the real question is, why do you expect anybody else to be happy to pay the rent for such living conditions?
Being frank, the reason we’re in the business of letting properties to tenants, for both landlords and the letting agent, is because of the rental income. You receive your rental income in exchange for allowing the use of your investment by the tenant, we receive our fees for carrying out instructions from the landlord and managing their property. Don’t get me wrong, we like to make a difference, we want to ensure people are housed in homes they can fall in love with, but we can’t do that without keeping our lights on, naturally, we all have bills to pay but there is no denying the fact that homeowners let out their homes to earn a return on investment.
The most reliable way of collecting rent is by standing order for the payment each month. The tenant doesn’t need to worry about paying (they just need to make sure the money is in their account on time) and you don’t need to worry about whether the tenant will make it to the post office or to your bank in time to pay the rent over the counter (although you do need to make sure your rent has been paid!). Sometimes, a guarantor is required and in which case, it’s important to keep them up to date should the rent account fall into arrears and they must cover the balance and ensure their contact details are up to date regularly.
Another peace of mind is Rent Guarantee Insurance, this ensures the rent continues to be paid should the tenant, for whatever reason, stop paying the rent or the property becomes vacant.
We’ve all been there, where we have been asked to provide references. This can be difficult, especially when we have no references to provide, for example, it’s your first job and you weren’t the best student at the school, so the likelihood is, their reference would be unsuitable. It’s the first time you’re renting a property and you have no previous landlords, etc. We have all been there where we simply couldn’t provide references. What do we do in such circumstances? Of course, I and you know to politely decline the request for references, even though it does look rather bad. Other people, less savoury characters to any extent, will tell you they can provide references later (when in fact, they know they can’t) or will even go as far to fake referencing or, criminally, forge references.
It is important to always check your tenant’s personal history before you sign the tenancy agreement allowing them to live in your property. It is also important to conduct credit checks and other suitability checks (such as affordability) to ensure there are no unexplained CCJs, bankruptcies or other histories that may affect your decision as to whether they’re a suitable tenant for your property.
Harry Albert Lettings & Estates opts for a third-party, highly reputable referencing agency to conduct employment and landlord references and we engage with the major credit referencing agencies to get an overview of their credit history. Sometimes, a tenant may receive a CCJ or become bankrupt because of unsettled divorces where the settlement terms have had to be enforced, for example, if either party disagrees with the outcome even after it has been ruled on, one party may refuse to pay the other and should the high-court bailiffs be instructed, this will result in a CCJ. This doesn’t look good for the tenant but is important to realise that people have different financial circumstances which may, provided they are upfront and honest about their financial history, allow you to make an informed decision as to whether to let to that individual. Our recommendation is to simply not let your property to those who have any CCJs or bankruptcies registered on their credit file from the last six years as the likelihood is, the CCJ or bankruptcy is because of debt that was well within their control and therefore, poor financial decisions has led to debts going unpaid. If the tenant can “forget” to pay their council tax or other bills and debts, they can just as easily “forget” to pay their rent.
Also, make sure you get a reference from the tenant’s current employer and previous/current landlord. If a reference comes back with any negative points, it’s worth considering. Are the negative points to do with unruly behaviour in the office? A messy demeanour in general? Perhaps their attendance at work was less than perfect? Maybe they caused criminal damage? Some points will not be an issue, for example, do you really care if they’re not at home and in bed by 11pm? (If the answer is yes, you shouldn’t do, really… unless you’re their parent or unless they’re living amongst elderly residents who you know will complain if they’re kept awake beyond their 8pm bedtimes), however, if their referee tells you that they committed criminal damage in the workplace, this is a major red flag and you should simply refuse to let your property to these kinds of individuals. If they cannot respect their employer’s property (who pays their wages), they certainly will not respect their landlord’s property, they will see the property belonging to them because they’re paying for it when in fact, this is not the case.
It is always best practice to call a tenant’s referees (and Google them to make sure they exist and aren’t just a pal of the tenant’s) to clarify their reference for two reasons; 1) to make sure the references are genuine and not forged and 2) to see if there is anything else the referee would be willing to share that they may not be comfortable putting into writing.
Inventory and Inspections
Creating a highly detailed inventory is recommended for both you and the tenant's benefit. This particularly helps at the end of the tenancy, when reviewing how much of the deposit will be returned. It protects both the landlord and tenant during disputes and makes everything fair and transparent.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the property and arranging regular visits with the tenant (give them as much notice as possible, remember, they have rights, so it is important you do not turn up on their doorstep or let yourself in without their express permission or adequate notice). As in our last article, you will see the benefits of inspections and up-to-date inventories should there ever be any disputes.
Looking after the property on an ongoing basis can help prevent more expensive repair bills. Such as, dealing with damp immediately and not letting it turn into mould. This can end up as a potential health issue for you tenant and a costlier issue to fix. Furthermore, refusal to deal with damp or mould can leave you open to disputes or legal action; remember, your tenants have the right to live in a safe and habitable home, a right the government advocates for loudly (with good reason and so they should).
If you follow these tips, you’ll find your life as a landlord far easier. However, you can take the headache out of managing your properties as a landlord by instructing an agent, like ourselves, to do this for you.
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