Woodstock assist hundreds of landlords every year. Whether it be to recover rent arrears or losses arising from damage to their property, tackle claims against them for disrepair, or recover possession. There is no crystal ball for landlords. And it’s rare that any portfolio, however small, will remain entirely problem-free during its lifetime. When dealing with the challenges of the private rental sector, one of our biggest tips for landlords is this; To treat the property not as their asset but as a tenant’s home. Letting property in the private rental sector is a business and needs to be treated as such.
And it’s clear from the proposed reforms that there is a further drive towards professionalism. They want high standards and longer-term homes for tenants. The recent white paper specifically states that “All tenants should be able to treat their house as their home and be empowered to challenge poor practice”.
We actively encourage landlords to emotionally detach themselves from the property and any perceived negative behaviour of tenants. This is of course easier said than done and can prove extremely difficult for landlords. Particularly, if the property they are renting was their home prior to letting, where they intend to move back in or where a personal relationship has developed between landlord and tenant. But in emotionally detaching themselves from the property, landlords are psychologically and practically better able to deal with their obligations. It’s then easier to face any challenges brought by the tenancy or its tenants. It also better allows landlords to consider the property as a tenant’s home. Respecting their right to quiet enjoyment, and accepting the push for more secure tenancies.
Protecting the Property Asset
An asset of course requires protection, and landlords are encouraged to take robust steps to protect that property asset. Particularly considering the proposed reforms. So, what steps should a landlord take?
Know your tenant:
Before allowing a tenant to occupy their property, landlords should be confident that the tenant will be able to comply with their obligations. Prospective tenants should be properly vetted with robust referencing systems. Ensuring it is clear who will be occupying the property, who is a permitted occupier and who will be liable for the payment of rent.
If there is any concern about the tenant’s ability to meet their obligations in terms of rent due, then we strongly advise that a guarantor (who owns their own property) is secured. In fact, we would recommend a guarantor is obtained whenever possible. Even the best of tenants can face financial difficulty (perhaps even more likely given the current cost of living crisis). So a second avenue for recovery of rent arrears or other losses arising from damage to the property is security worth having.
Look after the bricks and mortar:
Landlords should routinely assess the condition of the property, and any potential issues of disrepair or routine maintenance required in the coming months and years. The works should be budgeted and planned for and, where appropriate, communicated to prospective tenants. This not only helps landlords financially, but also helps avoid claims by the tenant that the landlord has failed to comply with their obligations of repair. Landlords may also want to consider seeking agreed deductions in rent. These would be for any pre-planned maintenance works and properly documenting the agreement.
If unplanned issues of disrepair arise, then these should be dealt with promptly. Landlords and agents should record all communication and efforts to deal with the repairs required. Particularly, if they are experiencing difficulties gaining access or securing trades to carry out the works. Clear record-keeping provides excellent evidence in court. It has on many occasions allowed us to successfully defend spurious claims of disrepair brought by tenants.
Routine inspections are strongly encouraged. They not only allow landlords to monitor the condition of the property during the tenancy, but they also provide useful evidence should damage be caused to the property by the tenant. Well-presented and detailed reports allow us to present to the court documentary evidence of the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy and its deterioration throughout. It also demonstrates a landlord’s interest in meeting their obligations to maintain the property if all issues flagged by the report are actively dealt with.
Knowledge and Professionalism
The legal requirements placed on landlords are strict and look to get that bit tougher again, given the proposed reforms. It is clear we are moving toward a more professional industry. It is therefore as crucial as ever that landlords are up to date with the law. Or, engage the services of those that are. We still see well-intentioned landlords and sometimes agents fall foul of small yet critical detail in the law. Knowledge is key, as are strong systems and processes, to provide confidence that tenancies are compliant.