Great Case Studies to Learn from!
Great Case Studies to Learn from!
Over the last two months I`ve had numerous cases to deal with but five in particular stand out and are worthy of noting for future landlords to be aware of.
- Ground floor modern flat, Taunton area – Maintenance issue
Interestingly in TPO`s (Property Ombudsman) 2022 report, maintenance and repairs are still top of their chart of tenant`s complaints and account 29% of them!!
It is frightening that this subject continues to thrive, despite the government`s determination to make landlord`s more aware of their responsibilities.
In this particular example, the tenant reported damp on the wall of bedroom 2 and in the hall cupboard which housed the stop cock. The landlord responded quickly and had a plumber replace the stopcock – both were now satisfied that this had been the cause of the leak causing the damp and it would dry out.
The problem continued and got worse; neither the landlord nor the plumber had thought to go back in to check the original work and now thought it was condensation from the original leak. The tenants had reported it again but felt that it could be contained, as neither the landlord nor plumber showed any interest in returning to the property.
I`m instructed two years later to do the final inspection and checkout and immediately ask if the work has ever been checked. Looking at the damp in bedroom 2, one questions if the plumber had ever looked in the bathroom for any other cause. The response was NO – both had been convinced that the stopcock was the problem! Upon asking the landlord to arrange another visit by the plumber, this time taking the bath panel off and having a thorough investigation of the problem; it became glaringly clear that the waste pipe had been leaking for years.
The moral of this tale has to be:
Landlords need to keep an open mind to some problems and should at the very least get either a second opinion or make sure the property is checked after the work has been completed to confirm that the problem has been fixed and that the tenants are happy. In this case, neither happened, but as often happens the tenants did not want to cause any trouble and settled for constantly washing the mould off the wall.
Tackling a problem early on rather than ignoring it saves the landlord both money and excessive property damage. The upside is it also shows the tenants that the landlord cares about them, their home during the tenancy and his property!
In this example the landlord is one of the good ones, but between him and the plumber they were convinced they knew the cause of the problem and that no further work would be required. When the tenants moved out shortly afterwards, it took another plumber`s inspection, weeks of using a de-humidifier and hours of redecoration, not to mention lost income whilst the flat was repaired. If the repair had been done properly at the time the cost would have been limited and when the tenants left, the flat could have been immediately re-let. When doing repairs, it pays for landlords to keep an open mind and to consider all of the options plus to check the repairs have been successful!
- First floor converted flat in an older building, Exeter area – Communication
This involves another good landlord who liked to think he dealt with problems promptly. In this instance the tenants had been in a property for well over ten years and felt the property was their home; they also felt psychologically superior to the landlord.
It became clear that there was a battle of wills in play and that the tenants liked to control events. Due to this mental issue the landlord was reluctant to address difficult issues with them, which also included any repairs unless they were essential. I was asked to help out as there were substantial arrears which had been ongoing for years and had been discussed and disputed regularly. When asked about the current rent it became blindingly obvious that despite the arrears, the current rent was almost 50% below current market levels. Even allowing for the incredible rises over the last 18 months, the rent was still very cheap and the equivalent of a property half its size!!
When the subject of the arrears were discussed, a variety of mental and medical issues were provided as the excuse for being unable to deal with the problem.
Whilst these were valid reasons for mental distress, they did not excuse the build up of money owing. Similarly, a rent increase was dismissed as excessive and it was stated that it should not be more than 10% (hardly the point given the difference between a realistic rent and the current one being asked). It was also very markedly reminded to the landlord of all the rent paid over the years and how lucky it was that they were still the tenants and that the landlord should be very grateful for the thousands of pounds given over the years. Again a valid point, but totally missing the fact that they had been incredibly lucky to have been paying such a low rent for all of these years!
The moral of this one is threefold:
The landlord must not let the tenant get the upper psychological hand as this makes dealing with any difficult or “touchy” issues ten times harder to resolve.
Rent arrears need to be nipped in the bud and the running balance closely monitored so there can be no argument if money is owing – giving the tenant a clearly filled in balance sheet is undisputable (so long as the rent is paid direct into the bank account and not by cheque or worse, cash).
Rent increases should be fair and reasonable to the market; but that phrase is hard to equate when the rent has never been increased since the tenancy started. A yearly review is preferable and an agreed increase at an agreed frequency – certainly never under an annual one and preferably every two years. Unless the landlord is in dire financial straights, the increase should reflect the market value but give a discount to the tenant to stay there – 5 to 10% encourages the tenant not to look elsewhere and shows that the landlord respects the tenants and wants to keep them.
- 1960s Flat – one of three, Exeter area – Electrical Certificate
The landlord owns all three flats and two years ago moved a long established tenant from one flat to another. At the time I was asked to supply a new AST for the ongoing tenancy; however I was unable to do this due to there being no electrical certificate. I was assured it was in hand, so waited and waited!
Despite the occasional nudge from myself, nothing appeared so the tenant continued on, effectively, a verbal agreement. A short while ago the landlord rang asking me to increase the rent. Having checked the file, knowing there was no written agreement, I re-iterated the need for an electrical certificate.
I have since been told that the cost of the work needed to get the certificate issued has been the underlying problem and it will have to wait until it can be afforded. This highlights a core problem for landlords – some work comes unexpectedly and is hard to fund. Couple this with a two year old verbal agreement and the situation becomes an impasse until the electrics can be sorted. On a visual inspection when this problem started, the electrics look safe, but what does that really mean without a test and how long should a tenant remain there?
Lots of questions but no effective answers because the tenant is an older person, on benefits and there is no other affordable accommodation available!
Landlords need to be aware of the unexpected and to have a sufficient sinking fund that can cover repairs or maintenance; so these really awkward situations do not occur!
- Older house informally split into 2 flats, East Devon – Verbal Agreements
The older landlord has recently had to go into a home and the Power of Attorney has been invoked. The property has theoretically three flats and the council have recently applied separate council tax to each.
I was asked to sort out the situation as it was obviously a mess! What a mess – after visiting the property it became clear that no one really knew how the tenancies worked. There were three people sharing the house, which was divided into two flats (neither self contained as they shared services and one boiler). As the agreements were verbal and the landlord was now incapacitated, the only people who knew what they paid were the tenants; obviously not a great starting point as there was little to prove what was said to be correct.
There were some certificates but it appears not all of the ones that are legally required and the tenants were not keen on lots of visits, so access was problematic. The big question remains – does the property stay as a shared house with 2 kitchens (neither modern or properly usable) or is it converted into two proper self contained flats. Both solutions offer possibilities but will cost money to put in place correctly.
Landlords should be aware that if they are likely to use a Power of Attorney, then all of the details of their rental properties must be clear, organised and up to date. This avoids any future problems and lot of wasted time and money sorting everything out so the estate has a clear understanding of how the tenancies operate.
- Terraced updated cottage, Exmouth edge – Proactive landlord
Dealing with an exceptional landlord who, over the years of our relationship, has understood the benefit of being proactive and I have to say is a joy to work with!
The property was let in joint names a few years ago and I was recently informed that the couple had unfortunately split up. Rather than requesting the other half`s name just be crossed off the original tenancy agreement, or worse ignoring the situation, he insisted that a new agreement be drawn up in just her name; which he would pay for! The deposit was held by the TDS and they were also informed so the new agreement and deposit details matched up.
Although a seemingly minor detail, the importance is huge, because if the case ever had to go before a court there would be no discrepancy and everything would be correct. It also gave a nice opportunity for an agreed nominal rent increase to take place.
A perfect example of just making sure that everything is correct as opposed to saving money and letting everything carry on as before, knowing that circumstances had changed.
A variety of different situations that illustrate how important it is for landlords to treat letting property as a business and not a hobby. Getting everything sorted out makes life a lot easier for third parties taking over the managing of a tenancy mid tenancy. Being a good landlord is not difficult but it does involve being organised and preparing each property properly before it is let out and dealing with the issues promptly, efficiently and professionally!