But what if you, as the landlord, are at fault? When troubles arise, tenants can start reaching for paperwork. Have you met your legal (and indeed moral) responsibilities?
If you’d rather not argue with your tenants this year, at least make sure you’re not the person causing the problem. Here are 10 points for every conscientious landlord to consider:
- Take thorough precautions in the first place. Screen potential tenants. Ask for references. It’s prudent, not rude, to run identity and financial checks. (Companies exist to carry out these services for you.) If the prospective tenant refuses you permission to run a background check, you’ll have to wonder what they might be trying to hide. Do they have county court judgments (CCJs) in their past? (A CCJ is issued to a party owing another party money and will stay on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for six years unless the full amount is paid within a month. Banks and loan companies consider CCJs when deciding whether to give credit or loans.) Ask why the potential tenants are leaving their current accommodation. Have they been ordered to leave? You could even visit their present home. If they don’t take care of that property, why believe they would respect your house or flat?
- Conduct a meticulous inventory check (including dated photographs to show the condition of items) across your property before the tenant moves in. (Better yet, engage an independent third party to prepare the inventory. In disputes, the landlord’s own inventory is not always considered impartial.)
- Think like a tenant. How would your perfect landlord behave?
- Don’t rush into raising the rent. Do you really need more money for the management and maintenance of the property or are you just being greedy? If your tenant objects and leaves, how many rent-free months will pass before you find a new tenant? How much time and money will you spend searching for that new tenant? Have you really come out ahead?
- Execute essential repairs promptly.
- Carry out regular gas and fire safety checks on the property.
- Be available when needed but respect your tenants’ privacy. Your tenants may soon feel uncomfortably monitored if you keep popping in for ‘friendly’ visits. The Housing Act 1988 states that, under normal circumstances, you must give at least 24 hours’ notice before entering the property. (Exceptional circumstances might include the need to carry out urgent repairs.) Don’t schedule visits for unsociable hours.
- Provide tenants with a daytime and evening telephone number, so you can always be contacted in an emergency. Providing an e-mail address too will ensure you do not have to be interrupted by telephone calls for non-urgent matters.
- Be realistic. Wear and tear is inevitable and accidents will happen. Not every coffee stain on the carpet represents grounds for a frosty letter or legal action. Most tenants respect landlords and their property.
- If a genuine problem arises, don’t act impulsively (which might actually mean acting illegally). Strict procedures must be followed if you want a tenant to leave your property. Attempting to harass or force tenants out of a property, without following the correct procedures, is a crime. Your tenants might then have the right to claim damages. Harassment can range from stopping services (such as electricity) through to physical violence or arranging for a third party to behave anti-socially toward the tenant on your behalf. Similarly, you might be guilty of illegal eviction if you, for example, change the locks on your property.
If in doubt, consult a solicitor before risking a decision that might put you at fault in a landlord-tenant dispute.