LANDLORDS SHOULD PRODUCE GUIDES FOR TENANTS
Landlords can make things easier for themselves if they provide tenants with a House Guide says private rented sector expert David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com.
Here’s a typical scenario. It’s 10pm on Christmas Eve. The phone rings. It’s your tenant. She’s called to say that water is pouring out of a pipe in the bathroom and flooding the house.
How can a landlord plan for events like these and what can be done when they happen?
Experienced landlords should check that repairs and fixes will be easy to do even before they buy a house.
CHECKS BEFORE YOU BUY A PROPERTY
I suggest landlords do a lot of checks even before they buy a property and make a schedule of ongoing maintenance checks.
For example, when buying a property I check the fuse box is actually in the property or somewhere accessible. The same goes for stop cocks and manhole covers for drains. The last thing you want in an emergency is to find that the stop cock is in another property or that the manhole cover has been cemented over!
Make sure tenants are aware of what to do and who to contact in an emergency. Landlords should give tenants a written set of instructions so that they know what to do to protect the property from further damage.
These instructions should include either the telephone numbers of reliable plumbers, gas people and electricians. Talk them through it and leave a laminated copy on a notice board.
TENANTS SHOULD NOT IGNORE PROBLEMS
Some tenants ignore minor problems until they become serious. I once had a tenant who had water flowing from the toilet overflow pipe outside her flat. Eventually it seeped into the wall of the flat below causing damage to the decoration. An angry neighbour and big claim could have been avoided if the tenant had taken action earlier.
Water leaks can be very expensive if not fixed quickly though damage to decorations should be covered under the insurance, as long as you deal with the problem quickly.
As a minimum, I always show tenants where the stop cock is and how to turn the gas off. I tell the tenants to get in touch if they think there is a problem, even if it proves to be a false alarm.
LANDLORDS SHOULD VISIT
If you are unfortunate enough to have a tenant who is not "switched on", you should do regular visits and check for things like overflowing pipes, damp smells, flaking wallpaper and short circuiting fuses.
Some things are obvious to spot and often have simple causes. For example damp problems are often caused by poor ventilation.
If you own a flat, you may have to contact the freeholder’s managing agent, even if it’s just to register a claim or get into another property to stop a leak in an emergency. Some managing agents may suggest you use their tradesmen. However, it’s rare and most landlords complain that whilst most freeholders’ agents are excellent, some are good at just one thing - collecting the ground rent / service charges.
WATER LEAKS IN FLATS
Water leaks in flats are made worse where flats have just bare boards. Landlords who are continually flooded by careless occupiers of flats above should check the flooring in the offending flat complies with the lease terms and keep a record and photos of any damage.
If problems continue the freeholder’s agent should instruct a solicitor to enforce the lease. However, getting a freeholder to actually do anything is often a challenge, which is one (of the many) reasons why I tend to avoid buying flats.
1. If you are using someone for the first time, get a fixed quote for the repair. When you find a good tradesman, pay bills on time and cultivate a good relationship so when the big freeze comes you are near the front of the queue.
2. Remember, whilst the Gas Safe Register qualification is a requirement for gas engineers it gives no guarantee as to their plumbing skills.
3. Tenanted properties must be inspected annually by a registered engineer and obtain a valid CP12 Landlords’ Gas Safety Certificate.
4. Fix things quickly and keep tenants informed. If the property (or part of it) is uninhabitable following a leak don’t quibble on giving your tenants a rent reduction or waiver remember lost rent or cost of alternative accommodation is often covered under the home insurance anyway. Check your policy.
5. Smoke detector batteries should be checked every year. Even better have mains wired smoke detectors fitted. Doors should be fire resistant.
6. Read up on the special rules that apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation.
7. Have some electric heaters available in case of a loss of heating emergency.
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Copyright 2014 David Lawrenson. This article must not be copied or re-used without the author and copyright owner’s prior permission.
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