Part 4.

Over the last few weeks we have covered what happens before a tenant is found. In this, the final issue I will address some more general queries when a tenant is in residence and finish with what happens when the tenant vacates the property. I would like to thank you for reading this series and sincerely hope that the information within has been of use, and invite you to contact us at any time should you require any advice or help prior to letting, or buying a home to let.

How will I or the Agent ensure my investment is looked after?

A similar question was address in part 1 you may remember. The answer then focused on the how the tenant would look after ones investment, and the compliance elements and how to serve notice. In this section it more advice if doing it yourself, and a guide in how we (the Agent) look after your investment. In any case, the terms for looking after the property and both the tenants and the landlords responsibilities are set out within the tenancy agreement. As the agent, we make sure the tenant is aware of all of their responsibilities when we check them in to the property. The inventory is then read through word for word and agreed, signed and a copy provided with the photographs for both the tenant and landlord (or ourselves if managing). At Great Torrington we then visit the tenant after 6 weeks. This gives us the opportunity to ensure all is well and give the tenant opportunity to let us know of any snagging now they have had time to settle in and use the property. We then inspect 6 weeks later (completing the first quarter) and report to the landlord for their peace of mind. We then inspect the property quarterly reporting as we go any faults, maintenance requirements or, worse case scenario that the tenant has not been looking after the property as we would have hoped. If this situation arises, we will first speak with the tenant and ask them to address the issue and agree a reasonable time for us to go back and re inspect the property. A letter or email to confirm the required improvements and the new inspection date will also be sent. In most cases, the problem is addressed first time upon request. As it is not our job to dictate the manner in which people live, we do try and adapt our own view point to that of the tenant and the landlord in order to find a compromise. For example, if the home is well kept and clean, although the tenant has a habit of leaving their possessions out, or clothing on the floor – this is their prerogative. The home will not have their items in it when it is re let, so we take a view always asking ourselves “can the property be re-let?” If the answer is yes, we carry on with equilibrium. If the answer is no, we will seek to have tenant rectify any defect until such time as the answer can be yes, it can be re-let.   

Should I accept tenants with pets?

I would most certainly consider it. This year. I may change my opinion next year if the Government do introduce the cap on deposits. After this, we will not be able to ask for an additional pet deposit. It cannot be added the main deposit either as it is intended that that too be capped to match one month’s rent. Deposits aside, there are far more tenants with pets than without. This is evident in the time it takes to find a tenant for a property that will allow pets versus one that will not. Those that will consider pets will have 5 times more viewers, and subsequently find a tenant faster. Do all pet owners live the same? Definitely not. In most of our Great Torrington lets with pets, you are not aware the pet is there. There is no damage, and in most cases, no smells. There are always a minority that do not look after the pets properly, and this can result in smells or damage to doors where they scratch, or walls where a cat may climb. There is the question of fleas and mites, but each tenant would be asked to have the carpets and floor coverings professionally cleaned as they vacate the property to protect against allergies or infestation for the next tenant. The additional pet deposit is asked for to cover this, if the tenant fails to have the professional clean carried out themselves. Most tenants vacating in Great Torrington will have their deposit returned in full as they are very happy to adhere to the guidelines set out at the beginning of the tenancy. Consider each case and trust the Agent or ask to meet the pet if you are letting the home yourself. You may miss out on a really good long term tenant by excluding them entirely.

Should I accept tenants on Benefits?

Similarly to the above question of pets, I would consider options with tenants who receive benefits. Not all of our landlords do, and I understand why with the changes that the government make to who is entitled to receive it, and how much they are entitled to. Especially now that they will stop payments pending these reviews. This is a disruption that can take a short time to determine, but there is often a delay in starting payments again. If you rely on a regular payment of rent to meet another commitment, then perhaps this is not a good consideration for you. If you are in a position to consider the possibility, then looking on a case by case basis will enlighten you to how many very good tenants there are, that whilst receive help with housing benefit or other benefits, do work too – and very hard. We have had many single parents for example whose lives changed suddenly and they required a home for themselves and their children. They still work, but are maybe bound to part time work whilst their family grows. They will top up the rent with their wages after their allowance and, in our experience in Great Torrington, look after the homes particularly well. Tenants whose income is derived from caring for a loved one, likewise, have usually found themselves in an unexpected situation caused by ill health that no one could predict. Two former salaries become one and the tough times start. I met a fantastic family whose lives were turned upside down by Cancer. The family home sold, and an inability to work have meant this perfectly normal (and society accepted) family are now cast to a stereotype of benefits and laziness – which is wholly unfair in my opinion. I, like others have mounted the horse with long legs a number of times when the media report of individuals who genuinely do nothing and expect to have a free home and expendable income enough to purchase a television that is larger than the room it is set in, but these are extreme cases reported to evoke that exact reaction. We have seen our fair share over the last 25 years, and some we have given opportunity to, only to see them squander it. These are minority cases. Most are normal, hardworking people who only care to see a roof over their children’s heads.

How much should I budget for maintenance?

There is no hard and fast rule on this. One thing that is almost certain though is that when one thing goes, two more will follow. Like consumable items on a car, even if you keep the parts regularly serviced, they will eventually break. Mostly linked with age - boilers, ovens, hobs, taps and showers will eventually fail. There are set annual costs which you can easily budget for. These include the gas safety certificate and boiler checks, chimney sweeping (where applicable), PAT testing is due to be an annual requirement etc. We would calculate the life of décor to be in the region of three years. Carpets are calculated to have approximately 10 years life. A boiler these days – 5 years to 10 years depending on the manufacturer. If you were to work on a ten year basis and assume that all these items will need addressing at some point (3 times this for décor, and 12 for the annual essentials) and add the cost of doing everything together, you are probably not far off £10,000 over the 10 year term. It might be reasonable then to budget £1000.00 per annum. But remember that is the boiler and oven need doing in the same year – it will be nearer to £2,500 for that year’s maintenance. That’s fine in year 3, however I would be inclined to put away 50% in year one to hopefully cover any unexpected costs.

Should I rent the home furnished or unfurnished?

Generally we Let homes unfurnished. Often there can be freestanding white goods included and it is up to the landlord if they choose to maintain or replace these items. They may have been there when the property was purchased for example and their history, age and reliability may not be known. As long as the tenant is made aware that those non fixed items may not be replaced if they fail, and that the tenant is welcome to replace with their own appliance (to take with them when they leave). This is found to be acceptable and reasonable. Fixed appliances though are the Landlords responsibility to maintain, or replace if broken and soon to have PAT tested for safety. Moving tenants in and out becomes difficult with a fully furnished let as wear and tear on your possessions becomes harder to distinguish as time moves on. That said, we do have enquiries for furnished homes – especially if the prospective tenant is moving with a job, or perhaps moving from abroad. Our most recent enquiry was a gentleman selling his home in France with all of its furniture, so whilst he searched for a home here, he would have some creature comforts. I would be sure to have a professional inventory carried out in any event, but I would almost insist on it for a furnished Let.

How much notice to I need to give to a tenant, and how much must they give me?

At any time during the tenancy, the landlord must give two months’ notice to the tenant. The tenant (after their initial 6 month period) need only give one months’ notice.  The reason (for now) does not need to be given to take possession of the home. What must be done (and seek advice from and Agent if you let the home yourself) is that the correct notice must be issued. This is very important, as the notice may not be valid if issued incorrectly.

What happens when a tenant vacates the property?

As the notice period ends and the tenant vacates, our managed properties would be inspected by ourselves and we would carry out our Exit Inventory. The tenant is welcome to be present whilst we carry this out. It involves running through the entire inbound inventory and marking any changes (no matter how small) against the entry. Anything else that appears changed or damaged that was not listed in the original inventory will be noted also. These are statements of fact. We then consider the changes Versus the length of time the tenant has occupied the property and a judgement is made as to which are normal or expected wear and tear, and what is deemed unacceptable or excessive wear and tear. After this, if there are small items which are considered to be excessive but can be remedied, like having a wall painted, additional cleaning or a professional clean of the cooker or carpets (Carpet clean and fumigated is mandatory if the tenant has kept pets in the home) for example, we would ask the tenant to undertake these items/issues. They are allowed 14 days to remedy these things, or have booked to do so. After completion, if all is well, we will seek authorisation to release the deposit back to the tenant. Other considerations include the counterbalance of investment and works undertaken on the home at the tenant’s expense. If for example, the décor is now very worn, but the tenant had carpets fitted or a modern kitchen installed at their expense, it might be reasonable to undertake the redecoration ourselves, or seek to split the cost. Why? - If there was a dispute about the deposit monies, the Landlord or Agent must prove to the DPS (or other government backed scheme) that they have been reasonable in their request to retain some or all of the deposit monies. They must also provide evidence of the changes and, where works are required, obtain 3 quotes for each task to be undertaken. You must then enter the dispute resolution service which will hopefully resolve the problem, but often cannot and Legal proceedings cannot ensue without this having first been done. The tenant may argue in their defence of the deposit that they carried out work to the home and produce a bigger receipt than that of the dispute. Remember it is the tenants’ money, and these schemes were put in place by the government to make sure they get it back. If the procedure is not followed correctly, your (often justified) claim falls apart and the cost is higher than it could have been. In conclusion, it is better not to judge the situation, but simply ask of yourself and of the tenant, Can the property be re-let? It was lettable when the tenancy started. We have allowed for use and accepted that carpets (approximately 10 year life) and décor (approximately 3 years life) will have to be renewed at some point. Maintenance of this kind can be done in-between the tenancies, but most tenants are very obliging to having improvements made and these things can be done during a tenancy. Deposit disputes are rare. In most cases the tenant has left the home in a good lettable order.

Thank you for taking the time to read this little piece over the last few weeks. Should you require any help or advice, or have a question I may have not covered, please do contact us. We are very happy to try and answer any queries you may have. With over 25 years’ experience, there are not many questions we can’t answer. Great Torrington Lettings. 01805 624426.