Tenants – Where’s the respect?

The percentage of people moving into rental properties is increasing. These include people making a lifestyle choice for flexibility, those forced into it through inability to get a mortgage, those having to sell their homes through economic difficulties. And me.
It seems like a simple choice. Pick a home, put down a deposit and move on when you feel like it. What’s not to like?

The problem is that flexibility has two sides, the other side being insecurity. The private rental sector (PRS) is by design a temporary system. The massive majority of tenancies are for 12 months at most, so whilst the tenant has the flexibility to move on as they wish, their master the Landlord has precisely the same powers. This is all very well for young singles about town but not quite so good for families with schooling who are trying to build a life in a community.

From my day job I know that the supply of decent affordable rental property is dire and that there is huge demand for every decent property. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate that when demand outstrips supply Landlords do not need to rent their properties cheaply, (why would/should they?) they do not need to fix the damp and maintain their properties or frankly give a damn about their tenants well being. Many do but an increasing number (the sheds in Slough being an extreme but increasing example) do not. When there are five people after your rental property it is easy to regard tenants as the most disposable part of the equation. This will only get worse.

I am in the property industry and I have recently decided to rent. Knowing what I do, I did it with a heavy heart but it was a practical solution. My heart was right. Yesterday I had a call from my daughter who was ill in bed and in the house alone. ‘Mum, someone has been trying to get into the house. The chain is on but they have been back three times’. She was scared. Suffice to say, I am furious.

I am assuming it was the Letting Agents. There was no notification of a visit, nothing. I have emailed asking them to explain themselves, and if indeed it was them trying to get in or someone else. Not a minor question but as yet unanswered. However, this highlights for me what is wrong with the current system of renting. As a tenant, rather than a homeowner your home is never your castle. It should be. Technically you are purchasing a rental property under a lease and should enjoy the same level of comfort and security to bring up your family. But you don’t.

What you get is three or six monthly inspections where some oik from the Agency pokes their nose around your house, letting themselves in, even if you are not there. Rubbing your nose in the fact that it is not your home.
With the emergence of buy to let over the past decade tenants are now also increasingly at the mercy of amateur and reluctant Landlords struggling to pay the increasing mortgage with no pennies left to mend the boiler or maintain the property properly. With mortgage rates only rising, repossessions will increase. I remember Lucy Morton from ARLA telling me that tenants should reference their Landlords, good advice but in reality…?

It is time to stop treating tenants like second class citizens. Homeownership is going to fall even more in the future, more people will need to bring up their families, try to put down roots and live their whole lives in rented accommodation.

For the homeowners reading, how would you feel if your mortgage company insisted on inspecting your cleanliness every three months? Having them tell you that you can’t paint your new babies bedroom pink. That you can’t hang pictures and need to live in a magnolia womb for the duration. You may not have a cat without paying £1500 extra and that you are on permanent one months notice to quit. Horrid thought, isn’t it? With so many low income AND so called middle class families having to rent for the long term, why should the massive rents tenants pay be so completely different to a mortgage?

We need to stop regarding renting as stop gap accommodation. We need to be looking at making renting a decent long term option by encouraging long term investors, not fly by night amateurs at the mercy of interest rates and repossession. The Government should be coming up with ways of encouraging institutional investors to provide long term rentals, where people can build lives and the investors get a secure long term return and tenants who will treat their property like their own home. We should be pushing for five year plus tenancies to become mainstream. In fact something rather like ‘council houses’. Remember them?

We also need to frown upon the inherent attitude of many in the Estate Agency industry – that tenants are a magic porridge pot of money but deserve no respect because the Landlord is their king.

As for my letting agent, I am awaiting a response. It will be either an apology or they’ll decide to do battle but what I can guarantee is that they’ll not understand why I am furious. They will not understand why someone walking into my home would make me feel violated, after all they do it with ‘their properties’ all the time.  And there’s the rub, I call it my home, they don’t.  The property is the commodity that earns them money, the Landlord their Master and the tenant within is easily replaced, in fact fees make it lucrative for them to do just that.
I am fortunate in that I have access to the cream of experts advising me on my rights as a tenant. I am primed with ‘section this and section that’ slipping off a sharpened tongue. The majority of people and the most vulnerable are not in my position and are at the mercy of an unregulated, insecure and often cruel system.

Is it any wonder us Brits are desperate to be homeowners?

An Englishmans rented home should also be his castle but let’s start with some respect.

I’ll keep you posted.

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21 thoughts on “Tenants – Where’s the respect?

  1. Tracy, I’d love you to read the piece I wrote in the Guardian about similar issues last week. I’m writing as ‘The Landlord’, but as I explain in my article, I’m also a tenant.

    Your daughter needs to write a letter to the letting agent telling them that the next time they attempt to access the property without the required notice AND consent, you’ll be making a complaint to the police under the provisions of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

    I’ve learned it’s apparently possible to reach the dizzy heights of a ‘Fellow’ of ARLA whilst being a stranger to this very powerful piece of protective legislation, which will result in a police caution for your letting agent if it’s a first offence, and criminal charges if it’s a second or subsequent one.

  2. Brilliant article and I couldn’t agree more. On the side, I’ve been helping friends ( upstanding, moral members of society with good jobs and education ) search for buy to lets and yet they look puzzled when I ask them to look at their investment as someone’s potential home. They put in light coloured carpets expecting them to be pristine after 4 years, eggshell paint which is scratched before anyone moves in. Tenants to them are just a necessary chore to fund their potential pension and no responsibility is taken for their career as a landlord.

  3. An excellent post and I couldn’t agree more with its sentiments.

    As a former renting tenant, (for more years than I care to remember) I’ve had more than my share of despicable landlords but I hit gold in the last 7 years of renting. At first I resented the letting agent coming to see me every three months to check out the property but as time passed and I proved myself to be a great tenant, those visits stopped.

    There were no deposit schemes in those days but my deposit was returned in full and without question.

    It was all so simple, those last 7 years of renting. My home, my landlords investment and mutual respect from all parties concerned.

    An Englishman’s home is his castle? Best to remember that if this is to hold true when it comes to owning your own home then better not buy leasehold properties either! Gloryfied renting at its finest!

  4. Your experience appalls me, as the owner of a lettings Agency in the Thames Valley we give respect to our tenants and all our staff are trained to acknowledge that once the property is occupied it IS the tenants’ castle and we need their perrmission to visit.
    ARLA follow this line too and anyone wishing to build a long term business in lettings , which is becoming more and more the thinking person’s choice of tenure , would do well to respect tenant’s rights.
    Cheap failed estate agents doing lettings instead of flogging houses are the scourge of our industry.

  5. I guess, as a landlord, I may have the minority voice here. But I do ask you to look at if from our point of view, too. If I or my agent don’t do the required inspections, deterioration to the property can quickly get out of hand. As an example, take a recent case of replacement windows.

    The agent did not inspect a property of mine thoroughly enough, the tenant did not let them know that they were deteriorating, and the result was a call from them in early Winter to say I had to replace the windows, which would not close. This had been the case throughout the summer, but the tenant hadn’t bothered to report it then, as they had the windows open all the time anyway. Not surprisingly, the soonest this could be done was January, and the tenant had a very cold draughty few weeks over the coldest period of the year – which they could have avoided if the inspection had been done correctly.

    And what about the gas safety inspection? Without this you cannot legally let, but how are you supposed to get it done when the tenant won’t agree to a date? Sometimes I have been tempted to just go there with my keys and let the engineer in myself…!

    I would like to see more careful tenants, who do vet their landlord before moving in, and it would be nice if a premium was available to me in respect of my high standards of care of my tenants. It seems that in the current climate, tenants take anything that is offered, and don’t think about the benefits they could gain from renting from a diligent landlord.

    Buyingagent, why not try renting from a private landlord next time and see if it differs from a managed let? First though, maybe you should get references for the landlord from their previous tenant, just like I get references for my tenant from their previous landlord.

  6. I see from Tracy’s Twitter feed that it didn’t take long for the phrase “retaliatory eviction” to be employed.

    This is yet another injustice that tenants have to contend with: it’s frankly astonishing that there’s no mechanism for making a complaint about the illegal behaviour of your landlord or letting agent that doesn’t first involve losing the roof over your head.

    Shelter, the housing charity, thinks all PRS landlords should have a licence. No sign of Grant Shapps agreeing to this so far. (But then he’s the man who also thought Kirstie Allsopp was qualified to act as a government housing adviser, just because she’d spent 3 years working as an estate agent, and had a telegenic face).

    The coalition government inexplicably dropped the bill that would have regulated letting and managing agents last year – yet more proof that affordable housing is a joke to a PM and a deputy PM whose property wealth leaves the rest of us goggle-eyed.

  7. As a professional landlord and former tenant my experiences have shown me that the system is rigged up a little more in favour of the tenants believe it or not.

    Firstly, some points of fact:

    1. Tenants cannot be evicted at the end of a fixed term or periodic tenancy under an AST without 2 months prior notice, properly served.

    2. When an AST is periodic it can be terminated by a tenant on one months notice.

    3. Provisions for entry or re-entry are specified within a tenancy agreement. Aside from the criminal complaints procedure available to a tenant, re-entry that is not in line with the tenancy agreement is a BREACH OF CONTRACT. So a tenant might be entitled to damages as the unscheduled or non contractual entry into the property damages the tenants rights of “quiet enjoyment”.

    My own experiences as a tenant have actually been quite good. For example, when renting myself, when the managing agents were FOXTONS (would you believe it), aside from some unfortunate jiggery pokery when signing up to the tenancy, whenever we had any problems they were fixed, properly by professionals and at the Landlord’s cost. Inspections were carried out at a time pre-arranged and without the agents just “letting themselves in”. We had one minor issue of them trying to do a viewing four months before the end of our tenancy, but that was dealt with by a terse phone call. Otherwise, not too bad. Deposit returned in full and quite promptly. We overpaid a months rent too and that was sent back “tout de suite” as well.

    On the Landlord side, it’s not been quite as rosy. My biggest issues:

    1. Rents being paid by tenants but not being transferred in a timely fashion (i.e. 2 months late) by the letting agent.
    2. Being told that the agents can only take the rents from the tenants when they get paid their housing benefit (which funnily enough isn’t in the tenancy agreement)
    3. My tenant complaining about damaged windows (noted above comments). The agent had lined up a company to replace the windows at a cost equivalent to 7 months rent. Fortunately I had my builder look at the windows and fixed the problem for just £20. My agent was on the take from some glazers
    4. Some move in issues with a redeveloped property where the address had to be changed and the local council hadn’t registered the address change on their system (even though another department had approved it). My managing agent giving me plenty of grief, when it didn’t materially affect the tenant.

    We’re Essex based. Our relatives in Newcastle have had much bigger problems with their BTL properties. Delinquency of payments is extremely high there and the action that can be taken against the tenant is minimal (remember you can’t just boot a tenant out, nor can you touch the deposit to pay owed rent unless a court of law says you can). As the rents are much lower, the cost of taking action (sols fees, court costs) are so high relative to what is owed there’s little point in taking such a course of action. You can reclaim the costs from your tenant but when they haven’t a pot to piss in it’s hardly worth it.

    We’re of a firm view that the proportion of people renting vs buying is only going to increase over the next 20 years. We’re trying to ensure we provide homes for people to live in that are fit for purpose. I’m sure we’re in the majority of landlords in the PRS. But we have to protect our investments. I’m running a business not a charity. If you want charitable housing you can see if you’re eligible to live in accommodation owned by a Registered Social Landlord (you’re probably not).

  8. Excellent piece. Just tweeted it out as my 5 star article of the week.

    @ Various replies. Nobody would query a landlord’s need to inspect sometimes but Tracy’s point is agents and landlords letting themselves in without permission. The law requires 24 hours written notice of intention to inspect, not just letting themselves in with a key and as she points out, how would landlords feel if they were sitting watching TV and someone from Barclays Bank just walked in un announced?

    I’m a working TRO getting involved in landlord/tenant disputes and this is perhaps the most common complaint of all. I’m a tenant too and got a letter last week from my agents saying they wanted to come and inspect and not to worry if I was at work as they have a key. Lets just say I phoned them up and disabused them of that notion straight away.

    The Law of Property Act 1925 states that when someone has a lease on a property they are to all intents and purposes the owner of that property for the period of the lease and like all owners they have the right to exclude anyone they like from the property including the landlord. Anyone entering property without tenants permission is trespassing, even if it is the owner.

    These are the hard legal facts of the matter.

    I wholly agree with Tracy when she says that it is this very attitude towards open access that fuels the general view that tenants are the least important part of the equation.

    I’ve owned all my life and am forced to rent through relationship breakdown and I absolutely loathe it. Dont get me wrong. I actually like my flat, I love the location, my agents are by and large OK and the landlords are a property company who I have never met but I never lose sight of the fact that I could have my home taken away at any time for no reason other than the landlrod chooses it. For that reason I never really buy furniture I like in case I cant re-home it and my stomach churns whenever I get a letter stamped from the agents in case it is bad news. Tenants live with that over their heads all the time. no security

    • Great reply though I’d have to say I would love it if someone from my bank turned up at my house as it’s so bloody hard to get in touch with a real person these days! Fed up of automated machines and the terrible Jazz hold music!

  9. Sorry to double post so soon but half an hour after writing the above one of my clients came in showing me an email from her landlord which perfectly illustrates the point, saying the following (Emphasis is as printed on email)

    “Please be informed that I shall be inspecting MY property on Wednesday the 30th of May at 6pm. PLease make yourslef available at this time. I will provide a copy of this email in hard copy form which I will post through MY letterbox where you currently reside”.

    This is from the landlrod we had to obtain an injunction agaiinst last week to stop them repeatedly walking in unannounced, on one occasion catching the tenant sitting on the toilet with the door open.

    The tenant moved in their with her child fleeing a violent partner and is very depressed

    • very good illustration of how some landlords don’t understand the legal position. It could equally be used to illustrate my earlier point that I would like to see more careful tenants, who do vet their landlord before moving in.
      In the current climate where tenants seem happy to take anything that is offered, the more diligent landlord has no way of distinguishing their property from everything else on offer.

      • Totally agree Linn. I am in my second rented home and I did a full private detective job each time before signing up. Both times the agents looked a bit taken aback when I asked the name of the landlrod when viewing.

        I dont see why landlrods and tenants shouldnt hold full and extensive set of personal references that they can show each other. Like a CV with previous contact details so they can be contacted or like the old HIP packs? Where everything a prospective purchaser needed to know was in there?

        It isnt just about credit checks. In fact they can be misleading. An otherwise perfectly solvent tenant might be rejected because their business went bankrupt 5 years ago, conversely a a person with a clear history and a decent wage might end up being a nightmare.

        I am on the Steering group of the London Landlords Accreditation Scheme and we have a national database that tenants will soon be able to access, that gives specific details of landlords who have been subjected to legal action for a variety of things.

  10. Excellent article and I very much feel tenants’ pain, being one myself at the behest of a rubbish landlord with multiple properties, yet who still doesn’t have a clue about tenancy law.

    Having previously worked in the mortgage world, it drove me crazy the number of times I was told that Britain is going the same way as Europe, where half the population rents. Not until we also have the stability that our European tenant counterparts enjoy eg: long-term rental agreements, decent/controlled rent levels, good quality accommodation etc etc.

    People telling me this were invaribaly those who owned their own home, probably got on the property ladder at 20 and most likely have a BTL portfolio themselves. At 30, I am no closer to owning than at 20 and it will be a small miracle if that changes any time soon, no matter how dearly I would love it to, simply so that I never have to deal with any landlord ever again.

    I put up with my current landlord purely because the rent is not quite so extortionate as others in my area and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I want to take on another landlord. Better the devil you know and that. But what a devil.

    He is the type to:
    – enter the flat unannounced
    – the type to act in disbelief that he is expected to provide two sets of keys rather than just one (the law when there is more than one person in a property – and after so much prevarication I simply paid to get some cut myself. Location of second set? In unknown hands, which makes me feel so safe)
    – the type to start works on the property, but never finish, eg new double glazed windows (theoretically great), the fact they are still not fully plastered in nine months later, definitely not great. Oh and they leak as well, so these brand spanking new windows will probably last a few years before the rot gets them anyway
    – the type of landlord during said works to take the entire roof off the property during March (and the coldest week of the year)without telling us and leave it as such for about a week. We’re just lucky it didn’t rain/snow, as there was no covering on the roof. It didn’t help our heating bill put it that way, given we live in the top flat of a divided terrace house.
    – the type who will enter the flat during the works (he took the lock off our door during the works because it was “broken” and didn’t replace it for four weeks) and while there leave a note from “the carpenter” saying not to hang bags on the kitchen doors as it could damage the hinges.

    I could go on and on and on about this absolute moron, but I won’t.

    Suffice to say, tenants don’t have many rights. Those that we do have are regularly flouted with abandon and what retaliation do we have? I am too worried about complaining and getting evicted as a result (retaliatory eviction, definitely, he is that petty) and having to go through the trauma of moving.

    I beg to differ with Migeul that the system is “rigged up a little more in favour of the tenants”. In what world is two months’ notice really sufficient? How would someone who owns there own home feel if they were constantly under the threat of having to move with two months’ notice?

    Landlords should have to be registered. They should have to do training to understand the law. They should actually have to face sanctions if they get it wrong, rather than tenants just putting up with it because they have no choice.

    Ultimately, landlords view a property as a business investment, tenants view it as a home. Those two things can never be rationalised.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, you put the issues so much more eloquently than I did or can. I hope it works out and I will do my best to whinge as loudly as possible to the right people and name and shame where I can. Tracy

      • Thanks Tracy! Hopefully, those who can make a difference will listen and actually do something. Let’s hope they’re not all landlords themselves!

        For example, after a bit of investigating of our own a while back, it turned out our landlord is an upstanding, local councillor (with a special interest in planning apparently – convenient, given he is also a builder), who lives in a multi-million pound property, has numerous BTLs and among his fleet of cars is a Bentley.

        Sour grapes that someone with so much money can’t be bothered ensuring the building work in our home/his flat is actually finished or view us as anything other than a nuisance? You bet.

        I appreciate how awful it must be for landlords to have nightmare tenants, but I don’t know anyone who rents who does anything but try and make that property their home and pay their rent on time.

        Here’s to better laws, better education on those laws for both sides and, as you said, more respect.

  11. Great blog your’s is a common issue and one we are trying to answer by releasing build to rent apartments without the use of agents that are professionally managed for the long term…check out the website..

    • To follow my previous post…The company is fizzyliving.com it’s a PRS subsidary of Thames Valley Housing Association. We are a build to let company looking to offer tenants a better deal than they would get from those buy to let ‘shonky landlords’.

  12. Having been in the property investment and letting business since before the phrase ‘buy-to-let’ was coined, I have always advised my clients (landlords) about the importance of respecting their tenants. In my view if tenants are respected, (forget the law – simply treat them with common decency) they are far more likely to respect their landlord and the property. Of course there is always the occasional bad apple but generally speaking we have always maintained this approach and had very good relationships with our tenants and as a result a minimum of rent arrears or property misuse/abuse.

    But it doesn’t stop there. The law has an important role to pay in the future of the PRS. The Housing Act 1988 and the introduction of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy was a huge improvement on what existed before but this is already looking outdated when considered against how the PRS has developed since then. The PRS now forms a major part of housing provision in this country, taking over from the local authorities, and with talk of the so-called ‘build-to-rent’ schemes, we need an urgent review of legislation to ensure the sector is properly equipped to deal with the huge growth predicted in the future.

    Some lobbying is surely required – anyone?

  13. Anonymous, you have indeed put your finger on a number of problems with the current renting system
    Ignorance of the law by both landlords and tenants.
    A system that provides no security for tenants.
    The fear of complaint for counter fear of retaliatory eviction.

    I have spent the past 22 years negotiating in disputes between landlords and tenants and prosecuting landlords who won’t listen and I have come to understand the needs of both sides. I have heard the arguments that the law is weighted towards tenants. The laws are many and numerous and were brought in as a response to some pretty wicked behaviours commonly known as ‘Rachmanism’. Landlords don’t understand this because nobody considers themselves to be a ‘Rachman’, and very few are in reality.

    There are many laws that protect tenants but since the Housing Act 1988 landlords always have the ultimate sanction of eviction without fault, created by the Assured Shorthold Tenancy. This is a permanent sword of Damocles over every tenant’s head and causes people to endure exactly the kind of situations that you set out, simply for fear of having their home taken away. Landlords complaining of the law being slanted towards tenants fail to see how over-arching this ultimate power actually is.

    But to be fair to landlords there are also nightmare tenants. The legal system as it stands does not help them to get rid of them easily and so landlords and tenants are in a permanent Mexican stand-off, with neither side understanding or even liking the other. So many landlords see tenants as an unpleasant and annoying barrier between them and their investment and many tenants view landlords as greedy and rapacious scoundrels.

    Education is a major component that can help to redress the balance but it is not the final answer. Even legal changes will only go so far, what has to change is the relationship between the 2 parties to an agreement. Laws and education can help support that and it is where we should start. The industry needs to be professionalised.

    What could really help is organisational and corporate investment in the PRS that don’t leave the tenant at the vagaries of the financial position of their buy to let landlord who could liquidate at a moment’s notice because it suits them, throwing the tenant into a home move or even a homelessness situation. Many housing associations are investing in PRS lets. This is a major step in the right direction.

    Small amateur landlords are still needed but they need educating and professionalising. Tenants too, really need to know their rights and obligations. Too many lettings are taken on with a complete misunderstanding of what is really going on, the fact that renting for both parties is a legal relationship, understood by neither.

  14. i have been in the rental business as an agent since 1978 and i started my own agency in 1992 there were 8 other dedicated letting agents in the town . there are now 72. If you add in the selling agents now having a stab at lettings there are 140 agents.

    A lot of the problems stem from those agents who do not want to be rental agents and who have never bothered with rentals. Economic situation has seen virtually every agent who sells property turning their hand at rentals and property management. I have owned a mix of estate agencies and rental agencies. What i would say is that sales staff and proper trained property management staff do not mix well in an office. Lets face it a sales person chasing commission doesnt want to be bothered with leaking taps or tenants complaints. Yet for a dedicated letting agent its part of a daily system

    I have always had dedicated rental & management offices and used my sales offices simply for offering rental property. In my management office my team are dedicated to looking after rented property. We have a dedicated person in charge of inspections and an experienced team to deal with issues quickly and efficiently.

    Be aware inspections are expected by the person who pays our fees the Landlord. Our initial inspection and responses are based on our initial findings. If we have a tenant who is immaculate and the property always pristine there is no point in inspecting too often. If we have a tenant who is obviously living a lifestyle that will see the property deteriorate then we may up the inspections.

    Having said that our approach is one of respect to a tenant as we want good tenants to feel happy and remain as long as possible so when we book the inspection we explain that if there are any issues with the property we would like these brought to our attention so that we can ask the Landlord to tackle them.

    When renting a property an assessment of the owners intention can always be matched with a tenants requirements and we try to do this. Some tenants want a stop gap others want a long term home. Landlords have the same ideas. We then repeat to a landlord in writing that the tenant wants to take the property with a view to a long term home where a lease is renewable if rent is paid etc

    I built my agency on good people in nice homes.

    I went to a property to value it. Having looked around the house i said to the owner

    ” thank you for permitting me to value your property I would suggest an asking price of 800 per month once you repaired the cracked glass pane to the front door and replaced the hall and lounge carpet. You will need to address the dripping taps as they are staining the basins and you would need to replace the missing doors to the 3 kitchen cupboards”

    His response “What are you going on about if i could bloody well afford to do that i wouldnt bother renting the bloody place”

    I took a deep breath and said ” I understand now lets move onto the commission we charge 20% plus VAT”

    No thanks he said and with that I had rid myself of a problematic owner and a property that would have infuriated any half decent occupier.

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