Today, the average landlord has more hats than Ladies Day at Ascot.
Back in the day, a Rigsby-style landlord had two main jobs. Cutting the odd key and collecting rent. Other than that, tenants were pretty much left to their own devices. However, that isn’t quite the case anymore! There’s a little more to think about as we navigate the PRS.
As with any business, the needs of your customers should be your top priority, no more so than when you are dealing with the very emotional and personal topic of someone’s home.
However, many landlords feel that get more than they bargained for when they find themselves trapped in the middle of (sometimes very personal!) disputes between sparring housemates, disputes between neighbours or even upsets between family members, and may find that they have to be increasingly able to manage delicate situations, without treading on anyone’s toes.
But how do you best manage these potentially tricky situations, without feeling like the bad guy?
- Try not to take a side – although this might be easier said than done (especially if there is an obvious person who is in the wrong) it is you job as a third party to be impartial, and gather the evidence to try and rectify the situation. After all, if it was cut and dried, chances are the tenants wouldn’t have had to call you in in the first place!
- Have a calm and reasoned discussion with everyone about the issues, separately. Now is not the time for a household cup of tea round the kitchen table! If you have warring housemates, trying to calm the situation over a pack of digestives is only likely to inflame the issue, get to the nitty gritty separately, off-site if necessary, and take your time to draw your own conclusions.
- Come up with a plan, if you think you can help – if there’s anything you can do to assist with the problem, draw up a plan and present it to the people involved. Let them know why you are making the suggestions you are and give them the opportunity to make suggestions (valid ones!) of their own.
- Be realistic – some issues are not resolvable. In this instance, give the sparring tenants the option of surrendering their tenancy (with flexibility on time to find a new property) or suggest that you will have to issue a possession notice should issues continue. Obviously, this is not what you want, but you cannot spend all of your time managing arguments!
Border control agent
When it was introduced back in 2015, Right to Rent caused uproar in the landlord community. However, as we’ve settled into the process, it has embedded itself in the lettings ‘to do list’ and become just another element in the rental requirements that must be ticked off before keys are handed over.
Designed to ensure that every person who lives in a rental property in England has a legal right to reside in the country, Right to Rent was a controversial legislation when introduced. In March the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration slammed R2R as being ‘yet to demonstrate its worth as a tool to encourage immigration, with the Home Office failing to coordinate, maximise or even measure effectively its use’ and the High Court granted a Judicial Review of the entire R2R process to take place, following claims of discrimination against people who do not hold a British passport.
However, until the review takes place, it is still legal requirement to undertake a R2R check on everyone aged 18 or over who is residing in your property, whether they are named on the tenancy agreement or not. With regards to age, it is pertinent to remember that if someone residing in your property turns 18 whilst the tenancy is active, a check should be performed on them at this stage.
The check itself is simple – all that has to happen is a landlord (or agent) must verify that the tenant can provide identification to prove that they have a right to reside in the country. There are a number of forms of identification that can be used, from a simple passport (this is usually the simplest option) to a combination of documents if the tenant does not hold a passport. If the tenant is moving to England from outside the EU, they will have to provide a documentation providing their right to reside – such as a visa stamp or associated letter.
An original copy of the ID must be seen (no photocopies) alongside the tenant in person. If a situation arises where a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible (your tenant is moving from abroad for example) on rare occasions the check can be carried out over Video Calling technology (Skype/Facetime), however the tenancy agreement must be conditional upon satisfactory Right to Rent checks before they move in. It is wise to only rely on this option in a very last case scenario, as it does leave you at risk should the worst happen!
A copy of the ID must be taken (most people rely on a digital photo) and this must be stored for the duration of the tenancy, and 12 months afterwards.
When it comes to matching the perfect person to the perfect role, recruitment agents are generally the people to go to. Day in, day out, they can scan CVs and click people into roles with apparent ease.
However, matching someone with a role based on their skills from previous jobs is one thing. Matching them to a home, based on only a credit report, and a hunch is quite another, especially if you have other housemates to consider. That’s a placement even the very best head-hunter might struggle with!
As a landlord, you have plenty of elements to consider when matching a potential tenant to your property, so give yourself the very best chance! Comprehensive referencing and meeting your tenants are both key at this stage and is the equivalent to a well-written CV and good interview! After all, it’d be much simpler to place a candidate who has provided useful information and presented themselves well, instead of someone who has jsut sent a hastily-written text with just their last place of work!
Referencing should be able to provide you with your prospective tenant’s credit history, employment, and even their history with previous landlords, so you should get a good feel for their back story.
A face-to-face meeting is always a really good idea too, as it gives you the opportunity to get a feel for how they are as a person, and how you will be able to work together. Whilst it is ideal to think that you will be able to hand over the keys and leave the property to them, it is inevitable that there will be a certain amount of interaction, and it is vital that you get on, and be able to work together. Trust is key, and you gut instinct is usually a good one!
If you are filling a space in a shared house, it is good practice to invite the other housemates in to meet the prospective new tenant too. After all, someone who you consider to be a great fit may not work at all within the dynamics of the home, and you do not want to risk losing long-standing existing tenants because you made the wrong call with the new one. Whilst it can be tempting to rush this process, sometimes it can be better to take your time and get it right, rather than speed through it and get it wrong – a hasty decision could end up costing you twice!
Failing to carry out a gas safety check, poor maintenance, incorrect licensing. There is plenty that can land you on the wrong side of the law as a landlord. However, there is a much darker side to the property industry, one which is sadly becoming more and more prominent in smaller towns across the UK.
Drug production, people trafficking, slavery and prostitution are some of the atrocities that are sweeping the nation, with criminal gangs operating out of residential rental properties (just like yours) – right under the unaware landlord’s nose.
The most common criminal activity that we hear about is cannabis production – with horror stories of quiet residential properties being ruined by huge industrial farms becoming frighteningly regular. However, sickeningly, the National Crime Agency announced in August 2017 that human trafficking and modern slavery impacted ‘every large town and city in the UK’, with ‘tens of thousands’ of people being brought to the UK and forced into prostitution, labour, begging, criminality, slavery, marriage and even organ removal. Many of these horrifying incidents take place in a rented property, with an unwilling landlord having let the home to a ‘respectable front man’ - usually a family unit – providing the perfect cover, allowing the criminal gangs to trick the landlord before moving huge numbers of exploited people in.
But how can you remain alert to such things?
Criminal gangs are very clever, but there are a few signs to be aware of that may help you keep one step ahead:
- Be alert if someone is willing to pay a large amount of rent upfront – this is common practice when looking for a property to use for criminal means, especially if it is in cash. It is virtually impossible to trace cash, so this should really set alarm bells ringing!
- Make sure you carry out appropriate referencing checks – employment checks, previous landlord checks and credit history checks all help build a picture of the person. If they are reluctant to undergo these checks, or do not have this history, it might be wise to question why not.
- Don’t forget Right to Rent checks on everyone who will be living in the property who is aged over 18 – not only is this the law, but also a useful tool to clarify that they are who they say they are. If your tenant is reluctant to have a R2R check you should be concerned, or if you are unsure that the ID provided is theirs, or is legitimate, you can contact the landlord’s helpline on 0300 069 9799
- Ask yourself sensible questions and follow your instinct. Most people will want to live in the region that they work in, or that their children go to school in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to find this out, and if the information doesn’t tally, probe a little deeper. If they don’t want to answer and walk away, so be it – you may have had a lucky escape.
- Keep on side with the neighbours – You are not able to be at your property 24/7, so having a good relationship with the neighbours of the property gives you a little extra cover when you are not available. Ask them to notify you of any unusual behaviour and keep you in the loop if there’s anything they are worried by. This is great for maintenance issues too!
- You cannot assume that every tenant is going to be a criminal mastermind, however your property is a huge asset, so don’t just abandon it when it is let. At the start of the tenancy, schedule regular maintenance visits, but do bear in mind that your tenants are entitled to quiet enjoyment of the property – once a week checks is pushing it!
If you have any concerns, don’t be shy in contacting your local Safer Neighbourhoods community policing team (previously Community Policing PCSOs). They will be trained in exactly what to look for and may do a few patrols near your property, or speak to a neighbour.
You can seek to end the property with a section 21 no-fault possession notice. However, you must make sure that your tenancy checklist is complete at the start of the tenancy (prescribed information sent, and if a deposit was taken, it must have been protected correctly) in order to ensure your section 21 notice is valid. In Scotland, for tenancies that start after December 1st this system is changing, so do be aware of the new rules.
If you are concerned that anyone is in danger, do not hesitate to contact the police immediately.
- If someone is in immediate danger, always call 999
- Local police force: 101
- Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111
- Modern Slavery Helpline: 0800 0121 700
A landlord article wouldn’t be complete without a little GDPR now, would it?
This is a hat many landlords are unaware that they are wearing, but unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to get around it, it’s very much in vogue at the moment.
Under GDPR, landlords are classed as data controllers, and that’s quite a significant role!
A data controller is an individual (or an organisation) who decides how personal data is processed. Data protection obligations primarily fall upon the data controller – it’s your job to keep your tenant’s data safe.
Initially, as a data controller, you decide:
- To collect the personal data in the first place
- The legal basis for data collection• which items of personal data to collect (what you need to know!)
- What you’re planning on using the personal data for
- Who’s data you need
- Whether to pass the data onto a Processor the data, which ones, and whether they have an appropriate handling process• How long you will keep the data
- Whether to make any amendments to the data (if you will delete any of the content after X amount of time)
You don’t just have to worry about your own processes though. As a data controller, you also have to keep an eye on any Data Processors that you engage with. A Data Processor is any of the organisations you ask to handle data on your behalf– your referencing agency, your plumber, your agent. Under GDPR they have responsibilities for:
- Appropriate collection of data• Appropriate editing of data
- Retaining/storing in line with GDPR guidelines• Disclosing (or sharing) data in line with GDPR guidelines
- The correct deletion/erasing/destroying of data
- The proper viewing (e.g. looking at someone’s personal data, which could include their image, on screen or on paper) of data in line with GDPR guidelines
- Appropriate archiving of data
As a Data Controller it is your responsibility to ensure that any Data Processor that you engage with is managing your tenant’s data correctly, and complying with the guidelines.
Full details on how to comply with the GDPR guidelines are available here: https://www.urban.co.uk/landlord-university/
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