Know your prop­erty, not your ten­ants

The Irish Times - - Property Features - Damian Flana­gan

Are­cent BBC series called The Day the Land­lords Moved In fol­lowed a range of land­lords as they moved into their ten­ants’ ac­com­mo­da­tion and tried to live like they did.

The nar­ra­tive arc of each episode was al­most ex­actly the same: the land­lords were shown up to be com­pla­cent about the grim state of their prop­er­ties and lack­ing in un­der­stand­ing of the dif­fi­cult lives of the strug­gling peo­ple who lived there.

It was only by be­ing placed in their shoes that the scales were lifted from their eyes and they could fi­nally see all the faults and re­pair needs at their prop­er­ties – and the un­fair rents they were charg­ing for them.

The set pat­tern in these shows makes for en­gag­ing drama, yet while re­veal­ing of some of the is­sues in rental ac­com­mo­da­tion, it man­ages to draw en­tirely the wrong con­clu­sions.

The meta-nar­ra­tive of a show like this is that land­lords should en­gage more per­son­ally with their ten­ants in or­der to be mo­ti­vated to look after their prop­er­ties.

But the prob­lem be­ing ex­posed is sim­ply that the land­lords do not know or care about their prop­er­ties.

The key point to un­der­stand about prop­erty in­vest­ment is that it is not a pas­sive ac­tiv­ity like own­ing shares, but a con­stant hands-on re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Many neg­li­gent land­lords are the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of “ab­sen­tee land­lords” and in­vest in houses and flats that they never visit or inspect, and of­ten fail to re­spond to re­pair re­quests on them.

One of the big prob­lems of the sec­tor is that for too many years the idea has been pro­moted that you can sim­ply buy prop­erty, en­trust it to an agent (or even no one at all) and for­get all about it, in­spir­ing some peo­ple to buy prop­erty in parts of the coun­try, or for­eign coun­tries, they have never even vis­ited.

Re­spon­si­ble in­vest­ment re­quires that you know your prop­erty and take pride in its up­keep.

Yet, do you also need to per­son­ally get to know your ten­ants, and will this im­prove your busi­ness? The an­swer to that question is em­phat­i­cally “no”.

There will of course be some (usu­ally small-scale) land­lords who love to be­come friends with their ten­ants.

I once knew an el­derly lady who loved to have a drink and lis­ten to Ir­ish mu­sic in her ten­ants’ rooms.

But gen­er­ally speak­ing, pro­fes­sion­al­ism re­quires that you di­vide busi­ness and plea­sure into sep­a­rate spheres.

This does not of course mean that land­lords and ten­ants can­not main­tain friendly re­la­tions – just that the pri­vate and per­sonal cir­cum­stances of ten­ants are not factors with which an ac­com­mo­da­tion provider should be in­volved.

Pro­fes­sional ser­vice

Should a land­lord stop look­ing after a prop­erty if there is some­one dis­lik­able liv­ing there, or sud­denly raise the rent if an af­flu­ent pro­fes­sional moves in? No, a ten­ant should ex­pect ex­actly the same pro­fes­sional level of ser­vice, re­gard­less of their cir­cum­stances in life.

No mat­ter how much you ded­i­cate your­self to the pro­fes­sional man­age­ment of a prop­erty and ob­serve the per­sonal pri­vacy of ten­ants, there are in­evitably oc­ca­sions when the per­sonal cir­cum­stances of ten­ants will sud­denly spill out into the life of a prop­erty man­ager.

Fu­ri­ous fallings-out be­tween groups of friends liv­ing to­gether in a house can lead to your phone ring­ing with dif­fer­ing ac­counts of the dis­agree­ments and where the re­spon­si­bil­ity lies – quite of­ten with par­ents of young renters call­ing and email­ing in with their sup­port for their loved one in the dis­pute.

Then there are the of­ten frac­tious split-ups be­tween cou­ples shar­ing a flat, with one mov­ing out mid-ten­ancy and re­fus­ing to have any­thing more to do with their hate­ful ex – re­gard­less of the fact that they still have a mu­tual re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ten­ancy.

Emo­tional trauma

The land­lord in such cases – with­out be­ing overly judge­men­tal – needs to care­fully ne­go­ti­ate a set­tle­ment as rapidly as pos­si­ble.

On a few oc­ca­sions I have felt the emo­tional trauma of my ten­ants spilled over into my own life and caused me per­son­ally a cer­tain amount of stress.

Then there are ten­ants who have med­i­cal ac­ci­dents, fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties or men­tal health prob­lems, mean­ing they can­not con­tinue with a ten­ancy and some­times ar­rive on your of­fice doorstep in

‘‘

Neg­li­gent land­lords are the equiv­a­lent of ‘ab­sen­tee land­lords’ who in­vest in houses but never visit

tears. In these cir­cum­stances, while not wish­ing to be a judge-cum-so­cial worker, you some­times have lit­tle choice but to make judge­ments about sin­cer­ity and take de­ci­sions that will lead to prac­ti­cal, rea­son­able res­o­lu­tions that will not ac­cen­tu­ate stress for the ten­ants or you.

A mi­nor­ity of ten­ants is not above ex­ploit­ing such ap­peals to a land­lord’s bet­ter na­ture for cal­cu­lat­ing ad­van­tage. I re­cently had a cou­ple liv­ing at a flat break up and the girl­friend leave the prop­erty mid-ten­ancy, re­fus­ing to pay any more rent or re­spond­ing to any emails.

The boyfriend and his father were soon on the phone de­mand­ing a rent re­duc­tion due to changed cir­cum­stances, and point­ing out how un­fair it was that the boyfriend should be left with whole re­spon­si­bil­ity for the flat.

When it came to the end of the ten­ancy it was as­sumed that the joint de­posit would be used to clear any rental ar­rears, but the girl­friend – from whom there had been no con­tact for months – sud­denly re-emerged, claim­ing her half of the de­posit. When asked why she had not been con­tactable ear­lier, she re­vealed that she and the boyfriend had split on amicable terms but the boyfriend had asked her not to re­spond to any land­lord emails so that he and his wealthy father could engi­neer pres­sure to get his rent re­duced.

There will al­ways be a per­cent­age of “rogue char­ac­ters” among both land­lords and ten­ants, but an at­ti­tude of pro­fes­sion­al­ism means that mak­ing moral judg­ments about other peo­ples’ lives is not some­thing which should of­ten oc­cur.

What renters re­ally want is not that prop­erty providers “un­der­stand” their pri­vate lives, but that they show a pro­fes­sional ded­i­ca­tion to look­ing after the prop­er­ties they live in, ut­terly re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances and life­styles of the peo­ple liv­ing there.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ISTOCKPHOTO

The key point to un­der­stand about prop­erty in­vest­ment is that it is not a pas­sive ac­tiv­ity like own­ing shares, but a con­stant hands-on re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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