Before I spent the last year travelling in Asia, I found myself in the very privileged position of becoming a landlord. I had never pictured myself being involved in property in any shape or form, but it was necessary to fund the trip, so we pulled the trigger.
We navigated the paperwork, the health and safety regulations, found a letting agent and wrote a guide to the area for the tenants. Then we concentrated our efforts on fixing it up – repainting the walls, sewing new curtains, fitting a new bathroom, varnishing the floors and replacing lampshades.
We beavered away as we wanted the house to be somewhere that tenants would pay to live in. Having lived in some truly horrible places, I wanted our home to be so well-maintained that someone would be happy to live there.
When our letting agent was doing the inventory for the house, he saw the welcome pack that we’d made and he cocked an eyebrow. ‘You’ve never been a landlord before have you?’ was what he said and those words certainly haunted me. He told me some horror stories but I didn’t want to believe that was the norm, and of course, not everybody trashes the home they have to live in.
I was horrified when I returned to my house after a year, it was filthy, full of broken stuff and they’d left their belongings everywhere. It smelt awful, there was trash overflowing from the wrong bins and the lawn was full of dog excrement that I subsequently had to rake out. It was a mess, and it took hours and hours to clean and fix everything.
Broken light fittings, broken lights, chewed up furniture, the beige sofa was black with dirt and there was dog sick all over the rug. They even left the door open when they moved out, leaving it open to squatters so the police had to attend.
Not only that, but our letting agency didn’t keep on top of the maintenance tasks that we’d paid them for, so I came home to a huge hole in the kitchen ceiling from a roof leak. They’d left it that way for 2 months which resulted in a water-damaged kitchen from where it had been leaking into a bucket full of holes.
On a less dramatic note, they’d replaced our fridge with one that hums really loudly. The point is, that the letting agency isn’t as invested in your home as you are, so they don’t care if the fridge they’ve supplied has a dodgy fan or your kitchen is soaked when you return.
Our home was damaged both by our tenants and the letting agency so it made things complicated when I returned to the UK and it took months to make the necessary complaints and to get our deposit back.
The good news is that I’ve gained some wisdom from the whole experience so here are 7 things that I learnt about being a landlord after my house got trashed by tenants:
1. Check for recommendations of that specific letting agent
We went with Bridgfords as they are quite a big name nationally so we thought it would be a safe pair of hands. However, they let us down in many ways and took a long time to get back to us about anything. They also left repairs unfinished and generally gave a really poor level of service for their 10% cut of the rent.
Knowing what I do now, I would always go with the recommendations of a specific branch, regardless of whether they’re a big name or not. Put out a call on Facebook to see if anyone can vouch for them. Also, beware of new people taking over your property which happened to us and it all went pretty downhill after that.
2. Take detailed photographs yourself
Our letting agency took detailed photographs before the tenancy but not at the end, which meant that the damage was not properly documented so I did it myself. If you have detailed pictures to start with then this will help you to reclaim for the damage and will help you if the letting agency let you down.
3. Remove anything nice from your home
Any sentimental items should be put in storage or taken to a relative or friends house if they have room. We put non-sentimental stuff in the loft and garage where it was locked away. If there is a fire in your home, you could lose things that way, so it is something to think about.
4. Leave paint, tools and cleaning stuff
Accidents do happen and we all break and spill stuff without meaning to. Leave paint, tools and cleaning stuff in a cupboard so that tenants can fix things themselves and save money on their deposit.
5. Get a pet deposit
If you find out they’re going to have a pet then get a deposit to cover the extra damage that they can create, because unfortunately, anyone can be a pet owner. The tenant’s dog was left on his own for hours on end and my neighbour barely saw him so it’s not surprising that he chewed up the house. Even rabbits can chew up wires and skirting boards and cats can destroy furnishings, not to mention the hours it takes to get rid of pet smells if people don’t keep on top of cleaning.
6. Check whether maintenance work has been carried out
If you get any reports of damage and you have paid for maintenance work to be carried out, then ask a friend, neighbour or relative to check that it’s actually been done. Or ask the tenants if you can. Nobody wants to look like a bad landlord if your letting agency is too incompetent to get repairs done in a timely way. It’s also useful to get someone to check appliances as none of mine were working when I returned and the tenants didn’t report it to anyone.
7. Get really good landlord insurance
When you’re buying landlord insurance, make sure that accidental damage, as well as wear and tear, is covered otherwise they won’t pay out for maintenance issues or things the tenants have broken, like boilers. Insurers will take any excuse not to payout. Don’t give them one.
The only positive thing to come out of this us that the tenants were so well off that they actually left stuff behind which means that I’ve used it or given it to charity. I hate to see anything go to landfill so I’m glad that some things were salvaged from this whole experience.
They did throw away a load of food that could have gone to a food bank which is completely unacceptable and perhaps the most unforgivable thing they did when people live in poverty in this country.
One thing never to do as a landlord is charge tenants for maintenance issues or general wear and tear. If the house is left in a reasonable condition then that is all you can ask for as life is messy, people work long hours and some people don’t know how to fix things. A tenant will generally not leave your house in the same or better condition unless they’re living there for a long time and consider it to be their home. There are enough bad landlords out there, don’t be one of them.
I hope this article has been useful to you, I think that to be an honest landlord and to actually make a decent profit is quite a difficult thing but if you’ve had a different (or similar) experience then share your stories in the comments below! I’d love to hear them.
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