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How to be a Good Landlord

Good landlord welcomes couple to rented property

There’s so much in the media about rogue landlords in the private rented sector, who treat renters badly. What doesn’t get so much media attention is the multitude of good private landlords who look after their renters and do their best to provide nice, decent places to live in.

But what exactly is a good landlord? What does it mean?

In this blog post, I set out the 5 tips on how to be a good landlord.

How to be a good landlord: comply with legislation. Legislation on a type writer

Firstly, if you want to be a good landlord, you need to get yourself educated. I don’t mean learning how to deal stack and recycle deposits, or source deals. These insights just take you to the starting blocks, like M&A in the corporate world.

Getting educated as a landlord means learning about operations, and actually running your business. Key to doing this, is understanding your legal obligations as a landlord.

Private landlords in the UK have over 170 pieces of legislation to contend with. These legal obligations are the foundations upon which everything else stands.

Being a landlord is not a hobby. Even if you appoint managing agents, the buck rightly stops with you. After all, people are living in the homes you rent to them. This means you need to know what your obligations are. It’s no defence to argue that you appointed letting agents, and that they let you down. It’s your own responsibility to know what the law says and to comply with it.

There are lots of ways you can do this. I personally think the most cost effective way to do this is to join the National Residential Landlords Association, and take their Landlords Fundamentals course. It costs £64 for members, and will earn you official Landlord Accreditation with the NRLA. You can join the NRLA here.

>> Related Post: What are landlord’s obligations to repair?

2. Good landlords comply with the spirit and intent of the law

Man servicing a boiler - getting the boiler serviced each year is a sign of how to be a good landlord
Complying with the spirit and intent of the law means getting the boiler serviced once a year

In my book, being a good landlord involves going further than mere compliance with the law. I believe it means complying with the spirit and intent of the law. Not trying to wriggle out of things on a technicality. Doing the right thing by our renters.

For instance, landlords must obtain a gas safety certificate on gas appliances every year. The legislation doesn’t state that the boiler needs to be serviced at the same time. I bought a property from another landlord who had never serviced the boiler in 10 years. No wonder it was leaking water! I was incredulous that a landlord wouldn’t spend the extra £20 to service the boiler.

Not only does a service extend the life of the boiler, it’s the right thing to do for the safety of the people living there.

Don’t try to get out of doing the right thing or cut corners by relying on a technicality. The law is the minimum you need to do. It doesn’t mean you need to stop there. Do the right thing.

3. Create a sustainable business

Sustainable property investing with watering can green house; sign of a good landlord
Invest in a long-term sustainable income stream and capital growth

Being a landlord is a proper business and shouldn’t be seen as a little side hustle. It involves investing a substantial amount of money to buy a property, usually taking on debt, in the hope it’ll generate a fair income and capital growth for many years to come.

Property isn’t something you can buy and forget about, even if you have agents. Property needs looking after and maintaining. Fixing things promptly and properly.

I do six monthly inspections, primarily to look out for maintenance issues, but also to check the renters are looking after the property. I always ask them if there are any niggling things that need fixing – it’s usually cheaper to fix things when they are small problems. It’s a false economy not to look after your property properly.

Unless you’re buying a new-build, you’ll need to invest regularly in maintaining your properties. Properties aren’t cash cows to left alone and milked.

Allow for 10% a year as a minimum in your cash flow projections. Unless you went back to brick on older properties during your refurb, things are bound to go wrong. You may therefore have some maintenance catching up to do that costs more than the 10% pa. In these inflationary times, it makes sense to catch up on the maintenance sooner rather than later.

Part of this is investing in the properties to make them more energy efficient. According to government data, 61% of private rented properties do not have a rating of EPC Band C. (Click here for the gov.uk source).

Although it’s expensive upgrading the energy efficiency of older properties, I believe it’s our duty of landlords to invest in improvements. One of my properties was an EPC Band E when I bought it, and I’ve been making improvements each year. To read more on this, take a look at my blog post What landlords need to know about energy efficiency and EPCs.

Take a look at the photo below. The crumbling wall was an accident waiting to happen, and I could not contemplate letting the house with the wall in this state.

After I bought the house from an owner-occupier, I arranged for builders to take down the wall and replace it with a fence. I paid for this myself (£1,700), even though technically the wall was the responsibility of the neighbour, according to the Register of Title.

I could have removed the loose bricks and hoped for the best, but safety comes first when you’re a landlord. You can’t just cross your fingers and leave things like this. It’s important for landlords to be proactive about protecting the physical and mental safety of renters.

Additionally, it even made sense from a numbers point of view. It added value to the house and made it easy to let, improving future cash flows.

before and after wall damage
Taking down the crumbling wall and replacing it with a fence was a priority when I bought this buy to let

4. Good landlords are professional and respectful

It’s important to be professional, business-like and respectful as a landlord. You’re providing a service, and part of that service is being courteous.

What does this mean?

Firstly, it’s important for landlords to give tenants “quiet enjoyment” of the property. In other words, renters have the right to live in the property without unnecessary interruption or disruption from the landlord.

Except in an emergency, landlords must give 24 hours notice to inspect the property. Even if the landlord has keys, they shouldn’t let themselves in, apart from in a genuine emergency eg fire flood, or if the tenant has given permission, for instance to let in trades people. Otherwise, a landlord can only enter the premises after grant of a repossession order (see How to terminate tenancy under Section 8).

Consequently, if you go to inspect the property, knock at the front door, and don’t use your keys. It’s polite, and recognises your renters’ privacy. Be clear from the start of the tenancy how often you’ll inspect the property (at least every six months), and give lots of notice for an inspection. I usually contact the tenants a week in advance with a choice of time slots.

Secondly, being professional means being reliable, and doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it. Do the paperwork, for instance, sending them a copy of the gas safety certificate each year, and document any agreed rent changes.

Thirdly, treat your renters with courtesy. Keep the tone of messages and emails professional, and respond promptly to their messages. Equally, don’t be over familiar as they are your customers, and not your friends. Get into the habit of saving messages, in case you need them in the future. For instance, if you allow them to have a pet after they’ve moved in, what conditions did you agree?

Fourthly, being professional doesn’t mean being a push-over, and agreeing to everything the renters ask for. Sometimes they will make unreasonable requests, eg to make costly structural changes to the property where there are no safety concerns. However, it’s best to chat through issues amicably to come up with a way forward.

Finally, if renters do fall into arrears, process is your friend. Send professional reminders by text and then by email before starting a formal debt recovery process, and recommend they obtain support eg from Citizens Advice. The NRLA has excellent templates for managing rental arrears.

>> Related Post: How to carry out successful mid-tenancy inspections

>> Related Post: How to achieve positive end of tenancy checkout

5. Good landlords act fairly and reasonably

happy dog with family of renters moving in
If the property is suitable, good landlords should consider renters with appropriate pets.

Above all, it’s important for landlords to act fairly and reasonably, in the particular circumstances.

For instance, if you know you’re planning to sell your property, give the tenants plenty of notice. When I decided to sell my flat, I went to tell my renters in person in the August that I was planning to put it on the market the following February. This was considerably more than the two months’ notice I needed to give under Section 21. However, they’d been excellent tenants, and it was only fair that I gave them plenty of time to find somewhere else.

Landlords should look at the bigger picture and think what’s fair and reasonable. Say you’ve had good tenants for 10 years who’ve looked after the property and paid their rent on time. When they leave, don’t take out the cost of filling a few holes in the wall out of their deposit. Although you’re within your rights to do this, it doesn’t mean that’s the right thing to do.

Another example is a landlord’s pet policy. Only 7% of rental properties advertised in the UK state that suitable pets are welcome. If the property is suitable, and the pet is appropriate, a good landlord should consider allowing the pet.

When making decisions, take into account the wider context, and be generous. This also means taking into account your renters’ mental wellbeing when making decisions. This is particularly true with pets, as we saw during the pandemic. In any event, tenants will have an implied right to reasonable pets when the Renters Reform Bill comes into effect. Here’s my blog post on how landlords can be pet-friendly, and it also explains what the Renters Reform Bill says.

On the other hand, I had a tenant who asked to be released from a 12 month fixed term 5 months early, which I agreed to. (I know I didn’t need to, but I thought it was the right thing to do). However, I had no qualms about charging for a professional clean when she left the oven I’d installed only six months earlier in a dreadful state.

It’s a question of balance: give and take. By and large, good landlords and good renters go hand in hand.

blackboard with Balance and Give and take written in chalk on it

Final thoughts

Being a good landlord makes good business sense. Good landlords usually have happier renters. Happy renters tend to stay longer and look after the property better.

It can be helpful to think of ESG principles when making decisions. This means taking into account environmental, social and governance factors to build a sustainable portfolio. To read more in this, take a look at my blog post Why ESG and Sustainability matter to landlords.

If you’re unsure what to do in a given situation, think about the Golden Rule. What I mean by this is to think about what you’d expect if the tables were turned. Or if your adult children or elderly relatives were renting from someone else.

Whilst private landlords are not providers of social housing, or a charity, we do still provide a basic human need. The need for safe and decent housing to live in.

What we do and how we do it matters to our renters, their quality of life and their mental health. While we’re bound to make mistakes from time to time, we do have a choice in how we go about being a landlord. Let’s choose to do our best to be good landlords.

How to be a good landlord - female landlord welcomes two renters to property
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