It is impossible to work with private sector landlords without hearing complaints being made about agents. Though to be fair, this is often due to unrealistic expectations from the landlord.
The best protection for landlords is to read the agreement they have signed with the agents and to question them about the extent of their services. Do they undertake property inspections? Do they keep careful accounts and send letters when the tenants fall into arrears? Some do, some don’t, but what matters is that the landlord is aware of what they can expect. This would cut the complaints by half, if landlords were as responsible as they should be.
However, that is not to say that sometimes, agents don’t deserve the complaints that are made about them and a recent case illustrates perfectly why landlords lose patience and trust in their agent. When they do not do at least the minimum that could be expected of an agent who has been paid to provide a full management service.
The property-owner, of a medium sized portfolio, had been an active landlord and managed his own properties for many years. Unfortunately, his domestic circumstances meant that he could no longer devote the time needed to his lettings, so decided to use an agent.
The agents seemed to spend a lot of time advising the owner of ‘new’ legislation and persuading him of their competence, even though these tidings were always old news, but we cannot complain of anyone who ‘sells’ themselves and their services. However, what owners want and should expect, is for the rent to be collected.
The agent cannot be blamed for a tenant who does not make the rent payments. Where this agent disappointed was that he failed to take appropriate action when the level of the rent arrears justified it.
The rent of the property was £850 per calendar month – quite a high rent for a property in the North West. The tenancy agreement stated rent was payable monthly in advance. When the tenant failed to make the first rent payment, a pleasant reminder that payment was required was needed. Failure to make payment for the second month, meant that a further letter be sent, together with a section 8 notice using the rent arrears grounds 8, 10 and 11 and giving notice. The notice period for a section 8 is only 2 weeks, so as the second month ends, an application can be made to the Court.
Of course, taking such speedy action should, in many cases, persuade the tenant that this is a serious matter and could very easily lead to eviction, if they don’t get the rent paid. If it does not have this effect, then at least action has been taken at the earliest opportunity, so should minimise the rent arrears. The agents neglected to do this.
The landlord is now owed over £4,000. His confidence in the agent is sadly dented. He knows he should remove his properties from their care, but he has no confidence in finding a better agent. He has not been notified that a notice has been issued.
Those agents that offer a full service, know what they are doing and keep the owners notified are worth their weight in gold to landlords without the time to manage their properties themselves. Sadly, the landlords that find themselves with the same kind of situations outlined above, would not use ‘gold’ to describe what they have received from the agents.
Read your agreement with the agent; make sure it is accessible for checking (too many agreements go missing when they are needed); ask questions before the agreement is signed; and during the course of the tenancy, challenge the agent if you do not feel they are keeping you in touch with what is happening.
Pay an agent by all means, but make sure it is a good one who will do what you want.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon