Winter has arrived and with it bad weather, rent arrears as tenants decide to use rent to buy that must-have-toy, complaints that heating is inadequate, and a myriad other issues that seem to occur more frequently when the temperature drops.
Discuss the rent with tenants before the arrears start. If they acknowledge that it would help them not to pay the full rent, make an arrangement for them to pay half the rent in December and make it up gradually over a few months. There is more chance of them paying additional rent from January if they have not actually been considered to have done wrong. It also acts as a reminder that some rent paid is better than a full month’s arrears. If they fall into debt without discussion with the landlord, they are in the wrong to start with and will begin the New Year in arrears and their relationship with the landlord possibly tattered.
People like to make their homes cosy and are influenced by Christmas films in deciding on their representation of what home should look like. Candles look nice, but can be a fire risk, particularly if combined with alcohol. Discuss the safety issue with them. Candles in glass containers or holders that do not leave a naked flame burning freely, are safer than candle sticks with open flames. Do your tenants like to use lots and lots of Christmas lights? That is up to them, but make sure they do not overload any sockets and that the lights are correctly wired. An electrical fire at Christmas is no fun for anyone and could even cost lives.
Have you done what you can over the year to improve the energy efficiency of your properties to make them more comfortable? What may have seemed adequate in the summer – poor season though it was for much of Britain – will soon be revealed as poor protection from draughts. Simple measures can make a difference – even providing draught excluders will help cut out the chill. Portable heaters to provide a boost to the heating, or to save central heating running all day, can be purchased quite cheaply and halogen heaters are not expensive to run. Though again, ensure there is no over-loading of sockets.
Make sure you know a good plumber who will prioritise – as far as he is able – any work you give him. If a boiler breaks down and heating and hot water are no longer available, your tenant cannot be expected to live without these basic necessities for more than a day or so. Be prepared with heaters, blankets and whatever else you can provide to help your tenants in the short-term whilst the repair is completed.
Still have television aerials on the roof? High winds could bring them down and you will not get someone to go on the roof to re-fix if there are gales. In this day and age, having a television service is seen as a necessity. The answer is to buy some indoor aerials. They cost about £20 and work extremely well. Many landlords now prefer to provide these for tenants because it is so much easier than having them fitted in what are inaccessible places for the majority of people. Buying a few to keep in reserve for an emergency situation may be a good idea.
Don’t forget, many people may be visiting family and friends over Christmas. Remind your tenants of the things they should do to avoid the possibility of bursts. Have you lagged pipes? Make sure they know that keeping the heating on at a very low temperature whilst they are absent from home will cost them very little, but will stop the possibility of bursts with the consequent damage to furniture, the inconvenience of mopping up water and the probable smell.
These are small steps, but could prevent major upset and damage. All landlords are advised to discuss these issues with their tenants. To do so shows you are a responsible landlord, concerned for their well-being. Let’s hope this leads to responsible tenants, concerned with ensuring that their homes should not suffer damage due to their ignorance or negligence.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon