Managing a rental property: what to do when there's a problem

Landlords Jun 8, 2021

Managing a rental property is a complex and time-consuming enterprise. Many experienced landlords still find themselves often wrongfooted by a rogue property maintenance issue that they haven’t encountered previously. The UK rental market is also truly a reflection of life’s rich tapestry - full of eccentric characters and quirky personalities.

Despite thorough referencing and a pre-tenancy meet and greet, you can never be certain how compatible you are going to be as landlord and tenant. You might get along swimmingly during the honeymoon period after an offer is agreed, but clashes in communication style and people’s interesting (and potentially unhelpful) character quirks will soon become abundantly apparent if things go wrong. Furthermore, even the most laid back and accommodating tenants have their patience stretched understandably thin after their boiler breaks in the dead of winter.

To help landlords who are new to property management get to grips with what to do in the event of a maintenance problem at a rental property, our property management experts have shared some of their best crisis-management tips. In the below guide, we share some thoughts on how to go about resolving your maintenance issues quickly and cost-effectively while keeping your tenants happy at the same time.

Constant communication is key

All of our in-house experts agree that this is the single most important action you can take to keep tenants onside while resolving an issue at a rental property.

Home Made’s sales development manager, James Bailey, who has worked with hundreds of landlords, said ‘Communicate with your tenants non-stop regarding every step you’re taking to resolve their issue. If you’re silent, their frustration builds and they begin to feel as though there has been a breach of trust. It’s very difficult to rebuild your relationship if an ongoing issue escalates to that stage, particularly if tenants feel that you are not upholding your part of the deal while they continue to pay full rent for the property.’’

Molly McParland, who oversees our property management service, agrees:

‘You might be surprised by how patient a tenant can be if they trust that you are doing everything possible to fix the problem. Even when renters are majorly inconvenienced, for example if their boiler is faulty and they have no access to hot water, most people remain totally amicable as long as you maintain open lines of communication.

When there’s a problem, we let tenants know as soon as we make any progress and relay information we receive from contractors regarding their problem in as much detail as possible. Transparency is essential, so we try to get as clear an understanding as we can ahead of time regarding what work is required and how long it is going to take. If there’s anything you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to quiz your plumber, electrician, builder etc. The more information you can give your tenants, the more reassured they will be that you’re on top of everything.

We also make sure to get in touch with tenants even when there are no updates to report. It might seem excessive and time-consuming (and it does take some effort to maintain that level of correspondence if you’re balancing landlord duties with other working commitments), but it means a lot to tenants to know that you haven’t forgotten them and that they’re one of your top priorities.’

Trust your tenants and their intentions

It’s normal to experience a little skepticism from time to time when your tenants report an issue at your property. This is particularly true if you once lived there yourself prior to putting it on the rental market. If everything was in fine working order when you lived a couple of months ago how can things have suddenly gone kaput? Similarly, it’s easy to find yourself irritated when a tenant reports a maintenance problem that turns out to be either a non-issue (e.g. the pipes always make that noise, it’s perfectly normal) or a user error on their part.

The important thing to remember is that, generally speaking, people don’t invent issues. If they’re reporting a problem, it’s most likely because something is genuinely wrong. Many fixtures, fittings, installations, and appliances can be in good working condition one day only to come grinding to a halt the next, even if they have been serviced relatively recently.

Even where it later transpires that user error or misunderstanding is the underlying reason for a complaint, tenants are almost always acting in earnest when they bring an issue to your attention. Our Head of Tenancy Operations, Rachel Harris, argues that it’s generally worth the time and expense of performing any investigative work to find the cause of an issue to build trust with tenants, even if you think that this is neither necessary nor your responsibility. Rachel offers the following advice:

‘A good example would be where there is a problem with pests and it’s unclear what the cause is. In this instance, I would advise the landlord to pay for the initial treatment and investigation to understand the root cause of the problem, even if it turns out to be the tenant’s own behaviour (if, say, they aren’t properly disposing of rubbish or securing their bins). If any further work is required, you have shown good faith in your actions before deferring charges to your tenants.’

Exercise caution with contractors

The most taxing process when resolving property management issues, particularly when there is a tight deadline, is dealing with contractors. Without access to an extensive database of tried and tested trades, it can be very difficult to know whether you can trust a trader before you hire them, or if you are getting value for money.  Ultimately, finding  a trusted supplier and building a relationship takes time, but there are some steps you can take to keep things running smoothly while you resolve an emergency maintenance issue at your property.

Our team recommends the following:

  • Ask for multiple quotes in parallel so that you can find the best deal quickly, while having several options available if your first choice has limited availability.
  • Be very clear about the scope of the work, and ask for thorough details about what repairs they will be making and which parts they will be needing to complete the job. Invoices can quickly run up if there is a misunderstanding, or where a contractor exploits any ambiguity in the nature of the job description to perform unnecessary or unauthorised additional work. Set firm parameters for the job at hand and put this in writing before works commence, and make clear that any further remedial work is not to be undertaken without your written consent.
  • While still setting firm boundaries, take care to ensure that the scope of work covers the full problem. Ask your tenants for any pictures or videos they have, and facilitate communication between your tenants and the contractor directly (though be sure to insist that you have visibility of all correspondence).
  • Do your own research into the cost of any parts required to resolve the maintenance issue at your property to ensure that you aren’t paying a ludicrous mark-up. Don’t be afraid to ask the contractor for specific makes and models.
  • See for yourself what previous customers have to say about a trade across a variety of review platforms.
  • Check a prospective contractor’s website to confirm that they are registered with the relevant professional accreditation body (e.g the Gas Safe Register), qualified for the specific work you require, and that they have public liability insurance.
  • Follow up with your tenants throughout the process to check how work is progressing and if the issue is resolved.

If you are a new landlord, consider joining a landlord association or accreditation scheme. Membership in an association or having an accreditation recognised by your local authority will allow you to receive preferential access to certain services along with discounted rates at local businesses partnered with your local authority or organisation. This way, you will have no trouble finding a trusted trader if you need to organise some maintenance works at your property.

Two heads are better than one

If it’s run well, one of the advantages of a professional property management service is that its team members can combine their expertise to resolve an issue. When resolving a particularly complex issue, Molly finds that having easy access to the expertise of our experienced operations team drastically reduces the time it takes to troubleshoot emergency repairs:

‘I always find that someone in our team, either working in property management or operations, will have seen a similar situation or have a relevant contact for a reputable contractor who can sort everything out. When we can pool our knowledge and resources, build a large database of trusted suppliers, and seek additional support with particularly challenging or unusual problems, we can find solutions in a fraction of the time it would take to do it alone.’

It is obviously trickier for a landlord who manages their own property to consult with a team of seasoned experts on demand, but there are still plenty of ways you can crowdsource helpful information about your issue. As well as reaching out to other landlords and property professionals you know personally, you can also:

  • Search social media for any landlord groups in your local area.
  • Consult reputable landlord discussion forums, such as Property Tribes - one of the UK’s most active private landlord ‘hive minds’.
  • Join a landlord association such as the NRLA. Generally speaking, landlord associations will provide you with access to advice and support on all property management issues (usually including telephone support), as well as many networking opportunities that allow you to meet other landlords and discuss your maintenance issues.

There are plenty of resources available, so make the most of them and find creative solutions for your property management problems.

Understand your obligations

As we have already said, tenants almost always have the very best intentions when they are reporting an issue. Nevertheless, Rachel advises taking the time to understand your responsibilities in detail and distinguishing between what services you are obliged to provide versus which actions would simply be a nice gesture.

Landlords must ensure that a rental property meets minimum health and safety standards, and are responsible for maintaining the structure and exterior of the building, electrical wiring, heating and hot water, boilers and pipework, plumbing, bathroom fixtures, and ventilation etc.

Tenants are responsible for minor maintenance matters, such as changing light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries, or keeping the garden in a reasonable state (so long as this was in order when they moved in). They are also required to keep the property in a reasonably clean and tidy state.

As a landlord, you are not obliged to provide additional appliances or extra furniture on request, tend to purely cosmetic deficiencies that might be uncovered after the start of a tenancy, pay for additional professional cleaning after the tenants move in, or pop around to change the light bulb or the smoke alarm batteries. Understanding where you are entitled to draw the line enables you to establish firm boundaries in the confidence that you are fulfilling all of your obligations.

However, as an investment in your long-term relationship with your tenants, it can be worth granting certain requests. For example, it is fairly common for superficial damage (such as unsightly marks and blemishes) arising from fair wear and tear to be uncovered when previous tenants move their belongings out of the property.  You might not be obliged to spruce up your property, but if your new tenants complain and ask for you to fix the damage, improving the condition of your property now will usually save you money in the long run.

Similarly, if your tenants ask for an upgrade on an outmoded appliance, or for something like a smart meter to improve your property’s energy efficiency, it’s worth following through with the nice gesture. Which brings us neatly to our final point....

Never underestimate the value of a happy tenant

Finally, always remember that a happy tenant is more likely to be a good tenant. James is keen to reiterate the value of keeping your renters content:

‘Happy tenants are valuable. They stay longer and take better care of the property, which they often come to see as an investment in ensuring that they are getting what they pay for with regards to the condition and quality of the property. This pays dividends fairly quickly, as your tenants will be more inclined to stay for longer, saving you significant sums in void costs and property marketing fees.’

Going that extra mile to communicate and putting in the effort with contractors will definitely pay off in the long run.

If you would like to outsource the stress and hassle of managing a tenancy, Home Made offers full property management services for a monthly charge of 4% plus VAT (deductible from the monthly rent). You can learn more about our service here.  If you're ready to get started, book in your free valuation using our quick and easy online form.

If you would like to speak with us about your property needs, contact us via our website to find out how we can help.Check out more of our landlord advice here and follow us on Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram for regular updates on industry compliance standards, market insights, and Home Made company news.

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Jess Brookes

Content & Research Executive at Home Made

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