Earlier this week, I was talking to a gentleman about letting out property, when I was presented with a barrage of vitriol about how “landlords are all parasitic leeches on society”. He proceeded to reel off a whole stream of examples of how he’d been slighted as a tenant (many of which I could relate to as a private renter myself), but it got me thinking he’d essentially written off a whole group of people based on the example of a few bad eggs.
As a landlord, I self-impose a minimum standard of housing which I feel is ethical to provide – namely, does my real estate pass the ‘would I personally live in these conditions’ test. To those that know me even slightly, you’ll know that this is a pretty high bar to hit; I like my space, I like good quality, I like to have good transport connections and good furniture. As a landlord, I therefore insist that my properties are maintained to a standard at which I would choose to live in myself – after all, my tenants are paying rent to me, so why should they get any less than the best standards I can offer?
Sadly, not all landlords feel this way. There are many that simply want to see the rent paid into their bank accounts on a monthly basis – forget taking into consideration the feelings and well-being of the people paying that money. Certainly, there are minimum standards that all landlords have to adhere to – fire regulations, provision of basic utilities, a certain standard of cleanliness etc. but there are absolutely no regulations as regards the standard of furnishings, the speed of repairs, the requirement to communicate clearly, effectively and regularly, and so many landlords ignore these highly important parts of their service.
A change in mindset
I think large parts of the private rental sector need a wake-up call. There are, without a doubt, slum areas of towns and cities across the UK which are suffering from overcrowded, dilapidated properties, owned by nightmare landlords. There are also large parts of the country filled with well-maintained private rental homes, filled with perfectly satisfied tenants. There are also plenty along the spectrum between these two points.
Personally, I think more landlords need to start treating their rental properties like a business. When you walk into a shop, you expect it to be clean, to have good customer service and to buy whatever you’re looking for at a fair price (not necessarily the cheapest, but the best value). So why would you expect anything less from your property?
Successful business owners have to consider how they engage with prospects and customers, how they price their goods and how they present them. If these issues are handled correctly, they succeed, if not, they collapse (eventually). To extend the analogy to their customers, they should commit to meeting minimum response times and levels, to making repairs within a certain time frame, and to maintaining the safety, structural security and cleanliness of the property at all times.
One of the best properties I ever rented was lived in by the family that owned it. I rented their spare room with an en-suite bathroom, and in exchange for a single monthly payment got a safe, well-maintained home which I was allowed to personalise (within reason), that was professionally cleaned on a weekly basis and which supported me as a place to rest and enjoy living in a city I loved.
I didn’t agree with the gentleman I was speaking to, and upon consideration, I still believe his outburst to be ill-judged and inaccurate. To me, it’s important to improve the standards of certain rental properties, but this should be done by enforcing higher standards of quality on landlords as a process of professionalisation – not by simply banning private rental accommodation.