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Why it always pays to play it safe

12 Aug, 2017


Why it always pays to play it safe

A report by the Independent newspaper today revealed that a third of privately rented properties in the UK fail to meet the national Decent Home Standard (DHS) – the most basic health and safety measurement there is for housing standards.

Of that third, some 800,000 private rental properties fail to meet the generally accepted Category 1 standard, which relates to basic safety standards around equipment like boilers and electrics as well as hygiene issues relating to vermin.

The fact that around 1.4 million people are living in homes which are dangerous at the most fundamental level is shocking enough, but what I find staggering is that of the 800,000 properties which fall foul of nationally accepted standards of maintenance and repair, the vast majority will be managed by an estate or letting agent.


Most of the faults which relate to Category 1 standards are the sorts of things which should be entirely obvious on an initial or subsequent inspection and I can say categorically that at Property Wealth Management we simply wouldn’t take on a landlord with a property that didn’t meet a standard far higher than the minimum required by the DHS.

Which begs the question: which are the agents that do represent properties like this? Not only represent them, but actively house people in them knowing full well that in some cases they are deathtraps in waiting?

Have we learned nothing from Grenfell Tower and the other similar tragedies that have occurred in rented housing, whether privately- or publicly-owned? Is there no sense of moral imperative in lettings offices up and down the country which impels estate agents to challenge their landlords to make repairs and damn the cost – or face being jettisoned and reported to the appropriate authorities?

It’s not as though we’re talking about a loose floorboard here and a broken door there, after all. This is rudimentary the-wrong-thing-happens-and-you’re-dead stuff.

Aside from protecting tenants from the indifference that some landlords clearly have for health and safety, there are other issues to consider.

It’s very easy to find examples of property owners who have flagrantly ignored their legal responsibility for their tenants’ well-being; it’s very much harder to find examples of landlords who have taken great care to offer properties which show high levels of maintenance and safety.

So, when a lettings agent takes on a property that is the equivalent of a Russian roulette revolver, what they’re actually doing is perpetuating the prevailing myth that so-called slum landlords are in the majority when, in fact, the evidence gathered by The Independent shows that for every cowboy with a poorly-maintained property, there are two who’ve gone above and beyond their legal responsibility.

And, of course, mud sticks. So, when an agent signs up a dodgy property (and, in doing so, becomes a dodgy agent) they may well be creaming 12-15% commission into their tills, but they’re also reinforcing the image that too many people already have of estate agents as fat cats with their noses in the trough and all else be damned.

It’s not enough to say that the problem wasn’t in evidence when the property was originally inspected. Nor is it justifiable to lay all the blame at the door of the offending landlord, though in most cases he or she certainly deserves to be vilified for their inertia.

The agent has equal responsibility, morally if not legally, for the welfare of the tenants they place into a property. That requires a regular check of every property under their control. And that’s where the problem is, because often agencies are working with so many properties it becomes difficult to observe an inspection regime that picks up problems in need of urgent attention.

Tenants need also to take responsibility for their welfare. The Independent report makes no mention of how many of the 800,000 properties failing to meet Category 1 standards were the subject of a complaint by the tenant, but I’d be willing to bet the number is lower than you might think. And if the tenant can’t be bothered to make a formal request for work to be carried out – and to complain formally when it doesn’t happen – then they are equally responsible for the proliferation of rental homes that just aren’t fit for habitation.

This is why specialist property management services, like those we provide, are so important. The ability to report faults online to a company like ours 24 hours a day, 365 days a year means a landlord can’t wriggle away from their responsibility. And the tenant can see when action is – or isn’t – being taken, making them stakeholders in the process.

Because we manage the property and the tenancy, we work with our landlords to plan repairs and maintenance.

That has two benefits: it ensures there is an evolving programme that is manageable logistically and means the property is vacant for the shortest possible time; and it also means the landlord can budget over a period of time.

Many of the problems we see when we first inspect a property have less to do with landlord ambivalence and more to do with the fact the list of necessary works has built up over months or years and the bill is unaffordable.

Our approach also has further benefits for the landlord:

It means they have a much nicer property to offer the market, increasing rental value and yield and retaining good tenants for longer. And, crucially, it means their property – which is a capital investment and part of their overall wealth portfolio, is worth an awful lot more should they decide to cash in.