One of our core objectives at The Tenants’ Voice is to help set realistic expectations for renters. Alongside a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, we believe realistic expectations will help tenants make better decisions to have better letting experiences.
The information set out in this article is deliberately blunt. We don’t want to sugarcoat things; we want to be clear so you know exactly where you stand as a tenant and can set your expectations accordingly.
Your home is someone else’s investment
The property you rent belongs to your landlord who will view the property as an investment or a business. Most landlords work within tight margins and may be ill prepared for surprise expenses. To you, the property is your home; to the landlord, you are a means to an end in their investment strategy. This can create feelings of ill will and while there are differing views on the ethics of buy-to-let landlords, the reality is that your rent is contributing to someone else’s wealth or retirement strategy and they will be, more often than not, more concerned with protecting their investment than with issues that are of importance to you.
This does not mean that all landlords are greedy or unethical, or that landlords don’t care about their tenants. Ultimately, the bottom line is that you represent a business transaction – you need to be aware of this when negotiating your rent, repairs and deposit disputes. Landlords will view renting issues from their perspective and you may find it hard to find common ground, but remember – your relationship with them is at all times a business relationship.
The letting agent works for the landlord
Letting agents have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of the landlord and are not permitted to create a conflict of interest between their client and the tenant. The letting agent does have a duty of care to the tenant but this means that when a problem arises, they are only able to advise tenants to ‘seek advice’. In other words, letting agents are not allowed to tell you to act within your rights, even if they know you are legally entitled to do so.
The fees you pay to a letting agent do not make you their client. Their business is to find tenants and manage their clients’ investments in line with the landlords’ instructions. Fortunately there are good letting agents who value and look after tenants as clients, but the reality of the industry is that letting agents work for their landlords.
Many letting agents don’t treat tenants with the attention and respect they deserve because landlords drive their business and there is a surplus of tenants. This reality was one of the main instigators in the creation of The Tenants’ Voice Membership Scheme for letting agents. We actively seek those letting agents who care about their tenants in order to improve rental experiences and promote their business ethics: while we want these great letting agents to prosper, we must remember that they too will act within the best interest of their client and are often restrained by landlords’ attitudes and instructions.
The tenant has many responsibilities
Your rent entitles you to a basic level of provision and service that is defined by your rights. Our website provides a lot of articles about tenant rights, however, you must remember tenants are bound by law to meet many responsibilities. Confusion over who is responsible for what is often the cause of aggravation and the breakdown of relationships between tenants and their landlords.
Understanding your tenant responsibilities, accepting and taking these responsibilities seriously, is as important to a stress-free tenancy as the landlord and letting agent respecting the tenant. You will find many articles dedicated to roles and responsibilities across our website and may be surprised that some of the things you thought were a landlord’s responsibility are in fact yours. The key is accepting your responsibilities and making sure you meet them to the letter. This will put you in a position of strength. Smart landlords will want to keep you and, if things do fall foul, then any dispute panel would look very favourably on you if you have always met your tenant responsibilities.
“Will I get my rent deposit back?” This is the question every tenant asks and the likely answer? “Yes, but not all of it.” Your deposit is not the last months’ rent nor is it a fee that the landlord can keep to pay for improvements in between tenancies. It is a form of moderate security provided to protect the landlord if the tenant causes damage or leaves with unpaid bills.
Deposits are often the cause of worry and stress for tenants during the transition when moving from one property to another; you must pay a large deposit to secure the new property while you anxiously await the release of your old deposit. Exactly how much you receive depends on how well you have met your legal responsibilities in taking care of the property. Tenants and landlords are often in dispute about deposits, however your money must be protected by law and the onus is on the landlord to prove that any deductions are just and valid.
You should reasonably expect deductions for any damage you have caused, such as scratched floorboards, scuff marks on walls, a broken fridge tray, a cracked window, knife marks on kitchen surfaces, etc. It is hard to live anywhere for a reasonable amount of time and not cause some minor damage, so set your expectations that you will probably not get all of your deposit back. Be pleasantly surprised if your landlord returns the deposit in full and agrees that any such damage is ‘wear and tear’. However, if your landlord is deducting for damage you have not caused, follow our advice in the deposits articles to resolve this.
Your rent = your rights
We have heard it said by many landlords and letting agents that ‘tenants have too many rights’, or ‘tenants know only too well their rights’. We disagree. Tenants need to be knowledgeable and aware of their rights. Rights exist to protect. The concept that tenant rights enable tenants to act litigiously or militantly, supported by left-wing policy and correct ideology, is rubbish. Tenants pay rent in return for their rights. When you sign a lease you can expect a standard of service provision that is supported by law to ensure you receive all that is included in your agreement. Tenants should not hide behind their rights or use them as a stick to bash landlords; when you pay rent you are entitled to your rights as a tenant. These rights, combined with your tenancy agreement, create the parameters by which a rental property is provided to you. You can learn all about your rights and how to go about requesting that they are respected in our dedicated tenants’ rights section.
There are thousands of tenants in the country who do not meet their responsibilities and as a result their actions make it harder and more expensive for the good tenants. The prime example of a bad tenant is one who moves out without notifying the landlord, leaves unpaid bills, rent arrears and property damage which can in some cases cost landlords thousands and thousands of pounds. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour is too common and has caused landlords to create services that act as virtual black-lists for bad tenants as well as increasing the need for reference checks, guarantors and larger security deposits. Bad tenant horror stories have created their own industry within an industry and feed on landlords’ anxieties about their investment.
A tenant’s financial situation may change and that may mean they cannot afford to pay their rent or bills, however, we do not believe there is any excuse to ‘do a runner’ and leave a landlord thousands of pounds out of pocket. It simply makes it harder for the rest of us.
It is important to acknowledge that bad tenants exist because then it becomes easy to understand why some letting agents and landlords act the way they do.