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Sean's Christmas blog

Don’t they know it’s Christmas!

 

With one week to go until the big day, we are all looking forward to a well-deserved break with our families. This year we get an even longer break with a bank holiday on the Monday. Then there is New Year!

For letting agents and property managers this can be a potentially difficult time and the telephone call just before the Queen’s speech is likely not to be from your great aunt Maud wishing you festive cheer, but a Tenant informing you that their boiler has packed up, the cooker has stopped working or there is water pouring through the ceiling onto their Christmas pudding.

“Err its Christmas! I deserve a break too!” Yes, this was actually what one agent e-mailed his tenant when they reported a fault with their boiler. Other examples from the cases I have dealt with have involved engineers being sent to the property to resolve the issue with a boiler, only to say it needed a spare part, but due to Christmas this would take at least week to be delivered. A tenant who said she had to drive a forty mile round trip to her parents just to have a shower. The fact she probably got a Christmas dinner and the turkey pie on Boxing Day whilst she was there is by the by, I still awarded her compensation.

This was because an agent’s duty of care does not stop just because it’s Christmas. It’s not just the tenant you have to worry about, your landlords may also not be happy when you present them with the huge bill for an emergency call out charge – “he was the only one that answered his phone!” - won’t really cut it when you send them the small change that is all that is left from their January rent payment.

So what do you do to ensure that a problem that is routine any other time of the year does not become an expensive nightmare and a potentially relationship breaking complaint?

The first thing to do is ensure that both your landlords and tenants understand fully what service you have been contracted to do.

Are you responsible for emergency repair or has the landlord opted to arrange these himself and you are just the point of contact for the tenant? 

Do your landlords understand what authority they have given to you undertake works without referral to them? Many agreements have a limit to what an agent can spend on minor repairs. Do they understand that you need not seek his permission or that he cannot refuse to fix a problem where there is a threat to life or property?

Do your tenants know the correct process for reporting repairs and what constitutes an emergency? I dealt with a case where the tenant claimed they did not know the number of the agent’s out of hours service, so instructed their own emergency electrician who botched the job and a huge bill ensued! Who paid? Yes you have guessed it, the agent.  

Do your tenants know what to do to help mitigate the risk to themselves and the property? Where are the stopcocks, where are the isolation switches for electricity and gas?  Don’t leave them guessing and do not, as one agent did on the instruction from the landlord, lock the garage where all the fuses were, so the tenants spent Christmas in the dark with a raw turkey!

Have you outlined your service standards, are they reasonable and can you meet them? Remember whilst there are no hard and fast rules on this, boiler and water leaks should be dealt with urgently and I suggest within 24 hours, cooker faults it would be reasonable for a slightly longer period, but no more than 48 hours and washing machines within 72 hours.

Have you ensured that you have a robust protocol for repairs that cannot be rectified over the holiday period? If you cannot resolve the issue, can you offer alternative accommodation or a temporary solution? Do not quibble over reasonable compensation and remember the tenant is entitled to undertake the repairs themselves as stated in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and withhold rent.

Finally ensure that you have all your processes in place to record and coordinate any works that are undertaken. Check that your regular repairers are available and competent to deal with the issues they may be called to deal with. Keeping good records is even more important during this time so don’t let standards slip.

If you follow the tips above it should help prevent a bad situation getting worse!

 

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