News & Blog

It’s not the season for humbug, it’s the season for common sense!

Every year Christmas is an eagerly anticipated time of year, with businesses gearing up for the big day months ahead. For the lettings sector however, the festive season has traditionally been a period of dread, or at least a time to keep fingers firmly crossed. Every agent knows all too well about the Christmas Crisis!

 

This year is going to be even more challenging as, despite everyone’s best efforts, the spectre of coronavirus will cast a very long shadow over everything and the Christmas Spirit will find it hard to compete.

 

If you had to summarise what the prospect of Christmas can mean for a professional agent, then two thoughts spring to mind: “Things going wrong” and “People going wrong”. 

 

The first is probably the easiest to deal with, but aggravating nonetheless. Repairs need to be done and it ain’t Santa who’s obliged to do them.

 

Every agent dreads the telephone call just before the Queen’s speech from 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 dining table.

 

It is you who has to save their Christmas at the expense of yours, and don’t look to your landlord as he is probably self-isolating in Marbella, thank you very much!

 

Playing the Grinch will not wash and no doubt a complaint will end up on my desk and yes, a higher compensation is likely to be awarded than at other time of the year. 

 

The professionals among you may think this incredulous, but I have seen agents close the office over the Christmas period with nothing more than a recorded message telling tenants to ring back in the new year. Of course, you can wind down your operations, but you must have an emergency provision in place. 

 

Even then, I have seen cases where an engineer was 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 a week to be delivered. In this COVID-19 era, it may be even longer. Prepare in advance and make sure you have contingency in place for this kind of eventuality.

 

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 will not be happy when you present them with the huge bill for an emergency call out charge. And “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. Your landlord may feel comfortable playing Scrooge, but as far as your tenants are concerned, you are the Christmas fairy!

 

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 you to 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’ve guessed it, the agent.

 

Do your tenants know what to do to help mitigate the risks 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 that 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 - 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.

 

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 resolve. Keeping good records is even more important during this time, so don’t let standards slip.

 

Now, briefly, to the other side of the ‘Joys of Christmas’. This time of year can be extremely stressful for tenants and this year will be even worse for some due to the pandemic. The real impact of this may well come after Christmas, but come to some it will.

 

Many tenants are already struggling financially, however this period will, for many, be the final straw. Imagine telling your kids that there won’t be anything in the Christmas stocking this year? No! maybe the rent can wait a little while longer!

 

Of course, this is putting off the inevitable but that’s human nature.

 

It is also a fact that for many the Season of Goodwill is far from that. More relationships break up and domestic issues come to the fore during this time than at any other and, following lockdown, for some this will be supercharged.

 

So, if you are caught in the middle of this and are contending with all the implications of eviction restrictions, then you will need help.

 

Make sure you seek professional help if you need it. Many agents try and deal with arrears and possessions themselves and many do a good job, however, it is different now and a nightmare to negotiate. With court queues now anything up to 18 months and bailiffs on extended holidays, it will not be long before your landlord, without his rent, will run out of money and stop paying you!

 

Remember that on top of this you will be obliged by law to undertake repairs and maintenance, even with the tenant owing rent.

 

Now is the time to call in the Christmas Elves. A professional mediation service such as The Property Redress Scheme Mediation Service can help resolve issues without the need for court. And a professional eviction and debt recovery law firm, such as Landlord Action, also part of the Hamilton Fraser family, can help navigate you through the treacherous waters.

 

So, if your tenants have run out of money, run out on their partner or just run off, then pick up the phone today.

 

I started this blog with the idea that Christmas is a joyful time and my tips for agents would be, send a Christmas card or even a hamper to your tenant as a goodwill gesture, and by all means, still do this, it will be appreciated. I am sorry that I could not be more jolly, however being forewarned is to be forearmed and hopefully my gift to you is to be ready for anything Santa brings you!

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