The next time I hear someone (who owns a house) say, “Oh you’ve no idea how lucky you are…you never have to worry about paying the mortgage, maintenance, burst pipes, broken tiles…etc etc etc, blah blah”, I swear I will lamp them.
I’m not suggesting that all renting is bad, or that all landlords are bad, or even that all letting agents are bad. I have, during my (enforced) years of renting, come across a fantastic letting agent and an amazing landlord. All I’m suggesting is that home owners can have a very distorted understanding of the world of renting, if they truly imagine that the onus for upkeep is all on the landlord, and that the tenant enjoys a care and worry free life of bliss, wearing maribou-trimmed mules and a delicate chiffon robe, and wafting from room to room in their fully maintained, glorious home.
The reality is very different. Day to day maintenance, in a private rented property, generally falls to the tenant. Even that which is the landlord’s responsibility is often carried out (and paid for) by the tenant, simply because it’s so much easier to do it yourself than to make endless calls and take days off work and wait weeks, or even months, for it to be done. Many landlords rely on this and take full advantage; some even expect it. Larger, or more expensive, maintenance tasks can become fraught with unexpected problems. As mentioned earlier, it can often take a long time for the message to get through, and longer still for it to be translated into action. Landlords can resent the inconvenience and unexpected expense of non-routine maintenance, and become strangely suspicious regarding the circumstances of a reported problem. “You must have broken the shower tray yourself by dropping a shampoo bottle on it” and, “The electrical fittings were checked by a qualified electrician before you moved in. There’s no way the light fitting can have fallen out of the (crumbling) wall when you attempted to change the light bulb. You must have done it on purpose” are two of the paranoia-fuelled responses I have received on reporting faults. Whilst I would by no means suggest that there aren’t some very careless tenants out there who simply don’t look after their homes, and even some downright malicious ones who deliberately damage them (I have a landlord friend whose rental property has often been subject to some real abuse), the fact remains that shower trays don’t break when you drop shampoo bottles on them (even if I did, which I didn’t), and light fittings shouldn’t fall off the wall when you change the light bulb. In my own experience, the majority of rental properties are fitted out on the cheap, with a great deal of shoddy DIY input, a hearty handful of ‘me dad did it’ and more than anyone’s fare share of stuck-together-with-gaffer-tape-and-chewing-gum. And no, I don’t expect anyone in the buy-to-let market will feel inclined to install gold taps and handmade oak kitchens, but at least they could hold their hands up when the plumbing system their brother-in-law fitted with pipes he borrowed off a skip finally implodes and fills the house with 6 inches of water, and the conservatory held together with NoMoreNails and sticky-back plastic sails off down the garden in a moderate breeze.
Landlords can also have some rather romantic notions regarding the potential lifespan of fixtures and fittings in a house: white goods or ovens, for example. On final inspection, after a nine year tenancy, some ex-landlords were horrified to find that their ‘only a year old when you got it’ oven no longer looked in new condition. Good lord, ten years and about 6000 meals later and it didn’t look new! Carpets –worn, curtains – faded. This stuff happens. It happens in your own house, and it happens in houses you rent out. Sometimes it can happen faster in houses you rent out to families with young children, or older children, or just more than one or two people living in them, and it can happen faster in houses where you fitted the cheapest rubbish you could find and got your dad to do it. Sometimes it’s just bad luck.
My current situation involves a pre-war heating and hot water system, and a landlord whose responses to my pleas for hot water (20 months and counting) have ricocheted between surprise, feigned action, surprise at the lack of success of feigned action, more feigned action, more surprise, denial that the problem even exists, surprise, assurances, surprise, initiating action but not actually to the point of doing anything, more denial, lying, more assurances and more lying. We have now reached the point where they are just ignoring everything and everyone, because everybody knows that if you ignore it, it will go away. I am sorry that after many decades of solid service, the system has finally and completely given up the ghost. I am sorry that it has proved to be irreparable and I am sorry that the only alternative will prove to be expensive. I would much prefer it if it had continued to chug away noisily, churning out expensive but reliable hot water. I would have enjoyed an odd bath over the past 20 months, almost as much as I would have enjoyed not having every other member of, and visitor to, this household trail through my bedroom to the ensuite daily to use the only shower (electric) in the house. I would have enjoyed not having to spend many, many hours of my life speaking to the agents, writing endless emails, chasing contractors, arranging people to meet contractors and waiting while contractors spend hours preparing quotes, poking around rooms and into cupboards. I would have preferred washing up without having to boil the kettle (20 months… something like 1200 times?) It’s bad luck, but it’s not a huge shock, and it’s YOUR house!
I’ve never missed a rent payment, never even been late. I’ve never failed to report a problem, never failed to attempt to sort out even the smallest issue, often without help. My homes have not been kept in pristine condition, not by any stretch of the imagination; they’ve been lived in, played in, cooked in, been sick in, been Christmassed and Happy Birthdayed in, argued in, messed up, cleaned up and generally treated as a home – looked after, loved and handed back in as near condition to how they were taken on as is humanly possible. Returned deposit? In my own humble opinion, it’s fair to say that the more trouble (equate to all the above) you have with a landlord, the less likely you are to see your deposit again. And just as an aside, it’s worth noting that ‘protected deposit’ schemes are barely worth the time it takes you to read ‘protected deposit’ – an example scenario being that if your landlord decides to not return your deposit and then decides that they don’t feel like agreeing to arbitration, they can string the entire deposit-return situation along almost indefinitely. They don’t get the money, but neither do you. The best you can hope for is that they accidentally hit the‘agree to arbitration’ button in a moment of weakness, drunkenness or lapsed attention, and that you get to make your case.
So bring on the mortgage (I’m paying someone else’s anyway), bring on the maintenance (I do it anyway), bring on the burst pipes (there isn’t a pipe known to man that hasn’t burst and spilled the contents of the water tank/mains all over one or other house I’ve rented), the broken tiles (that was somehow my fault) and all the rest. If there was any way I could buy my own little place, however humble, and not be subjected to quarterly inspections, patronising letters and landlords ranging from unrealistic, to ignorant, to unpleasant, to utterly insane… I would do it. I would do it in a heartbeat.
It’s only fair to end this with a further mention of that fantastic and fair landlord I once had the pleasure of dealing with, along with his similarly brilliant agent. Local, personal, reasonable, experienced and pleasant, I never had a single problem with either of them: all issues were dealt with promptly, inspections were conducted professionally (all written reports were shared), wear and tear was accepted graciously and the deposit was returned promptly and in full, and all with thanks. I’m sure there are others out there, probably many others. If you are one them, please get in touch with me immediately. I need a bath.