Travelling home on the train from a meeting this week, coffee in hand, my publication of choice was the Evening Standard. In it, the resident property writer posed an interesting question; should landlords fine tenants who call them out with a problem they could sort themselves?
Coincidentally, Fixlo (my maintenance management software provider) also advised me that November is statistically the month when people are most likely to report a repair. Not particularly shocking as Winter in general causes endless headaches for landlords. But how much of that is down to poor maintenance and how much is down to tenants lacking home management skills? Hmmm…
The given example in the article was a tenant reporting that a light wasn’t working and asked for an electrician to be sent, only for it to be a blown bulb. Another was a group of students (always leading in race for the most interesting maintenance calls) reporting water running down the kitchen wall. The issue? Not switching on the extractor fan and several pans of food boiling on the hob creating plenty of condensation. Of course the innocence and inexperience of youth is somewhat amusing in this scenario but if you were the landlord, you can just imagine how frustrating it would be to take time out of your day to change a lightbulb or flick a switch. In fact to many landlords it’s a right pain in the back side, costly and time consuming. Of course landlords have a responsibility to making sure a property is safe for habitation. Standards like HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System) exist for exactly that reason – to protect tenants from the truly dangerous stuff like damp, mould growth, structural collapse and other life threatening hazards. But for small maintenance jobs like blown bulbs, broken switches and heating settings, how best can you prevent time wasting calls?
Well in my experience, the suggestion of fining tenants for inappropriate callouts is more than fair and something we build into our tenancy agreements. Our contracts state that any missed maintenance visits or emergency callouts that prove not to be, will incur a charge. Of course honest mistakes happen and are forgiven, and inexperience in home management (particularly when renting to students) has to be given some level of leeway.
Our most recent examples have been a call out because the shower wasn’t working…the isolator switch had been turned off. And a callout for British Gas because the heating was “broken”… the thermostat had been turned down.
Again, it’s easy to see the funny side when you hear a story like this back but as a business owner that’s crucial time and resources wasted. The point of being able to issue a fine is that it gives us – or any landlord – some level of protection against repetitive callouts. I absolutely appreciate that because this has to be assessed on a case by case basis, a lot of this falls on the integrity of a landlord. But as I always say, happy tenants equal happy landlords, and vice versa, so it is in the landlord’s interest to ensure his service is fair and just. It maybe that changing a light bulb every now and again isn’t the end of the world. It could certainly be ‘enlightening’ for rookie tenants….