Have you heard the latest joke? How many tenants does it take to change a light bulb? The answer, it seems, is a resounding none. Benham Reeves Residential Lettings recently said an increased number of tenants are contacting their property managers to undertake trivial home maintenance chores. It appears that changing a light bulb, replacing batteries in a smoke alarm and even tightening screws are jobs beneath some renters.
Disagree if you will but there's a rising sentiment among some tenants that the lettings industry owes them something. Perhaps, feeling bitter about 'hidden' administrative fees, they're clawing back costs by getting professional assistance with petty jobs - almost using property managers as a high-end concierge service. More fool the manager who duly schleps out of the office with a screwdriver and plunger? How about the property manager who is obliged to be at the tenant's beckon call because of a poorly constructed tenancy agreement?
A weekly-worded, or sparse tenancy agreement will leave property managers open to savvy tenants. The smart ones will have John at ABC Lettings on speed dial - "My lights aren't working, can you come and flick the fuse box switch?" They'll be spouting health and safety claims, feigning lack of skills and picking holes in inadequate inventories, but their trump card will be a non-specific tenancy agreement.
The Warren versus Keen case and Lord Denning's subsequent judgement was cited by a few contributors at the end of the aforementioned article. One agent recommended a list of 'tenantable repairs' be provided in the agreement. Another even created a log book for each let property, with instructions on how to carry out basic maintenance. All good advice, but the crucial point is the interpretation of Lord Denning's statement as well as the detail relayed to the tenant.
The consensus is that if you provide a list of repairs that fall to a tenant, you must describe the list as 'indicative' and not 'prescriptive'. It's also worth highlighting section 11 of the Landlords and Tenants Act 1985 - adding a clause where necessary that makes it clear that legal repairs and maintenance fall to the landlord (gas, electrical, water and structural safety) but day-to-day repairs and maintenance fall to the tenant.
Then it just leaves you to practice your firm but fair 'No' when a tenant calls with a light bulb that needs replacing.
* Simon Duce is managing director of the ARPM Group, providing national outsourced lettings and property management services.