Maintenance of a Rental Property
Rental properties require maintenance. Don’t be fooled to think that just because a rental property is new or recently re-furbished it won’t need regular maintenance. Tenants do have a tendency for ‘careless disregard’ – they don’t own the property after all.
It’s not to say that tenants delibrately smash places up, most don’t, but they do seem to ‘knock around’ with a liittle less care and attention than a homeowner might do in their own property. Things break, wear out or simply stop working because of a fault. A sequence of maintenance tasks are required to keep a rental property in top shape.
There are two types of maintenance in my book – emergency property maintenance and ‘on-going’ property maintenance. So let’s start with an emergency.
Emergency Property Maintenance
Emergency property maintenance is the biggest cross a landlord has to bare –
Here’s the typical scenario, – the mobile rings on Christmas Eve, it’s a tenant, their gas boiler isn’t working and they’ve got the family coming down from Scotland for Christmas. There are tears and desperate pleas. Your relaxing day with the family is cancelled.
Emergency property maintenance is just that – maintenance that needs immediate attention. These can be a whole range of things, from smashed windows, to blown fuses. However, in my experience a good 50% relate to plumbing matters. A boiler that fails to start up, showers and washing machines that start leaking, or taps that don’t shut off. Depending on the severity of the problem, they might need immediate attention to prevent serious long-term damage to the rental property, or to avoid unacceptable inconvenience to your tenant.
This is why being on good terms with a plumber is so useful. If you can cultivate a friendship with a trustworthy plumber; it is “priceless”. It’s good to have a back-up as well, just in case the other is away or can’t meet the required timescale. It’s worth sending them chocolates and a bottle of wine at Christmas.
Landlords want to avoid having to ever ring for an emergency plumbers from the yellow pages. They are often extornate with their rates; so only use them as a last resort.
Landlords do have a legal responsibility to their tenant to get a problem sorted as soon as reasonably possible, and in addition, leaving any maintenance issue can often prove more expensive than acting immediately. Prompt action is advisable.
The annual servicing of boilers and cookers should cut down the chances that they will go wrong in the first place.
Other types of emergencies are likely to be electrical, or appliance based; such as an oven that stops working. Often buying a new replacement is quicker and cheaper in the long run than repairing an old one. Particularly with most appliances put into rental properties being those at the cheaper end of the product range. Each time I have called a domestic appliance engineer out to fix a fault in an appliance, by the time a part has been ordered and they’ve charged for their time it inevitably comes out at £140 plus VAT.
If you haven’t got somebody at hand, its fingers to the internet, there are various trade directory where a landlord can source property maintenance tradesmen. Rated.com seem to be the big player at the moment, but I must say I have never used the site.
It’s never ideal using somebody you don’t know or is not personally recommended, but sometimes a landlord has no choice and there are some very competent & helpful people listed in these directory services.
Selecting a tradesman
Selecting tradesmen is all about asking around. Speak to neighbours, friends and family. Ask other landlords or property developers you might know, or pop into the local estate agents of letting agents to see if they might recommend a few trades.
From my experience, once you’ve found a good tradesmen who you’ve been impressed with, whether that be on his rates or the standard of his work, or ideally both, then they often are a good source of further reccomendations. Trades tend to work in packs. They will know plenty of the other trades having worked on building sites in the past.
Try to select local tradesmen for property maintenance. You need them to be in close proximity of a rental property in case they need to drop in for an emergency on short notice. They are more likely to be able to help quickly and charge you less if they can call in on the way home.
Remember to test out their experience and knowledge first on the phone to make sure they will be able to do the job. Finally, good tradesmen are normally busy, so be wary if they appear too desperate to help you out. I’ve found those tradesmen that nod and say “Yes, mate!” overly profusely, should be watched over with a cautious eye.
‘On-going’ property maintenance
In addition to the emergency property maintenance, there is the inevitable longer-term maintenance work that a rental property requires. If neglected, these jobs can cause long-term damage and decay to your investment. Ignored or forgotten, these jobs can come back to ‘haunt’ you.
This is because:
a) The tenant probably won’t inform you of an issue until it begins to impact on their ‘day to day living’, therefore you might not discover any issue until the tenant moves out.
b) Because the problem is not pressing you ignore it, as there always seems to be more important things to do.
Scenario (a) is an example of why regular inspections of a rental property are essential. They help landlords to pick up on any small maintenance issues before they get too large.
Scenario (b) is entirely of the landlords making and cannot be blamed on anybody else – get your act together!
A property maintenance schedule
To avoid small issues becoming bigger it is important to have an organised maintenance schedule. Create a list of all the maintenance tasks that are required at a rental property and attach a frequency to the task. You can do all this using our free property management software. The system allows landlords to add tasks and place a repeat frequency setting on it. These tasks will be included in the email reminder a user can set to receive.
One last tip, is to keep a well stocked toolbox. Plenty of screws, nails and washers and widgets, in all sizes. Time is precious and with so many small incidental property maintenance jobs more time can be taken up going to the builders merchants or DIY store than the task itself.
I’ve been increasingly using the online stores such as www.screw-fix.com or ironmongerydirect.com to get the bits I need. When I know I’ll need certain things I can order them and get them the next day, saving a wasted hour in B&Q or wherever.
Legal implications of property maintenance
Finally, be aware of the provisions of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 requiring a landlord to keep the rental property in good repair. Failure to keep up with the properties maintenance could leave a landlord open to legal challenge, particularly if they get into a dispute with the tenant. Then these minor maintenance matters can often be used as a ‘reason’ for non-payment of rent.