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Reasons for Undertaking Property Inspections
Regular rented property inspections are a task every landlord or agent should attempt to perform, because they are the only way a landlord can be certain their investment is being cared for appropriately by the tenants occupying it. And if managing a let-property were that simple, I guess I wouldn’t be writing this piece in the first place.
In almost 30 years of being a landlord, property investor, estate agent and letting agent … I have seen and heard so many examples of bad behaviour by tenants, I could probably fill an entire book with them. Damage to property or to supplied furnishings and equipment is common, but sometimes it doesn’t end there. There have been several occasions when I have inspected a landlord’s property, only to discover it being occupied by strangers – and certainly not the named tenants it was originally intended to house.
These and many other ‘events’ remain hidden from the landlord or agent, only to be discovered at the end of the tenancy term – or more likely when the tenants abandon the property, leaving a catalogue of damage and/or rent arrears in their wake. Frequently performed tenancy inspections are a useful weapon in the landlord’s armoury against property damage and other such breaches of tenancy, as they can help preempt end-of-tenancy chaos and provide the landlord with an opportunity to identify problems and stop them in their tracks.
However since there is no legal entitlement that allows landlords or their agents to undertake a mid-tenancy inspection, success largely depends on how you go about attempting the task, right from the start.
The worst offending tenants – those that know they are doing or have done something wrong – will use every excuse possible to prevent you from gaining access to the property. And I’ve heard them all, from ‘we have my mum and dad staying with us just now, so it is a little inconvenient’, to ‘I have influenza and wouldn’t want you to catch it. Can we do this another time.’ Others simply lock and bolt the door, stay inside and refuse to answer the doorbell.
Most excuses are a smoke shield, designed only to stop you from passing over the threshold and seeing what remains of that beautiful newly furnished and pristinely decorated home you supplied a few months ago.
Getting the Tenant’s Agreement
A properly drafted tenancy agreement is the first step to ensuring compliance with the law. The lease should have a term that allows the landlord or the landlord’s agent to undertake (I would suggest) quarterly property inspections. If it is written carefully, this term will ‘open the door’ into the property for you – though it won’t necessarily enable you to get through it.
Providing Notice of An Inspection
Tenants should be given adequate notice that an inspection is due. This is important, because unannounced visits could be construed as harassment and the repercussions of such a claim can have serious financial consequences for the landlord. The notice must be made in writing and include the date and time of the appointment, which should be at least a week on from when the notice is issued. Moreover, the appointment itself should be for a weekday and a time that falls within acceptable business hours – so not during the evening, very early morning or at night.
The notice should also make it clear that, if the given appointment is inconvenient, the tenant should contact the landlord or agent to make an alternative arrangement before the appointment date.
If no alternative arrangement is made, the appointment should be kept – though do remember that the tenant could possibly be working away from home or be on holiday, so if they do not answer the door on the first occasion, try issuing another notice for a new appointment in a couple of week’s time.
The point of the notice is to give tenants every opportunity to meet the appointment and enable them to fulfil their obligations of tenancy … and most good tenants with nothing to hide will acquiesce quite happily. Of course, bad tenants are likely to be much more obstructive.
In my experience, a courtesy telephone call often proves very useful, if it is made on the day of the engagement or the day prior to it reminding the tenant of the appointment. This is likely to be when the tenant confirms that the appointment is expected and acceptable - or they will offer you reasons (excuses) why it can’t go ahead. Remember they could have and should have contacted you before now to arrange an alternative date, but they didn’t, which means this is the first red flag erected in front of you, warning you to expect trouble ahead.
Attending the Appointment
If knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell repeatedly proves ineffective, don’t be tempted to enter using a passkey. The Housing Act provides the landlord or the agent with the right of access for necessary repairs only, not for routine inspections. This means the tenant must allow you access – but it is within their discretion to prohibit it.
Having a clause in the tenancy agreement that pre-empts their consent doesn’t in itself provide you with a right to enter the premises without them being there and yielding to it. In denying you access, they would be in breach of their tenancy agreement – and you might want to pursue possession of the property through the courts on that basis, if things continue to be difficult. At the very least, this would give you good reason to deny a renewal of tenancy when the time comes, regardless of any other matters discovered at the end of the current term.
Undertaking the Inspection
Assuming the tenant has provided you with access, the inspection itself should be undertaken in a professional and congenial manner. Remember, this is the tenant’s home, so don’t act like a prison warden looking for drugs or concealed weapons. You must respect the tenant’s right to privacy at all times.
You shouldn’t and quite frankly do not need to go poking your nose in drawers and cupboards, because this is both unacceptable and unnecessary. A brief walk through the main living area will be enough to gather all the information you need. It will tell you whether furnishings are being cared for in an appropriate way and whether the property is being cleaned on a regular basis – and for the most part, this is enough to assess whether the tenant is acting responsibly and respectfully.
This is also a good opportunity to ask the tenant about maintenance that may be required or any breakages that have occurred, which they have perhaps yet to report.
When There Are More People Than Tenants
If you find someone else other than the tenant answering the door or you discover people seemingly residing in the property that are not named on the tenancy agreement, it is prudent to enquire (politely) who they are and how long they are staying. Although their reason for being there may be entirely legitimate, bear in mind they could quite easily be unauthorised sub-tenants paying rent to your tenant. This is a situation that must be investigated and dealt with quickly, because these are people you have not had the opportunity to reference or assess as being tenant-worthy.
Unauthorised sub-tenants are little more than squatters and can commonly be evicted, using the entitlement provided through the legal system. Complications can arise if the sub-tenants have been given a written tenancy agreement, even though the tenancy itself might be an illegal one. In this situation the landlord might need to seek possession from the actual tenant, based on the fact they have sub-let the property without consent. Each scenario is different, of course, so I would recommend getting legal advice before proceeding, if you find yourself in this situation.