£ Find out how much your property is worth with our instant valuation

The rise of the 'smart tenant'

Speaking to a non-managed landlord yesterday, he was dismayed by the change in attitude of tenants over the past ten years. What he has dubbed the rise of the ‘smart tenant’ has explained his desire to switch his properties to a new agent who can properly manage his portfolio.

While he classes himself as a good landlord and has tried to keep up with legislation; with a full time job and a large portfolio he simply doesn’t have the time to dedicate to the task. He was also finding that his tenants were becoming smarter than his current letting agent.

So is this a problem across the sector, or an example of a busy landlord, a bad agent and a reasonably switched on tenant?

Given the changes in the sector in relation to smoke alarms, legionella, how to serve the new Section notices, provision of required documents and prescribed information, it is not surprising landlords and un-regulated agents are confused. In the past 10 months I have done 30+ hours extra training on legal updates alone, that’s aside from in house training and quarterly updates from the Association of Residential Lettings Agents.

Tuned in letting agents do training and actively seek out new information to keep their landlords up to date and to avoid an appearance in Her Majesty’s court. Those agents who do not, are not in my opinion wilfully neglecting their clients, they just lack the knowledge to cover all the bases. This is where the availability of information for the tenants can cause problems.

As the rental sector has changed, so has the tenant demographic. With more tenants in their mid-30s to 40s who have employment and access to information websites including gov.uk and tenant charities like Shelter, local solicitors, and the Citizens Advice Bureau it’s not surprising that their knowledge base has increased. In a digital age it is easy to find an answer to a question, it may not be the right answer, but it is an answer which can help you challenge the status quo.google

With the combination of an out of date agent and a switched on tenant it is easy to see why things can escalate, not least because the information available online is not always accurate. The fact that lettings law is challenged constantly in the High Court and the Court of appeal does not help. Landlords now need to be prepared not only to challenge their tenant, but to also challenge the information their agent may be giving them.

I have been qualified in lettings for 10+ years and I still have to do my research on complex matters. Membership rules and compliance from the professional bodies I am a member of, means this is part of my job and that the oodles of letters after a letting agent’s name do matter. MARLA indicates I am a member of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents and I have had to complete examinations to join. MAPIP indicates that I am a member of the Association of Professional Inventory Providers which although its sounds dull, means I am qualified to competently assess tenant disputes and carry out tenant check ins and outs.

Usually this means little to landlords who very often rely on the information they are provided with by their own agent, and rarely look any further. I could count on one hand the amount of times someone has asked me on a valuation for my qualifications or what security I can offer them if it all goes wrong. Whilst we all expect our bank to be regulated to protect our money, I know numerous landlords who by letting their property through a non-regulated agent, have in effect handed over £120,000 of money to a company with no financial qualifications or accountability to look after and then allowed them to pass it on to someone else. Unfortunately, some landlords then go on to discover that the non-regulated, non-accountable company has fallen foul of the law and on that basis the person(tenant) holding your £120,000(property) is reluctant to part with it.

Forgive the obvious next question, but what would you do? How do you get your money back? Where do you start and who would you go to?

My new client with his ‘smart tenants’ has become a ‘smart landlord’ as he can see the pitfalls and doesn’t have the time to catch up. He has made a business decision to use a regulated and tuned in agent, because he wants someone who can be accountable. So it looks like that is me and every other ARLA agent out there. It is a message good agents should promote and a point I will make much more frequently to clients in future.