Communicating with tenants can be a tricky business.
The appropriate method and style of communication is usually determined by the relationship between tenant and landlord and how well they know one another, but much is open to debate.
It’s a thorny issue, particularly for those finding themselves an accidental landlord, without the benefit of previous experience of renting a property.
We’ve all heard plenty about rogue landlords, but there is less discussion around bad tenants, meaning landlords are less well-prepared in the event that issues do arise. Where a positive relationship hasn’t been cultivated, finding resolution will be more challenging as a result, while, on the other hand, if things are perhaps too friendly, issues can be more difficult to broach.
However, there are steps to take to make sure you stay on the right side of the law when it comes to tenant communications, while protecting your interests.
Keep it brief and to the point
If you speak with your tenant more often than your mum, you’re probably overstepping the mark. While tenants appreciate a caring, thoughtful landlord, only reach out when it’s absolutely necessary.
Never call ‘when passing’ unless it’s a scheduled appointment, or your tenant has asked you to attend the property about a particular issue.
Understand and accommodate tenants’ needs
Landlords must communicate with tenants in a way that suits their needs - for example, if a tenant cannot speak English, it is your responsibility to provide correspondence in a format and language they can understand.
Failure to do this could see you fall foul of UK discrimination legislation.
Communicate swiftly, without delay
Where issues have arisen, whether rent arrears or another problem, do not delay - communicate those problems as swiftly as possible, in a way that suits their needs, covering what the issue is, how you expect to see it resolved, and, crucially, the date by which you expect to receive a response.
Make it easy to get in touch
Landlord and tenant relationships will be vastly improved by frictionless communication - give tenants multiple options to get in touch with you, and ask them how they would prefer to hear from you. While in some cases only a letter will be appropriate, for occasional queries, a less formal channel may be better for both of you.
Avoid unwelcome surprises
Giving tenants advance warning of services or repair appointments may not always be a legal requirement, but unexpected callers won’t be well received, and understandably so - it’s their home, after all.
It’s best practice to give plenty of notice - where that isn’t possible, do be apologetic and be clear on the reason behind the lack of warning.
Being a caring landlord is no bad thing, but always keep a professional distance. Building a friendship with tenant could add extra difficulty should problems or a dispute arise.
If you don’t already know the tenant personally, avoid putting yourself in a difficult situation. We’ve known Section 21 and Section 8 cases be delayed due to false allegations of harassment and other offences - it’s the last thing a landlord needs, particularly where rent arrears continue to mount, or where there is progressive damage to their property.
In the majority of cases, the landlord tenant relationship is a positive one, but it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. Assess whether your communication style is appropriate - and productive - and make sure you’re not overstepping the mark.
Sim Sekhon is the managing director of Legal for Landlords.