We are ‘all in this together’ on the rental front - David Alexander comment

The way some politicians and political activists go on, you’d think landlords and their tenants are constantly on a war footing with one another – just one of the great myths surrounding the residential letting sector.

There have been unique 'deals' that apply only to one tenancy, says Alexander. Picture: George Rudy/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

In fact, drawing on more than 40 years’ experience, I know the reality is rather different; the relationship between most bona fide landlords and their tenants is civilised, business-like and based on mutual interest and respect. And, somewhat ironically, this relationship has been strengthened by the Covid-19 crisis.

Given the rise in unemployment and the threat to job security for many of those still in work, it might be thought that evictions for non-payment would be soaring. That they are not – at least in my experience – is down to the ability of most affected landlords to be realistic about the current situation and to combine this with understanding and, indeed, a healthy dose of human compassion.

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Since March, around 500 tenants, some 15 per cent of our total, have been in contact to say they are having difficulty meeting their rental obligations. Virtually all of their landlords have responded in a positive manner by either offering rental holidays (some of which do not need to be repaid), reducing the rental rate for the period of the crisis, or setting up affordable payment plans.

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There have been other unique “deals” that apply only to one tenancy, because policy over arrears during this crisis of indeterminate length does not have a “one size fits all” solution. Despite this, some critics have complained that landlords should not be seeking any rent at all if they are signed up to a mortgage holiday with their lender.

However, the suspended mortgage payments will have to be repaid eventually, in some cases with interest. In addition, a mortgage is only part of a landlord’s outgoings, which also include regulatory, insurance and maintenance costs. Many landlords – whether mortgaged or not – are also of an older generation, whose property is a substitute for a conventional pension. So if there is no net income from rentals then they too have to go without.

Of course, landlords are not charities and the current situation cannot continue indefinitely. If the rate of job losses continues to grow into the winter, then many tenants who become unemployed could qualify for housing benefit – as it should be as those in need of it will have been in regular employment during which they will have paid income tax and national insurance.

Communication

Whatever the outcome, it is essential that agents and landlords continue to liaise closely with tenants to maintain a relationship likely to produce the best outcome for all involved. Excellent communication will be key.

In March, our firm wrote to all tenants asking them if there were issues or problems the pandemic was likely to present, and encouraged them to get in touch as soon as possible so that resolutions might be found. In a few cases there simply was, sadly, no positive outcome but we ensured everyone who responded was met with a sympathetic ear.

Fortunately, most landlords reacted in the same sympathetic manner, acknowledging that their income stream was also someone’s home and that a greater balance between the two interests had to be enacted, if only for the duration of the pandemic.

There was a realisation that while a reduction in rental income might be difficult to swallow, tenants faced with the threat of losing the roof over their heads through no fault of their own were in an even worse situation. If there is one compensation to be taken from the current crisis it is the strengthening – by a very great factor – of the bond between landlord and tenant.

As I stated at the beginning, the so-called hostility between them is, for the most part, a figment of some people’s imaginations, yet it is surprising that the crisis – despite its potential to create tension – has actually brought the two parties closer rather than driving them apart.

To borrow a popular phrase, agents, landlords and tenants really are all in this together.

David Alexander is MD of DJ Alexander

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