David Alexander comment: Screen landlords to give tenants the full picture

A robust vetting system is as necessary for property owners as for tenants, says David Alexander. Picture: Contributed
A robust vetting system is as necessary for property owners as for tenants, says David Alexander. Picture: Contributed
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A key responsibility of bona fide letting agents is to have in place a robust tenant vetting policy.

This has two purposes. The first to is to ensure, as far as is reasonably possible, that property is not let to individuals, couples or groups who are likely to become troublesome for the owners. In this case “troublesome” mostly means being consistently late with rental payments (or stopping payment completely), causing damage to the property or disturbing neighbours. Troublesome can, on occasion, mean people who come into none of the above categories but who fancy themselves as barrack room lawyers and spend their tenancy period constantly nitpicking over minor issues and perceived injustices.

The second purpose is to “save some tenants from themselves”. By that, I mean otherwise genuine people who are tempted to take on rental commitments, such as an expensive luxury apartment in a prime location, which one suspects are really beyond their means and could lead to financial problems further down the line.

But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, in which case a robust landlord vetting policy is also desirable for the protection and well-being of tenants.

My attention was recently drawn to a story about a national online letting firm featuring an advert, placed by a specialist student accommodation company, which offered women greatly reduced rent for a property in Birmingham if they would give the landlord “special favours” – and I have no need to spell out what that meant.

This is just one of a number of such stories connected to private lettings, mostly, it would seem, south of the Border. I have never come across blatant examples in Scotland, although once we had a landlord who developed a habit of turning up late at night at the home of a female tenant just as she was preparing for bed. We immediately took action and the problem ceased.

Therefore, while landlords are, for the most part, respectable and responsible citizens, a robust vetting system is as necessary for property owners as it is for their tenants.

As for the process, vetting ensures that any new landlords have all the valid safety certificates relating to their property (or properties) in place. Personal background checks are also carried out. To try and negate what has become a growing problem, it has also become necessary to ascertain that anyone claiming to be a landlord is not, in fact, a tenant attempting to sub-let the property. This is not only in breach of the lease conditions but also invalidates any insurance cover, with potentially costly financial consequences.

And, just as with tenants, nitpicking landlords are best avoided. Sadly, a small number lack the diplomatic skills necessary to handle a rental investment and might be better putting their money into some other vehicle.

Meanwhile, residents of Murrayfield in Edinburgh, concerned about the prospect of international football and Scottish Cup finals being staged at the home of Scottish rugby, may be unduly worried.

A Bank of Scotland survey has revealed the value of residential properties located close to Premiership grounds has risen by an average of 14 per cent over the past decade. Hibs may have failed to make the Europa League after last week’s defeat in Norway, but residents near the club’s Easter Road ground have seen average property prices rise by just under a quarter to some £219,000 in the same period.

When I launched a letting agency in the early 1980s, the general rule was that proximity to a professional football ground actually diminished the market value of a home for the obvious “social” reasons. So, if the Bank of Scotland results are correct it can only mean one of two things: either the housing market in Scotland is even stronger than we thought or football fans are a lot better behaved than they were three decades ago.

David Alexander, managing director of DJ Alexander.