The BBC1 series ‘The Week the Landlords Moved In’ makes interesting viewing. Each week it follows two different landlords as they move into one of their rental properties and live as their tenants live, on the same weekly budget. A familiar TV format, this ‘life swap’ setup proves to be instructive for the landlords as they finally see their properties as a home rather than just an investment or an income stream. Each week a number of aspects are put under the spotlight, but a common theme is maintenance issues.
In every programme so far there has been a yawning disconnect between landlord and tenant on maintenance issues. The tenants claim they have notified the landlord or managing agent of broken fixtures and fittings, damp problems or even, in one case, a collapsing ceiling. However, when the landlord arrives for his or her week’s stay in the property they are, without fail, shocked and horrified at the problems and assert that they haven’t been informed by the tenants. Frequently the tenant comments to camera that, while they have reported the problem, they haven’t followed it up as they live in fear of being evicted for being ‘difficult’ or ‘demanding’.
In episode three one of the landlords addresses this disconnect by setting up an online system for reporting maintenance issues and other problems, thereby enabling the tenant to report everything easily and quickly and taking away the potential for confrontation or personal animosity. In other episodes there has been a breakdown in communication between landlord and repairman or a general lackadaisical approach to maintenance problems.
In truth, there is little excuse for landlords being slack in tackling repairs. After all, it is in no-one’s interests – least of all the owner of the building – to let it fall into disrepair, especially when problems only escalate and become more expensive the longer they are left unattended.
When it comes to health and safety, a negligent attitude towards maintenance can be particularly costly. If a tenant or a visitor to a rental property is hurt or made ill as a result of a landlord’s lack of care, a prosecution is highly likely. This could result in a hefty fine or even a prison sentence, not to mention the ensuing reputational damage long after the event. In the case of Legionella, gas or electrical safety, maintenance failings can even be a matter of life or death.
So far in the BBC1 series, the landlords have all displayed considerable contrition and worked hard to put things right with their properties. They have listened to their tenants and sought to rectify the maintenance issues, in many cases spending significant sums of money. Of course, a cynical viewer may attribute this to being on national television and wanting to keep up appearances, but it has to be said that they appear to be genuine in their efforts to be a responsible and caring landlord.
Given that the series is airing on a major TV channel at peak time (Wednesday at 9pm), one subject we’d love to see them tackling is Legionella control. Almost every landlord we speak to in the private rented sector is unaware of the legislation on Legionella control and, with around 2m of them in the UK, owning more than 5m properties, that is a lot of houses without adequate control measures in place.
It’s great to see rental property and the challenges of being a landlord and tenant in the spotlight, but please BBC, shine your light on Legionella!