How do you avoid a tenant refusing to pay rent and then trashing your property?

Tips to prevent an expensive nightmare experience

Despite more buy-to-let landlords entering the market, stories of nightmare tenants are still a big disincentive. If you have a tenant who trashes your property, it can be expensive and disheartening. Some great landlords have quit the market because they had poor tenants.

In this article, you’ll read about a landlord who suffered thousands of pounds’ worth of property damage. You’ll also learn how you can avoid the same outcome.

Landlord has property trashed by a tenant now missing

Landlord Michael Walker had his property trashed by a tenant who then did a disappearing act. When the landlord went to the property on Good Friday, he found the three-bedroom home ‘destroyed’. The issues included:

  • Rubbish piled in every room
  • Mattresses dumped in the rear garden
  • Walls covered in grease stains
  • Chipped plaster throughout
  • Half-empty bottles of oil, milk cartons and used tins on the kitchen counter and on floors
  • The washing machine had been moved to the living area, damaging the flooring
  • Mould growing on ceilings

Buzzing with flies, the property is no longer fit for human habitation. The landlord estimates the damage at more than £7,000 of repairs.

What comes first – unpaid rent or damage to property?

Unfortunately for Mr Walker, the damage to his property is not the only financial loss he is suffering. The tenant didn’t pay any rent for 11 months. They also ignored a repossession order that was served.

So, Mr Walker is out of pocket by thousands of pounds in rent, plus the costs of getting the repossession order, before the damage is taken into consideration. He has been to court three times to date. Total losses could run to as much as £15,000 to £20,000.

It’s our experience that tenants who don’t pay their rent are most likely to take less care of your property. They stop seeing it as a home and start treating it like a squat. Of course, if no rent is being paid, this is effectively what it is.

How can you ensure you are not the landlord in the nightmare?

Mr Walker’s tenant simply left the property. Perhaps it had become too much of a mess for even them to live in. View the photos of the damage online, and you will realise that the damage wasn’t done overnight. It is the type of damage that happens over several months. Probably from the first missed rental payment. Here are a few tips to help you avoid the nightmare that Michael Walker suffered.

Chase that rent

The first thing you must do to avoid a similar disaster is to stay on top of the rental payments. If your tenant is even a day or two late, you must chase that rent. It’s vital for your buy-to-let business and helps to protect you against the cost of any damage caused.

If your tenant falls into rent arrears, you’ve got to be tough. You cannot afford to accept sob stories. Always remember that once you allow a tenant to fall into arrears, it is easier for them to fall further behind. For tips to help you stay on top of rental payments, download our free book “How to deal with rent arrears”.

Inspect the property regularly

Make sure that you inspect the property regularly. Every three months is recommended. You can tell a lot from a property inspection. If more people are living in the property than allowed under the terms of the tenancy agreement, it will be evident. You’ll get an early warning of damage or neglect.

During a property inspection, you can remind the tenant of their obligations, point out if there are things not being done that should be, and ask if there is anything else that you can do for the tenant – this is a great way to show you care about the tenant and your property and improve your landlord/tenant relationship.

Use Section 21 notices to evict

Although the government is considering abolishing Section 21, it is currently still your best option to get a tenant out. You must serve a Section 21 notice with at least two months’ notice, and it cannot end before the end of a tenancy. This makes it ineffective to evict a tenant during a fixed-term tenancy, but highly effective otherwise.

Use Section 8 notices to evict

During a tenancy, you can serve a Section 8 notice. You can do this if the tenant has broken the terms of the tenancy agreement – for example, by causing damage to the property (seen and evidenced during a property inspection, for example) or when the tenant is in rent arrears. The tenant will have two weeks to respond.

In the case of rent arrears, the court will issue a possession award. If the damage is the grounds under which you are seeking possession, you will have to prove this. If you are considering issuing a Section 8 notice, you should ensure that you comply with all landlord laws. If you don’t, your Section 8 could be thrown out.

The major issue facing landlords with any eviction is cost. Legal fees can rack up during the eviction process and there may also be the additional cost of bailiffs if the tenant will not vacate the property.

Prevention is better than cure

Carrying out property inspections should help you to spot problems with a tenancy early, but prevention is always better than cure. Avoiding nightmare tenants starts before the tenancy commences. Here are five steps to take to help prevent getting that one costly tenant that you must avoid:

1.     Advertise your property properly

There are plenty of free-to-advertise sites online today. Not surprisingly, more bad tenants come through these than other methods of finding tenants. Perhaps scam merchants think it is easier to take advantage of a landlord who refuses to pay a few pounds to advertise their property professionally.

2.     Vet tenants rigorously

It is crucial to vet your tenants effectively. Make sure you contact their employer and previous landlords. Do carry out a credit check, and note the applicant’s credit history.

3.     Take and protect a tenancy deposit

Always take a tenancy deposit. This can be used to pay for damage at the end of the tenancy, but it must be protected in a registered tenancy deposit scheme.

4.     Get insured

Landlord insurance is also an essential weapon in your armoury. Make sure you choose the right policy and get covered for damage and rent arrears.

5.    Use an investment property manager

Advertising your property, vetting tenants, managing tenancy deposits correctly and managing tenants is not all plain sailing. DIY landlords are more likely to suffer from a nightmare tenant than those who have their property professionally managed.

To learn more about our comprehensive services for landlords, and how we keep on top of tenant management, contact Ezytrac at  +44 0 1522 503 717.

Yours in Effortless Property Management,

Michael Hollamby

About the Author:

Michael has over 26 years of property industry experience having worked my way “up from the bottom of the ladder” and gained first hand experience in administration, negotiation, valuing, marketing, management, business ownership, sales, Lettings, property management, property auction, single office management, multi-office area management and most recently managing an investment property management company offering national coverage from a unique management hub based in my home City of Lincoln. Outside of work he spends his time with his wife and 3 young children and enjoys music having been a drummer in bands since a young age and enjoyed success in recording and session work as well as gigging and touring across Europe in the day!