18 Jan HMO Maintenance
Managing the maintenance of HMO’s is very different from a single let. Aside from the obvious, that there are multiple people letting the property at once, there are also factors such as the tenancy period tending to be shorter, and wear on the property fixtures and fittings is higher.
However, you can keep maintenance to a minimum if you plan for durability from the outset. Good maintenance will help you keep your occupancy rates high which is the key to HMO’s success.
Common thoroughfares have higher amounts of pedestrian traffic and walls are often marked through carelessness or what tenants often call “fair wear and tear”. Certainly, there is a balance here but the chances of you identifying the perpetrator/s is slim to none so best bite your tongue and smile. Whilst I recommend you use acrylic paint so some marks can be wiped off, others will no doubt need touching up or repainting, so make sure you keep a note of the paint you used and store any remainder.
Undertake Regular Checks of Your HMO
Using your cleaning company to report back on the state of walls is an important step to keeping on top of decorating and identifying wear or damage. A smartphone can be helpful here as the cleaner can send you pictures of any damage so you can better understand the problem and also may be able to send to contractors for quotes without having to go to site. It is possible to take this further with smartphone applications, but when you start off simplicity is king.
Food in bedrooms
It’s not uncommon to come across half eaten food simply left in rooms. This can be a big issue as it encourages vermin which you then have a duty of care to get rid of. Good reporting with documentary evidence is particularly useful here. You can then sit down with the tenant and educate them about why this is such a problem. Only a few weeks ago I took 15 pizza boxes out of a room with the half eaten crusts still left in the box! I’m rather relieved to say than particular tenant decided to leave.
Damp can be a big problem, however as long as you addressed any rising damp or penetrating damp issues in the refurb, the chances are that it is caused by lifestyle. If you have damp caused by structural issues please seek professional advice. I am going to address damp in the three main areas of damp by room type that you can address.
I find if you put high capacity extractors over cooker hobs rather than circulation filters, this really does cut down on moisture. Extractors vary a lot in price, and three main components seem to have the most impact on price – noise output, power, and lastly brand. All I would say you don’t have to spend a fortune to get something that will do the job but don’t skimp either. Having oversized splashbacks and a decent window opener that can vent in the right area can ensure that you avoid the build-up of moisture. Good design of the kitchen area so that cooking moisture can be vented easily can really help.
Tiling a bathroom floor to ceiling will be costly and appear to solve the problem, however, in reality, it hides the issue, and you end up with more grout to clean.
I find a high throughput moisture sensitive fan that can also run in continuous operation really helps.
This type of fan trickles air out of the room without any noise but can violently force air out when they sense moisture, such as steam from a shower.
If you have space in the bathroom fitting a window can really help.
Talk to the tenants and ask them to open the window when they have a shower and explain the benefit to them. Additional extractor fans over the shower can also be fitted if you don’t have a window. A radiator or oversized towel rail installed in the bathroom will help dry the air. If the bathroom is a private ensuite, then you might wish to consider compulsory cleaning charge to cover the cost of cleaning on a regular basis, as this is often overlooked by tenants and you can keep a check on any damp or mould through poor ventilation.
The main cause of damp here is washing drying on radiators. Providing tenants with drying rails and explaining the problem can really help.
Ensuring that windows are partially vented really helps, even a small amount by putting the windows on the night latch so the window is slightly open but still secure or adding trickle vents.
People, when they sleep, will emit over a pint of water in moisture so again educating tenants can really help. Again explaining to the tenant what is in it for them can really help get them on side. Let’s face it they don’t want to live in a bedroom with mould ruining their clothes and bedding.
What to do if you have damp
Firstly I would say look at what is causing it as, unless you can address this, you will never be able to get rid of it. Secondly, once you have damp spores they will easily pop up over and over again. Using neat bleach will kill damp spores but it is unlikely that a single application will do the trick.
If the damp is more serious or coming from structural issues seek professional advice sooner rather than later. Do not put it off as it can raise the cost significantly.
No matter what you do someone will forget to put the bins out for collection and the next thing you know is that you have rubbish that backs up. Having a rota that is clearly visible can help but it is not going to eradicate the problem. Creating a WhatsApp group can help tenants remind each other and also communicate problems too, so make sure you are on the WhatsApp group. If you have persistent offenders then you can offer to add this to the cleaning routine and bill then tenant for the task. Ensure a prominent notice board on the wall clearly dictates whose responsibility it is on each day.
Most of my tenants are not car owners, though of course this will vary based on tenant type and location. Only 1 in 8 of my tenants is a car owner so quite a number of them will either use public transport or cycle into work.
Bicycles are an asset often stolen, and therefore tenants, quite rightly wish to keep them safe. If you don’t want to find bikes scratching your paintwork up the stairs and stored in corridors and bedrooms putting a secure cycle storage in the garden can help but also provides the ability to be able to individually secure each bike just in case you get a rogue tenant.
You will often find tenants have lots of electrical devices and that necessitates lots of power plugs. Extensions plugged into extensions are a fire hazard so if you see a problem try genuinely to fix it by offering a solution. Again build this into your weekly inspection so you get timely reports back. I tend to flood my HMO rooms with electrical sockets 2 behind the TV a double each side of the bed and a further 2 doubles strategically placed.
Dealing with difficult tenants
One difficult tenant can upset the whole house. It can turn the whole property from a happy house when tenants all socialise to something a place where no-one wants to live. Early identification of these individuals is key. This should first start during the vetting process. Assuming you have done that and you later identify a bad apple what can you do? I recommend meeting face to face with the tenant, explaining the problem and asking them what they could do about it.
Agree on a plan and timescale and then send an email to the tenant so you have a written record. If the tenant then does not do what they say, meet with the tenant again with the view to helping the tenant to move on.
Be prepared to offer an incentive to the tenant, assistance with moving, deposit return and give the tenant some time to find a room. Help him if necessary to shortlist a few other rooms. When the tenant finds another room and accepts the incentive then get him to sign a tenancy surrender document. Do make sure in the document that you put a clause in that they have to the leave the room clean and tidy. The tenancy surrender document is a mutual agreement that means the tenant can’t claim you kicked him out and you end up in court with a large compensation claim.
Non paying tenants
Non-paying tenants are a problem and all too often tenants get charity legal advice or councils that tell the tenants not to worry the landlord will take months to be in a position to throw you out. In reality I have been through this process and it is time consuming costly to go through the Section 21 or Section 8 notices.
My recommendation is to meet with the tenant as soon as possible and try to be part of the solution for them not the problem. If they have lost their job and can’t pay – realistically you are not going to get your rent period.
Making sure they claim any entitled benefits can really help them, as well understanding any issues in their private life that can be obstacles.
A little time and empathy here can help them get back into paid employment. If you have to go above and beyond then in my experience it can be worth the investment. Saying that, if you have severe doubts then better to offer an incentive to leave with a signed surrender agreement or move on the eviction processes. A year ago I did house an unemployed person in one of my properties. It was empty at the time and I thought it was a good idea. However, it actually did not help him at all as the fact that he was already housed meant that he was outside the system and not a priority to house on a permanent basis. Months down the line we both discovered this and I assisted him to move into a hostel and then two months later from the hostel to a really nice one bed flat owned by a charity.
In conclusion, keeping your property well maintained hinges on both putting thought into the planning process, combined with having a good relationship with your tenants – get this right, and your HMO will be your finest investment.