Landlords risk eroding tenant goodwill

Following a nationwide survey this summer, AXA Business Insurance reveals the biggest concerns of the UK’s 8.3 million residential tenants. The findings also reveal just how friendly the relationship is between today’s landlords and tenants, as well as raising serious concerns about the energy efficiency and safety of many rental properties.

12 September 2014

Posted in Product

  • AXA warns of poor risk awareness among landlords, but challenges the popular image of a hostile tenant-landlord relationship
  • The research reveals that almost 60% of tenants rent because they are priced out of the housing market
  • Biggest downsides of renting are finding properties in a dirty state on moving-in day and unfriendly landlords
  • Tenants most concerned about high energy bills as a result of poorly insulated properties and old heating systems
  • Gaps in essential repairs put tenants and landlords at risk: only 30% of landlords carry out the annual gas inspection required by law and 58% do not have a fire alarm fitted, among other safety failings

AXA’s survey looked at tenants’ motivations for living in a rented property. It found that there are those who have no choice: 59% told the survey they would prefer to buy, but quite simply can’t afford current house prices. At the other end of the scale, there is also a sizeable number of tenants – 17% – who say they choose to rent because they “prefer the freedom”.

The deciding factor in choosing their current rental property was the size (number of bedrooms), followed by price and being in a central location (near work and shops/amenities). When asked which feature they would most appreciate added to the property, the top answer (cited by 35% of tenants) was an outdoors area, such as a patio, garden or balcony. Use of a garage was the second most desirable feature cited by a quarter of tenants.

The biggest gripe among tenants was dealing with other people’s dirt and grime when they move into a property, the top complaint for 38% of respondents. Meanwhile, one in five tenants named décor issues – peeling paintwork or a bad colour scheme – as their pet hate. The most detested colour for interior décor was brown, closely followed by avocado green and orange. Even black, in fourth place, was considered less offensive than these colours!

It would also seem that the personality of the landlord makes a big difference to how tenants feel about a property: 15% of tenants said that an unfriendly landlord would deter them more than anything else.

Energy efficiency: what tenants and the government want

The improvement to their current rental demanded by most tenants was better energy efficiency (through insulation, newer boilers, double-glazing, green technologies, etc.). This concern is unsurprising given government estimates that one in five tenants live in fuel poverty.

Tenants are not the only ones concerned about poor energy arrangements in rental properties: the government is also looking to introduce new energy legislation for landlords.

For instance, by April 2016, landlords will be obliged to introduce any ‘reasonable’ energy efficiency measure (like insulation, double-glazing, etc.) that a tenant requests. Meanwhile, by 2018, it will be an offence to let a property in the lowest energy efficiency categories (F and G), which currently applies to one in ten rentals on the market.

Delayed repairs and gaps in safety highlighted

After poor energy performance, tenants’ top complaint was that their landlords do not pay enough attention to routine maintenance, with 17% saying that their landlords had outright refused to carry out essential repairs when requested.

More worrying was the number of tenants who reported that the most basic safety features were absent from the properties. Key findings include:

  • 60% of rental properties have no carbon monoxide alarm fitted
  • Only 30% of tenants said their landlord arranged an annual gas inspection, despite it being a legal requirement
  • 58% of rental properties do not have a fire alarm fitted
  • 73% of properties do not have locks on all external windows and doors; one in five tenants saying that this was their number one security wish.

What do tenants think of their landlords?

While the survey highlighted key areas of dissatisfaction among tenants, it did go some way to dispel the media image of a hostile landlord-tenant relationship.

Half of tenants had a high opinion of their landlord as an individual: given a list of options, 29% said he/she was ‘helpful’, and a further 20% described their landlord as ‘trustworthy’. Meanwhile, a minority – 13% – described their landlord as ‘greedy’, and 4% said he /she was ‘ruthless’.

Headshot of Darrell Sansom, Managing Director, AXA Business Insurance

It’s easy to present modern Britain as a world of greedy landlords on the one side and resentful tenants on the other – that’s certainly been the stereotype. However, we’ve found that their attitude to their landlords is largely positive, indicating that the problems aren’t caused so much by a bad attitude on either side, but just poor awareness of who is responsible for what.

There are simple things landlords need to do to comply with the law and ensure decent safety standards for their tenants. Keeping an eye on your property must come first: we know that a third of landlords never visit their rental properties after a tenant moves in, and quarterly checks are only conducted by 17%.

Too many landlords are leaving themselves open to serious property risks, and even prosecution, by not maintaining adequate fire and gas safety measures. Arranging annual gas inspections and ensuring tenants aren’t at risk of fires from old wiring are one part of the picture. Landlords are also going to face increased pressure from government to update their heating and energy systems in order to keep tenants’ bills down.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance

Further information on energy efficiency in rental properties and the proposed measures can be found in the Private rented sector energy efficiency regulations consultation paper issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.