Renting in London:wanting to avoid letting agents' fees is understandable, not paying the rent on time is not - says the accidental landlord

The accidental landlord understands when tenants want to deal directly with owners, but is wary when a young mum hints she might not pay her rent on time...

Music to my ears, that's what it is, when this young single mum who I'm showing round my two-bedroom flat tells me she much prefers renting directly from a landlord than going via a letting agent.

"It's so much nicer having a personal relationship with the landlord," this young mum tells me. "Yes, yes," I say, nodding enthusiastically. I agree with her again when she says that we don't need a letting agent "getting in the way". I expect you can see where this is going.

She seems very sensible. It is indeed much better, I think, to handpick tenants myself so that I can be sure I can get along with them and, as the tenant will be dealing with me throughout the tenancy, it's only right that we should meet first so they know what they're letting themselves in for.

The Property Ombudsman (TPO) saw a 33 per cent increase in complaints about letting agents last year, 48 per cent of which were in London and the South-East. In total, 1,965 complaints were resolved, 83 per cent of which were supported by the TPO, leading Ombudsman Katrine Sporle to warn agents that they need to raise their standards.

The top three causes of complaints to the TPO were management including repairs and maintenance, communication and record keeping and end-of-tenancy issues including deposits, disputes and damages.

Tenants' campaign groups have also been pretty vocal recently about the fees charged by letting agents, so, given all of the above, I'm surprised there aren't more tenants like this young mum who try to avoid them.

I'm thinking that the two of us are going to get along just fine when she tells me the real reason she's keen to rent directly from a landlord. She says she needs to make sure that they will be "understanding" when "from time to time" she can't pay the rent. "I can only rent from someone who gets that I'm single with a little girl to look after on my own and that sometimes I'll struggle," she says.

The grin slips from my face. I am not That Landlord. It might be hardhearted but I think it would be reckless to take on a tenant who tells me from the start that she's a liability.

If a tenant were to fall on hard times after they've moved in, obviously I'd try to work something out with them with regard to the rent, but I'm not a charity, I'm trying to run a business, I have a mortgage to pay and maintenance costs. I'm definitely not going to take a tenant who warns me in advance she will struggle to pay.

She tells me she will let me know her decision soon and I drive home wondering how to politely refuse if she makes an offer. When she emails later to say that she doesn't think the property is right for her, I realise she clocked my expression when she told me her tale. Well, that's a relief!

  • Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock 

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