The accidental landlord: be a snoop and you'll weather the winter storms

If the rain is causing chaos in the country, you can bet your guttering is blocked and you've got a roof tile missing.
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Oh boy, am I kicking myself up my lazy backside for failing to go round and check up on my rental properties after the recent bouts of wet and windy weather.
I know how important it is for landlords to keep a close eye on their investment. I also know you can't depend on tenants to let you know if there's something wrong, and I know that you ought to visit properties regularly to look for any problems.
One morning early this month, when a strong gust of wind blew over my scooter, I even thought to myself that I probably should pop round to the rental flats to make sure they hadn't sustained any damage during the storms. And yet I didn't bother.
I told myself that no news was good news, that the tenants would let me know if there was anything wrong and that if I asked to go round and visit the properties, they might think I was checking up on them.
Also, I had a sneaking suspicion that if I called the tenants to ask if everything was okay, that in itself would prompt them all to come up with a long list of niggly, non weather-related problems that I would then be forced to deal with.
Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought. Which was a big mistake.
It turned out that one tenant took a long holiday over Christmas — a very long holiday, in fact. So while London was being battered by storms and torrential rain he was sunning himself somewhere exotic, blissfully unaware that back home a gutter was overflowing and, as a result, water was running down the inside of his bedroom wall.
By the time the tenant returned from his lovely long holiday, an area of his recently redecorated bedroom was smothered in fuzzy fungus.
If only I had called round while he was away I might have spotted the blocked gutter and cleared it before it caused any significant damage. However, I didn't and now it's too late to rescue the wallpaper. The whole wall is going to have to be redecorated.
And it gets worse. While I was at the flat inspecting the mouldy wall, I noticed that in another room there was a second damp patch, even larger than the first, which looked as if it had been caused by a leaking roof.
The tenant hadn't spotted the leak because it was in a room he rarely uses, so if I hadn't gone round to inspect the mould in the bedroom the leak might gone unnoticed until the ceiling caved in.
This shows just how important it is for landlords not to forget about their rental properties and to make sure they check up on them from time to time, especially in the winter.
Tenants do have a responsibility to alert landlords to maintenance issues, and if they don't they could be held responsible for any damage caused by their negligence, but as this story demonstrates, you can't always depend on them to spot when something is wrong.
Even if you use a management company to take care of your rental property, they might never carry out inspections between lets. And even if they do, they might ignore potentially serious problems.
I once rented a flat which had damp on one wall, yet when I mentioned it to the managing agent she just sent an odd-job guy round to paint over the stain. When the damp came back, she just shrugged.
Remember, no one will care about your property - that huge financial investment - as much as you do, so don't follow my example. Keep an eye on it.

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