When an electrician I had hired to carry out a routine inspection of the wiring in my four-bedroom rental flat gave me the estimate for repairs, I nearly fell through the floor: £5,500.
He said it was necessary to rewire the whole flat, which would also mean redecorating, adding another £2,000 — £3,000 to the bill. As the work would be seriously messy, I’d have to ask the current tenants to leave for at least a month, during which I wouldn’t receive any rent.
Together, the work would cost me about £10,000, which was roughly 10 times more than I’d anticipated.
I was gobsmacked, especially as there were none of the telltale signs that anything was wrong with the wiring in the first place. It all seemed quite modern to me and the tenants hadn’t reported any problems.
Of course, I wouldn’t want to risk giving my tenants an electric shock — not even the most annoying of them — but no one spends 10 grand without giving it some thought, so I thought I would take a close look at the electrician’s report.
I became suspicious when I saw that he had classed a faulty kitchen light as “potentially dangerous”. It is not dangerous, the dopey tenants are just too lazy to change the bulb. There were a lot of other items he had classed as equally dangerous, such as a couple of loose plug sockets, which only needed tightening with a screwdriver.
I started to wonder if this electrician had gone totally over the top, either because he wanted to milk a landlord or, more charitably, because he was super-cautious.
I asked another electrician for a second opinion, and — much to my relief — he guffawed when he read the first electrician’s report. He agreed with my layperson’s opinion that a complete rewire was unnecessary and suggested he carry out only the essential repairs, at a total cost of £1,500. As he could work around the tenants, there would be no need for them to vacate the property and no need to redecorate, so I would save more than £8,500.
My brother, who carries out property renovations, told me of a client of his who had a similar problem. She was presented with an estimate for several thousand pounds by an electrician hired by her letting agent to carry out an “electrical installations condition report”, which isn’t a legal requirement for owners of small rental properties, but it is a good idea to have one every five years or so.
Since the electrician deemed the wiring unsafe, the letting agent refused to allow a new tenant to move in until this woman had at least arranged a date for the electrician to carry out the repairs.
My brother arranged for another electrician to take a look. He said only half the work was necessary, which he did for half the original quote, and produced a report for the agent to show that the wiring in the property was totally safe. Obviously it is vital that landlords make sure their properties are safe, but they are expensive enough to maintain without us being hoodwinked into paying for unnecessary work.
I have also heard that now some letting agents are insisting landlords pay for professional risk assessments for legionella, a bacteria sometimes found in water systems that can cause severe pneumonia, even though they are not legally obliged to do so as the risk in most rental properties is negligible.
Are agents just finding more ingenious ways to top up their commission, or are they actually protecting their landlords and tenants?