The accidental landlord: the answer to saving locked out tenants

After Victoria Whitlock is summoned late at night yet again to a tenant locked out of a flat, she starts to think outside the box
Yet again — massive sigh — one of my tenants has locked himself out of the flat so he wants me to go with my spare set of keys to let him in. Why oh why have I ended up with the scattiest tenants in London? I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I’ve had to go round to this particular rental flat with the spare keys because tenants have either lost theirs, left them inside, or the keys were stolen while they were out.

Usually the tenants don’t realise they’re locked out until they’re on their way home from work or when they’re returning from a night at the pub, which means I get an SOS quite late in the evening, just as I’ve kicked of my shoes to relax.
It’s a real pain in the neck.

Now I’m wondering whether it’s worth buying a key safe to screw on to the wall outside the flat to hold the spare keys rather than keeping them at home. You can buy safes for about £20. I found a sturdy-looking one on — you just pop the spare keys inside and give the tenants the three- or four-number combination to open it up.

These outdoor key safes seems quite, well... safe. The combination can be changed every time you get new tenants and the safes themselves don’t seem easy to break into.

I’ve often seen them outside holiday rentals, in fact, I stayed in a self-catering apartment in Devon last week where the keys were left in one. The only problem is that you’re advised to place the safe in a “discreet area”, presumably so it can’t be seen by passers-by, but the outside of my flat is in full view of the road.

There’s nowhere I could put the safe where it couldn’t be seen, so it might be a security risk. I suppose someone with a pair of binoculars could spy on my tenants when they’re punching in the code?

And this brings me nicely on to another subject which has been bugging me recently, which is whether to insist that my tenants have insurance. Up until now, I’ve only recommended to tenants that they take out contents cover, but I gather that few — if any — of them have bothered to do so. If they had, they would have been able to make a claim to cover the cost of changing the locks on the two occasions their keys were stolen.

I’ve recently been made aware that some landlords and letting agents do make it compulsory for tenants to take out liability insurance (which is usually included in a tenant’s contents insurance). This provides extra protection in case the tenant causes any damage that isn’t covered by the deposit. This seems like a good idea for landlords with large or lavishly furnished properties, especially when you consider how much it might cost to replace something like a burnt worktop or damaged carpet. I imagine this could be in excess of any deposit.

However, I’ve heard that one south London letting agent, which claims not to charge tenants any fees, tries to force them to take out liability insurance cover from one particular provider, from whom it presumably earns a nice little commission. I’m not sure that this is legal and I bet tenants could find cheaper premiums if they shopped around.

Tenant contents cover is available from a number of providers including Endsleigh, cover4tenants, HomeLet and More Than, with premiums starting from about £26 a year. That seems a small price to pay for peace of mind, especially with tenants as scatty as mine.

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