Social Housing Management: Dealing with Outgoing Tenants

Landlords should be fair and reasonable when a tenant is ending their tenancy. The reason this subject is particularly important to me is that I recently moved home after living in social housing for over 8 years and the experience I had of ending my tenancy was rather poor. I will not be going into great detail of my case but I will discuss the general principals which should guide landlords.

Firstly let’s look at what responsibilities the tenant has before moving out in regards to repairs and maintenance. Under the Scottish Secure Tenancy Agreement, it states the following in plain text ((1) – see notes).

6.10 Before moving out of your house, you must do the following:

  • leave the house in a clean and tidy condition;
  • remove all your belongings;
  • hand in your keys to the housing office;
  • remove any fixtures and fittings you have installed without our written permission and put right any damage caused.
  • apply for any compensation you may be entitled to.
  • leave the house in good decorative order;
  • do the repairs you are obliged to do;

So in terms of the SST, it is quite clear what the tenant responsibilities are, however, in reality, there tends to be some level of negotiation when a tenant is moving out. A maintenance officer will usually carry out a pre-termination inspection shortly after the termination has been received which will involve explaining to the tenant their responsibilities.

This pre-term inspection gives the tenant ample opportunity to fulfill their end of the bargain to ensure they do not incur any recharges. The tenant is not responsible for carrying out repairs which are due to fair wear and tear. So an experienced maintenance officer will weigh up the length of tenancy and what repairs could reasonably be expected.

I spoke to the head of property services at an external housing association who said that anything that would incur a cost to the association should be chargeable to the outgoing tenant. I would refute this in the strongest possible terms. This stance from this member of senior management is not just incorrect but will also lead to unnecessary confrontation between the outgoing tenant and the maintenance officer.

The very same head of property services explained to me that the expectations of the incoming tenant would dictate what would be considered as rechargeable to the outgoing tenant. So if an incoming tenant was happy that blinds were left, that is fine but if they want them removed that would be rechargeable. This is not a fair or consistent way to implement a void policy.

Pre-termination Inspections

Pre-term inspections are so important and if done right will lead to a lowering of the average re-let time as a lot of the issues can be resolved before a tenant moves out. If an association gets a bad name for being overly zealous and is considered as being unfair to outgoing tenants, all that will happen is that tenants will not allow access to complete this essential task.

A forwarding address will not be provided and the likelihood of recovering debts from rechargeable repairs will be extremely low. A more fair and reasoned approach is the right way to go. As there is a 28 day notice period, if early access is granted, associations can raise routine repairs during this time which will further decrease the void period.

Fair and Reasonable

In my opinion, a tenant should not be expected to leave a property in a higher standard than that of which they received it, regardless of policy changes throughout the duration of the tenancy. Also if a policy does change that affects the property re-let standard, tenants should be consulted. Shelter Scotland states the following on their website:

Your landlord must also consult you before making or changing any housing management policies that affect you, for example concerning rent, repairs and maintenance or service charges.

There might be some exceptions to this rule like in the case of a mutual exchange if the incoming tenant accepts to take on certain repairs but my point still stands in general terms.

A maintenance officer should not give a verbal indication of what is expected from the tenant during the pre-termination inspection to then supersede that by a follow-up letter contradicting what was agreed on site.  A follow-up letter should reiterate what was agreed verbally not change or add to what was agreed. The main reason for this is that the moving out period can be very hectic so to expect tenants to fully read a letter as they are preparing to leave is unreasonable.  The concept of adding to or changing what was agreed during the pre-termination inspection is also quite underhanded.

Another interesting point which is more of a side note is that CEO’s are often unaware of what the on the ground policies are. You can’t really blame them as they have more of a strategic role but they should be aware of the product they are selling i.e the re-let standard of their properties. So with this in mind, it is surprising that when I had a conversation with the CEO and the head of the property services of an external housing association, their view of the outgoing tenant responsibilities differed somewhat.

If a tenant hands the keys for a property in early and it is found that something was missed that was agreed to be completed by the outgoing tenant, they should be given the opportunity to rectify the issue right up until the end of play on the termination date. You might think that this is a fairly obvious statement but I can confirm that some do indeed act in this way and try to deny access after keys are handed in.

Conclusion

Housing associations can base their void policy on a strict standard for the outgoing tenant by adopting a ‘letter of the law’ attitude as long as they make this clear during the pre-termination inspection. This being said, associations should show some give and take as this will not only bring tenants on side but is also the fair thing to do.

Allowing for fair wear and tear is part of the tenancy agreement but over and above this minor repairs should be looked on favourably if it can be seen that a tenant has made all reasonable attempts to ensure the property meets the standard expected.

In my opinion, this will engender a better relationship with outgoing tenants which will lead to more access for pre-termination inspections which will lead to a lowering of the average re-let times, which will in turn, lead to overall more money for the association.

 

 

Note:

(1) PLAIN TEXT: Optional clauses of the SST. It deals with a variety of peripheral matters that landlords may or may not wish to include. It also covers optional augmentations to the statutory and common law position.

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