What Role Should A Landlord Have In A Tenant’s Life?

What Role Should A Landlord Have In A Tenant’s Life?

Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee

I saw a reader’s comment that a landlord’s role should be ethereal.

The idea made me question:

a) what is ethereal?

b) what is the role of a landlord?

The first part is pretty easy to answer (thank you online dictionary!), ethereal means ‘extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world.’

The second is, perhaps, harder: what is the role of a landlord?

The idea made me reflect on my two decades of being a landlord.

In that time, I’ve changed a lot.

Twenty years passing makes you a different person – not just personally, but also professionally.

Also, notwithstanding, the world has changed. Tenant desires have broadened, but perhaps my idea of what it means to be a landlord have sharpened.

In the beginning, I was a very active hands-on landlord. I didn’t fix your tap (I’ve always employed people who knew what they’re doing!), but I was very much more of a presence.

Back then, you would’ve spoken to me on the phone where I would’ve got to know you, explained about the property and sought to see if there was a match.

As a tenant, you would’ve then met me on a viewing (I always took great pleasure in meeting potential tenants), and we would’ve discussed your plans for the property, for life and future hopes.

In all, we would’ve both got a good measure of each other.

At that time, I used to think finding a tenant was akin to finding a partner – you’re looking for someone who you can settle with, trust and grow old together.

Writing that now, it sounds very silly, but then I remind myself, I have several tenants, selected via this method, all these years on, who are still my tenants.

In a way, it’s as though we’ve grown together. Our bond is the property, but after all these years and the extra wrinkles and crinkles life has dealt us, there’s something more.

When things went wrong (life invariably happens so you must expect this), I was there to stand in, not just as a landlord, but as an ear to listen, sometimes a confidante, other times maybe to take the brunt of rage.

It was a role more like that of a support worker, where oftentimes, I was the first person to hear of a relationship breakdown, family death or a redundancy.

It was a role I took very seriously.

Fast forward several years and my hand-picking (due to time-constraints) was no longer viable. This meant more and more tasks were outsourced. Tenants were chosen via an agent, although I still preferred to manage everybody myself.

Closeness to the core was what I thought would prove the best business model.

In time, that model also changed.

Property management, as satisfying as it was, is hellishly time-consuming and with a large portfolio and ever onerous legislation, was proving increasingly cumbersome to living any sort of life. And as much as I loved being a landlord, I did want a life outside.

Over the last few years, I’ve passed over many management responsibilities.

I’ll be honest, I’ve found it challenging to take a step back.

When you were once so close to your business, it’s hard to come to terms with the distance that now exists. I struggle to let go of my once close tenant relationships.

If I’m being completely honest, it’s been an uneasy truce.

You see, I love being a landlord and getting involved with people’s lives and helping where I can. But today, with different times, I think there’s a need for a different model.

Now, when I think about the role of a landlord, I realise you should probably be more like a utility supplier: in the background, there-but-not-there. Which is how, maybe, the original comment about ethereal came into being.

Nowadays, I am a disjointed being.

To most tenants, I am nothing more than a name on the contract, a bill payer, somebody who has authority, but no presence.

I am there, but not there.

As I say, it’s an uneasy truce.

tenant property

Are tenants living in a more tenant-like manner during lockdown?

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but it’s eerily quiet on the tenant property repairs and maintenance front right now.

And I can’t help wondering how many problems are getting stored up for the future – or maybe how many issues are unnecessarily reported to begin with?

In a typical week I’d usually get several calls with varying stuff from blocked sinks to broken showers and boilers to sockets not working, leaves blocking the brain and everything in between.

But now, in lockdown?


Five weeks on and nothing.

And I really don’t want to be complaining, because I’m not, I’m just curious and anxious how this can be. I mean, I know, I get it, Covid-19, coronavirus contagion yada-yada but still – shit happens. It doesn’t matter if there’s a global pandemic and people dying and getting sick – roofs still leak, sinks still block and boilers still break. The two things are unrelated.


The other thing I find even weirder about this eerily quiet property maintenance period is that even more tenants are home more than ever and so really the reverse should be true: tenants should be having more maintenance issues because they’re spending more time in their own homes.  

But this doesn’t seem to be the case and I’m trying to figure out why that is – and maybe I’m just theorising here and being hopelessly optimistic, but I can’t help but wonder if people are now fixing things by themselves? Or maybe they’re being more careful to begin with? Or the worst case – maybe they’re just not reporting things right now and at the end of lockdown I’ll get a list as long as Kyle Jenner’s fake eyelashes.

But the truth being is that I’ve never really understood the sheer volume of the bills I have to pay for when it comes to property maintenance. I mean, I live in a property too and I’ve never had half the things go wrong that my tenants have.

And I’ve often speculated is it a lifestyle thing? An attitude thing? A I-own-this-so-I-give-damn-thing?

Take for example the kitchen sink. In my own home, I noticed the water was draining slower than normal. I checked the sink strainer – every household should have one to stop food debris from going down the plughole – but I know, despite my best efforts, grease builds up in the pipes underneath. So as soon as I see the slower moving water I put down Mr Muscle sink and drain unblocker and I keep an eye. I make sure the water swirls away again back to its normal speed, and if it doesn’t, I put more sink unblocker.

I doubt my tenants do that.

And maybe I’m being unfair and maybe their sinks were blocked with different things, but already four times this year I’ve had to shell out for sinks to be unblocked in tenanted properties. I know that because I’ve just done the accounts and I was perturbed by this and what I could do.

Should I start charging the tenants for the call out? How can I prove it was their fat/ food debris that blocked the pipes? Can I implement a rule whereby if a tenant has lived there for at least 12 months the problem must then be theirs? Might they argue it was something else – some sort of underlying fat condition of the pipe?

It’s tricky, trying to prove who’s liable. Personally I’m sceptical whether it’s my bill to pay, but for the good of the landlord-tenant relationship I’ve stumped up and got on.

But now, now I’m not so sure.

Sinks don’t block on their own. Sinks block because people don’t treat the sinkhole with respect. Most likely most of my tenants don’t have strainers. Most likely they don’t wipe the fat off pans and plates before washing. Most likely when the water starts going slow they ignore it. And so the build-up continues and the problem gets worse and worse until the sink blocks.

And then they call me.

Apart from now. Now, during lockdown, it appears tenants can manage property maintenance themselves. They can unblock their own sinks and they can live in a property and sort things themselves, in a tenant-like manner.

Either that or I’ve got a whole bunch of sinks just waiting to be unblocked after lockdown.