By Jenny White

A perfect match

How do you find the ideal tenant for your rental property? We outline 10 steps to help create a happy landlord-tenant relationship.

The last thing any landlord wants is a problematic tenant – but how can you be sure you’re choosing the right person? From the initial advert to selecting your tenant and managing your relationship, certain tactics can improve your chances of success. Here are 10 steps to help you get it right.

1. Consider the type of property you’re renting

The property you own will have a bearing on the type of tenants you aim to attract.

“Some landlords want to invest in their local area, as they know the market well, so may decide to let family homes to parents with children that will benefit from nearby amenities,” says Rose Jinks, spokesperson for Just Landlords, a specialist provider of landlord insurance.

“Others will chase high yields in city centres with high populations of young professionals, while some landlords cater to tenants with typically less choice, such as those on benefits, or the ever-reliable students. As long as the relevant checks and references are passed, then any tenant type that you choose should work with your investment strategy.”

While you may have a particular sector of the market in mind, it is important to remember the tenancy has to be open to everyone; discrimination is illegal.

2. Present the property attractively

“Look at your property through the tenant’s eyes,” says Jonathan Stephens, managing director of property portfolio management consultancy Surrenden Invest.

“What kind of tenant is it going to attract? Is the interior design attractive and the decor fresh? Are any communal areas well maintained? Is the outside space attractive? The more desirable the property, it stands to chance, the more desirable the tenants it will attract.”

3. Ask questions before a viewing

Amelia Pavey, head of Caxtons’ Residential Lettings, Gillingham office, suggests doing some research on applicants before booking a viewing.

“Ask them some basic questions, such as name, occupation, salary and whether they have pets. Ask if they have an adverse credit rating, and say that full referencing will be undertaken before any agreement is signed. This question should flush out anyone who might ultimately not meet the necessary criteria.”

4. Always take up references

“Get them in writing, but call too,” says Jonathan Rolande, who runs House Buy Fast, one of the UK’s largest professional home buying and investment companies. “If you don’t hear back it might be because the referee is afraid to give a bad reference in writing, but they may be more open in conversation.”

A tenant referencing report will tell you your potential tenant’s credit score and give you a reference from their previous landlord and employer, but further details are useful too. Hassell often asks for six months’ bank statements to see if a prospective tenant manages their finances responsibly. He adds that you should get a strong employment reference confirming details such as salary, position and length of employment. “Also, carry out a fraud check,” he says.

Rolande warns that County Court Judgments (CCJs) are often a bad sign, and reluctance to give a previous landlord’s details, or gaps in their recent residential history, are also a concern.

If you are worried about financial risk, then you can mitigate this by asking for a few months' rent upfront, a larger tenancy deposit, or guarantors.

5. Check the tenant is eligible to rent in the UK

The mandatory Right to Rent checks introduced by the Home Office verify if someone is eligible to live in the UK. “A landlord or agent must check the original item of identification for all adults; make copies of the documents and securely store them throughout the tenancy and for at least one year after the tenancy has ended,” says Pavey.

“Where the tenant is a non-EEA [European Economic Area] national with a time limit on their stay in the UK, the landlord or agent must make another Right to Rent check when the tenant’s visa or residence permit is due to expire. If the tenant cannot provide new or renewed residence status, a letting agent can check with the Home Office if their application is likely to be granted.”

6. Listen to your gut instinct

“Try not to be naïve, but if you like them, it’s a good sign,” says Rolande. “Chat to them about their last property – do they sound genuine?”

Pavey agrees that a face-to-face encounter can be revealing. “Intuition and a keen eye help to establish whether someone is being truthful – they may reveal more than when they first enquired.”

7. Beware of upfront payers

Sometimes, a tenant may appear perfect but plan to abandon a property midway through a tenancy or use it for criminal activity, warns Jinks. “A major warning sign is a tenant insisting on paying all the rent upfront – this suggests that they want little to no communication with you throughout the tenancy, and could be a sign that they’re involved in underhand activities,” she says.

8. Take your time

Michael Patterson, CEO of We Buy Any House, warns against making a decision in haste. “A common pitfall is choosing a tenant for convenience,” he says. “Putting in the work to establish a tenant’s renting history or finding a tenant that is going to be a great fit can be hard work. Some landlords just settle for the first tenant that comes along, which is never a good idea.”

9. Set clear ground rules

Once you have chosen your tenant, setting clear ground rules can prevent future problems. Collins recommends giving the tenant a welcome pack that explains how to use the property and includes all the instruction manuals for white goods and other systems, such as alarms, lighting and aerials.

“Also, provide tenants with an emergency escape procedure and what to do in the event of a fire or a leak,” she says. “Finally, set clear boundaries. Tell tenants when you will be available and when you won’t be available. It could be worth setting up an out-of-hours call handling service that would handle tenants that have an emergency overnight.”

10. Keep your tenant happy

“When a property is empty, you’ll have no rent coming in yet you will have bills to pay, agent’s commission to find and most probably decorating to do. The best tenant is your existing tenant – just so long as they are happy,” says Rolande.

Marc Trup, founder of Arthur Online, warns that for this reason, you should avoid getting greedy. “Sometimes landlords can be too preoccupied in getting rate rises at the end of a tenancy, but I think it’s more important to keep a good tenant when you get them,” he says.

If you want your tenant to behave well, you need to keep up your end of the bargain. Being a good landlord means carrying out repairs quickly and keeping the tenants informed. “Don’t enter the home without notice (except in an emergency); keep the rent reasonable (market rent minus, say, 5% works well); and comply with legislation, such as smoke detectors and CO [carbon monoxide] alarms,” says Rolande. “Contact them from time to time to check everything is ok, but not too much; if there are no issues, about once every six months is ok. And if things start to go wrong, get advice before it escalates.”