How friendly should a landlord be with his tenants?

As a landlord, you are likely to see quite a lot of your tenants. While some choose to employ a property manager to take care of the day-to-day maintenance of their portfolio, others adopt a more hands-on approach. If you fall into the latter group, you will certainly understand the importance of a good working relationship with your tenants.

Horror stories abound of relationships between tenant and landlords collapsing acrimoniously. A poor relationship can lead to silly behaviour on both sides; tenants are often reported to have vindictively damaged buy-to-let properties before leaving, while landlords all too frequently withhold deposits or references out of spite.

On the other hand, many landlords have very good relationships with their tenants. It is common for landlords to visit a property to carry out maintenance or accompany a repairman, and end up staying for a cup of tea. But it is received wisdom that one should not mix business and pleasure – so how far should this relationship go?

A friendly relationship can be good for business

There are some very good reasons why a friendly relationship with your tenants can be good for business – as well as for your own personal happiness. To begin with, a tenant-landlord relationship is, at heart, one that relies on trust. You must trust your tenants to look after your property and pay their rent, and your tenants must trust you to provide habitable accommodation and take care of the necessary upkeep. It is significantly easier to develop a trusting relationship when you are friendly with your tenants than it is when you see them simply as a source of income.

A friendly relationship can also encourage longer-term tenancies. Many renters choose to move out at the end of their initial tenancy period not because of faults with the property, but because they do not feel comfortable with their landlord. The better your relationship with tenants, the more likely they are to stay – and, if they pay their rent on time, this can only be a good thing for you.

Indeed, prompt payment is another good argument for a friendly relationship. If your relationship is purely transactional, tenants are unlikely to care too much about missing rent day every so often. On the other hand, if they see you as a friend they may feel more compelled to pay on time.

But over-familiarity has its dangers …

For all the benefits of a friendly relationship, there are some dangers that mean many landlords prefer to keep their tenants at arms’ length. The old adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is particularly fitting here.

The likelihood of tenants paying on time if they see you as a friend really depends on the nature of the tenant; while it will encourage some to treat you well, others may begin to push their luck. Your tenants may begin to ask for rent extensions, or fail to treat the property with the proper care – simply because they see you as a friend who will not mind the odd mark on the carpet at the end of the tenancy.

Increased familiarity can also cause your perspective to become warped. It can become difficult to remember that your relationship is a business one, and that this should be at the heart of your dealings. It is easy to find yourself making compromises or giving favourable treatment to tenants with whom you have become friendly. While landlords should of course be as accommodating as possible, you must be able to keep sight of the fact that you have entered into a contract – and that the tenant must uphold their end of the bargain.

In the worst cases, over-familiarity can result in significant problems further down the line. As a landlord you must always remember that the threat of eviction is the final tool available to you in order to ensure you get paid. It will inevitably be far more difficult to evict your friends – but without this tool at your disposal you are far less well-equipped to ensure that the tenant sticks to the agreement.

In the end, it is up to each individual to judge the tone of their rapport with tenants. As long as you feel comfortable with your interactions, you are on the right track. But if you do find your relationship becoming more sociable, make sure that you always remember that yours is a business arrangement. You are there to provide good quality accommodation – and your tenants must pay for it.

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