Communication is the answer

In his latest blog, Paul Shamplina, Director at Hamilton Fraser discusses his experiences as a landlord including the importance of effective communication and how to ensure you attract tenants that are right for you.

So where do I start? I recently received a call from the letting agent who manages my rental property in Mijas Costa, Malaga.  She said that my tenant was leaving, just six months into the tenancy.  This is common occurrence but equally frustrating, especially when as far as I was concerned there was no six-month break clause.

“When are they leaving”, I asked the agent. “This weekend” he replied. As it turned out, the agent had known three weeks prior to this conversation but had forgotten to tell me! I told them they needed to inform the tenants that they were liable for the rent until the end of the tenancy or until we could find another tenant, for which they would have to cover the re-letting fees.

Of course, they didn’t really care. Things are very different in Spain to the UK.  Our tenancy agreements are more detailed, and our courts are much quicker than the Spanish courts. I’d probably be a Grandfather by the time the Spanish courts made a judgement in my favour which I could enforce on the tenants at their new address (and that’s presuming I could even trace them)!

Maybe the one month’s deposit was my only saving grace? I told the agent to carry out an inventory on the tenants’ check-out, but I also decided I needed to go over to Malaga and check everything was ok with the property.  I hadn’t been to the property for four years as it had been rented to various tenants during this time. Prior to that, I had rented it as a holiday let.

So, I flew to Malaga to see my apartment.  The sun was blistering down, I arrived at the development and put my keys in the door – they didn’t work.  The locks had been changed.  As you can imagine, I wasn’t very happy, so I drove to the letting agent around the corner who had been managing it for me. Of course, there was no explanation, they just handed me their keys.  Tenants change locks all the time and it is a breach of tenancy, but a very weak ground to go to court for possession.

It transpires that the first tenant, a retired Dutch lady who ended up being a nuisance to all the neighbours on the development, had changed the locks without consent but, of course, the agent did not inform me! As I recall, that particular tenant even threw a patio chair off the balcony at my gardener, according to the neighbours! Thankfully, she left at the end of the tenancy.

If you are renting properties that you do not live near, you have little choice but to rely on agents (and neighbours) to look after the property and to communicate any issues.  However, the approach taken by Spanish agents is a lot more laid back than in the UK, which I have come to realise over the last four years.

Eventually I got into my apartment with the agent, who had not carried out an inventory as I had asked. There were shelves put up and a damaged chair.  I was then handed a letter from the tenant advising that when they were moving out, they had noticed a crack/smash to my patio doors but did not know how it happened. Really?

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Funnily enough, I’d never had a problem with the patio doors.  It was quite clear something or someone had banged into it, yet they denied all knowledge.  At this point, the agent started taking pictures – but I think it was a case of too little too late! The 400 euros of the 600 euro deposit I managed to negotiate with the tenants certainly wasn’t going to cover it.

There are no deposit schemes in Spain and they are light years behind us in rental laws.  Thankfully, I do have good insurance cover I could call upon to get the necessary repairs carried out.

So, as you can probably imagine, I have parted ways with that particular agent and am now using a lady who manages the development where my apartment is.  She has her own administration company, has drafted me an extremely comprehensive tenancy agreement and, because she lives and works from home on the development, she really cares about the place.  Knowing she is on site to take care if everything in my absence, no matter how big or small, gives me much greater peace of mind.

I have also since found out that if you give a tenant a 11/12 month tenancy and they pay the rent on time, they can stay in the property for three years, before you can try and take possession.

Luckily when I was over in Spain sorting out my apartment, I found a really good tenant who has paid a year’s rent in advance and passed all the reference checks, which I carried out personally.  I now regularly communicate with the tenant via WhatsApp, along with my managing agent, and so far, I’m very happy with the arrangement.

My managing agent messaged me only recently to say, ‘he’s looking after your place really well Paul’. That’s good enough for me, so if this tenant would like a longer tenancy, I’m happy to oblige. My motto is ‘A Happy Tenant, Is a Happy Landlord’.

For more expert advice on how to reference check your tenants and attract and retain your ideal tenants read our useful guides.