How does property damage impact on landlords’ mental health?

Recent research conducted by the National Landlords Association (NLA) into landlords’ mental health found that the stress caused by property damage affected 32 per cent of landlords* surveyed in the last year. As a landlord’s property is often their biggest asset, it is easy to imagine the anguish caused when damage to their rental property results in financial loss, but the mental strain involved with returning the property to a suitable condition can sometimes be overlooked.

Even landlords who are fortunate enough not to have personally experienced property damage, will most likely have heard horror stories from fellow landlords surrounding their experiences of damage caused by tenants.

 

What support is there for landlords?

The National Landlords Association (NLA) advice line team receive calls daily from fraught landlords, with reports of members who have walked into their properties to find that tenants have damaged worktops, scuffed and punctured walls, broken white goods and left a skip-full of waste behind when vacating the property. In addition, these homes are often left uninhabitable while the issues are rectified, at great expense to landlords in both time and money.

The NLA’s research into the mental health effects of these experiences on the self-employed or small business owners found that having a support network can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. With this in mind, they run local landlord meetings across the UK that are free for all landlords to attend, where they can discuss their personal experiences and seek guidance on legislative changes, property licensing information, industry best practice and as a way to connect with their peers. The events cater for landlords at various stages of their careers, some of whom may have experienced similar situations, and lend a supportive ear to landlords encountering problems caused by tenants in their property.

The NLA recognises that support and guidance should be ongoing and so NLA members also have access to a Telephone Advice Line, where they can gain guidance on best practice to ensure that they are doing the right thing.

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Symptoms of property stress

According to the NHS, ‘stress causes physical changes in the body that are designed to help you take on threats or difficulties.’  Stress can be related to a range of factors but a common feature is that it can often result in a feeling that you are not in control of events within your life.

In the case of landlords experiencing issues with their rental properties, it is not difficult to see how this feeling of being unable to control events is likely to be a significant contributor to stress. Symptoms of stress affect how you feel emotionally, physically and mentally and also have an impact on the behaviours you exhibit.

Stress can manifest in different ways, including physically, through headaches, muscle tension, dizziness, and changes to how you eat and/or sleep. Emotionally you may also feel overwhelmed, anxious/fearful and irritable, while mentally you may also experience constant worrying, difficulty making decisions and/or concentrating and racing thoughts.

The stress of having to deal with the damage that tenants cause to property has the ability to directly impact on the mental health of landlords, not to mention the fact that it is also brings financial challenges which in themselves are very stressful. For example, it is costly in both time and money to clear wrecked houses, mend scratched paint and clean stained carpets. In addition, there are knock on financial impacts as a result of damage which renders a property uninhabitable, which can also impact a landlord’s own bills and mortgage payments. On top of that, landlords are likely to experience stress and anxiety over the future; for example worries can build up over finding new tenants to live in the property and feelings of insecurity can emerge as to whether similar events may repeat themselves with new tenants.

If you are experiencing extreme stress over property damage, you should seek professional advice from the NHS. You can check out their information on recommended self-help therapies to also try to alleviate your stress.

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How can you help protect your mental health as a landlord?

As a landlord there are a number of ways you can help to avoid problems with your tenant, including any resulting property damage, which might be detrimental to your mental health. While being a landlord inevitably brings with it a degree of stress, having certain measures in place can provide you with peace of mind that, should issues arise in your property, you have adequate cover and support to rectify issues and prevent further escalation.

Firstly, to minimise the risk of property damage, it is extremely important to carry out adequate tenant referencing before letting your property out. Robust referencing can help to identify any ‘problem tenants’ before the tenancy begins, thus reducing the risks associated with letting out your property. This can be carried out by professional tenant referencing companies such as Tenant Verify. It is also a good idea to meet the tenant in person if possible to gauge their character. Follow your gut if something feels off.

While this may go some of the way to mitigating the risk, property damage is unfortunately still something that landlords may have to deal with at some point. Tenants have the right to the peaceful enjoyment of their home, and landlords cannot constantly or unfairly visit a property to check on its condition. Landlords are however advised to carry out regular checks of their property, often referred to as mid-term inspections.

These can help to identify problems within the property before they escalate, enabling you to resolve any issues swiftly for the benefit of both the landlord and the tenant, as well as being beneficial for your longer term relationship with your tenant.

Landlords must ensure of course that they have given the tenant adequate notice prior to these visits.

As a landlord it is also imperative that you are covered for all eventualities with an adequate residential landlord insurance policy. Regular ‘home insurance’ cover will not cover a landlord sufficiently when letting out their property. A comprehensive landlord insurance such as Hamilton Fraser’s Total Landlord Insurance premier policy provides features such as malicious damage by tenants, theft by tenants and accidental damage by tenants. With this cover in place landlords can rest assured that in the event of both accidental and malicious property damage by tenants they are covered**.

Despite worries for the mental health of both landlords and tenants within the private rented sector, it is worth noting that the vast majority of tenancies run smoothly, with few issues. One of the three government authorised providers of tenancy deposit protection, mydeposits, report that less than 1 per cent of all deposits protected with the scheme need to use their dispute service to settle deposit disputes at the end of the tenancy. However, any landlords who experience deteriorating mental health as a result of property damage caused by their tenants should always in the first instance seek professional supportive advice.

*NLA Landlord Panel Survey Q1 2019 (828 respondents)

** See website for full policy wording and cover