Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Clean As A Picture

I like it when readers send me emails like this: I am keen to know what is happening outside of my own world, and to sometimes to write about your concerns. This story told by this particular correspondent was, well…special.

“Long time fan, first time emailer.

We've been renting the same flat for 8 years. It's not the best flat ever but it has it plus points. Our land lady is largely uninterested in the property, we've never met her, so it's low hassle but no maintenance or improvement work either.

The letting agency still carry out periodic property inspections. During the most recent inspection the following exchange occurred:

I showed the agent into the bathroom. She looked around and frowned at our grouting which isn't great but looks OK for it's age.

Her "You scrub the grout on the tiles?"
Us "Um.. yeah. Specifically, if you scrub the grout too much then it starts to fall out."
Her "We have something for this that we give people, and I may have already given you one.."

She began to plough through her briefcase until she found a piece of paper. She handed this paper to us and said "this works really well."

It was an inkjet printout of a photo of a bottle of bathroom cleaner.

Us "Yeah, I think we already have something like this."

We are now left with two choices:

a. Use the printout itself out to scrub at the grouting and then phone up confused when the paper disintegrates and achieves nothing
b Frame the print out and hang it above the bath to see letting agents reaction during the next inspection

I would appreciate your input on this.”

I did smile at the idea of this poor tenant diligently and repeatedly cleaning that grouting with a printed sheet. But scrubbing the grouting until it crumbles: it’s not really funny, is it?

Here’s what causes the problem. Letting agents do not see themselves as managing the property for both tenants (who pay the rent to live there) or the landlord (who pays the agent to manage.) No. Many agents see their role as covering their own tracks, and doing nothing, never organising costly (as they would see it) repairs which maintain and preserve the fabric of the property.

Bad agents avoid spending money. They do not want to work. They garner the percentage from the landlord, and often forward emails direct to landlords, who manage the contractor themselves.

My personal favourite story is a flat I once lived in, which was supposedly furnished. In the bathroom there was no heater at all, no shelves, no hooks – nothing. The owner had painted over the vast patches of damp, which soon burst forth like evil blooms.

I mentioned this to the letting agents (who were, like the above, most keen on inspections.) I said that that bath was leaking, that there was nowhere to put anything. Their response? ‘You could buy something.’ I could. But that’s the point of furnished flat: you don’t buy stuff. Is it too much to ask for a few shelves and a hook, maybe even a cabinet?

All of this might sound trivial. Get a thingammmyjig from Argos, says you. But remember: tenants are penalised for drilling into a wall to put up shelves, have their deposits culled for the costs of regrouting, and be given retaliatory notice of they press too hard even for repairs that will stop the bathroom collapsing down into the flat below, when wooden floors rot.

Agents: do something! My advice to the tenant above though is to frame two Warholised print-outs of the cleaning product, keep one in the bathroom, and send the other to that witless, crassly deluded letting agent.

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