Regular readers of the Landlord Hub will have noticed one piece of advice coming up again and again: speak to your tenants and see if you can come to an agreement. It’s a basic first step that can be easily overlooked.
But how should landlords communicate with their tenants in the 21st century? There are several media to choose from, each with their own quirks and implications. This article will go through the main channels of texts, emails, letters and calls.
Choose Your Channel
You might call email, calls, and so on as different ‘channels’ — different ways to communicate with your tenants. Each channel offers landlords something different when it comes to speaking to tenants.
WhatsApp and Texts
- Managing when tradespeople attend the property
- Tenants reporting time-sensitive repairs
- Booking in times for more formal communication
- Reporting repairs (if relationship is good)
- Initial checks on late rent payments
- Arranging viewings
Most of us are now comfortable using group chats and text messaging for serious business. From MPs plotting a coup, to friends plotting their next pub session, text messaging is now a normal and accepted medium for all life has to offer.
The benefits of texting tenants is that it can feel less formal and serious than email. It also produces a notification that is likely to be seen faster than an email, which can be handy for last-minute changes to appointments with the plumber. You, and the tenants, can reply when they are ready and aren’t pressed into an immediate decision like they would be on the phone.
Landlords should be cautious about giving tenants their personal phone number, however, as this could become a nuisance if the tenants message frequently or, for any reason, your relationship deteriorates. On the other hand, giving your phone number can be a reassuring way to initiate a good relationship with your tenant. Showing that you are open and willing to communicate can actually result in tenants trusting you more, and therefore contacting you less often. You will also spend less time drafting long-winded, formal sounding emails.
- Keeping a clear record of communications
- Tenants reporting repairs
- Notifying tenants of arrears
- Serving prescribed documents (e.g. ‘How to Rent’ booklet)
- Sharing other documents (e.g. the contract and inventory)
If you were to choose one channel for everything, it should be email. Almost everyone has an email address in 2020. It keeps a clear record of conversations and it is easy to speak to all tenants and landlords at once. It is neither too formal nor too casual: you can send legal documents via email, but also wish your tenants a happy New Year. If you want to keep things simple, email is the one for you.
Email’s biggest strengths are its papertrail (how conversations are recorded) and allowing you to attach other documents, such as contracts and inventories. These two things, combined with the Electronic Communications Act (2000), mean that tenants can legally sign documents and consent to arrangements via email. This makes it a very useful channel for landlords.
From the landlord’s perspective, emails are less intrusive than text messages or calls. They do not make your phone buzz (or at least, when they do, there is less of a norm around replying instantly) and you’re less likely to send an angry one you’ll regret later!
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- Tenants who are less able to use computers
- Serving legal documents, like eviction notices
Some tenants will not be as comfortable with electronic communications. Although email and text are now ubiquitous, there is no point forcing a tenant who obviously struggles with these channels to use them. This will just lead to poor communication and a frustrating tenancy.
If you advertise using sites like openrent.co.uk, then you will ensure that the tenant has at least a basic competence with email, since they require an email address to create an account and use the site.
Letters are still widely used today to serve eviction notices, although landlords can now do this online, too. This can be useful in those rare cases where a tenant has become unresponsive to texts, calls and emails. Since the landlord knows the tenant’s address, they can use letters to serve legal documents in this scenario.
- Tenants reporting emergency repairs
- Dealing with tradespeople
In general, tenants prefer not to be called. Most landlords, too, would ideally avoid unscheduled calls. There are several reasons why calls are impractical for most landlord-tenant interaction
Firstly, if it is important and involves agreeing to something (a move out date, a rent increase) then it is very important to make sure that agreement is set in writing, so you will have to send an email after your call anyway.
Secondly, if you have multiple tenants, then calls are not the best way to communicate, as you’ll either need to speak to them all at once on speaker phone (which requires ensuring they are all free for the call at the same time) or call them one at a time, meaning you repeat yourself multiple times.
Finally, it is likely that, whatever the issue, the tenant won’t want to be pressed into anything on a phone call, and will want to go away and speak to their co-tenants about the issue before committing one way or the other. And they’ll most likely come back to you via a more preferable channel, such as email.
All of this means that calls should only be used for tenants reporting emergency repairs, like a bad leak, which require immediate attention. Calls can also be helpful for tenants liaising with tradespeople, but check with the tenant before giving their number to a trader.
A Mixed Approach?
OpenRent has created over 500,000 tenancies. We know landlords who do everything on WhatsApp and ones who do everything on email. A common approach is to have a mix, with different channels for different things.
For example, a landlord might give out a phone number tenants can call in emergencies; a WhatsApp group for messaging when arranging tradespeople to attend the property; email addresses for reporting issues and talking about renewals, moving out and contracts; and letters to ensure any notices are served properly.
Let your tenants know early on what you expect in terms of how they should get in touch with you. Every landlord fears weekly complaints by text. But landlords also need to make sure tenants report maintenance issues, so they can be fixed before the property deteriorates.
Setting the rules early on will ensure you strike a good balance and have great communication with your tenants.