A complicated maths board representing the tenant issues in the rental market

For a long time now, most renters have felt like an afterthought in a market that puts landlords first. Speak to most tenants, and they will tell you tales of unsatisfactory services from letting agents as well as problems with property managers and landlords. 

The majority of these issues stems from miscommunication, and the numbers don’t look good. Fewer than half of tenants have expressed dissatisfaction with their agent, according to previous research from Shelter, and only 28 per cent are happy with the services provided by property managers. 

Such numbers don’t paint a pretty picture, especially when renters are such a fundamental part of the lettings market. Without them, there are fewer lets and longer voids. But why are they so often treated as a subset of the rental market, and can we expect the dynamic to change any time soon? 

Supply v demand

Historically, the sheer depth of tenants has led to their treatment as an afterthought. As the UK firmly establishes itself as Generation Rent, letting agents have never faced any issues when it comes to finding renters. 

Their problem often lies with property stocks and a dearth of landlords. Therefore, the landlord becomes the holy grail while letting agents focus all of their energy on acquiring the services of property owners while tenants are left frustrated. 

Whether it’s down to a lack of replies to queries or not being clear about the process, renters feel that some letting agents aren’t particularly thorough when it comes to helping them. There’s no urgency if renters are queuing up to move into a home. 

A complicated process

The process of renting a property is often unclear to tenants, whether it’s a lack of transparency about fees (which were banned in 2019) or finding it hard to understand the required steps. The majority of renters end up finding themselves registered with agents for simply enquiring about a property – and most of the time, they don’t even realise it’s happening. 

Their details are then logged onto the system, and they are bombarded with automated marketing messages. Then there’s the issue of dealing with multiple people at the agency throughout the renting process without a clear explanation of who deals with what…

Typical renting process:

  • Property enquiry – with the agent
  • Property viewing – with the agent
  • Making an offer – with the agent
  • Paying the holding deposit — with the agent or admin support
  • Undertake tenant referencing – with admin support
  • Read and sign AST – with admin support
  • Pay the security deposit and first month’s rent – with admin support
  • Property check-in – with the landlord, property manager or professional check-in clerk
  • Pay the following monthly rental payments with the landlord or property manager
  • Repair requests – with the landlord or property manager

If the person renting is familiar with how everything works, the process of moving into a home can be relatively straightforward. But if it’s their first time or they haven’t done it for a while, certain aspects can easily become confusing – especially if they’re unsure about their direct line of contact.

In-life tenancy issues

Unfortunately, most tenants’ problems don’t end with the renting process; they carry onto the in-life tenancy. This can be the most detrimental part, as tenants often become frustrated with poor service from the property manager who is in charge of the day-to-day runnings. 

But what constitutes a poor service from the property manager? Archaic process for reporting maintenance issues that rely on phone calls and emails is the primary grievance. Too often, tenants find themselves requesting repairs and then waiting months for issues to be resolved. 

There can also be a lack of foresight over documents, such as EPCs, electrical and gas safety certificates, most of which are requirements before anyone moves in. More often than not, all of these aspects combined lead to unsatisfied tenants who become disillusioned with their tenancy. 

The knock-on effect of unhappy tenants

Thinking of tenants as an afterthought is short-sighted, especially as they are such an essential part of the process. Unhappy tenants often end up leaving the property, which means landlords endure void periods because the property management company hasn’t done its job efficiently. 

This results in extra stress for landlords, who find themselves out of pocket and having to spend more money hiring an agent and listing the property again. Therefore, what starts with an unhappy tenant typically ends with an empty home and frustrated landlord. 

Finding a solution

Over the last few years, there has been a gradual change in the lettings market. The build-to-rent sector has grown in popularity, giving tenants renter-first homes and on-site property management. It provides an alternative to the traditional way of renting, but there are only 150,000 build-to-rent developments and around five-million renters. 

It means that more needs to be done by letting agents and property managers. Greater transparency is needed over the process or renting, and the property management sector needs refinements. Elements like an app or portal where renters can report maintenance issues and track the status in real-time can simplify in-life tenancies and help tenants report issues out of hours – when most maintenance problems occur. Going forward, these methods should become commonplace in the industry. 

Tenants should also be able to easily access their documents, whether it’s the rental contract or vital safety certificates for the property. By having direct access to a system where they can part-manage their own tenancy, renters have more transparency over the entire process. 

Happier renters equal legacy tenants

The result is happier tenants and landlords, as well as agents and property managers with better oversight. Tech improves human service. And the improved human aspect will help build bridges with one of the rental market’s most important players. The result will be longer tenancies and fewer void periods.