You should carefully consider how much time you are able to dedicate to property management. If you are considering becoming a landlord, and have not yet bought a rental property you may wish to seek advice from an established agent or a professional landlord body.
If you choose to be a landlord, you cannot remove yourself entirely from your tenants. By law, you must provide your tenants with your personal address and a contact telephone number. However, hiring an estate agent to manage the property can minimise the amount of time you spend dealing with tenancy issues.
Reputation and membership of professional bodies
There are a number of professional bodies which letting and estate agents can join.
The National Approved Letting Scheme
This is an accreditation scheme. Members must agree to a code of standards and a complaints scheme which offers both landlords and tenants an opportunity to raise any grievances.
The Property Ombudsman
The Property Ombudsman is a voluntary scheme which is open to letting and estate agents. Members agree to abide by a Code of Practice and the Ombudsman will investigate complaints made against members and award compensation where appropriate.
Association of Residential Letting Agents
The Association of Residential Lettings Agents is a professional and regulatory body for letting agents in the UK. ARLA members agree to abide by a Code of Practice and are required to hold certain standards and have Professional Indemnity Insurance and Client Money Protection Schemes in place.
National Association of Estate Agents
The National Association of Estate Agents is open to estate and letting agents. Like the Association of Residential Letting Agents it requires members to abide by a Code of Practice and have proper insurance provisions in place to protect clients' interests. You should also consider the local reputation of estate or letting agents. Check online forums or ask other landlords to see which firms are recommended.
Level of involvement
You'll need to decide how involved the agent will be in the property. This could depend on how much time you will be able to dedicate to looking after your investment. Do you simply want the agent to find suitable tenants, or will you expect the agent to look after the day-to-day running of the property?
Even if you decide to appoint an agent to manage the property, you cannot maintain an entirely "hands-off" relationship with your tenants. You'll need to submit your details to the NI Landlord Registration Scheme. The law requires that your name, address and telephone number be given to your tenants on several documents, even if an agent is the primary point of contact. Tenants may contact you if they are having problems with the agent. If your tenants do contact you, listen to what they have to say. The fact that they've had to talk to you may indicate that you are not getting the service that you are paying for.
Check if the agent has a complaints procedure. A robust complaints procedure can protect you if your relationship with the agent sours or in the event of a dispute between the agent and the tenant. If the agent is managing the property on your behalf, you will want to make sure that they are doing this efficiently. Find out how the agency communicates with tenants and make sure you are satisfied with their procedures before signing with them.
You should also find out how the agency deals with any complaints that you make about the service provided.
Check if the agent has professional indemnity insurance cover. This may protect you from the risk of being sued. You should also make sure that agent has a Client Money Protection Scheme in place. This scheme will compensate you or your tenants should the agent misappropriate rental payments.
The agent which you use should have a good, all-round knowledge of the legislation that governs the private rented sector and a good awareness of the local rental market. Ask the agent to give you an outline of any training or experience they have in managing properties and dealing with tenant disputes. You may want to ask them some questions to test their knowledge of your own legal obligations as a landlord.
At the very least, your agent should be able to tell you which laws govern the private rented sector in Northern Ireland and what your basic legal responsibilities are. If your agent is not up to date with housing legislation, it could lead to problems for both you and your tenants. The agent should also be aware of discrimination legislation and how this legislation affects property management.
Your agent should be able to help you to set realistic rental charges and give you advice on decorating and furnishing your properties.