The Reasonable Man

Throughout my long and illustrious career at the bar, (a free packet of pork scratchings with a bottle of Stella…), I have triumphed on many an occasion by using the reasonable man defence in cases of negligence.  I refer of course to Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co (1856) 11 Exch 781  To refresh the memory of my fellow Rumpolds: Facts: The defendant had installed water mains in the street with fire plugs at various points.  During a severe frost the plug near the plaintiff’s house ruptured and a large quantity of water escaped and entered the plaintiff’s house.  The water mains had been installed 25 years ago with no problems to date. Issue: Whether the defendants were negligent when they installed the water mains 25 years ago. Procedure: Trial court jury decided in favour of the plaintiff, the defendant appealed.  The decision was reversed. Rule: Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

How does this relate to rental properties? Let me explain:

As we were locking up the office one evening earlier in the week, we received a telephone call from a tenant’s relative (note; not the tenant). It could be surmised as, “The boiler has broken down and she has eighteen kids and she has had no heating all day. What are you going to do about it?”  Firstly, with more offspring than the local rabbit population, she had to be from Varteg and secondly, why , if she had been freezing since the break of day, had it been left to call the office at closing time?  As a reasonable and considerate individual, I said that we would have a plumber there first thing the following day. “Not good enough my dear chap” came the answer.  This is a translation from the local dialect which in its original form read, “You are a bunch of “£$%s and I will set fire to the house”. Very reasonable.

The plumber did visit the property at 0900hrs the following day to discover that the tenant had let the pressure bar run down to zero, resulting in the safety feature of the boiler kicking in, whereby the boiler automatically switches itself off.  Otherwise, it would have eventually exploded, with the potential of injuring one or all of the eighteen children.  When we asked the tenant as to whom the cost of the call out charge should be billed, you can imagine the response.

Similar interaction with a tenant took place when another urgent call came in, “The strong wind has blown the lock off the door, it is now totally unprotected and we will get burgled and my granny’s Ming vase will end up in Cash Converters” (I admit, I made the last bit up, she actually said Sotheby’s).  A contractor was dispatched with immediate effect who established that the adverse meteorological conditions was actually a husband with a temper and the only ‘wind’ was the one that he was three sheets to.

Ninety-five percent of the time, leasing properties and the whole rental process goes smoothly.  As responsible and reasonable agents we have to act in a professional manner, with if necessary, some compromise from the various parties.  If in the case of the boiler we had said that a plumber would be making an appearance sometime in the next week, that would have been wholly unreasonable and unprofessional and the tenant would have substantial and reasonable grounds for complaint.  I am somewhat puzzled and bemused when paid up members of adult society are so convinced that they have been wronged feel it necessary, even reasonable for a member of their extended family to make a call into their (the tenant’s) landlord/the agency handling their tenancy, demanding immediate action.  The same demographic are wholly unprepared to accept that action may not be so urgently required that it must be undertaken in the middle of the night, but instead in a reasonable time.  I am similarly annoyed with those ‘professional’ landlords who when assuming their own legal stance at the bar state with authority that, they told the tenant “Where they could %^&*7$ go” or “I’ll smash their £^&*% face in”.  Such landlords do tend to get the tenants that their attitude and behaviour deserve.  I often quote Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co to such individuals, which tends to result in my being offered to have my “£^&*% face” smashed in.  Reasonable chaps.

My goat has been got…

…or indeed my Camembert is past its sell by date… I am reversing back down by the wall that I was driven up…by an article in The Mail on Sunday, January 11 2015.  Never did I think that I would be sharing emotions with the Guardianista fraternity/sorority (so as not to elicit the harpy-like wrath of Ms Toynbee), but Toby Walne (TW) has, I admit, irritated me greatly.  The article focused on the administrative costs involved in tenancies and how these are frequently “hidden” from tenants.  Let us be very clear.  As an agency that specialises in residential lettings, we do charge an administration fee.  This is disclosed on the property description details so cannot be tagged under “hidden”.  TW rather sniffly states that agents “justify” their fee for services including drawing up tenancy agreements and credit checking prospective tenants.  Correct.  We charge a fee for the service that we provide that includes: sitting with the applicants in the office to correctly complete the forms-as mistakes cannot be rectified, collating the necessary information before passing it to an outside referencing company, discussing feedback from the said company with the applicants – particularly if they failed to pay a mobile ‘phone bill three years ago that sent their credit score through the floor-but seeing if we can still (with the agreement of the landlord) fulfil their wish to rent. If we proceed, we then prepare 4 individual contracts and an inventory before again meeting with the applicants to fully explain their obligations under the contract, before they sign it.  By the time that we move in the tenants we have spent some considerable time in their company.  That is our job.  But it is a job, it is not volunteer work for a charity.

Our erstwhile journalistic friend then makes a big deal about how on top of their fees, tenants must “typically” pay a month’s rent up front.  There is nothing “typical” about it, it is fact and established practice.  Just as any of us with a mortgage have to pay at the start of the month before we may have ever lived in the property.  Welcome to the real world TW.

Examples are cited of tenants who when questioning the fees charged by an agency were told in no uncertain terms, that if they didn’t pay, the agency would have no problem in finding someone who would.  Clearly someone who dipped out of the “Customer Relations/Dealing with Customer Queries” seminar; naughty naughty, HR will be after you.  But as the area where the rental property was located was South West London, whilst the brusque manner of the agent was not to be condoned, they were right when they said that they would have any number of (desperate) prospective tenants willing to pay, no questions asked.

The bit that did make me chuckle was the bald statement that tenants are “unfairly treated” because they are “forced” to go through an agency rather than directly to the landlord.  Er, one thing TW.  How do you think the agents come to have the properties on their books?  By some stealth operation of nefarious behaviour involving secret agents, honey traps and unfortunate videos that would have them choking on their G&T at the golf club?  Or because a homeowner wishing to put their property on the rental market chooses someone who is a professional in their field (ergo knows what they are doing) and chooses to avail themselves of this expertise in order to facilitate a rental income?  The crux being that they do not want-to paraphrase TW-deal directly with the tenant.

Having rectified several wrongs -although I can do nothing about Toby Walne’s inherent dislike of estate agents-I am now off to enjoy the last days of a glorious but vanishing dynasty.  The girls of Page Three are from next week to be sporting slightly more garments than the tradition of their proud heritage.  It clearly is a day of firsts: not only do I find myself sharing sentiments with Polly Toynbee but I now find myself empathising with Jodie Marsh.

What constitutes sport…

A mixed bag of curiosities to pique the interest of  @Twitter ‘#andanotheronegone’, otherwise known as Cheshire & Co.  I was intrigued to learn that some people are calling for ‘gaming’ to be considered an Olympic sport.  In my opinion (and I am level pegging with Solomon on most things, although I might just edge him on Tottenham Hotspur, the back catalogue of Cliff Richard, the exact script of The Godfather and the best way to artex a ceiling), but sport is an activity that requires specialist footwear and an increase in one’s heart rate; hence why lap dancing makes it onto the list.  What might lessen the argument for those looking to see avatars fighting it out alongside Greco-Roman wrestling, the decathlon and er, rhythmic gymnastics is the tragic tale of the Taiwanese gamer who was found dead in a gaming café just outside Beijing having hardly slept or eaten in a ’40 hour session’.  I can empathise…after a session lasting that long I would need a lie down in a darkened room with a week’s supply of tea and jam tarts having given Tatiana strict instructions that I was not to be disturbed.  The information superhighway has a lot to answer for; from the skewing of the Olympic ideal to house buying.  This week we received a call from a gentleman citing himself as a potential buyer who had taken, “a very close look” at one of our properties listed on Rightmove.  This forensic examination had taken place using the formidable tool that is the internet and he now wished to view the property for real.  He then launched into a plethora of reasons as to why he didn’t like the property, including the colour of the kitchen, “that will have to change” and “who put the patio doors in? They will have to go”.  As well they might-when he has bought the property.  One of our team suggested that there was little point in him viewing the house as he obviously didn’t like it.  Oh no, he countered, “I won’t pay anything close to the asking price, but I might as well have a look”.  Strange, we get paid for selling properties, not offering guided tours of them.

Pointing out the obvious was the characteristic of an article in Friday’s Daily Mail by Graham Norwood, imploring potential purchasers to get, “sales savvy”.  Apparently-and I am staggered by the revelation-“dirty net curtains…run-down communal areas…mould or damaged or rotting windows are the most common tell-tale signs of a poorly kept property”. Well knock me down with a Quaver (other brands of crisp are available and may be more effective as a battering tool).  Further sage advice was offered by Linda Jeffcoat of Stacks Property Search, who opined that, “external factors such as noisy neighbours, all night traffic…nearby late night food joints are valid negotiating tools”.  Actually, I would say that these were factors that may well cause you to walk quickly in the opposite direction.  A professional estate agent would have allowed for all these things when valuing the property at the outset.

We have found our new cleaning person

Out with the old, in with the new-ish…

In keeping with my Scottish and Northern friends, (trust me, I was up there during the festive season and it is b^&*dy freezing), I introduced the first-footing tradition (or a variant of) to many households in balmier climes i.e. Cwmbran.  Gaelic tradition has it that the first footer should be male (that’s me), tall (that’s also me) and dark-haired (that was sort of me in the last century). The first person to set foot across the door after the stroke of midnight in the first hour of the new year is the bringer of good fortune to the household for the following twelve months.  Whilst at Cheshire and Co we are always keen to accommodate clients’ needs and the public are invariably dazzled by my debonair charm, I don’t think that many would have been enthused with good will to see the Chesh prancing across their doorstep in the wee small hours of the 1 January waving the latest Rightmove report.  However, a willingness to meet with them in the subsequent days and discuss their options and plans as regards their property or their next (or possibly first) step in the property market, has already been productive for all parties as 2015 remains in its infancy.

Resolutions made and vowed to be kept with the earnestness that only ever evolves from the haze of too much alcohol have I note already been shattered spectacularly by many with some involvement in the housing market.  Journalistic hysteria on one of two themes, ‘boom’ or ‘doom’, made an early appearance as the Halifax produced a report that states that first time buyers are back with a vengeance-not dissimilar to another New Year list that said that flares would again be all the rage this summer with the fashionistas.  This obviously chose to ignore the last-but-one media utterance that said that any first time buyer who happened to be under 49 or over 51 and needed a mortgage (as is the wont of most first time buyers), had about as much chance as my sporting a Kevin Keegan perm circa 1979 by mid-April.

My fellow agents are not exempt from a refusal to break long-established bad habits.  Telling prospective vendors that they have to employ a town centre agent-because (think of some reason other than that they are beside McDonalds/Ladbrokes/Ann Summers) and that they need to sign up with ‘Give us your money and we’ll stripe you & Co’ because they have thirty people ready to view the property that very afternoon, have already had a strong showing in the first week of the new year.  Call me old-fashioned (I know, most of you do), but old fashioned service and professionalism will beat gimmicks any day.

But one should always remember that when one thinks that they have seen it all, they haven’t.  In my thirty year career involving property, armed conflict, select but notable TV appearances and the role as stunt double for James Bond in his budgie smugglers, I thought that there was little-if anything-that would surprise me. “The fool does think he is wise” William Shakespeare As You Like It  Well said, Bill.  This week we had a young lady booked in for a rental viewing who said that she would bring her mother. Very sensible looking for sage advice we thought.  At the viewing, the daughter, who was about 20, turned up with her mother, who was about 35 and her grandmother who was about 50.  They clearly got lucky in the genetic lottery.  What rather floored me, was that both daughter and mother were pregnant.  Speaking of genes, I rather struggled not to ask if it was the same father and whether the child(ren) would have twelve fingers.  Only up the valleys, or if you are Jade Jagger.


What is the boss thinking ?