Eight ways to actually successfully complain to your landlord

From someone who used to work in lettings

It’s no secret that renting as a student is difficult. Whether it’s the flat-hunting, moving in, or the sheer amount of admin, it definitely requires a considerable amount of adulting.

By far the hardest bit is raising an issue with your landlord. The pandemic has undoubtedly made this even more tricky. Universities including Edinburgh have advised students to request rent reductions from private landlords if you are unable to return to your flat because of lockdown and the staggered return to uni.

So, how on earth do you go about raising an issue like this with your landlord?

Without sounding like a total Karen, the ability to successfully complain will get you far in life. And as someone that worked part time in lettings for over two years, let me tell you how to successfully complain to your landlord.

Work out who you need to complain to

The first thing to work out is: who do you actually need to complain to? Is it your landlord themselves, the letting agents that marketed your flat, or a third party property management company? You can most likely find this in your tenancy agreement.

Know the law

If you haven’t done it already, go over your tenancy agreement with a fine tooth comb – ideally before signing it.

(Top tip: most agencies will use a template agreement that isn’t always changed between properties. Even worse, some less experienced private landlords will copy and paste agreements found online.)

As a general rule of thumb, if what you want to complain about is in an already signed contract, both parties have already agreed to it. So, if you think the contract is being broken in any way, go for it. Be sure to quote the exact part of the tenancy agreement word for word. However, if you have already agreed to something in a contract, it’s very difficult to then complain about it later.

There is one big exception here – if any parts of your agreement contradict laws passed by the Scottish Parliament. In particular, the law was changed in 2017 to protect renters. It made it law for flats to be “liveable”, ended no-fault evictions, and much much more. Don’t be afraid to quote specific laws. If you ever need specific legal advice, the Shelter Scotland website is amazing.

Know the market

The main reason why renting in Edinburgh is normally such a pain in the arse is because there is lots of competition between people looking for flats whereas holiday lets like Airbnbs mean there are fewer to go around. This drives up prices and lets landlords get away with murder.

But at the minute, this isn’t the case. There are normally three main people flat-hunting in Edinburgh: students, tourists, and professionals. The pandemic means all three aren’t looking for places right now.

So, your landlord is possibly more likely to listen to your complaints if it means they can keep you as a tenant and your rent coming in long term.

Don’t be a dick

A little human kindness goes a long way. If you are polite and reasonable, your issue is more likely to be resolved – and quicker too.

Even if you are angry, don’t be rude as you’ll just end up slowing things down and making it harder. Especially if its through an agency, the person you’re dealing is probably just as tired and frustrated as you.

The best way to make sure you’re getting your point across whilst also being polite is to start and end each conversation or email on a positive. I believe the technical term for this is a shit sandwich.

Pick your battles

Remember to be reasonable when deciding if something is worth complaining about. Never complain for the sake of it – you’ll just cause the relationship to breakdown between yourself and your landlord. And this will probably mean you’ll have more to complain about long term.

Is that wobbly table or noisy oven really worth the aggravation? Probably not.

Under no circumstances should your parents get involved

You’re less likely to be respected and treated like an adult if you do this. Things are actually less likely to be resolved. If you felt grown-up enough to leave home, you should be grown-up enough to sort this yourself.

I have a strong memory of a student tenant at work constantly getting her parents involved. After one particularly stressful phone call, a colleague put his head in his hands and said: “I can’t deal with this brat anymore”. Yikes. You definitely do not want that to be you.

Phone them where possible

A quick phone call will mean something gets sorted much quicker than days of email tennis. Also, it is much harder for them to say no to you over the phone than by email.

So take a deep breath, and pick up the phone.

Use concrete proof

If it’s a physical problem that needs fixing, take photos and videos. If you think something breaks the law or your tenancy agreement, include screenshots, links, or quotes of what you’re referring to.

For example, a friend had a problem with mice in her flat and sent an incredibly graphic and gruesome video to her letting agents. She is the only person I know to get a pest control visit from her landlord on the first try.

Also, if something significant is said or agreed in person or over the phone, always get it in writing. This doesn’t need to sound confrontational – just say something like “Oh, if you could pop this in an email for me so I don’t forget that would be wonderful.”

Use tangible and specific reasons

Always try and be very specific about why something is worth complaining about. If possible, try and relate it back to health and safety reasons as this makes it seem more urgent for your landlord to do something.

For example, when I moved into a flat with an old and uncomfortable mattress, I told the agents I could feel the points of the springs which was giving me back ache. My flatmate had the exact same issue but told our agents it was “uncomfortable”. I got a brand new mattress (and bed) within a week whilst she was just told to flip her old one.

Again, if you’re looking for a rent reduction, what specific financial or legal reason is making you need it? Have you been furloughed from a part time job or had hours cut down? Maybe it would be against government advice to travel? Don’t just say you can’t get back or can’t afford it – that doesn’t have any back up at all.

Go forth and get the flat experience you deserve!

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