A Little More Conversation

Guest blog written by Open Doors Champion, Tanya. 

It’s no secret that sometimes communication between landlords and tenants could use a little work. In the last place I rented, my landlord often wouldn’t inform me when they were planning to conduct repairs and inspections. If they did, they’d give me an incorrect date and time, not show up for it, and then arrive days later unannounced. It was a waste of my time and a breach of my privacy - and worst of all, it was really annoying. 
This kind of treatment is absolutely not on, but I think that sometimes it can go both ways.  When we take this lack of communication as a given and assume there’s nothing to be done about it, we can become a bit resentful. (Or at least, I can). That can lead to having a negative approach toward communicating with your landlord. In expectation of their less-than-excellent methods of doing things, I’d often wait way too long to report any problems or reply to any questions they had, which hardly helps things and can even make certain issues worse. 
My recent experience with bad landlord-tenant communication has been pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I’ve heard of some landlords being completely unresponsive: all-out refusing to complete repairs they are contractually obligated to do. For one of my friends, the landlord refusing to repair her broken garden door meant that her house was broken into multiple times. For another, refusal to fix the boiler meant that he spent an entire winter with only cold water running in the house. When my friends complained, they received either platitudes in response or nothing at all. This led to them not wanting to take care of the house, and one friend even attempted to withhold rent – which only served to make communications even terser.
In extreme cases, some landlords and tenants can begin to feel so negative toward one another that their communication channels break down completely and the relationship risks becoming hostile. This can be especially bad if a tenant’s contract isn’t very secure, as it places their entire home at risk.  
So, how can these relationships be improved? How do we encourage landlords and tenants to better get along and co-operate? I’ve been reading up on the topic lately in an attempt to find some answers, and I have to say that I’m not too impressed with what’s on offer.
There are a number of websites and articles which suggest apps and methods of online communication between landlords and tenants might help to solve the problem - that if the same behaviours happen through a friendly online interface then they might somehow feel nicer. While I think apps and websites are great for the speed and convenience of things such as paying rent, reporting repairs or getting in touch with queries, the human element of a landlord-tenant relationship is important and can’t be replaced entirely. Furthermore, I feel as though they do little to actually improve things: an app isn’t going to make a landlord who refuses to fix your boiler any more likely to do it, and if you’re planning not to get in touch or to withhold your rent, an app isn’t going to make you do that either. We need to be talking more, not less. Being ignored through a website with a nice graphic design is still being ignored.
Instead, I think a rights-based approach is the way to go. In a world where tenants are better enabled to know what they’re entitled to, what a landlord is contractually obligated to perform, and what official channels they have to go through if their needs aren’t being met, we can begin to navigate these sometimes tricky relationships on the same page. 
How can we do this? Through conversation! 
It takes governments and housing organisations making sure that information on tenants’ rights and obligations is available and accessible for all. It takes a willingness for us to talk to one another, to know where to seek advice when we need it, to check-in on people we care about when they seem to be struggling and fill them in on the information they need. Only then can we begin to really work on what is at the core of this issue: a lack of understanding and communication on both sides.
That’s why I think Open Doors’ work is so important. Not only am I as a tenant becoming informed of my rights - I’m being trained to help inform my friends as well and refer them to the right services when they need it. Having someone in your group of friends, your family or your community who knows how to navigate this stuff is more useful than any information leaflet, website or app could ever be. It gives us all the chance to become informed and take an active, positive role in the landlord-tenant relationship.
Consider getting involved with Open Doors yourself if you think there’s anything that you or a loved one could gain from it. It’s always worth it to be informed. Personally, I know I’ll be avoiding many a tenancy mishap in future. 

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