Expert view: Landlords, keep your tenants happy

By David Pearl, January 22, 2009

Any business needs to keep its customers happy, so why should tenants be any different?

They are the lifeblood of a property company and it’s a brave landlord who would risk falling out with a good occupier today.

When we buy a building we write to all the occupiers. I tell them: “I’m David Pearl and I’m your new landlord.” Then someone goes to see them. We want to be seen as user-friendly, not one of those landlords who frighten people. It’s much better to try to accommodate people by being fair and approachable and offering flexible leases. It surprises me that not many people bother to get to know their tenants.

But, you know, tenants do the oddest things, especially residential tenants. Over the years we’ve found fish guts in a turned-off fridge, piles of used loo paper and flats full of cats and pigeons. How can people live like that?

Sometimes things go wrong and the rent doesn’t get paid. Ten or 20 years ago we used to take stock in lieu of rent. We had coats and lampshades and, once, thousands of boxes of Twix chocolate bars. Now that we’re bigger we can’t be that creative, which is a pity really, as I wouldn’t mind doing a deal with some of our tenants in Hatton Garden.

As much as I love tenants, when you buy a property with vacant possession you want to make sure that it really is empty. A few years ago, when we bought a Napoleonic fort in the Solent, I put my Zodiac inflatable on a trailer and drove down to Gosport with Chris Jones from my office. “Up you go,” I said when we reached the fort. And up he went, climbing a 100ft wall on a galvanised ladder. When he was safely down he confirmed that the fort was indeed empty and the only occupants were seagulls. I was happy. You can’t be too careful.

David Pearl is chairman of The Structadene Group, a commercial and residential property investment company

Last updated: 12:21pm, January 22 2009