Earlier this year I had a bit of a wakeup call, when my two most experienced property managers both went on maternity leave at pretty much the same time. I felt secure because I knew that the other remainder of the team of 4 (plus 2 client account managers) had been trained on the legal aspects of their role, as laid out in the Technical award for letting and management qualification, 2 were fully qualified and 4 of the 6 had been with the company for over 3 years, so what went wrong?

When my Property Management Manager went off on maternity, out with her went all the “practical experience” which only comes with years and years of managing very large portfolios, which meant overnight all questions were heading in my direction now by the hour. So I did what any self respecting MD would do, I packed up my computer and decamped to the management office and that is where I have been since 1st March this year, and what an experience it has been.

I have now been in the management department for 22 weeks, and my time there is coming to an end, but in over my 2 decades of running my lettings agencies, I have worked in management a few times, usually for a few weeks, just to review processes and check all is running smoothly, this is something I like to do in all departments occasionally, but usually for 2 weeks or so, never have I done so for such a long period of time, but for some reason this time, it really felt necessary.

The role over the last few years has gotten so much more complex than it ever has been before, with all the new legislation on deposits, LHA, renewals, maintenance, Health and safety and continuously changing laws due to new test cases on an almost weekly basis, this meant the whole system of training needed a complete review and restructure, as I realised that merely sending the team on legal training, was no longer anywhere near sufficient to do the role.

So in March I embarked on a training programme of taking the team out for half a day a week, locking them in the classroom and really get into the “practical areas” of management, into the specific areas that WE are contracted to manage in real detail. Now bearing in mind that 2 of my team are already ARLA qualified, and all my team attend an in house legal training session every week, following the ARLA Technical Award Training Manual, meaning this is heavy stuff.

Not knowing where to start initially, firstly I focused on the contracts to which we are obliged to operate within, bearing in mind if they, as staff do not know fully what clauses are in our contracts that we as a company are obliged to honour, then how can they protect either the company’s or our landlords interests, this is not something that any legal course would train them on externally. It amazed me that the team had never had an opportunity together to, thoroughly read and discussed these, of course they had looked at them but not really sat and talked them through as a group in detail to really get into the nitty gritty and thoroughly understand them.

We read and discussed them together, the obvious ones first, the agency agreement, the various types of tenancy agreements & notices, the tenant guides, employment contracts and handbook. Then we moved onto other areas that they have to deal with and implement or advise on daily, like lease agreements on flats in the area, various HMO licenses, LHA Bond agreements, Health and Safety policies and we even read and discussed the 70+ page Housing Benefit manual, the DHP manual and the Claw back guidelines for LHA too, these were heavy.

Throughout the last 22 weeks, we have worked on lots of role play, things like the arrears process, although our arrears rate has always been very low, I really wanted to hone in on how to say what needs to be said to get the money in from tenants that are struggling to pay or to find a resolve, we have already seen huge benefit from this practice with the newer members of the team, and a much better understanding of arrears, evictions and LHA throughout the building too.

We worked heavily on security deposit returns and handling the negotiation process, reviewing recent awards on adjudications and attending an outside adjudication course too, working on how to calculate what deductions are needed and would be allowed, avoiding “betterment”, whilst communicating with  both parties, as this can be quite a stressful time for landlords and tenants.

As the weeks went I could not believe how much the team changed, they became more confident in their own ability and also in their understanding of how they can solve their own problems, or at least know where to look and discuss together, they knew what their role was and who they worked for and why they had to say what they did to whom.

I cannot put into words the effect of this training, which will now continue indefinitely, (although not for half a day a week). I cannot emphasise enough to other agents out there, the industry legal training, is NOT enough to run a property management department, you need to be embarking on in house training continuously to keep ahead of the huge raft of legal changes and complexities that they bring with them, for your own protection and those of your clients.

Sally Lawson