29 March 2023

For me, resident engagement and sustainability go hand in hand, just like landlords and tenants. You can’t have one without the other and it’s all about working together to create healthier, safer, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes.

When I moved into my home, it had well-maintained walls, floors, windows, doors, and all the necessary fixtures and fittings. While I’m a tenant and paying rent I expect my landlord to keep it in the same condition, doing necessary repairs, maintenance and upgrade work, as well as regularly inspecting things like insulation, central heating systems and the fabric of the building. If a landlord fails to do this, they’re not fulfilling their duty to provide a healthy, safe and energy efficient home.

But doesn’t the landlord also have an expectation that tenants will report any issues that might arise between regular inspections and planned maintenance? How can they be expected to sort out a problem that they’re not aware of?

There are major concerns about how things are currently working. A growing number of landlords are asking tenants to report repairs or concerns about things like damp and mould via their website, online customer portals or by email. But what about tenants who don’t have internet access, or who prefer speaking to a real person? Also, do these online options allow tenants to provide accurate and detailed information, or are they just tick box exercises? Any system, no matter how sophisticated, is only as good as the data that goes into it.

Reliance on computers and stored data is increasingly leading to the loss of Tenant Liaison Officers and the personal, face-to-face conversations that are so important in finding out what’s really going on. This makes landlords less proactive as issues are being reported too late, when an incident occurs or a situation escalates. This in turn leads to an erosion of resident confidence.

Too much responsibility has been pushed on to tenants to let landlords know immediately about problems rather than it being a shared responsibility. It’s up to landlords to get feet on the ground, speak to their tenants, and encourage them to get more involved in how the business works, not just now but for the future.

But tenants also need to co-operate and give landlords the information they need to allow them to provide the right kind of support and communicate effectively. This information may be personal, such as disclosing medical conditions like being a wheelchair user or having a sight or hearing impairment, learning difficulties or a neuro-diverse condition. But without this, the landlord won’t fully understand the tenant’s situation and be able to adapt its services and support accordingly.

Landlords have various tools at their disposal, including visual inspections of landscape and building fabric, electronic meters to check unseen areas for heat loss, and sensors which monitor things like temperature and humidity to detect potential damp and mould problems early on.

However, some tenants are refusing to have sensors installed as they see them as part of a ‘big brother’ way of monitoring their lifestyle, so landlords need to work harder to provide assurances around how the data is being used and stored.

Ultimately, landlords and tenants want the same thing - sustainable, healthy, safe and energy efficient homes. But the road to improving resident engagement and sustainability is a two-way street, and both parties have to be more open and honest - to learn to talk, listen and, most importantly, trust each other.

Stephen Mackenzie

Resident Engagement and Sustainability in Social Housing