There’s a lot to keep track of as a landlord, especially if your portfolio is on the larger side. Rental yields and deposits, insurance and mortgage payments, inventories and cleanliness – the list goes on and on. But one of the most important concerns for landlords, both new and old, is the long list of legal responsibilities and obligations. These are in place to ensure that both landlords and tenants have a fair and positive experience when they enter into an agreement. The consequences of neglecting your legal duties could be very serious, not to mention costly, and it’s always worth checking to make sure that you are practicing in accordance with them. So ask yourself: do you know the full extent of your responsibilities as a landlord?
Start of tenancy documents
Under an assured shorthold tenancy in England, landlords are legally required to provide their tenants with certain pieces of information at the start of the tenancy. By failing to provide them, landlords lose the ability to serve the tenant with a Section 21 notice (i.e. to evict the tenant). Furthermore, if the landlord fails to provide any information that confirms the presence of working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, they may face fines of up to £5000. Overall, landlords must provide the following information to a tenant to ensure compliance with their duties at the start of a tenancy:
- Updated gas safety and energy performance certificates.
- Confirmation that smoke alarms are present on every floor in the property.
- Confirmation that carbon monoxide detectors are present in rooms with a fuel source.
- Confirmation that both of the above are present and working at the start of the tenancy.
- Government advice on ‘how to rent: the checklist for renting in England’ (in some cases).
Most landlords are required by law to protect deposits paid by tenants before a tenancy begins. Namely, they must register the deposit with a government-approved deposit protection scheme, either by paying it into a scheme or keeping it while paying an insurance scheme to protect it. The deposit must be given back to the tenant once the tenancy comes to a close – this must be repaid in full if the tenant has missed no rent payments and caused no damage to the property. Landlords have only 30 days to protect the deposit after it has been paid to them. In addition, they also have 30 days in which to provide tenants with information regarding the following:
- The amount of deposit paid and the property it relates to.
- The contact information of yourself or the agent you are using.
- The deposit protection scheme and some details of how it works.
- The means by which deposits are returned and deductions are made.
It’s worth noting that most estate and letting agents will take care of deposit protection for you, meaning that you will not have to worry about this. However, it may still be your responsibility to provide your tenants with the above information and verify that they have seen it. Furthermore, these requirements do not apply in an agreement between landlords and lodgers.
One of the most crucial obligations that a landlord has is to constantly maintain their properties, ensuring that they are fit for habitation and pleasant for the tenants. Without these requirements, tenants may have to live with damages and risks that they are not capable of repairing. As such, it is the landlord’s responsibility to conduct major repairs on the property whenever necessary. Who is responsible for which repairs is usually outlined in detail within the tenancy agreement, however the responsibilities tend to fall on the landlord to conduct most repairs in a property. The repairs you are legally responsible for include damage to exterior and structural features (i.e. the chimneys, walls, roofs, gutters and drains), as well as damages to the following:
- Chimneys and ventilation.
- Gas appliances and electrical wiring.
- Heating facilities such as boilers and radiators.
- Plumbing fixtures such as sinks, baths, toilets, pipes and drains.
Depending on the terms of your tenancy agreement, you may choose to be responsible for repairs to appliances included with the property such as ovens, fridges and washing machines. Generally, it is your tenant’s responsibility to clean the property, prevent any avoidable damage, remove blockages from the ventilation and conduct minor repairs such as changing light bulbs. Likewise, they will be responsible to repairing any appliances or furniture that belongs to them. Tenants may be charged for damages that could have been avoided, either during the tenancy or after the tenancy (via deductions to their deposit).
Health and safety
Landlords are responsible for making sure that their property is compliant with health and safety, namely by removing hazards, eliminating health risks and ensuring that it is safe to inhabit. Accidents which occur as a result of your negligence of the property could end in legal disputes which ultimately cost you significant amounts of money. In order to avoid such accidents, landlords must observe a number of obligations regarding ongoing maintenance work and periodic checks of the property. These include the following:
- Supplying furniture that is fire resistant and providing the relevant proof as such.
- Installing fire alarms and smoke alarms in places where they are legally required.
- Keeping the property free of health hazards such as mould, damp, leaks and pests.
- Checking that all electrical appliances in the property meet relevant safety standards.
- Ensuring that the property is structurally sound (e.g. that ceilings and walls are stable).
- Performing a gas safety check every 12 months using a Gas Safe registered engineer.
This may seem like a lot to keep track of but most of these requirements can be ticked off in the brief period between tenancies when the property is uninhabited. Landlords can then perform the necessary checks and survey the condition of the property to ensure that it is fit for habitation before a new tenancy begins. At this stage, it is important to cover all of your bases, so it might be worth getting an inspector to survey the property before letting it out.
Harassment and eviction
As a landlord, you are obliged to respect the rights that your tenants have to enjoy their tenancy. This means creating an environment for your tenants that feels safe, avoiding any harassment, illegal evictions or unnecessary interferences. For one, you are required to refrain from entering the property without written permission from the tenant, as this may be considered harassment – tenants should be given notice for all repairs and maintenance work conducted in the property. Likewise, circumstances that could make your tenants feel uncomfortable should be avoided, such as opening their post, tampering with their utilities, or causing distress to the tenant.
In addition to these obligations to allow your tenants to have an enjoyable renting experience, you must also follow the correct procedures if you wish to evict a tenant. Failure to do so is considered ‘illegal eviction’, which is a serious criminal offence. Landlords are required to give notice in writing if they wish to do so, and a court order is required before you can call upon bailiffs to evict the tenant from your property.
If you are a prospective landlord currently looking to purchase a new property in South West London, feel free to check out the sales we currently have available or have a chat with a member of the James Anderson team.