A guide to understanding landlord responsibilities

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Before you let tenants into your property, there are a few steps you will need to take. It doesn’t matter if you made an investment decision to purchase a buy to let property, or if your decision was more accidental and you need to let out a recently purchased property, the rules are the same. Whatever your reasons for letting out a property, if you want to make sure everything is above board, there are a few rules and regulations you will need to follow.

The laws to protect landlords and tenants are very strict, and just as you wouldn’t want your tenant to be confused about what you expect of them, they wouldn’t want you to be confused about your responsibilities. If you establish a good relationship with your tenants from the start, you will be far less likely to run into trouble further down the line.

If you’re new to the world of landlords, or just want to make sure you’re on the right track, read on to discover the main responsibilities you hold as a landlord.

Draw up an inventory

While this isn’t a legal requirement, it makes sense to make sure you have one in place. Most estate agents will have their own processes for drawing up and inventory, but don’t assume that they will handle it. Always check that they have a process for creating an inventory, checking it with the new tenants and then keeping it safe until the end of the tenancy.

Your inventory should include the following, as a minimum:

  • Walls and ceilings
  • Paintwork or wallpaper
  • Carpets
  • Curtains or blinds
  • Appliances
  • Furniture
  • Fittings and fixtures (cupboards, lights etc)
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Smoke alarms
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Meter readings

When the tenant moves in, they will check the inventory against the condition of the property. If there are any disagreements, they can be noted on the inventory at the start of the tenancy and then the tenant won’t be blamed for the damage at the end.

Having an accurate inventory in place isn’t just to protect your tenants, it also ensures that you get your property back in a reasonable manner. It can also help to avoid disputes over the deposit.

Tenancy agreement

It doesn’t matter if the person staying in your home is a friend or even a friend of a friend, you should always have a tenancy agreement in place. Unless you are letting the person stay in your property for free and don’t expect them to pay any bills, then you should have a tenancy agreement.

The tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your tenant. Most tenancies in the UK are an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Your tenancy agreement should include the following information:

  • The names of all people involved
  • The rental price for the property and how/when it should be paid
  • Information about how/when rent will be reviewed
  • The deposit amount and where it will be protected
  • What the deposit covers
  • The property address
  • Access information
  • The start and end dates of the tenancy
  • Expected obligations for landlord and tenant
  • Energy supplier information, who pays them and if the supplier can be changed
  • How to end the tenancy early (if possible)
  • Who is responsible for small repairs
  • If the property can be sublet or have lodgers

All clauses have to be fair and compliant with UK law. You can access sample contracts which can be modified to your needs on the Gov.uk website.

Protect the deposit

The deposit isn’t yours to keep. It must be held in a government-backed scheme for the duration of the tenancy. Failing to protect your tenant’s deposit, or failing to provide information about where the deposit is held can lead to legal action. Tenants can take landlords to court if a dispute arises.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own rules for deposits, so you should check with your local authority. If you are based in England or Wales, you will have 30 days from the date your receive the deposit to place it in a government scheme. At the end of the tenancy, you will have 10 days to return it, provided there are no disputes.

Make rent changes fair

You cannot just increase the rent amount without first checking with the tenant and ensuring that you are on the right side of the law. Any rent increases must be fair and in line with local averages. You also cannot increase rental amounts in the middle of a fixed term tenancy. It can only change at the end of a fixed term agreement.

You need to give at least one month’s notice of a rent increase.

Keep the property safe

You have a responsibility to ensure the property you are renting out is safe. As a minimum, you will need to ensure the following:

  1. Ensure you have electrical safety certificates for all appliances provided to the tenant. This includes things like fridges, power showers and electric ovens.
  2. All gas appliances must be checked every 12 months by a registered Gas Safe engineer. You are required to give the tenant a copy of the gas safety certificate within 28 days of moving into the property.
  3. If you provide furniture, all furniture must comply with fire safety regulations.
  4. Every floor in the property must have a working smoke alarm. You should also provide a carbon monoxide detector in every room with a gas appliance.
  5. Check that escape routes are accessible.

Keep the property maintained

When you draw up your tenancy agreement, it’s important that you set out who is responsible for maintenance. For example, while you might be responsible for the pipes and drains in the property, you might want to let the tenant know that their responsibility is to ensure they do not flush anything which could cause a blockage.

In general, the landlord will be responsible for the following:

  • Structure and exterior
  • Sinks, baths, toilets and sanitary fittings
  • Pipes and drains
  • Heating
  • Hot water
  • Gas appliances, flues, ventilation
  • Electrical wiring

You should set out in the tenancy agreement if you want your tenant to be responsible for the following:

  • Keeping the property clean and tidy
  • Small maintenance tasks (changing light bulbs)
  • Fixing broken items
  • Garden maintenance

Ensure your property visits are legal and fair

Every now and then, you may need to visit your property to carry out checks or to make repairs. However, you have to remember that your tenant has a legal right to quiet enjoyment of their property. This means you can’t just show up unannounced.

By law, you have to give 24 hours notice before you visit. If you don’t do this, your tenant is well within their rights to refuse you entry and this can quickly sour a relationship and break the trust.

Instead, make sure that you always let your tenants know well in advance and make sure they confirm. You should also ensure that you visit at appropriate times. While it might be easier for you to fit in a visit first thing in the morning or late at night, this might be very difficult for a tenant to accommodate.

Get landlord insurance

This is another one that isn’t a legal requirement, but it could save you a headache if something goes wrong with your property. You can protect yourself against anything from missed rental payments to legal fees associated with settling disputes. 

There are three main types of landlord insurance:

  1. Landlord building insurance will cover the structure from things like fire or flood.
  2. Landlords contents insurance will protect your furniture and fittings if you rent out a furnished property.
  3. Landlord liability insurance will cover you if a tenant of their visitor is injured in the property.

Get your energy performance certificate

An energy performance certificate offers a grade value to show how energy efficient a property is. You are required by law to provide one for your rental property. This can help tenants to make a decision about whether a property is right for them, as it can give an indication of running costs. For this reason, it can be helpful to secure an energy performance certificate when you start looking for tenants. Once you have your EPC, it will last for 10 years. It will also offer recommendations for how you can make your property more efficient. Following these recommendations will be very attractive to some tenants and may allow you to increase your rental price as the tenant will save money on their bills.

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