What are my duties as a landlord?

Landlords have found themselves under increased scrutiny in recent times and have been criticised for allowing their properties to fall into a poor state and for falling short of their legal obligations.

It has been acknowledged that some landlords are in fact unaware of their duties, with 70% of landlords being either part-time or amateur according to the National Landlords Association. This has led to calls to “drive-out” rogue landlords from the market gathering momentum and putting increasing pressure on landlords to understand and meet their legal obligations.

With so many new landlords entering the market it is important that they have a good understanding of what is expected of them. This article will help to explain exactly what their responsibilities and legal obligations are.

Deposit schemes

In 2007, The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) was introduced into law as a way of legally protecting deposits taken by landlords for shorthold tenancies on behalf of their tenants.

Disagreements over deposits are common and an obvious cause of disputes between the two parties. However if a disputed deposit is protected under TDS it can now be referred to an impartial adjudicator who will look over evidence from both parties and make a fair judgement of how the deposit should be split.

Once a deposit is received from a tenant the landlord has 30 days in which to deposit it via the TDS website and give the tenant “prescribed information” which documents how the deposit is protected. The landlord will hold the deposit for the duration of the tenancy and will return the agreed amount to the tenant at the end of their tenancy - minus any deductions.

A landlord can make reasonable deductions from a deposit for damage to the property, missing items, cleaning that has take to place after a tenant leaves and any rent that is left unpaid.

If a landlord and tenant cannot agree on deductions then a dispute can be raised with the TDS and a free adjudication will take place to decide how the deposit is split.

Landlord insurance

Accidents happen and landlords need to be prepared for the worst. In the event of a fire or a flood, a lack of insurance could prove very costly and although there is no legal requirement to have landlords insurance, many mortgage lenders will require that a landlord has a policy in place before they agree to lend.

There are several types of landlords insurance and they cover various areas of owning a property. Although it sounds time consuming to arrange several different insurance policies, landlords should know that most insurance providers will include them together as a bundle.

Landlords contents insurance is important for owners who are renting their property as furnished. This kind of insurance protects against theft or damage for items like TV’s, fridge freezers, carpets and sofas.

Legal expenses insurance helps landlords cover their legal costs should they enter into a dispute with tenants.

Landlord home emergency is essential and protects against the costs of emergency repairs such as gas leaks and break-ins.

Landlords liability insurance protects landlords against claims from tenants or visitors who claim that a landlord’s property has been the cause of an injury such as a falling roof tile.

Loss of rent insurance comes into play when accidental damage means that a landlord cannot continue to rent out their property. In this scenario, insurance claims would replace any lost income.

Tenancy agreements

A written tenancy agreement is a legal contract which specifies the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. A tenancy agreement is to be signed by both parties and landlords should give prospective tenants enough time to read and understand the contract before signing.

Tenancy agreements should begin by stating the names of both parties, the price at which the property will be rented, and detail any deposits taken, the addresses of both parties and the start and end dates of the tenancy.

They set out the rules and responsibilities of each party and it is good practice that they include the following:

  • Names of parties involved including any guarantors
  • Start and end dates of the tenancy
  • The agreed price the property will be rented out for
  • Details of how the rent will be paid and when it will be due
  • Details of any extras included in the rent (eg. Council tax, internet)
  • Details of any deposits taken
  • Any rules (such as no pets or no smoking)
  • Addresses of both tenant and landlord
  • The length of notice required by both the landlord and tenant for leaving the property

A solicitor with experience in property litigation can help you draft a tenancy agreement which will avoid any potential problems.

Assured shorthold tenancy

Private properties are rented under what is called an assured shorthold tenancy. This type of tenancy gives the tenant a legal right to live in a property for a period of time; usually this is granted in six month periods – although it may change to a rolling basis.

Furnishing a property

Furnishing a property can really help to make it stand out from the competition. Young people looking to rent their first property and people who are relocating for work are likely to be attracted to a property that has all the required furnishings. However, landlords must be careful to ensure that the furnishings they provide meet the latest fire regulations. Under Fire and Safety Regulations, landlords must make certain all soft furnishings comply with fire regulations. This extends to soft furnishings such as beds, curtains and sofas, etc. Failure to do so could lead to criminal charges which include monetary fines and even imprisonment.

Under the rules, all upholstered furniture and furnishings, including the following items, must comply with fire resistance requirements:

  • Beds, headboards and mattresses
  • Sofa-beds, futons and other convertibles
  • Nursery furniture
  • Garden furniture which is suitable for use indoors
  • Scatter cushions and seat pads
  • Pillows
  • Covers for furniture

Although not all items need to meet the requirements (such as furniture made before 1950) it easy to spot the ones that do by a rectangular safety label stating ”Carelessness causes fire” which all new furniture must now have attached.

Smoke alarms and fire safety

Only properties in the UK that were built after June 1992 are required to have a mains operated inter-connected smoke alarm fitted on every floor of the house. However, it is still recommended that older properties are fitted with the same precautions.

It is important that a tenancy agreement details who is responsible for the maintenance of smoke alarms and other fire prevention systems. It is good practice to include clear sets of instructions for new tenants on how to replace and maintain fire safety equipment.

For Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMO’s there are different rules which can involve performing a risk assessment of the property.

Gas and electrical safety

Tenants have the right to live in a property that is in a good state of repair. This includes roofing, guttering, walls, windows and doors as well as ensuring the provision of gas, electricity, heating, water and sanitation.

An electrical safety check must take place prior to the beginning of a tenancy and must be carried out by a qualified electrician. This ensures that all electricity supplies are working and legal. Failure to adhere to regulations could lead to fines and potentially imprisonment. So it is important that tests are carried out and all appliances are certified as safe and then maintained for the rest of the tenancy.

A tenant is responsible for taking a certain amount of care for a property though, for example changing fuses and small, straight forward repairs. This should be detailed within an agreement.

Prices for Gas Safety certificates are not without cost but the same penalties apply for failing to adhere to regulations. A registered gas installer must check all appliances are in safe, working order and both the tenant and landlord must have a written report detailing the condition of each appliance.

Repairs and maintenance

Another bone of contention between tenants and landlords can be the question of who is responsible for paying for and carrying out repairs. Private tenants have a right to live in a house that is in a good state of repair and this will often involve a landlord carrying out work, however there are some duties which are the tenant’s responsibility to undertake.

Under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) a landlord is responsible for the following:

  • The exterior of the property
  • The structure of the property
  • Maintaining the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation
  • Keeping water, gas, electricity and sanitation devices in proper working order
  • Keeping heating applications in good working order

However a tenant is also responsible for a reasonable amount of the upkeep such as changing light bulbs and fuses.

Increasing rent

It is advised to include information about how and when rent will be increased in your tenancy agreement to avoid disputes. For periodic, rolling tenancies a landlord must not increase rent more than once per year without prior agreement from the tenant and for fixed term tenancies (for longer periods of time) a landlord can only increase rent after the fixed-term is over, unless the tenant agrees. In both cases though, permission is required.

If the tenancy agreement does not already set out the process for increasing rent then a landlord is entitled to increase rent at the end of a fixed term, seek agreement from the tenant for an increase or use a ‘Landlord’s notice proposing a new rent’ form to increase rent after the fixed-term is up.

If either party is unable to agree or believes that increases are unfair then the dispute could be taken to a tribunal, such as the Residental Property Tribunal.

Visitation rights

Once a contract is signed on a property the landlord gives up the right to freely visit. This means that unless the tenant agrees the landlord cannot enter unless invited. A landlord must give their tenant 24 hours’ notice and visit at a reasonable time of day unless in the case of an emergency.

Ending an assured shorthold tenancy

The tenant and landlords rights to end a tenancy will depend on the type of tenancy agreement in place. An assured shorthold tenancy continues until it is ended by either the landlord or tenant.

This can happen in three ways. First of all the landlord and tenant can come to an agreement to end the tenancy (known as surrender). An agreement regarding this possibility should be made in writing to avoid any disputes later on.

Secondly, either part can give valid notice, as described in the tenancy agreement; notice is designed to give both parties enough time to replace each other.

Finally if a tenancy agreement is breached then a landlord can take action to evict a tenant. Reasons for eviction can include the following:

  • Tenant is in arrears with rent payments
  • Tenant is regularly late with rent payments
  • Tenant has broken terms of tenancy agreement such as subletting without permission
  • Tenant has let the condition of the property deteriorate unreasonably
  • Tenant has caused nuisance or annoyance

If a landlord seeks to evict a tenant before the end of their fixed term contract then they must apply for a possession order from the court. The court will not give such an order unless they are satisfied that the tenant has met one of the above criteria (such as late rent or causing a nuisance).

A tenant can also be evicted if the tenant wishes to redevelop the property or if the mortgage lender has to repossess the property.

Energy performance certificates

Any time a property is built, sold or rented an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is required. An EPC shows how energy efficient a building is which is important for a tenant when choosing where to live. Properties are graded from A for very efficient right through to G which means a property is very inefficient. This can be helpful for tenants when they are planning how much it will cost them to live in a property and also how much of an impact the property might have on the environment due to the amount of carbon emissions.

In the UK EPC’s are provided by accredited Domestic Energy Assessors – a full list of approved and registered EPC organisations can be viewed here.

It is a landlord’s legal responsibility to ensure that their property and their actions comply with the law – however if you are still uncertain of your responsibilities then you should seek advice from specialists. Rollingsons property litigation team has extensive experience in acting for landlords in relation to all manner of property disputes. Contact us on 020 7611 4848 or visit our property litigation page for more information.