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For homeowners, making the leap to become a landlord by renting out your property to tenants can be a daunting prospect. In order to be a responsible landlord, there are several important steps you should take before your tenant walks through the door, and throughout their tenancy.
Enjoy our guide to the responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of landlords in the UK.
- Legal considerations
- Repairs and maintenance
- Energy efficiency
- Access and tenants' rights
In order for both landlords and tenants to enjoy the benefits of renting a property, a set of rules, regulations and laws have developed over time to protect the rights of property owners and residents alike. As a landlord in the UK, there are a number of different legal obligations that you must observe in order to rent out your property to paying tenants.
Right to rent (England only)
In England, since 2014 all landlords have been legally obliged to check that their prospective tenants have what is known as the ‘right to rent’. This was intended as a measure to help crack down on illegal immigration, and means that anyone entering into a tenancy contract (written or unwritten) must be able to prove they have the right to live in the country. Those with a right to rent in England include all UK citizens and holders of:
- A Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)
- A valid visa
- Documentation showing ‘proof of settlement status granted’
Legally, it is the landlord’s responsibility to conduct the checks of prospective tenants, including checking the relevant documentation. You can hand over this responsibility to a lettings agency for a fee but it is wise to ask for proof from the agency that they have fulfilled the duty as the liability for failing to do so rests with you.
When it comes to accepting or rejecting tenancy applications, you must always treat every applicant fairly, and when conducting background checks, you must not be selective about who is checked and who is not on any prejudicial grounds. While the vast majority of responsible landlords would never engage in discriminatory behaviour, it is important to emphasise that landlords are legally obliged to not discriminate against prospective tenants on any of the following grounds:
- Race or ethnicity
- Length of residency in the UK
- English language skills
The issue of licensing landlords is a complex one in the UK, and one that is constantly being debated, with proposals frequently made to change the current systems. When it comes to what your responsibilities might be as a landlord, it depends very much on where in the UK you own property.
In Wales, every landlord must register with Rent Smart Wales and if you manage the property yourself, you must apply for a license which is valid for 5 years and costs £187. As a first-time landlord, you will also have to complete approximately 5 hours of online training, costing an additional £30.
There are not any licenses that apply across the entirety of Northern Ireland, but as a landlord you must enter information on both yourself and your property into the Landlord Registration Scheme, for a one-off cost of £70. If you rent out a house in multiple occupation (HMO), then there is a separate register you must join.
There are also no specific licenses in Scotland per se, but every landlord must register themselves and each of their properties with the local council, and your details will be entered into the Scottish Landlord register. Joining the register is compulsory and costs £55, plus an additional £11 per property, with registration lasting for three years. It is important to remember to keep your registration up to date and renting out a property while unregistered can lead to a fine of up to £50,000.
Unfortunately the situation in England is a little more complicated. There are no nationwide licenses or registers that apply to all landlords and properties. However, since 2018, all houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), defined as a property with five or more people, forming two or more households, must be licensed with the local council. The cost of the license varies depending on the council but will usually cost between £500 and £1000 and will be valid for 5 years in most cases.
The situation then gets more complex with the issue of ‘selective licensing’. All councils are allowed to introduce selective licensing in addition to HMO licenses in specific areas and the number of these schemes currently in operation is over 500, across more than 50 local councils around England. The best way to know if you will require an extra selective license is to contact your local council. The UK Government in Westminster has proposed ending local selective licensing and introducing a national landlord registration scheme for England, but this idea is still in its infancy and has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Repairs and maintenance
One of the most common areas of responsibility for a landlord is the maintenance, upkeep and repair of the property itself. In general, a landlord is responsible for the upkeep of, and repairs to the general structure and exterior of the property, including the:
- External doors
What the landlord is responsible for, when it comes to maintenance and repairs, inside the property will depend very much on the tenancy agreement. In a furnished property, the landlord is responsible for the maintenance of all the fixtures and fittings, appliances, furniture and white goods that are supplied on the property’s inventory.
In an unfurnished home, the landlord will, in most cases, only be responsible for the fixtures and fittings. The cost of repairing these fixtures and fittings can sometimes accumulate over time and so Superscript includes fixtures and fittings cover as standard in our landlord insurance policies.
In most tenancy agreements, a tenant will pay you, the landlord, a deposit (often equivalent to one month’s rent). Legally, you are not allowed to hold a cash deposit yourself, but must instead hand the deposit over to an independent protection scheme.
At the end of the tenancy, the tenant must receive their deposit back within 10 days if they have not broken their tenancy agreement and not caused any damage to the property.
If you believe they are responsible for damage caused to the home, then you are allowed to dispute the return of the deposit and the money is held by the protection scheme until the matter is settled.
In England and Wales, you can use one of three independent protection schemes:
Perhaps the most significant area of responsibility for you, as a landlord, is that of safety. You are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the property is safe for the tenants to live in, including electricity and gas safety and fire safety measures. Your responsibilities are laid out clearly by the government and must be adhered to to keep your tenants safe, and avoid the possibility that you will be held liable for injury or damages.
It goes without saying that gas safety is one area in which you should never cut corners as a landlord. By law, you must ensure that all the gas equipment in the property is installed and maintained by a Gas Safety Register listed engineer and they must perform an annual gas safety inspection of every appliance.
Crucially you are responsible for giving your tenants a copy of the gas safety check record within 28 days of the check taking place.
Unlike with gas safety, electrical safety can be divided into two areas; fixed installations and electrical systems on the one hand and appliances on the other.
Since 2020 residential landlords have been required by law to have all electrical systems and fixed appliances checked and certified at least every five years by a qualified electrician. After the inspection, an EICR certificate is issued and you must present a copy of this to the tenant within 28 days, as well as to the local authority if they request it.
When it comes to appliances such as fridges, TVs and kettles, there is no legal obligation to test annually, but you are expected as a landlord to ensure that these items (if you have supplied them) are safe to use. Many electricians will offer a deal for portable appliance testing (PAT) alongside your inspection and EICR and it is recommended that you check up on the electrical safety of appliances every few years.
Fire safety is one of the most important areas of all when it comes to the responsibilities of residential landlords. Ever since the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, additional scrutiny has quite rightly been placed on the fire safety of residential buildings. It is your responsibility as a landlord to ensure that the property follows fire safety regulations, including:
- Providing a smoke alarm on each storey of the building
- Installing a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel burning appliance (ie. a coal fire or wood burning stove or fireplace)
- Checking that tenants have access to safe escape routes at all times
- Making sure the furniture and soft furnishings that you supply are fire safe
- Providing fire extinguishers in large properties and HMOs
These responsibilities are the legal minimum that is expected of you, but it is best practice to also provide fire extinguishers and fire blankets in any home, regardless of the size. While it is usually only a legal requirement for HMOs, we recommend that you conduct a fire safety risk assessment in every property, allowing you to identify possible causes of fires and highlighting potential hazards.
Even if you take great care to ensure that the property you let out is in good condition, with all the necessary safety documentation in place, there can always be unexpected incidents that unfortunately result in injury to a tenant or member of the public. That is why we recommend all landlords take out appropriate landlord insurance, which includes property owners liability cover.
As society becomes ever more conscious of the effects of climate change, we are collectively beginning to see the need to take action to use less energy and be more eco-friendly. As a landlord, it is your responsibility to ensure that your property meets minimum energy efficiency standards, helping save your tenants money on their energy bills and lowering your property’s carbon footprint.
Every 10 years, you must ensure that your property is inspected and rated for its energy efficiency by an accredited domestic energy assessor. They will grade the property on a scale of A to G for its energy efficiency and issue an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property.
Since April 2020, all rental properties must meet grade E as a minimum and you could be fined if you do not take action to improve your efficiency rating should it be assessed as grade F or below. You can find an accredited energy assessor using the government’s EPC register.
Access and tenants' rights
Finally, a key responsibility of being a landlord is knowing how to respect your tenants’ privacy. It may be your house, but it’s their home. Even if it is not stated in your tenancy agreement, your tenants have an implied right to what is known as ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property, without unnecessary interruption by landlord visits or excessive noise from improvement works.
In the majority of cases, you will be required to give tenants 24 hours notice if you wish to access the property to inspect the condition of the home. Also, as a courtesy, you should aim to give your tenants as much notice as possible of any planned improvement works to the building, taking into account their needs to work from home or care for children, for example.
Furthermore, under current government plans, Section 21 of the Housing Act will potentially be abolished in the coming years, ending so-called ‘no-fault evictions’. In essence, under these draft proposals, the only reasons for a tenancy to end will be if the tenant wishes to move out, if a tenant breaks their contract (by not paying rent for example) or if you, the landlord, wish to regain possession of the property in order to sell it or move in yourself.
So, there you have it, a guide to the key responsibilities of being a landlord in the UK. To get the most out of your experience of being a landlord, you should keep a close eye on your responsibilities and ensure you are taking all the appropriate steps needed to keep your property and tenants safe and secure. If anything does go wrong, however, then Superscript’s Landlord insurance is here to cover you for the cost of damage and personal liabilities you might face as a property owner.
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