Being a landlord is straightforward, but being a good landlord is not easy to master.
A lot goes into being a good landlord. From managing property taxes and maintenance to keeping good relationships with your tenants, it’s a complex business. One vital yet complicated dimension a property owner should understand is the legal aspect of being a landlord. The public housing watchdog Housing Ombudsman Services alone takes in nearly 2,000 cases a year regarding housing disputes. Those might be challenging tenants, as we explored in our article Overcoming the Tenants From Hell, but it could also be a genuine breakdown in communication or lack of understanding from one or both parties.
It is therefore important to understand exactly where you stand as a landlord, and what the law expects of you, should a dispute arise.
Know the Law
While the Housing Act of 2004 has had numerous amendments in the past few years, it pays to understand its contents as it governs landlord and tenant rights in the UK. One important thing you should know is that there are areas where selective licensing is required for landlords to let out their properties. You can check out the London Property Licensing website to learn about if your area requires you to get one.
Property Standards and Tenant Safety
Landlords have the burden of responsibility of ensuring that the rented property is up to the mandated standards. From fire safety of furniture to electrical safety, you are required to perform tests and certify the property as safe to inhabit. If there is a gas supply in the property, you are required to get it inspected every year. Furthermore, you are legally bound to give your tenants a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate annually.
In addition, the recently enacted Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act requires landlords to be accountable for the heating and condition of the home. The landlord also has an obligation to repair and maintain the property. This might be tricky and it could certainly be financially damaging, especially if the property is older and likely to need some tender loving care over time. Some landlords protect themselves with policies that cover the property and allow the tenant to report issues directly to the insurer. HomeServe explores how landlord policies can cover a range of services, such as plumbing and heating or the electrics, providing emergency call-out services as well as standard protection. This is not a legal requirement for a landlord, but it will help make the burden of urgent repairs, something the landlord must oblige, easier.
Commencing and Eviction terms
Upon commencing a new tenancy, you must furnish your renter with a copy of your Energy Performance Certificate, a gas safety certificate if applicable, and (in England) a copy of the How to Rent guide. Failure to comply to this alone can lead to penalties up to three times the total deposit. Also, the Guardian reports that a recent ban on high deposit fees in England requires landlords and agents to only ask of a deposit up to five weeks in advance.
Another key aspect you should be careful of is when you’re exercising your right to resume possession – or evicting a tenant. There are two legal ways to do this: the no-fault possession of the Section 21 Notice or the Section 8 Notice. Under the Section 21 Notice, you can repossess your property by acquiring an Assured Shorthold Tenancy and serving necessary documents to the tenants. Under recent changes to the rules, a Section 21 cannot be invoked until into January 2021 as a mechanism for protecting vulnerable tenants struggled under pandemic restrictions.
There’s also the Section 8 Notice where you can resume possession on varying grounds. A landlord must fill in a ‘Notice seeking possession of a property let on an assured tenancy or an assured agricultural occupancy’ form from the UK Government website, and there are strict guidelines that must be adhered to in order to secure an eviction under Section 8.
While it’s hard to keep track with all these amendments, getting a letting agent is also a good option. Just make sure that your agent is a member of the Property Ombudsman – which 85% of them are – so you can be rest assured they will be more accountable.
Written by Riva Jo