The Legal Duties Of A Private Residential Landlord

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If you have just purchased a buy-to-let, or have decided to rent out your property, it is essential that you understand your legal responsibilities as a landlord.  Not only will understanding your legal obligations as a landlord protect you from claims, but it will also ensure the relationship with your tenants runs smoothly.

The main legal duties a landlord needs to consider are as follows.

Right to rent checks

Landlords have a duty to check that the tenants they are renting their property to have a legal right to reside in the UK.  To comply with this procedure, you will need to check the passports or immigration documents of everyone living in the property.   You will also need to keep a record of the documents you have checked.  If any of the tenants are in the UK on a visa, you will need to make a note of the expiry date and recheck that they have been granted an extension, switched to another visa category, or granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.   

If you rent a property to a person who does not have a legal right to be in the UK, you could face a prison sentence of up to five years or receive an unlimited fine.

Protect the deposit

Landlords must place the deposit they take from new tenants into one of the three tenancy deposit protection schemes (TDPS), backed by the government.  In addition, the landlord must give the tenant the required information regarding their deposit within the required timescale.  Failing to protect the deposit and/or serve the prescribed information can result in the landlord facing serious financial penalties, such as having to return the deposit to the tenant, plus pay the tenant compensation of between one to three times the deposit amount. In addition, not following the proper procedure surrounding a tenant’s deposit may affect the landlord’s ability to serve a Section 21 notice.

Keeping tenants safe

The tragedy of the Grenfell Towers apartment block fire in 2017, which claimed the lives of 72 people, highlighted the vital duty landlords have towards keeping tenants safe.

You must ensure that all the electrics are in working order and a Gas Safe registered engineer carries out the installation and maintenance of any gas equipment.  Working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms need to be present on every floor.  Fire escape routes must remain clear and fire doors installed where needed.

Carry our maintenance and repairs

As a landlord, you will have a legal duty to carry out maintenance and repairs to the structure, fixtures, and common parts of the building.  Under the tenancy agreement, you can make the tenant responsible for some smaller repairs.  You may also be able to recoup some of your costs by making tenants pay a service charge if you are the landlord of an apartment block or housing development.

Pay the taxman

If you start letting a property, you need to let Her Majesties Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department know as you may owe income tax on the rent you receive.

Rules regarding the tax on rental income can be very complex, so make sure you instruct a professional financial advisor to guide you.

Evicting legally

Most tenants are considerate, tidy and would not dream of being late with rent payments.  But some tenants can cause major headaches for landlords by not paying rent (leaving you struggling to pay the mortgage), abusing and damaging the property, and being a nuisance to neighbours.

You cannot evict a tenant by force and by doing so could see you facing criminal charges.

It is crucial that you follow the correct legal procedure to regain possession of your property.  Normally, you will need to issue a Section 21 notice or Section 8 notice.

A Section 21 notice can be used to repossess a property once a fixed-term tenancy ends.  For example, if your tenants have a twelve-month lease and it is due to expire, you can serve a Section 21 notice stating your intention to take possession of the property.  The requirements of the notice must be complied with for it to be valid.

A Section 21 notice is a no-fault procedure.  This means the tenant does not have to have done something wrong before it can be issued.  A Section 8 notice is the opposite and is used to repossess a property on one of the fault- based grounds listed in the Housing Act 1988 – including rent arrears, disrepair or being a nuisance to neighbours, and where the landlord wants to live in the property.  If the tenant refuses to vacate the property after the Notice has been served, you can apply to the court for a repossession order.

Make sure you seek legal advice before seeking to evict a tenant as matters can quickly turn stressful if proper procedures are not complied with.

The tenancy agreement

Although a tenancy agreement is not a legal requirement in England and Wales, as it sets out the terms and conditions of the tenancy and the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant, it is highly advisable to have one.  Not having a written tenancy agreement in place will mean you cannot obtain an Accelerated Possession Order should the tenants fail to quit by the date stated in the Section 21 notice.   An Accelerated Possession Order is a quicker way of repossessing your property (as opposed to a Standard Possession Order), and more cost-effective as there is usually no court hearing.  Therefore, it is best practice to ensure a tenancy agreement is in place, so you can take advantage of this procedure should you require.

It is important to have an experienced solicitor draw up the tenancy agreement to ensure each party is aware of their legal position.  This can help avoid costly disputes developing in the future.

In addition to the tenancy agreement, you will need to provide your tenant with Energy Performance Certificate, Gas Safety Certificate, and a copy of the government’s ‘How to Rent’ booklet.  In February 2018, the Central London County Court ruled in Caridon Property Ltd v Monty Shooltz, that failure to provide a Gas Safety Certificate before tenants moved into a property invalidated the Section 21 notice.  This provides yet another illustration of the Court’s ethos of insisting landlords carry out their obligations correctly if they wish to take advantage of statutory notices to regain possession.

In summary

Being a landlord entails many responsibilities.  Having quality legal advisors who can answer any questions you may have can save you time, money, and the stress of a potential claim or fine if you fail to meet your legal obligations.

Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice. 

Hart Reade Solicitors are a full-service law firm with offices in Eastbourne, Hailsham, Polegate and Meads.  We hold a Lexcel Accreditation from the Law Society of England and Wales.  To make an appointment with one of our dispute resolution solicitors, please phone our office on 01323 727 321.