This guide is intended to provide a broad outline of the legal rights and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant, together with an overview of current legislation applicable to the private sector rental market. However, this is not a comprehensive guide. If you need further advice on any issue – we’re here to help!
By granting a tenancy you are entering into legal responsibilities towards your tenant, who has the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property. So, for example, you cannot just walk in whenever you want, without prior permission – other than in exceptional circumstances. You must keep the structure maintained along with the sanitary equipment and heating systems. Any electrical goods supplied must be repaired or replaced as necessary. Buildings insurance and cover for any contents other that the tenant’s personal possessions are also your responsibility, as is the payment of service charges and ground rent if you are letting a flat.
Your Tenant's Responsibilities
Your tenant is in a legally binding contract with you which imposes obligations that must be kept - including paying the rent in full and on time for the full term agreed. He or she must not damage or alter the property. Our standard tenancy agreement does not allow redecoration without your consent, while any garden must be kept tidy and cultivated.
The Tenancy Agreement
The most common type of agreement is the ‘assured shorthold tenancy’. Less common is the ‘company let’. Both types protect landlords and tenants by creating binding rights and responsibilities on both parties.
An assured shorthold tenancy is designed for individuals and families renting privately owned, self-contained property. Although there is no legal minimum term the usual initial contract is six months, serving as a probationary period. Renewal terms can then be negotiated.
At the end of an assured shorthold tenancy the landlord has an absolute right to recover the property, subject to a proper Notice Requiring Possession being issued two months in advance. Serving the appropriate Notice is part of our service.
As an alternative to a fixed term renewal contract a tenancy can be left to run on a rolling month to month basis. This is known as a ‘periodic assured shorthold tenancy’ and can be ended at any time by either party. A landlord must give two months’ notice, and a tenant must give one month.
A company let is similar in most general respects to an assured shorthold tenancy but does not have the same notice requirements. It will end automatically on expiry of the term unless a new contract has been negotiated. From the landlord’s perspective the most important difference is that the company tenant has the right to change the actual people living in the property without reference to the landlord.
Furnished or Unfurnished?
Whether to let furnished, part furnished or unfurnished is largely a matter of preference or convenience for the landlord, although locally the greatest demand is for unfurnished accommodation. An unfurnished let should still include carpets and curtains. A fully furnished property will usually achieve a slightly higher rent, but bear in mind that you will be responsible for maintaining everything that you provide.
If you have a mortgage on your property you must obtain the prior permission of your lender. Most lenders readily grant permission as long as there are no arrears but there may be an administration fee. Depending on the length of the proposed let (and on the individual lender) it is possible that you will be charged a commercial mortgage rate.
Similarly if you are planning to let a flat permission is needed from the Lessor or Freeholder. Again, this is usually readily granted but it should not be overlooked otherwise you could contravene the terms of your lease.
Finally you must inform your buildings and contents insurers that you intend to let. Some insurers may withdraw cover on a rented property but there are many alternative providers in the market. The tenants are always responsible for insuring their own contents.
Energy Performance Certificates
Since 1st April 2018 it has been a legal requirement for new tenancies in the private rented sector to have a minimum energy performance rating of ‘E’ with few exceptions. This also applies to renewals of existing tenancies as they become due. After 1st April 2020 all tenancies must comply even if they haven’t been renewed on a fixed term but are continuing on a periodic basis. Landlords will be unable to enforce their rights in the courts if they do not comply.
The law requires that an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) be available to all prospective tenants viewing your property. The EPC is supplied by an accredited Domestic Energy Assessor and will provide a grade from A to G, with A being the most efficient. The Certificate is valid for ten years but if you carry out energy efficiency improvements within this period you may wish to provide a revised Certificate to reflect the improvements in your property. Landlords can make their own arrangements for the EPC. Alternatively, Williams & Donovan can provide a quotation from a local Assessor and order the EPC on your behalf.
A proper inventory is a vital part of the letting process since it minimises the risk of later disagreement over contents and condition. At the start of the tenancy we take a full inventory which the tenant is asked to sign and which then forms part of the tenancy agreement. We then re-inspect the property on your behalf at the end of the tenancy and liaise with you should there be any discrepancies.
A damages deposit usually equivalent to one month’s rent is paid by the tenant at the beginning of the tenancy, although an extra amount is sometimes agreed where pets are permitted. You must allow for fair wear and tear but beyond this deductions may be made from the deposit to compensate for failure to comply with the tenancy conditions.
To safeguard tenant deposits the law requires them to be protected under a Government-approved scheme which provides an independent arbitrator to adjudicate on unresolved deposit disputes. It is an offence to fail to protect a damages deposit. Williams & Donovan are members of The Deposit Protection Service custodial scheme. Full details of this are contained in our Agreement & Terms.
We normally set up a standing order for monthly rent payments in advance from the tenant’s bank account, unless other arrangements are agreed at the outset.
Council Tax and Utilities
Tenants are responsible for paying their own council tax, gas, electricity and telephone bills. They are also responsible for water charges unless in the case of a flat these are included in the service charge paid by the landlord. We always notify all services when a tenant takes occupation and submit the appropriate readings. A landlord has no legal liability for a tenant’s unpaid bills.
Termination of Tenancy
At the end of the agreed tenancy your tenant must surrender the property provided a proper Notice Requiring Possession has been issued. This is done as part of our service. It is very rare for a tenant to refuse to leave. However in this eventuality it would be necessary to obtain a court order to regain possession. The court must grant an order in the landlord’s favour and no secure tenancy rights will have been created.
A major cause of dispute between landlords and tenants is over final cleaning. The simple fact is that people have different standards. Experience dictates that this can be effectively pre-empted by having the property thoroughly cleaned to a high standard at the outset, including carpets and ovens. Tenants cannot then claim that they inherited soiled carpets and fittings as an excuse for inadequate final cleaning.
The importance of compliance cannot be overemphasised as any failure to do so which results in injury or death can attract heavy penalties, including imprisonment.
Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998
Where gas heating and/or appliances are supplied the landlord must arrange for an annual gas safety certificate to be issued by a Gas Safe registered heating engineer. We can arrange this for you. The tenant must be supplied with a copy. NOTE: A service contract such as British Gas Homecare cover does not comply. However, it can be advisable to take out a service contract in order to minimise inconvenience and unexpected repair bills.
Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994
Any electrical appliances that you supply must meet the insulation and safety standards under these regulations. You must also supply instruction books for all appliances. Currently there is no mandatory requirement for landlords to provide an electrical safety certificate. However there is a general duty in law to ensure that the installation is safe – so an electrical inspection would be a wise precaution.
Fire and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 & 1993
Any upholstered furniture you supply must comply with the fire resistance requirements under the Fire and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 and 1993. All modern furniture is clearly marked with a permanent label stating that it meets the regulations. Older furniture will not meet the requirements and cannot be supplied to tenants.
Properties built since June 1992 must have at least one mains operated smoke detector on each floor. In older properties you must install at least one battery operated smoke alarm on each floor. Our tenancy agreement stipulates that tenants are responsible for testing their operation and replacing batteries when necessary.
Troublesome locks that require a particular knack to open, radiators that only become lukewarm, taps with poor water flow, noisy airlocks in heating systems - many of us live quite happily in our own homes with minor faults like these. Tenants paying a full market rent will rarely be so forgiving, and will expect repairs. You need to be aware that tenants can withhold rent to carry out repairs themselves, if you don’t co-operate. So, it’s much easier and cheaper to resolve any such issues before the property is let.
Disability & Equality Act 2010
The law prohibits discrimination in providing rented accommodation on the basis of age, sex, disability, race, religion and sexual orientation – the so-called “protected characteristics.” So, for example, we cannot lawfully refuse rented accommodation to young adults who otherwise meet all criteria; neither can we advertise for female tenants only.
Outside these protected characteristics, however, you are free to exercise your preferences – so, for example, you can refuse pets, stipulate employed tenants, decline groups of sharers, or advertise for non-smokers only.
Please note, however, that the Act does not affect your right as a landlord to refuse any potential tenant - including those with protected characteristics – if they have a poor credit report or insufficient income.
Profit (not income) from a rented property is subject to taxation. It is the landlord’s responsibility to declare lettings income and expenses on their annual tax return and to pay any tax due. There are various allowances which may be offset against income, including agent’s fees, insurances and repair and maintenance costs. An accountant should be consulted for definitive advice on this subject. All agents complete an annual return to HMRC listing the landlords they act for and random verification checks are made against the list.
Landlord mortgage interest tax relief in 2018/19
Since April 2017, the system of calculating tax bills on rental income has changed, and by April 2020, you won't be able to deduct all of your mortgage expenses from rental income to reduce your tax bill.
Instead, landlords will be given a new tax credit, which is less generous than the current regime. We've explained this below.
The government has decided to phase in the new mortgage interest rules over a four year period. You'll see the amount of mortgage interest tax relief steadily falling each year:
There are various allowances which may be offset against income, including agent’s fees, insurances and repair and maintenance costs. An accountant should be consulted for definitive advice on this subject.
All agents complete an annual return to HMRC listing the landlords they act for and random verification checks are made against the list.