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Private Landlords: What Are Your Legal Obligations?

By Darragh Timlin on October 27th, 2022

As a residential landlord, you could own a single property you let out and use as an investment for your future. Or you could be a landlord building a property portfolio and treating your growing assets as a business to generate profit.

While there is a vast difference between these two types of landlord, you will still both have legal obligations to protect yourself, your tenants and your property. One of the most critical steps to take is to cover yourself with the right insurance, such as landlord insurance from Brisco.

Landlords face so many risks that it makes sense to protect yourself with landlord insurance to cover emergency events such as fire, flood and storm damage. However, landlords face many more risks, such as loss of rental income, liability claims from tenants, and repairs to accidental or intentional property damage.

Having landlord insurance is the first step to responsible residential letting, but understanding your legal obligations as a landlord is essential if you want a smooth, trouble-free tenancy. This guide should help!

Start of Tenancy

At the start of your new tenancy, it is your responsibility as the landlord to have conducted all the necessary health and safety checks you need to ensure the safety and security of your tenants. Your safety obligations include the following:

  • Gas Safety: You must have an annual gas safety inspection of your rental property to ensure all the gas installations, pipes, and air vents are working correctly. A copy of the gas safety certificate must be provided to your tenants. This isn’t difficult to obtain, as the registered gas safety engineer completing the inspection will give you a copy that you can pass on to your new tenants at the start of their tenancy.
  • Electrical Safety: A qualified electrician must check all electrical fixtures and fittings. Electrical devices must carry a CE mark. HMO landlords must have an electrical safety test every five years, but non-HMO landlords are not legally bound to need electrical safety tests. However, it is advisable to do so, especially if you want to reduce the risk of damage from electrical fires.

You must give your new tenants a copy of the Government’s ‘How to Rent guide before they move in. This document explains your obligations as a landlord and your tenants’ rights. You can provide your tenants with either a hard copy or a digital copy of the ‘How to Rent guide, which can be sent via email.

Landlord Fire Safety responsibilities

Knowing what a landlord’s legal obligations towards fire safety are is essential, as fire emergencies are one of the leading causes of loss of rental income. To fulfil your fire safety obligations as a landlord, you must:

  • Carbon Monoxide detectors must be present in any room with fuel-burning devices, such as log burners or solid fuel fires
  • Ensure fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order
  • Ensure your rental property has easily accessed fire escape routes
  • Provide fire-safe fixtures and fittings in the property (including furniture if you are letting fully or part-furnished property)
  • Smoke alarms must be present on every floor of your property

Tenant deposits

Your tenant’s deposit must be placed in one of the three Government approved tenancy deposit schemes. As a landlord, you must:

  • Protect your tenant’s deposit within 30 days by placing it in a tenancy deposit scheme (failure to do so could lead to a fine of up to three times the deposit amount)
  • Provide your tenants with a copy of the deposit registration certificate, and the Prescribed Information (paperwork relating to their deposit protection)

It is in the landlord’s best interests to place their tenant’s deposit into a Government approved scheme to avoid being fined. Still, if you ever needed to evict your tenants using a Section 21 Notice, you will not be able to evict them unless you have protected the tenant’s deposit.

Property repairs

As a landlord, you may find there will be regular repairs and maintenance jobs to take care of for your tenants. These jobs should never be put off, especially if they could lead to more complex and expensive repairs further down the line.

You will also not be allowed to serve a Section 21 Notice for six months if a tenant complains and you are issued an improvement notice.

Landlords are obliged to provide their tenants with a property to live in that:

  • It does not have any dampness that may be considered hazardous to health
  • Has adequate and safe heating, lighting, and ventilation
  • It is structurally sound and free from significant disrepair
  • Must have a freshwater supply, good drainage, a suitably located toilet, a bath or shower, and a wash basin

However, above and beyond providing the basics listed above, landlords must complete the following list of property repairs quickly and effectively. These repairs include:

  • To electrical fittings and devices in the property
  • To gas devices, pipes, flues, and ventilation. Note it is not acceptable to wait until the next gas inspection if you know something needs repair
  • To the property’s heating and hot water systems
  • To the property’s structure, both internally and externally
  • To wash basins, sinks, baths, and other fittings, including pipes and drains

Should you fail to meet your landlord’s obligations for maintaining property repairs, your tenants have a legal right to complain to your local council. The council can inspect the property and force you to make necessary repairs under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) via an improvement notice.

Rent increases

You should include in your tenancy agreement how often and when you plan to review the rent for the property. If you have a periodic tenancy that rolls on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis, you can usually only increase the rent once a year.

If you have a fixed-term tenancy, you can only raise the rent once the fixed term ends unless you write a clause into the tenancy agreement to permit this. The rent increase must be fair and realistic and in line with reasonable rents in the area on the open market.

You should discuss and agree on a rent increase with your tenants and produce written confirmation for you both to sign before raising the rent. You should also give your tenants as much notice as possible of a rent increase.

For landlord’s legal obligations in the UK, this is at least a month’s notice, but there are different rules for increasing rent in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Quiet enjoyment

Every landlord must allow their tenant’s quiet enjoyment of their rental property. This means that landlords don’t have any right to interfere with the tenant’s right to possession of, and enjoyment of, the premises.

Quiet enjoyment relates to living in the property without interference rather than it relating to noise levels. A tenant can claim a breach of quiet enjoyment if:

  • There has been a new activity after the grant of the lease, and
  • That there has been a serious and persistent disturbance to the tenant’s occupation of the premises.

Eviction notices

Landlords must follow strict procedures if they want to evict their tenants. If you don’t follow proper procedures, you can be found guilty of harassing or illegally evicting your tenants.

If you want your property back after the end of a fixed-term tenancy, you can give your tenants a Section 21 notice. However, if your tenants have broken the terms of their tenancy, you can provide them with a Section 8 notice.

You must give your tenant reasonable notice to quit. Reasonable notice usually means the length of the rental payment period, so if your tenants pay rent weekly, you can give them one week’s notice. The notice does not have to be in writing.

Conclusion

While there are many benefits to becoming a residential landlord, you are legally obliged to comply with government guidelines regarding managing your tenancies and ensuring your rental properties meet current fire, health and safety standards.

With so many responsibilities, it makes sense to protect yourself, your tenant and your rental properties with the proper landlord’s insurance cover, which you can arrange through Brisco Business landlord’s insurance. Stay compliant with industry regulations by obtaining the necessary business insurance coverage through Brisco Business.

Darragh Timlin

With over 25 years’ experience, Darragh is an expert in all things insurance. Starting his career in commercial property underwriting, Darragh has worked for a number of global insurers and is now Managing Director of Brisco Business, part of the wider Henry Seymour Group.

All articles by Darragh Timlin

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