What Are The Legal Responsibilities Of A Private Landlord?


Legal Responsibilities Of A Private Landlord

If you are considering being a private landlord, whether you are finding yourself in a position where you need to let your home or whether you are wanting to actively invest in a buy-to-let property, its important that you have an understanding of what your legal responsibilities will be.

The property must be in good condition in accordance with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System under the Housing Act 2004. Private landlords must also abide by statutory law for their own protection and their tenants. The legal responsibilities are easy to implement and are listed below.

It’s true, being a landlord is not just about collecting the rent! But I would like to take the time to reassure you that the legal requirements are not difficult to adhere to, and if you have any doubts, there are people and organisations that can help you to ensure you meet the required standards.

If you’re a first time landlord and are feeling nervous about the whole thing, my number one piece of advice is to seek the services of a good letting agent. They will make sure your property meets the standards that are required before advertising it to any prospective tenants, and they will also relieve you from a lot of the workload.

Their services obviously come at a cost, but I believe it is money well spent to help you get your rental business up and running correctly in the early days.

Here is a detailed list of the statutory legal responsibilities which can not be ignored and will allow you to let your property with confidence.

  1. Housing, Health And Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
  2. Gas Safety Checks
  3. Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)
  4. Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
  5. Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP)
  6. Smoke Detector Alarms
  7. Carbon Monoxide Alarm
  8. Legionella
  9. Furniture And Furnishing Regulations
  10. Provide A How To Rent Guide
  11. Right To Rent Immigration Checks
  12. House Of Multiple Occupation (HMO)
  13. Landlord Selective Licence
  14. Rights Of Entry For Landlords
  15. Repairs And Maintenance

1. Housing, Health And Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

Here is a link where you can download a pdf version of the HHSRS from the government website.

It’s a thorough document which details all of the responsibilities required by a landlord for both the exterior and interior of a property.

For landlords who are looking to let a property as a single unit, e.g. a family home, it gives guidance on 8 key areas:

  • The exterior and structural elements of the dwelling
  • Water, Gas and Electricity supply and installations
  • Personal Hygiene installations for wash hand basin, showers and/or baths
  • Sanitation and drainage including lavatories, WC basins, drains and waste pipes
  • Food safety facilities including sinks, draining boards, worktops and space and storage for cooking facilities
  • Ventilation which includes air bricks, trickle vents and windows that are able to open and close and let in natural light
  • Space and water heating installations which include any space heating appliance(s) or central heating system, and a fitted water system for proving instant or stored hot water
  • Identifying and preventing potential hazards

The document also gives additional guidance to landlords who are considering letting Houses of Multiple Occupancies (HMOs) – buildings which contain a number of flats or similar dwellings.

I would just like to take a minute to put things into perspective here, as I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed.

If you have already purchased, or are planning to purchase a property with a mortgage, then I would estimate that the property would already meet 90% of the requirements listed above.  That’s because mortgage lenders will not lend on properties which are classed as uninhabitable.

An example of an uninhabitable property is one that does not have a kitchen sink installed. If you financed, or are financing, the property with cash or a bridging loan, then I would expect you have made arrangements for a structural survey and will work to having all the utilities, fixtures and fittings installed before letting the property.

A property which is structurally sound, is water tight with sufficient ventilation and has utilities, fixtures and fittings installed correctly, will make a nice home for somebody looking to rent.

2. Gas Safety Checks

If the property has a gas supply, you will need to have a Gas Safety Check carried out every year by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

All gas appliances owned by you will also need to be checked and landlords are responsible for maintaining the records and providing the tenant with a copy of the checks and condition reports of each appliance. If an appliance is owned by the tenant, you are not legally responsible for having it checked.

You can find a Gas Safe registered engineer and order a Gas Safety Certificate online.

3. Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)

Another aspect in ensuring your rental property is safe to occupy, is the checking and certification of the electrical wiring.  Checking the electrics are not damaged or worn out, through wear and tear, is recommended every 5 years, or at change of tenancy, when letting a single tenancy property.

If you are letting your property furnished or part furnished with white goods, I would also recommend having those appliances tested. Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is not mandatory for single occupancy properties, but the regulations are different for HMO landlords.

All landlords have a responsibility to ensure that all electrical appliances, provided by the them, are safe to use from the start of the tenancy.  This includes washing machines, fridge freezers, kettles, and anything else which has a 3 pin plug on it including extension cables. PAT testing can be done at the same time as an EICR for a small additional fee.

You can find a competent electrical engineer and order an Electrical Installation Condition Report and PAT online.

4. Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

It’s a legal requirement for any property that’s is marketed for either sale or let, to have an up to date Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

There are a number of factors which determine the energy efficiency of a property including but not limited to:

  • Ventilation
  • Type and efficiency of boiler
  • Thickness of walls
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Type of windows
  • Thickness of loft insulation
  • Room dimensions
  • Insulation of hot water cylinder
  • Radiators

Certificates are valid for 10 years and the property must have an energy efficiency rating of Category E or higher to meet the requirements. A copy of the EPC must also be provided to the tenant at the start of the occupancy. 

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) grades A to G

It’s a good idea to make the property as energy efficient as possible. I would recommend obtaining a new EPC if you carry out any improvements to the property during your ownership, which will have a positive effect on its efficiency even if your current certificate is still valid.

You can order an EPC from qualified Energy Assessor online.

5. Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP)

Landlords can request a tenancy deposit for an assured shorthand tenancy of up to the equivalent of 5 weeks rent.

The deposit provides some financial security to the landlord in case they incur a loss due to:

  • Damage to the property or items provided by the landlord
  • Missing items
  • Rent arrears
  • Cleaning and redecoration
  • Unpaid utilities

The tenant will pay the security deposit before they move into the property and the landlord has the responsibility of securing the deposit within 30 days. Deposits MUST be secured with one of the following government approved schemes:

Once registered, the landlord must also inform the tenant on where the deposit has been secured including the contact details and account information.

If there are any disagreements at the end of the tenancy, a dispute can be raised with the TDP scheme and an impartial adjudicator will decide if and how the deposit should be allocated based on the evidence provided. It’s a good idea for the landlord to provide a through inventory with photographs at the start of tenancy, which can then be used to support any claims.

Receipts for items that have been replaced and invoices for services used should also be filed for proof of any expenses incurred by the landlord.

In the past 13 years since the TDP was introduced, I have only had to make one claim to replace a couple of items of furniture and hire the services of a cleaning company. The claim process was thorough and took up to the maximum of 28 days to complete without any disputes, but the service achieved its aim of protecting both myself and the tenant.

6. Smoke Detector Alarms

Since 1st October 2015 private landlords are required to install at least one smoke detector alarm on each storey in the property, that contains a room which is used wholly or partly as living accommodation.

In addition, landlords are responsible for ensuring that the smoke detector alarms are in full working condition at the start of each tenancy.

The best location for the alarms to be installed will be provided in the packaging that the alarm comes with. In general, they are recommended to be installed on ceilings within circulation space e.g. landings and/or hallways.

Landlords are to make an informed decision as to the type and make of the smoke detector alarm to be fitted, which would best suit the needs of the property and the tenants. A hard wired system is not required for all types of properties, but as a minimum it is recommend that alarms which provide 10 years of battery power are used.

I use FireAngel ST-622T in my home and rental properties. It is a tamper proof 10 year sealed battery powered alarm with over 1,500 positive reviews on Amazon.

7. Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Alarms are to be installed in a room that is used either wholly or partly as living accommodation which contains a solid fuel burning appliance or an open fire e.g. wood or coal burner.

Gas appliances can also emit carbon monoxide, so as an extra precaution, landlords are encouraged to install monoxide alarms in rooms with gas fired appliances.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that you can’t see, taste or smell, so installing an alarm will give both you and your tenants some peace of mind.

The Life Saver Carbon Monoxide Alarm by Kiddie has more than 3,500 positive reviews on Amazon and provides continuous monitoring with a 7 year sensor life.

8. Legionella

This is a type of bacteria which can form and grow in building water systems including:

  • Taps
  • Shower heads
  • Cold water storage systems
  • Hot water cylinders

The risk of Legionnaires Disease increases when a property is unoccupied for a length of time and the water becomes stagnant.  A thorough flush of the entire water system and the cleaning of all outlets before the start of a new tenancy, will help eliminate the risk of Legionella bacteria.

Landlords can assess the risk themselves and do not need to be professionally trained or accredited. Knowing how to flush the water system is essential though and advice from a plumber should be sought if you are unsure.

Tenants should inform landlords if the hot water is not heating properly, or if there are any other problems with the water system, so the landlord can take immediate action. Tenants should also clean shower heads and taps regularly to help prevent the bacteria from forming.

Further guidance on the responsibilities of landlords can be found on the government Health and Safety Executive website.

9. Furniture And Furnishing Regulations

If a landlord supplies any furniture or furnishings with their rental property, they must ensure that the items adhere to the Fire Safety Regulations. Furniture covered by the regulation includes:

  • Beds, headboards and mattresses
  • Sofa beds, futons and other convertibles
  • Pillows
  • Armchairs and sofas
  • Nursery furniture
  • Garden furniture which is suitable for use in a dwelling
  • Scatter cushions and seat pads
  • Loose and stretch covers for furniture

Items which are excluded from the regulations include:

  • Furniture manufactured before 1950
  • Bed sheets, pillow cases and duvets
  • Mattress covers
  • Sleeping bags
  • Carpets
  • Curtains

Items that comply with the regulations will have a permanent label attached. If a label becomes detached from the item it is recommended that the landlord retains it in a safe place with the receipt proving purchase of the furniture or furnishings.

Example of a fire resistant label found on furniture
Example Of Fire Resistant Label

Here are some tips to make sure you comply with the regulations as a landlord:

  • Buy new furniture which should comply with Trading Standards, but always check for the label
  • If you buy second hand, ensure the furniture carries the correct label
  • Consider letting your property unfurnished

10. Provide A How To Rent Guide

All tenants must be given a copy of the How To Rent Guide which is available to download from the government website.

It actually gives prospective tenants guidance on things they should consider before committing to a tenancy agreement, so I’m not sure why it has now become a landlords responsibility to ensure they receive a copy.  Perhaps they should be given this guide during their first viewing of a rental property … ?!

That said, it does contain useful information to advise them on how to be a model tenant, so am I am more than happy to take the time to hand them a copy.

The guide also provides a useful checklist for landlords too, including guidance if things go wrong and links to support agencies and other sources of information.

11. Right To Rent Immigration Checks

Landlords are required to carry out immigration checks to ensure the tenant has a right to rent residential property. They must also ensure all occupants of the property, aged 18 or over, provide a valid form of personal identification even if their name is not going to be on the tenancy agreement.

The rules do not currently apply if you are letting a property in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

You are required to check each new tenant and not just those that you suspect may not be British citizens. You have a responsibility to check that the form of ID is genuine and that it doesn’t show signs of having been tampered with. Landlords must make copies of the documentation and make a record of the date that the checks were made.

The are a number of acceptable documents that can be provided, and a Right To Rent Document Checks: User Guide can be downloaded from the government website.

12. House Of Multiple Occupation (HMO)

A HMO is a property which is let to at least 3 people who are not from the same household. The rules and regulations for a HMO differ between each local authority. You will need to contact your council to check if you will need a licence.

You must have a licence if you are letting a large HMO in England or Wales. A property is classed as a large HMO if:

  • It is let to 5 or more people who form more than one household
  • Some or all tenants share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities
  • At least one tenant pays rent (or their employer pays it for them

Communication with the council that governs the location of the property is vital. They will inform you of other health and safety regulations that will need to be adhered to within the property, specifically for larger HMO’s. Hard wired smoke alarms and emergency lighting on stairs and exits is an example of one of the requirements that would need to be fulfilled.

13. Landlord Selective Licence

Landlords are required to check if they are operating in an area that requires a selective licence.

Unlike other forms of licensing which relate to HMOs, local authorities can designate the whole or part of a district to selective licensing. That means that all properties which are let in the private rented sector within the area, will require a selective licence.

Councils may designate an area for selective licensing if:

  • The area is, or is likely to be, an area of low housing demand

or

  • the area is experiencing a significant and persistent problem caused by anti social behaviour.

By using the Resident Landlords Association website, you can search your Local Authority Network to see if your rental property is located in an area affected by selective licensing.

14. Rights Of Entry For Landlords

It is illegal under common law for a landlord or agent to enter the property without first requesting permission from the tenant. With the exception of emergencies, a notice period of at least 24 hours must be given to visit at a ‘reasonable time of day’, to conduct inspections or carry out repairs.

I cannot find any clear guidance on what would constitute an emergency, but I would feel comfortable turning up unannounced if I was led to believe there was a major leak with the water system.

You have to remember that your rental property is not your home, it is your tenants home. Under any kind of lease or tenancy agreement, the tenants have exclusive possession for quiet enjoyment.

15. Repairs And Maintenance

The property must always be kept in good repair both inside and outside for safe and healthy living conditions. Any repairs that are required are to be completed within a reasonable amount of time. Responsibilities include repairs to:

  • The structure including walls, stairs, bannisters, roof, windows, external and internal doors
  • Gas pipes and boilers
  • Electrical wiring
  • Heating and hot water
  • Sinks, showers, baths, toilets, pipes and drains
  • Chimneys and ventilation
  • Fixtures and fittings including any furniture or appliances within furnished or part furnished property

Tenants also have responsibilities towards the maintenance of the property, including:

  • Reporting any repairs to the landlord as soon as possible
  • Allow access to the property during reasonable hours for inspections and repairs
  • Keeping their home reasonably clean
  • Safety checks on electrical appliances that they own
  • Keeping any outside areas in a reasonable state
  • Changing light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries when required

Consequences If Private Landlords Fail To Comply With Their Responsibilities?

Depending on the type of property and severity, private landlords can be fined up to £30,000 and/or receive custodial sentences for failing to comply with their responsibilities. They may also impede their ability to regain possession of the property unless they have sufficient grounds for eviction.

Responsibilities will also vary depending on the size and location of the property.

If you are unsure of anything, I would recommend talking to a reputable letting agent in the local area and even asking them to meet you at the property. They will be able to advice you on the standards you will need to meet and they may also give you advice on things you could do to the property to make it more appealing to prospective tenants.

If you are still unsure, or you wish to double check the advice you have been given, then you should contact the local authority within the area of your rental property for clarification.

Go Above And Beyond Your Legal Responsibilities As A Private Landlord

There is estimated to be more than 2.5 million landlords in the private rented sector within Britain.

Competition can be high in some locations so you want your property to stand out from the crowd. Take some time to look at other comparable properties online and look for opportunities where you can raise the standards and features within your buy-to-let.

There are a number of areas that I have improved on over the years that have certainly worked in my favour. Some have simply required a bit of thought and others have required me to spend a bit of cash to make the property more appealing.

Firstly, I display all user manuals for appliances on the kitchen worktop within any properties that I let furnished, during the viewings. The prospective tenant will be quietly assured that they will be able to use the appliances as soon as they move in.

Not only will it help the tenant to use the items correctly, but it will also assist them with any minor faults. You will also be increasing the likelihood that the appliance will last longer with good care and maintenance.

Secondly, consider adding a security system to the property. I’m not talking about placing cameras within all corners of the property, I’m only talking about one camera located at the front door.

The Ring Video Doorbell (link to Amazon) is my favourite security system for a couple of reasons.

The tenant will be able to see who is at the front door before answering, and if they are not home, they can give can give the impression they are at home no matter where they are.

It’s also handy for reducing the risk of missing deliveries.

The tenant will receive a notification when movement is detected or when the visitor presses the door bell.

They can also check in on their home with live-view at any time and watch recordings of video footage for any notifications that they may have missed or would like to re-watch.

There are a few different models of the Ring Video Doorbell. Some are powered by a battery or mains supply, and others are only powered by mains. I would recommend installing one with a mains supply to save the tenant the inconvenience of having to remember to charge it.

I have a separate email address for each rental property and I register my devices with the relevant email. I then pass the log in details to the tenant so that they have full access to the features without compromising the security of my email address. To access the full features of the doorbell there is an annual fee but it’s very low.

And lastly, always provide a great customer service experience once the tenant moves in. This includes responding to tenants requests quickly and dealing with any repairs promptly. Successful business’s take pride in looking after their customers and we, as landlords, should do the same.

Andy Walker

Andy Walker is a property investor and landlord with 20 years of experience, providing free education to help others start or improve their Buy-To-Let business.

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