What documents does a landlord need?
When you first let out a rental property, it can be a daunting prospect to get the paperwork right. You’ll soon discover there are certain documents that you are legally obliged to give to tenants, as well as others that you need for yourself such as a the range of landlord certificates.
Getting to grips with landlord documentation gets easier as you get more familiar with managing your portfolio. That said, even if you are an experienced landlord, the documents you need to give to a tenant do change from time to time. In this article, we’ve created an up-to-date landlord documents checklist to help you make sure you’ve got all of your paperwork covered.
Landlord documents checklist
- Tenancy agreement
- Tenant references
- Right to Rent check
- How to Rent guide
- Energy and safety certificates
- Deposit protection documents
- Data protection
- Written complaints
- Landlord insurance
- Other documents
- Top five documents every landlord needs
Surprisingly, you’re not legally required to provide tenants with a written tenancy agreement. However, it’s wise to use a written Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) Agreement as it sets out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. While it is possible to have a verbal tenancy agreement, this is a bad idea as misunderstandings can easily arise and you wouldn’t have much legal recourse if a dispute emerged. It’s also worth noting that a written tenancy agreement is often a requirement of a landlord insurance policy, without it you risk invalidating your insurance and your insurer may decline a claim.
There are many template tenancy agreements available online, including a model agreement for tenancies in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, plus model written statements for Wales. Both landlord and tenant should sign the tenancy agreement and both parties should retain copies.
Referencing your tenants is a wise idea. By performing the right checks, you have a much better chance of weeding out tenants who might cause problems. A thorough referencing check could include asking for the following documents and making copies of them:
- Photo ID, to verify a person’s identity.
- Proof of current address, such as utility bills.
- Proof of income, to ensure the tenant can afford rent.
- Employer’s reference, to check the tenant is in employment.
- Previous landlord’s reference, to make sure the tenant has not caused problems in the past.
It’s also a good idea to run a credit check. This will back up the identity checks you have made and flag up any history of the tenant not paying bills.
If you have rent guarantee insurance, it is a requirement that all tenants pass reference checks. In the event of making a claim, your insurer is likely to decline to pay out if they find that you have not completed adequate tenant referencing.
In England, you are legally required to do a right to rent check that anyone renting your property has the legal right to do so. The Gov.uk website has an online questionnaire that helps you determine which documents you have to ask for.
In England and Wales, you must provide new tenants with the latest copy of the government’s How to Rent Guide. This helps them understand their rights and responsibilities as tenants, as well as your obligations as a landlord. You can download the latest edition of the guide here.
You need to provide your tenants with a number of different energy and safety certificates. These are:
- Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This gives your property an energy rating from A to G. Currently, you can only let a property with an energy rating of E or above. From 2025, newly rented properties will need a minimum energy rating of C. Existing tenancies will have until 2028 to comply with this rule change. You need to give a copy of the EPC to your tenants at the beginning of their tenancy. Find out more about how to improve your property’s EPC rating.
- Gas Safety Certificate. If you let a property with gas appliances such as a boiler or cooker, a registered gas engineer must inspect the appliances every year and issue a gas safety certificate. You must give a copy of this to your tenants.
- Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR). Commonly known as an Electrical Safety Certificate, you need a qualified electrician to renew this document every five years. You must give the EICR to your tenants within 20 days of the inspection or test.
- Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. You need to fit smoke alarms on every floor of your property and carbon monoxide alarms in rooms that contain ‘a solid fuel burning appliance’ or (from 1st October 2022) a ‘a fixed combustion appliance (excluding gas cookers)’. You do not need to provide tenants with a certificate, but it’s worth noting that from October 2022, you are legally obliged to repair or replace these alarms once you are informed that they are faulty.
- Legionella risk assessment. As a landlord, you are required to carry out a legionella risk assessment. You should ideally confirm to tenants that you have either done this yourself or provide them with a copy of any professional report you’ve commissioned.
Further information: see our article on Landlord Certificate Requirements.
Any deposit you receive from a tenant must be placed in a deposit protection scheme within 30 days. You must then provide your tenant with written information that tells them where their deposit is being held, plus the terms of the scheme. You can find out more in our Landlord’s guide to government deposit schemes.
You are not legally required to provide tenants with a written inventory, but it makes good sense to do so. If items are damaged or taken during a tenancy, an inventory is vital evidence in determining how much deposit can be used to cover the loss. Inventories are also helpful when conducting mid-term inspections. (Note, you have to give tenants at least 24 hours’ notice if you intend to visit the property for any reason).
To comply with UK GDPR legislation (The Data Protection Act 2018), you need to provide your tenants with a privacy statement on all documents like tenancy agreements and application forms. This should tell them what information is collected and why it’s needed, how the information is used and who it is shared with, plus how long the information is retained. You also need to get written confirmation from a tenant to confirm they are happy to receive lettings documents by email.
If a tenant complains to you in writing, you need to respond within 14 days.
If you want to protect your investment, it’s essential to make sure you have appropriate landlord insurance.
There are many different types of landlord insurance out there, and you can combine different covers to meet your particular requirements. As a quick guide, you might consider these key insurances:
- Landlord buildings insurance – to cover the structure of your property and key fixtures such as the kitchen or bathroom.
- Landlord contents insurance – to cover fixtures, fittings and furnishing that belongs to you, rather than the tenant.
- Rent guarantee insurance – to protect you against missed rental payments and any associated legal fees.
- Home emergency cover – to protect your property in the event of an emergency.
- Legal expenses insurance – to provide cover for legal expenses and provides legal advice on all aspects of operating a buy-to-let.
For an in-depth look at the insurance options open to you, see our article Do I need landlord insurance?
While we have covered the main documents needed by landlords and tenants, you will encounter situations where other paperwork is required. For example, if you use a lettings agent, you will need to agree a contract with them. Similarly, if you are just starting out as a landlord, you’ll need to register with HMRC to let them know you need to complete a Self-Assessment Tax Return (if you haven’t already). The key to getting your paperwork right is to stay informed of your rights and responsibilities as a landlord and make note of any changes. There are plenty of landlords’ associations out there who can help you stay up to date, along with many online resources such as our blog articles on landlord-relevant topics.
We asked a panel of top landlord associations what the most important documents are for landlords…Here are the top 5!
1. Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement (AST)
No real surprise that the most important document is the AST. It’s the contract between you and your tenant(s) and sets out the details you both agree to abide by.
An AST can be adapted to suit any specific requirements you see fit – but it must remain balanced and fair to both parties. You may want the rights to enter your home or repossess as you see fit – but a court of law would take a dim view of a contract which was clearly one-sided.
Unsurprisingly most landlords will just get a copy AST from someone they know, or download one from an online resource. In essence there is nothing too much wrong with this approach – but just bear in mind that you are responsible for checking the contents of the contract.
Most landlord associations will provide sample AST agreements as part of their membership. The UK government also provides a model agreement – although it is worth noting that this agreement is for a two-year arrangement.
However you decide to proceed with your AST, it’s vital that you get the contract signed by both parties and copies made available to you and your tenant BEFORE you let the tenant move in.
2. Gas & Electrical Safety Certificates
It would be extraordinary to think that there is anyone left in the UK who doesn’t understand the risks and implications of not complying with relevant gas and electrical safety checks. But one quick search on the internet and you’ll find numerous accounts of rogue landlords who didn’t comply with basic safety regulations and have faced prison time.
Get this wrong and people can die. It really is as serious as that.
The document itself is not the important thing here, it’s what the paperwork represents. It signifies that you have taken your responsibilities seriously and ensured the gas and electrics within your buy-to-let property are working safely, as intended. That they have been maintained and checked periodically and approved for use.
No amount of checks and servicing will prevent every accident – but it’s vital you can prove you’ve taken your landlord responsibilities seriously to avoid potential criminal action.
3. Property Inventory
A good property inventory is designed to take the guesswork out of any disputes between landlord and tenant when it comes to the condition of the property and any fixtures and fittings supplied by the landlord.
Get this wrong and it’s almost inevitable someone will feel aggrieved at the end of the tenancy. Either the tenant will be upset if a landlord is withholding some of the deposit for damage they feel is normal wear and tear, or the landlord will be upset about some damage caused by a tenant who is claiming it was there when they arrived.
Completing the inventory should be a two-way process with a high level of open communication; walking and talking through the building and agreeing as you go. Many landlords opt for an independent inventory service. This removes and emotion from the situation and provides a balanced approach, less likely to cause distress. But whichever route you decide to take a solid inventory is a must.
We’ve produced an essential guide to your property inventory list which we hope id helpful.
4. Good landlord insurance
We know the cynical ones amongst you will assume we dropped this one in – but it actually featured regularly in our feedback. Quality landlords insurance (maybe they were all being nice to us!!).
We see insurance as the third step in any appropriate risk management process. You MUST complete steps 1 and 2 first. The steps are:
The identification of risk
Being able to step back and recognise the potential risk factors is a skill in itself. We can all spot the rotten fence around a big hole in the ground, but sometimes the risks aren’t obvious and you will need some help in identifying them.
That’s where other landlords, landlord associations or insurance brokers can help. Being able to ask others is important; it’s not all about fire, flood and storm damage anymore. Understanding the risks, both physical and financial are crucial to comprehend your potential financial liability.
The mitigation of risk
Step 2 is all about doing something about step 1. If you’ve spotted the rotten fence and you ignore it and something happens, you’re liable. If you fix it, and document that fact, you’ve mitigated the risk and reduced or removed your exposure.
Mitigation of risk is about doing everything you can to reduce the likelihood of something happening or the severity of the outcome if it does.
The insurance of risk
Once you’ve identified the risk and mitigated the risk, as far as you can, then what’s left is what you insure against. With a buy-to-let property that’s the building, any contents, home emergency, legal expenses, rent guarantee and other landlord liabilities. If you have an HMO or a block of flats you will need a different type of insurance policy.
You can also cover a wide range of other risks such as unoccupied properties, excess protection or serviced accommodation, Airbnb etc.
But the options don’t stop there. You can reduce or increase your exposure based on the quality of your insurance. Some policies will cover a wide-range of risks such as loss of keys, unoccupancy periods, loss of rent, malicious damage, fixtures and fittings while others will limit the cover.
Similarly you can reduce your premium by taking a higher excess – where you, effectively, cover more of the financial risk yourself.
Whatever you decide a good quality landlord insurance policy will limit your exposure to costs that otherwise may be too expensive to bear
5. Your communications
Our final ‘document every landlord needs’ is actually not one document – but, all of them. Well, all of the communications you have with your tenants, agents, tradesmen etc.
Get things in writing first. We all love the concept of “I’m a man of my word.” But it won’t help you pay the mortgage when a tenant defaults on their rent. So, get it in writing.
Get into a good habit of ‘filing’ your e-mails. A folder for each property is usually a good idea, but however you decide to do it, keep all your communications. You never know when you’ll need them.
We’re sure you’ve got a stack of other recommendations on the best documents for a landlord but hopefully this is a good starting point.
We’ve produced a checklist you can download which will help you keep on top of all your obligations and documentation.
Legislation and guidance included in this article is correct as of August 2022. Please note that legislation does change, it is always best to check the most up to date guidance on gov.uk. Many landlord insurance policies arranged by Alan Boswell Group also have access to a legal advice helpline where policyholders can seek further advice.