Whether you’re an experienced landlord or just thinking of taking your first steps along the property letting road, it’s important to know your legal responsibilities.
There are about 150 separate laws in place to protect both landlords and tenants, many focusing on important safety regulations as legislators try to ensure all privately rented properties meet an acceptable standard. We know that the vast majority of landlords are committed to providing good quality housing; after all, a happy tenant is a good tenant. But with the sheer weight of regulations and responsibilities placed on landlords, it would be easy for something, somewhere, to be overlooked.
Here, in our guide to landlord responsibilities, we look at the main duties you need to be aware of.
Right to rent
Before you can let a home in England, under the Immigration Act a private landlord is required to check whether the tenant, or any adult living with them, has a right to rent in the UK.
You’ll need to see an original copy of the tenant’s passport, or other official documents that prove they have a right to be in the UK, within 28 days of granting a tenancy.
All landlords must carry out such checks whatever the nationality of the tenant, and may need to make ongoing checks, such as 28 days before the expiration of a visa or other document which provides a right to be in the UK.
Right to rent checks are mandatory for all tenancies starting after February 1, 2016 (December 1, 2014 in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton).
Failure to obtain evidence of the right to rent is a criminal offence.
- Check online to see if someone can rent your property
- Click for a list of acceptable identification documents
- If the Home Office is holding a prospective tenant’s documents, you can do a right to rent check.
Some Commonwealth citizens who have long been resident in the UK (known as ‘Windrush’ cases) may not have the documents to prove their right to rent, but may still be eligible.
Prospective tenants who have lived permanently in the UK since before 1973 – and have not left the country for long periods in the past 30 years – have the legal right to live in the UK and rent properties.
If they came to the UK after January 1, 1973 but before 1988, they may not have that automatic right, but could be granted leave to remain permanently – and have the right to rent – by the Home Office.
Find more guidance on ‘Windrush’ cases.
Rules about landlord registration vary depending on where you are in the UK.
- England: There is no overall legal requirement to register as a landlord, but some local councils have introduced compulsory registration. Find your local council here. Landlords can voluntarily register with organisations such as the National Landlords Association, which provides reassurance to tenants that they are accredited and abide by a code of conduct.
- Wales: Landlords need to register with Rent Smart Wales. In addition, if you’re letting and managing the property yourself, you must obtain a licence by providing evidence that you’ve undertaken suitable landlord training, and the ‘fit and proper’ person declaration must be completed. The licence then lasts for five years. If you let through an agent, they must be licensed.
- Scotland: Landlords must join the landlord register. Failure to do so could lead to a fine of up to £5,000 and a five-year ban on letting properties. A similar landlord registration scheme operates in Northern Ireland, renewable every three years.
A house in multiple occupation (HMO) is a domestic property rented out to three or more people who do not form one ‘household’, such as a house-share or a student house.
If the property meets the following requirements it’s classed as a ‘large’ HMO and must be licensed:
- Rented to five or more people from more than one household
- Some or all tenants share communal facilities, such as kitchen and bathroom
The requirement for large HMOs to have at least three storeys was removed by the government in 2018, bringing more properties into mandatory licensing.
However, landlords renting out smaller HMOs should check the licensing requirements of their local council, which vary from region to region.
Licences last for five years in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and three years in Scotland, and a separate licence is required for each property.
To comply with the terms of an HMO licence, at a bare minimum landlords must:
- fit smoke alarms
- supply a valid gas safety certificate to the council each year
- ensure safety certificates are available for all electrical appliances.
Each local authority will be able to provide its full licensing terms and conditions.
You may be able to apply for an HMO licence online.
Start of tenancy information
At the beginning of the tenancy, landlords must provide the tenant with the following documentation:
- Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which shows how energy efficient the property is and gives the tenant an idea of how much it will cost to run. From April 2018, properties rating worse than E (on the scale A to G) cannot legally be rented out, with a maximum penalty of £4,000. In Scotland, the EPC must be displayed in the property.
- A copy of the government How to rent booklet, either in paper form or by email, which outlines the tenants’ rights and responsibilities. Landlords cannot serve a Section 21 eviction notice at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy if this guide wasn’t provided at the start. In Scotland, private residential tenancies – introduced in 2017 – have their own documents which must be supplied.
- A gas safety certificate if the property has gas appliances
- Tenancy agreement, which forms the contract between landlord and tenant, setting out the legal terms and conditions of the tenancy.
- An inventory of everything provided for the tenant in furnished, or part-furnished, properties, along with a note of their condition.
Responsibility to protect tenant deposits
If you are renting a property under an assured shorthold tenancy, the most common form of tenancy agreement, you have a duty to protect your tenant’s deposit with an approved deposit protection scheme. A letting agent will usually handle this on your behalf, but if you’re not using a letting agent you’ll need to know who to turn to.
In England and Wales, approved scheme providers are:
And in Northern Ireland:
You must give your tenant, in writing, details of the scheme used, confirmation of the deposit amount, the address it relates to, how they get their deposit back and what deductions can be made.
Failure to use a deposit protection scheme could result in the landlord paying between one and three times amount of deposit in compensation.
Health and safety responsibilities
Landlords have a statutory duty to ensure that:
- all gas installations are inspected by a Gas Safe engineer every 12 months
- any electrical equipment and the property’s wiring and fuse board meet safety requirements
- any furniture provided meets safety regulations
- smoke alarms are fitted on each floor, plus carbon monoxide detectors are fitted to any room with a coal or wood-burning stove
- any issues that could give rise to a health problem, such as damp or mould, pests or vermin, are dealt with promptly.
Duty for repairs
The landlord has a responsibility to keep the property in a good state of repair.
This includes arranging the upkeep of the interior fixtures and fittings (unless damaged by the tenant), and the exterior of the property, including the roof, walls, chimney, guttering, drains etc.
It also includes items such as sinks, baths, stairs and bannisters, the boiler, heating system and pipework.
As a landlord, you have a right to access the property to make repairs, subject to any notice periods specified in the tenancy agreement (notwithstanding emergencies).
Fit for human habitation
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a new law was passed that gives tenants the right to sue landlords over poor housing conditions rather than wait for the local authority to take action.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, introduced by Karen Buck MP, puts a duty on all private and social landlords to ensure that a property is fit for human habitation not only at the start of a tenancy, but throughout its duration.
The Act, which was welcomed by landlord associations, received Royal Assent on December 20, 2018 and is effective from March 2019.
Effectively, it makes it more important than ever that landlords carry out regular inspections and maintenance on their properties, inside and out, because a tenant does not need to prove negligence to successfully sue under the Act – merely that a part of the property is in an unsafe condition.
Follow the rules on rent increases
As a landlord you must inform your tenant when and how the rent should be paid, as set out in the tenancy agreement.
You must follow the rules on rent increases, which will vary depending on the type of tenancy.
Duty to give tenants privacy in their home
Landlords should not let themselves into a tenant’s home without permission, and must not harass tenants or make it difficult for them to stay in the property.
Harassment is a criminal offence, and includes behaviour such as cutting off utilities supplies, being abusive or violent, or interfering with your post or belongings.
Follow the rules on ending a tenancy and eviction
It’s a criminal offence to force a tenant out of a property without following the correct procedures, known as an illegal eviction.
You will need to serve a notice, the type of which will depend on why you’re evicting your tenant and where you are in the UK.
In England and Wales, a Section 21 notice can be served two months prior to the end of an initial fixed-term, assured shorthold tenancy. Initially, you will need to complete form 6a.
A Section 8 notice can be served if your tenants are not fulfilling their duties, such as if they are behind on the rent or have damaged the property. In this case, form 3 must be completed, noting the grounds for eviction.
The method of ending a tenancy in Scotland will depend on the type of tenancy, while in Northern Ireland you must serve a Notice to Quit, specifying the date they should leave (which will depend on how long they have lived in the (property).
Responsibilities under the Equality Act
The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on landlords to make reasonable adjustments to a policy or practice, and provide extra aids or services, if they disadvantage tenants with disabilities.
Examples of reasonable adjustments could include:
- Amending the tenancy agreement to remove a ban on pets, to allow a disabled person to have an assistance dog
- Providing a copy of the tenancy agreement in a format suitable for the tenant, such as in Braille, on CD or electronically.
Landlords are not obligated to make structural changes to a property, but some adaptations may be deemed reasonable, such as:
- Fitting a visual door entry system to replace a door bell for people with impaired hearing
- Removing or replacing any furniture or equipment unsuitable for a tenant’s disabilities.
It’s the responsibility of the landlord to insure the property, including the contents if you are renting the house furnished.
It’s important to take out specialist landlord insurance cover, because a standard home insurance policy is unlikely to provide cover for rented properties.
There are also certain additional types of insurance that come with landlord insurance, either as standard cover or optional extras, including:
- Liability insurance
- Cover for rehousing a tenant
- Loss of rental income
- Legal expenses
- Rent guarantee insurance
- Employers liability
- Home emergency cover
Commercial landlord responsibilities
If you are a landlord renting a commercial property, read our guide to commercial landlord responsibilities, which clears up any confusion about who is responsible for legal health and safety requirements, insurance and repairs, plus the importance of the lease document.