If you let a property in poor condition to your tenants, not only will you get complaints and lower your reputation as a landlord – it is also against the law.
Here is a list of the main legal points you need to know about.
Under the civil law all tenancies have implied into them the repairing obligations set out in section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. These say that you must keep in proper repair:
- the structure and exterior of the property
- the installations for the supply of water, electricity, gas and sanitation, and
- the installations for the supply of space and water heating.
You can’t contract out of these obligations (i.e. if you say in your tenancy agreement that you won’t be responsible for these things, that clause will be invalid), and if you breach them (for example, if the water heater does not work or the roof leaks) your tenants are entitled to get a court injunction ordering you to do the work and apply for financial compensation.
They may also be entitled to get the work done themselves, if you fail to do it after it has been reported to you, and then deduct the money from their rent. This is known as the tenants’ right of set off.
You have probably heard of these. You must get the gas appliances inspected by a gas installer registered with the Gas Safe Register and provide a copy of the certificate to tenants when they go in, and then once a year after that. Failure to do this is a criminal offence – prosecutions are done by the Health and Safety Executive.
General safety regulations
There are a number of regulations such as the Furniture and Furnishings Regulations, Electrical Equipment Safety Regulations, and the Plugs and Sockets Safety Regulations, which you will also need to comply with.
These are all policed by Trading Standards, but the Trading Standards officers are generally very helpful if you ask for advice, and have a lot of useful leaflets setting out what your obligations are.
It is worth getting in touch with them. They much prefer helping a landlord get things right to bringing a prosecution if they get it wrong – it means less paperwork for them!
“HMO” means house in multiple occupation. There are probably more HMOs than you think, and some of them may be yours! Since the 2004 Housing Act, the HMO definition (which is actually quite long and complicated) includes properties where three or more unrelated people share living accommodation. So this means four friends sharing, student houses and the like.
There are three main consequences if your property is an HMO:
- there are certain amenity standards you need to comply with
- you also need to comply with the HMO management regulations, and
- some HMOs may need to get a license from the Local Authority.
As the precise details of the obligations you need to comply with will vary from local authority to local authority, it is best to contact them direct and find out what is required in your area. You will find contact details via the Landlord Law Local Authority Directory .
Building and development
If you are doing any building work, you will need to comply with the building regulations and you may need planning permission. The two are separate – compliance with one does not mean compliance with the other. Again you should be able to get help from your local authority.
As well as complying with your obligations, you must also keep all paperwork carefully. Building regulation approval, receipts for new items bought for the property and any repair work done, PAT certificates, gas certificates, all of these things should be kept where you can find them if needed. Then if your tenant complains about something, you can (for example) show that it was checked and repaired before they went in, which means that any problems are more likely to be down to them rather than you.
Local authority powers
Finally, be aware that Local Authorities have powers under the Housing Act 2004 to carry out inspections of property under the Housing Health and Rating System (for example if called in by your tenants). If the property fails to meet standards they can serve an improvement notice on you. Failure to comply with this is a criminal offence.
However, if you have complied with all your legal obligations as set out above, then you should be reasonably safe from this.
OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
1. Have you got what it takes to be a landlord?
2. You are here | Make sure your property is legal before you rent
3. Check out your tenants or live to rue the day
4. Why you need to have the right tenancy agreement for your letting
5. All about tenancy deposits
6. How to increase rent the proper way
7. Help! My tenant has stopped paying rent – what do I do?
8. I think my tenant has left, can I change the locks?
9. What do you do if your tenant won’t leave when their section 21 notice expires?
10. The various and wondrous ways that tenancies end.
You will find some more tips on the legal aspects of getting a property to rent on my Landlord Law site.
About Tessa Shepperson
Tessa is a solicitor specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. Tessa’s subscription based website is an extremely well regarded legal resource tool amongst the legal profession, property managers and portfolio landlords.