Landlord life isn't always easy - there's lots of legislation to understand and plenty of red tape to get wrapped up in. The Urban.co.uk Legal Landlord quiz put ten common queries to landlords across the UK, here's how you did:
Q. How often do you need to apply for a Gas Safety Certificate at your rental property?
- Annually - 48.6%
- Monthly - 39.5%
- Daily - 6.6%
- Whenever - 5.3%
As well as potentially leaving their tenants at risk, failing to follow this procedure correctly is a criminal offence, and could leave landlords facing a custodial prison sentence, a hefty fine and even being unable to regain possession of their property via a section 21 notice.
If there is gas in your property you are legally required to have a gas safety check carried out annually by a registered Gas Safe engineer. You can find a full list of Gas Safe engineers in your area here: www.gassaferegister.co.ukThe engineer will attend your property and check the safety of all appliances and flues, and issue you with a certificate proving that the check has been carried out. You should keep this certificate in your records for at least two years. You also have a legal requirement to provide a copy to your tenant within 28 days of the check being carried out.
The check may highlight maintenance or remedial work that needs to be carried out on your appliances or flues – you must act on this as soon as possible and keep a record to prove that you have done so. Failure to act on advisories from a Gas Safe engineer could result in a hefty fine of up to £30,000 if a subsequent improvement notice has to be issued by the council.
You must also provide carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in any rooms which contain a solid fuel burning appliance. This does not include a gas boiler. It is your responsibility to test the alarm at the start of the tenancy, and your tenant’s responsibility thereafter, but it is a good idea to check during routine maintenance visits. Failure to have an alarm in place carries a fine of up to £5,000.
It’s very worrying that over 50% of landlords are unaware of the correct procedures to follow with regards to gas safety in their rental properties – the importance of understanding gas safety cannot be overstated! As well as the obvious cost implications involved, your tenant’s safety should be of the paramount importance, and ensuring that all appliances in your property are safe and well maintained is vital.Adam Male, Urban.co.uk founder
Q. If you successfully apply for a MEES exemption, how long is it valid for?
- Indefinitely - 1.6%
- Until tenant changes - 8.4%
- Five years - 2.9%
- It varies - 87%
Minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) were introduced on April 1st 2018, and were brought into force to help encourage the PRS to provide more energy efficient accommodation.
The legislation states that a property with an EPC rating of at less than E cannot legally grant a new tenancy or renew an existing tenancy, unless they have registered an exemption. The rules will apply to all tenancies, new and existing, by April 2020.
There are a wide variety of exemptions, with many differing time frames. They are:ExemptionEvidence requiredTime it lastsThe costs of increasing the rating would exceed the cost-cap of £2,500 (which must be financed by the landlord) and you have not been able to access additional ‘no cost’ fundingA description of why you have been unable to obtain funding and evidence to demonstrate that you have been unable to access funding to fully cover the cost of improvements (refusal letters)Five yearsAll possible improvements (recommended by a surveyor) have been made, but the property still remains below a band E.A copy of the relevant report (prepared by a RICS-qualified surveyor) stating that there are no relevant improvements that could be made and full details, (including receipts, installation documentation etc) of any improvements that have been madeFive yearsThe property is not suitable for certain types of insulation, specifically wall insulationA copy of a report (prepared by a RICS-qualified surveyor) clearly stating that the property's built structure is not suitable for wall insulation, and that installing this method would have a detrimental impact on the property.Five yearsYour tenant/mortgage lender/ does not consent to the changes.A copy of any correspondence or supporting evidence showing that you attempted to gain consent but it was refused, or was granted subject to a condition that you could not comply with.
This exemption is only valid while the tenant lives at the property.
You will need to make improvements when the tenant leaves the property, or after five yearsMaking the required changes would reduce the market value of the property, or the building it forms part of, by more than 5%.A copy of the report prepared by an independent RICS-qualified surveyor that provides evidence that the installation of relevant measures would devalue the property by more than 5%.Fiver yearsYou have only just taken over the property and need a grace period to put the changes in place.The date and the circumstances in which you took over the property as the landlordSix months
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in property, so it’s great that the government realised that many landlords could struggle to comply with the MEES regulations and provided such a wide breadth of exemptions to make it simpler. However, as with every element of landlord legislation, it’s vital to be fully familiar with the requirements of your exemption, it’s a complicated system and easy to trip up on if you’re not organised and confident on the regulations.Adam Male, Urban.co.uk founder
Q. When the new HMO regulations come into force in October*, what is the minimum size room you will be able to let to a single adult tenant?
*results collected before regulations were in force
- 6.51 square meters - 17.9%
- 7.62 square meters - 69.6
- 4.64 square meters - 3.9%
- 10.22 square meters - 8.55%
The changes to HMO room sizes came into force on 1st October 2018, with the introduction of the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation Order 2018 legislation.
The new rules outline a series of minimum room sizes for rooms used for sleeping, with three size ranges depending on the tenant. These are:
• 4.64 square metre for a bedroom occupied by a child under 10 years old• 6.51 square metre for a bedroom occupied by a person over 10 years old• 10.22 square metre for a bedroom occupied by two people over 10 years old
Rooms below the 4.64 square metre minimum cannot be used for sleeping and any floor area under a ceiling lower than 1.5 metres is not to be included in the calculation of available floor space. Local authorities are able to request larger minimum room sizes, but they have no discretion to allow smaller rooms to be occupied.
The size of other communal areas of the property cannot be used to compensate against a bedroom that does not meet the size requirements, and ensuite bathrooms cannot be considered when measuring rooms used for sleeping.
Councils can allow 18 months for a landlord to rectify a space situation, so tenants do not have to be evicted straight away if there are space concerns. If the landlord fails to comply with the space requirements after this time they will be breaching the terms of their HMO licence, which is a criminal offence, and they could be prosecuted in magistrates court and an unlimited fine could be charged. Alternatively, the council could issue a penalty notice of up to £30,000, and their HMO licence could be revoked.
This legislation has created havoc among the HMO community, with many landlords unsure where to turn – this much is clear from the results of the survey. Indeed, it seems that even many local authorities are confused, with conflicting information being reported on websites, so it is no real surprise that landlords are finding it difficult to pin down the correct information. This poor management of a vital legislation has left many tenants vulnerable to eviction, simply due to landlord confusion. In this ever-more unstable housing market, it is unlikely that this was the government’s aim! This poor communication of such a vital legislation change highlights the issues many landlords face - they try to comply with ever-changing legislation, but are slowed down by a lack of clear and concise information laying out the facts in a way that they can apply to their properties.Adam Male, Urban.co.uk founder
Q. Under the new GDPR regulations, what document should you issue to your tenants to help ensure compliance?
- Environmental policy - 89.4%
- Privacy notice - 9.7%
- Solicitors contact details - 0.4%
- Shoe size - 0.3%
- Other -0.2%
The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) is a European-wide regulation designed to standardise the handling of data – every business in Europe is bound by the rules. It is an update to the well-known Data ProtectionAct. Whatever happens with Brexit, it is one European regulation that is not going anywhere!
One of the key elements to being compliant with GDPR is registering with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). Landlords are a business, and handle sensitive data, so the £40 annual registration to this UK-widedatabase is vital. You can register here: www.ico.org.uk
This document lays out your ‘data handling plan’ in detail, giving your tenant a clear overview of how you intend to manage their personal information. These can be tricky to write yourself, but there are plenty of landlord-specific onesavailable from organisations such as the National Landlords Association.
You must also make sure that you are considering the wider view, such as the organisations you interact with. You may pass your tenants data onto your letting agent, referencing company, managing agent, even your plumber - if they do, you should make sure that they are fully compliant with GDPR too. Ask to see a copy of their privacy notice and check that they’re ICO registered.
With GDPR definitely taking the crown for topic of the year, it’s a surprise to see that nearly 90% of landlords are still in the dark about one of the key compliance components. With potentially hefty fines and the potential for your tenant to sue you for damages should their data be compromised in any way, understanding your GDPR responsibility is vital for anyone in business, and no more so than a landlord. After all, with referencing reports, right to rent checks and tenancy agreements, we hold a huge amount of data on our tenants - it’s only fair that we hold it correctly!Adam Male, founder of Urban.co.uk
Q. Issuing Prescribed Information when you take a deposit is a vital step. But who needs to receive it?
- Anyone who made a financial contribution to the deposit - 9.3%
- The lead tenant named on the tenancy agreement - 34.8%
- Anyone who you carried out a Right to Rent check on - 18.6%
- All tenants, and the Information Commissioners Office - 37.2%
Prescribed information is a vital part of the deposit process, and is a legal requirement. It describes a suite of documents that must be issued to everyone who has contributed to the deposit, and includes:
• Information about the scheme in which you have protected the deposit (most have a form you can download online• Information about the tenancy and how it allows you to utilise the deposit (what you can deduct, how a deposit could be used etc)• Copy of the deposit protection certificate/receipt.• You must also issue a copy of the EPC, the gas safety certificate, a copy of the How to Rent Booklet, and a signed tenancy agreement at the start of the tenancy
The deposit must be registered and the prescribed information has to be sent within 30 days of the deposit being received by the you or someone acting on your behalf). This includes your agent, so make sure you know that they have sent the information, or let you know to send it. It is perfectly acceptable to serve prescribed information by email, post, or in person – just make sure that however you choose to do so, you have a record that you have sent it, and when.
If you fail to send prescribed information within 30 days, your tenant (or contributor) is able to make a claim for the return of the full deposit, as well as a penalty of between one and three times the sum of the amount. Previous tenants also have the right to a penalty award, even when a tenancy has ended.
In addition, you would be unable to issue a section 21 notice until you have returned the deposit in full (or with deductions that the tenant agrees to) or if the tenant has taken proceedings against you for failing to protect the deposit, and those proceedings have been concluded, withdrawn or settled.
As property becomes pricier, more and more people are turning to the Bank of Mum and Dad to take their first step onto the property ladder, but not only to buy a property – often tenants have help with deposits too, and this can lead to the landlord tripping up on this step. With only 9.3% of landlords aware that prescribed information must be sent to everyone who contributed to the deposit, it is clear that a whopping 91% of landlords could find themselves learning a costly lesson should this go wrong.Adam Male, founder of Urban.co.uk
Q. What are the legal smoke alarm requirements for a rental property?
- None - 2%
- One on every storey - 31.8%
- One throughout the premises - 32%
- Seven on every storey - 34%
- Other - 0.1%
You have a responsibility to ensure that your tenants are as protected as possible within your property, and this extends to making sure there are appropriate warning systems in place, as well as fire protection methods should the worst happen.
In order to comply with the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, a single residential home is to have a smoke alarm on each inhabited floor of the property. Scottish landlords have more significant requirements and must provide a series of interlinked alarms, including a smoke alarm in all rooms used for daytime living, a smoke alarm in all hallways and landings, and a heat alarm in the kitchen. It is likely that legislation in England will eventually be amended to reflect this process. Currently, legislation states that alarms must be tested at the start of the tenancy, and thereafter it is the responsibility of the tenant, but regular tests during routine maintenance visits are suggested.
Furthermore, you must make sure that all furniture (including soft furnishings) are fully compliant with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988. They must meet the following criteria:
• Filling materials must meet specified ignition requirements• Upholstery composites must be cigarette resistant• Covers must be match resistant• A permanent label must be fitted to every item of new furniture (with the exception of mattresses and bed-bases)• A display label must be fitted to every item of new furniture at the point of sale (with the exception of mattresses, bed-bases, pillows, scatter cushions, seat pads, loose covers sold separately from the furniture and stretch covers)• The first supplier of domestic upholstered furniture in the UK must maintain records for five years to prove compliance
HMOs have more legislation to implement, including the requirement for marked access routes, fire doors, hard wired smoke alarms in bedrooms and communal areas.
Following the Grenfell Tower disaster, the spotlight was thrown on fire safety in the PRS, and it is clear that many landlords are unsure as to how to properly move forwards in providing a safe and compliant home for their tenants. Many are eagerly awaiting further legislation to clarify the ‘next step’ in protection, however whatever that next step looks like, it is vitally important that the safety of today’s tenants is properly managed – this is one element of landlord legislation that cannot afford any grey areas.Adam Male, founder of Urban.co.uk
Q. How long is a Section 21 valid for once it has been issued?
- Until the process is complete and possession has been regained - 11.9%
- Six months from the date of it being served - 85.9%
- Twelve months from the date of it being served - 1.4%
- Indefinitely, as long as the tenant has signed a consent form - 0.8%
A section 21 notice is a document served to a tenant with an AST by the landlord (or agent) in England and Wales, giving them advance warning of your intention to regain possession of the property.
To serve a section 21 notice in England you must complete Form 6a and in Wales you must use an appropriately drafted notice, a completed copy of which must then be provided to your tenant. The notice cannot be issued until at least four months after the tenancy first starts, giving notice for the tenant to leave at six months. If your tenant pays their rent quarterly, or every six months, they must be given one full rental period of notice.
You can serve the notice by hand, via the post (make sure you get a proof of postage) or via email. If you deliver the document in person, you should take a witness who is willing to sign a document to prove that you did deliver thedocument to the address, and on what date.
Before you are able to serve a section 21 in England, you must make sure that you have all your landlord legalities in place. You must have completed the following:
- Provided all tenants with a copy of the property’s up-to-date EPC, current gas safety certificate and the government issued ‘How to rent booklet’
- A registered Gas Safe Engineer has carried out an annual gas safety check on the property, and you have provided your tenants with a copy of the resulting certificate within 28 days of the check.
- You have a minimum of two years’ worth of gas safety certificates for the property stored
- The deposit has been properly protected and everyone who has contributed to the deposit has been issued with Prescribed Information.
- If your property or you as a landlord, require a licence you must make sure that all licensing is in place and that your tenant has been issued with a copy of the licence.
The results show that an overwhelming percentage of landlords (85.9%) understand the correct usage of the notice, however there are still a small percentage (0.8%) of landlords that believe that the notice is an indefinite opportunity to evict, which is a concern. Worryingly, a significant number (11.9%) believe that the document is valid until possession has been regained, which could lead to them being disappointed should they come up against any lengthy delays during the process. It is likely that it is this small percentage of landlords who do not properly understand the system are at the heart of the issue, and it is understandable that campaign groups are worried about tenant’s security if this is the picture that is painted of landlords in the PRS. ‘It is vitally important that as an industry we shake off this image of a ‘Rigsby-style landlord’, but it is increasingly challenging when a few bad apples paint the picture of the entire landlord community.’Adam Male, founder of Urban.co.uk
Q. How much notice do you have to give your tenant before you enter the property for a routine check?
- 12 hours - 37.5%
- 36 hours - 39.4%
- No notice - 4.7%
- 24 hours - 18.3%
- Other - 0.1%
Under the Housing Act 1988, there are strict rules surrounding a landlord’s right to access a tenanted property. You are legally obligated to provide at least 24 hours’ notice to your tenant, and the tenant is perfectly within their rights to refuse you access.
When you sign a tenancy agreement, you are agreeing to allow the tenant full possession of the property, and they have right to the full use and enjoyment of the property for the term stipulated in the tenancy agreement. It is entirely at their discretion who they allow entry to during that time – including you.
The only instances in which you are able to enter without your tenant’s consent are if there is a genuine emergency, and the life of your tenant/other people in the building or the building/property is at risk if you don’t. This could include: a fire, gas or water leak, severe structural damage or a violent/criminal incident.
If you push your tenant to allow access, or enter without their consent, you are at risk of being prosecuted for tenant harassment under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Tenant harassment can be difficult to quantify – ranging from visiting the property unannounced, to threats to evict if rent is not paid - but the law states that it is defined as:
• (a) he does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or• (b) he persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises in question as a residence,• and (in either case) he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that that conduct is likely to cause the residential occupier to give up the occupation of the whole or part of the premises or to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the whole or part of the premises.
It is a common comment that landlords find it difficult to ‘let go’ of their properties, even when a tenant is in situ, and find it hard to understand that they no longer have access without the say so of the tenant. However, it is important to remember that the property is no longer ‘yours’ to access, it is your tenant’s home and that takes priority over any other concern. I wonder how the 5% of landlords who didn’t think it was necessary to give any notice would feel if their tenant let themselves into their home unannounced? Unless their home was at risk, or there was danger to life, it is unlikely that they would be too impressed!Adam Male, founder of Urban.co.uk
Q. In which situation might you use a Deed of Surrender?
- Removing squatters from your property - 3%
- Allowing your tenant to exit a tenancy agreement early - 93.7%
- Chasing unpaid rent arrears - 0.7%
- Passing over responsibility for utility bills and council tax from one tenant to another- 2.6%
A deed of surrender is a useful document used to formally and mutually bring a tenancy to an end, often before the lease is officially completed.
The document is signed by both the tenant and the landlord, and allows the tenant to surrender their legal interest and responsibilities over the property, waiving any legal rights or possession over the property as they do so. Once the landlord signs the document, they agree to accept the tenant’s surrender of the property, fully and absolutely. The tenant is no longer liable to pay rent for the property when a deed of surrender has been signed by both parties.
A deed is an important legal document, and the must be signed in the presence of one or more witnesses. It is a good idea to have a witness present on behalf of the landlord, and one there on behalf of the tenant if possible. A witness must be over the age of 18, not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and have full mental capacity.
Once the document has been signed, it is then expected that the tenant will remove all belongings (if they haven’t already) and hand the keys back to the landlord. If they fail to do this, the tenant would be classed as a trespasser on the property, as they have surrendered all legal rights to the property.
An astute landlord will recognise that a tenant that doesn’t want to be living in a property is unlikely to be happy, and therefore may not necessarily be the best tenant, so utilising the deed of surrender to free both tenant and landlord from the tenancy agreement can be a great idea. To see that such a high proportion of landlords understand this helpful option is great news for tenants. It suggests that the industry is responsive to their needs and that landlords are aware of the options available to them that allow them to work with their tenants and let them leave a lease early should they need to, rather than everyone being stuck in a miserable tenancy.Adam Male, Founder of Urban.co.uk
Q. If your local authority has a selective licensing scheme in place, which properties will require a licence?
- Holiday lets - 43.5%
- Just HMOs within the district that is subject to the licensing scheme - 23.9%
- Private residential rental properties that fall within the district that is subject to the licensing scheme - 17.1%
- All rental properties that fall within the local authority’s boundaries - 15.5%
Selective licensing is a type of licensing scheme introduced by some local authorities in areas that they feel are struggling with housing issues, such as homelessness, empty homes and anti-social behaviour. Selective licensing schemes are introduced in a bid to tackle these issues, working on managing poor housing conditions, deprivation in the local area, or crime.
Schemes are introduced to cover a specific geographical area (this may be two streets or a whole postcode area) and all privately rented properties that fall within the scheme’s boundary are required to be licensed. Failure to obtain a licence can result in a fine of up to £30,000.
There are some exemptions that do not require a selective licence:
• If a prohibition order is in force on the property• If the property has business tenancies / a licensed premises / used for agriculture• If the property is managed/controlled by a local housing authority or public body• If the building is regulated under other legislation (care homes / hostels)• If the building is occupied by students and managed by a University or College• Holiday lets• If the occupier shares facilities (a toilet, bathroom, kitchen or living space) with the landlord In order to secure a selective licence, there are a few boxes that a landlord must tick: • Undergo a fit and proper person test: this is a check designed to ensure that the landlord is an appropriate person to be managing a rental property• Must commit to obtaining references for all prospective tenant before letting any property subject that falls within a selective licensing area
• Some local authorities require a plan from the landlord to understand how they look to tackle anti-social behaviour in their property
Whilst licensing schemes are undoubtedly designed to benefit the industry – something we all support - many landlords are left feeling like they drew the short straw, as they work hard to complete paperwork and comply with complicated requirements, simply because they lost the postcode lottery. However, with more and more areas exploring the possibility of selective licensing, it is more important than ever for landlords to be switched on to all of the changes in this area, and the industry as a whole – whether they think they impact them or not.Adam Male, Founder of Urban.co.uk
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