The lowdown on landlord legal obligations

For new landlords in particular, making sense of all the responsibilities you have to your tenants can be quite a challenge. This handy guide will help you understand your landlord legal obligations.

The growing maze of landlord regulations and responsibilities

The increasing legal, regulatory and tax burdens on landlords have prompted some to believe that the government is committed to ‘taking on’ or even eradicating the buy-to-let sector. Whether or not you believe this to be the case, it is certainly true that the obligations and responsibilities on landlords have grown in recent years. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Immigration Act 2014 introduced an obligation on landlords to carry out a ‘Right to Rent’ check to ensure their tenants were legally entitled to live in the country
  • From October 2015, landlords were obliged to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their properties
  • Since October 2008, Landlords in England and Wales have had to get an Energy Performance Certificate and show this to new and prospective tenants.

Your private landlord responsibilities: Where do they come from?

Your landlord legal obligations stem in large part from our country’s laws and regulations, and partly from the terms of your particular tenancy. Private landlords in particular are subject to a significant number of obligations regardless of what’s included in their tenancy agreements. Let’s turn to these now.

Landlord safety obligations

Here is a brief summary of your safety obligations as a landlord in England and Wales. (Be aware that changes to the legislation happen often, so it’s advisable to seek regular advice, ideally from a legal expert or directly from the government.)

Fire

As a landlord you have to fulfil your fire safety obligations, which include:

  • providing a smoke alarm on each floor and a carbon monoxide alarm in rooms whether there is a useable fireplace or woodburner
  • ensuring that the furniture and furnishings you provide are fire-safe
  • checking that the tenant(s) have unimpeded access to escape routes

Gas

Any gas safety equipment you supply must be safely installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer. You must also have a registered engineer carry out an annual gas safety check. The tenant must receive a copy of the gas safety check record before they move in or no longer than 28 days after the check has been carried out.

Electrical

While there is no legal requirement to perform an annual electrical safety check, the landlord is still obliged to ensure that the electrical system, sockets and fittings are safe. Also, if any electrical appliances have been supplied by you, of if you have responsibility for them, your obligation is to make sure they are safe. Moreover, it is recommended that you make the relevant instructions available to your tenant(s) so they are aware of how to use appliances safely.

Energy Performance Certificate

You have a legal obligation to obtain an Energy Performance Certificate and show this to new and prospective tenants. Under no circumstances can the tenant be charged for this. However, even if the EPC rates the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the property poorly, the landlord is not legally required to improve it.

Maintenance

Your responsibilities in terms of maintenance and repair should be mostly laid out in the tenancy agreement. Outside of these terms, you may have additional responsibilities if the problems with the property amount to a:

  • private nuisance
  • statutory nuisance
  • situation specified in the Defective Premises Act 1972.

Houses in multiple occupation

Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) bring with them a separate set of standards and obligations on landlords. These include ensuring that there is/are

  • adequate fire safety procedures (including having licensed smoke detectors)
  • annual gas safety checks
  • electrical checks every five years
  • no overcrowding
  • adequate cooking and washing facilities
  • clean communal areas and shared facilities which are in good repair
  • sufficient means and procedures for waste disposal

Administrative responsibilities of a landlord

Landlords also face administrative obligations, covering issues such as:

The tenancy deposit scheme

Since April 2007, landlords in England and Wales have had a legal obligation to put their tenants’ deposits in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme (TDP). This is to make sure that tenants receive the money they’re owed at the end of their tenancies. The TDP scheme applies even if a third party (such as the tenants’ parents) paid the deposit.

Tax

You are obliged to declare your income fully to HMRC and pay the appropriate taxes. See our  infographic for landlords  for an overview of how recent tax changes affect buy-to-letters.

Commercial property landlord responsibilities

Commercial property landlord responsibilities differ sometimes markedly from those in the residential market. The terms defining what a commercial landlord is and isn’t responsible for tend to be more dependent on the lease agreement than statutory legal and regulatory obligations.

Most commercial lease agreements are FRI (full repairing and insuring) leases. This puts the onus onto the tenant to carry out electrical and fire safety checks, dealing with asbestos and maintaining the hygiene and cleanliness of the environment.

However, this is not to be considered ‘catch all’ guidance and we recommend getting legal advice to be sure of where the landlord legal obligations end and those of the tenant begin. Also see our article  on commercial landlords’ responsibilities around safety

Take the next step as a responsible landlord and  obtain landlord insurance  from NatWest.

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