Landlord Obligations: What You Need To Know

If you’re a new landlord, staring down the list of your obligations might feel pretty daunting at first. Not only do you now have landlord’s legal obligations to your tenants in terms of safety, maintenance and repairs to consider, there’s also landlord tax and tenant deposit schemes to get your head around.  

That’s why we’ve created this guide – to help you understand exactly what you’re responsible for in a clear, straightforward way.

Here, you’ll find the essential need-to-knows of your landlord requirements, including an overview of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, and how to avoid landlord negligence claims.

Landlord Legal Obligations

Let’s start with the legal side of things. Navigating the various landlord legal obligations can feel like wandering through a maze… one that keeps getting more complicated.

You might speak to a lot of people who feel that recent legislative changes have made life more difficult for buy-to-let landlords, particularly the landlord tax changes in 2017. However, if you make sure you’re clear right from the start on what your legal obligations are, there shouldn’t be too many surprises along the way.

Here’s a rundown of the key pieces of legislation you should be aware of as a landlord.

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985

In a nutshell, The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out the minimum standards when it comes to your tenants’ rights. As a landlord, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with your obligations under this legislation.

Here’s a brief summary of what’s covered in the Act:

●        Sections 1 to 3A cover your requirement to provide information about your identity, and your tenant’s rights if you sell your property

●        Sections 4 to 7 cover the information that must be contained in rent books

●        Sections 8 to 10 cover your requirement to make sure a property is “fit for human habitation” and outline the factors that will be considered to determine this

●        Sections 11* to 17 cover your obligations regarding repairs to your property, including:

o        Structure and exterior (e.g. drains, gutters and external pipes)

o        Water, gas, and electricity

o        Sanitation (e.g. basins, sinks, baths and toilets)

o        Heating and hot water

●        Sections 18 to 30 cover the limitation on service charges to your tenants

●        Section 31 outlines the Secretary of State’s power to limit rents

●        Sections 31A to 39 concern leasehold valuation, liabilities of directors and companies, and contain definitions

*More information about Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is included in the ‘Your maintenance and repair obligations’ section below

The Immigration Act 2014

The Immigration Act 2014 introduced an obligation on landlords in England to carry out a ‘Right to Rent’ check. This means that the responsibility falls to you to check that your tenant or lodger is legally allowed to rent your residential property. It applies to everyone aged 18 or over living in your property, even if they’re not named on the tenancy agreement, and if there is no formal (written) tenancy agreement in place.

It’s essential that you carry out these checks, as you could be hit with an unlimited fine or face imprisonment for renting your property to someone who isn’t allowed to stay in the country.

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

The Housing Act 2004 outlines your requirement to protect your tenants’ deposits on assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme (TDP).

A tenancy deposit is paid to you by your tenant at the beginning of their tenancy. It acts as your security, in case your tenant fails to meet the obligations outlined in their tenancy agreement.

Under this act, you must protect all deposits you take from your tenants in relation to the AST and issue all information about the deposit scheme to the tenant within 30 days of receiving it. This includes pet deposits and garage deposits, but not holding deposits.

A tenancy deposit scheme protects your tenants by ensuring they get back the money they’re owed at the end of their tenancy. Your obligation to hold deposits in a scheme applies even if a third party (such as the tenants’ parents) paid the deposit, and also applies to deposits which are paid in instalments (even if your tenants haven’t paid the full amount at the start of the tenancy, you must protect the total amount you expect to receive).

Paying your tax in full and on time

As with any income you receive, as a landlord you’re obliged to declare your full income to HMRC and it’s your responsibility to pay the appropriate taxes on time.

See our comprehensive articles on tax for more information:

●        A Guide To Landlord Tax

●        Landlord Tax Changes 2017: What You Need To Know

●        Non-Resident Landlords: An Expert Guide

●        Landlord Fees & Expenses Explained

Energy Performance Certificate

Since October 2008, landlords in England and Wales have been legally obliged to obtain an Energy Performance Certificate to share with new and prospective tenants. You are not allowed to charge tenants for this, it’s your requirement to cover the cost.

It’s worth noting that no matter how poorly the EPC rates the energy efficiency and environmental impact of your property, you’re not legally required to improve it. Though, of course, we’d advocate that you do!

Landlord Safety & Repair Obligations

In addition to your landlord legal obligations, you also have safety and repair obligations. Although technically, these are legal obligations too.

If you fail to meet your safety and repair obligations, and this results in illness or injury to your tenants, you could find yourself facing a landlord negligence claim.

For example, your tenants could accuse you of landlord negligence if you didn’t complete repairs after they requested them, and as a result they injured themselves, or their belongings got damaged.

You want both you and your tenants to be happy and feel protected, so here’s a (very) brief overview of the safety obligations for landlords in England and Wales.

Landlord maintenance and repair obligations

As a first step, you must familiarise yourself with Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which covers your essential legal obligations. Your responsibilities in terms of maintenance and repair should also be expressly laid out in a formal tenancy agreement.

Legally, as outlined in the Act, you are responsible for keeping in repair:

●        The structure and exterior of the property (e.g. walls, roof, foundations, drains, guttering and external pipes, windows and external doors)

●        Sanitation of the property (e.g. basins, sinks, baths, toilets and their pipework)

●        Essential utilities (e.g. wiring, water tanks, boilers, radiators, gas and fitted electric fires, fitted heaters)

Find more information in Landlord Repair Obligations & Time Frames

You may also have additional responsibilities if the problems with your property are deemed:

●        A private nuisance (an interference with a person's enjoyment and use of their land)

●        A statutory nuisance (something that, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, affects a person's health or causes disturbance to them in their property)

●        A situation specified in the Defective Premises Act 1972 (which covers landlords’ and builders’ liability for poorly constructed and poorly maintained buildings)

And finally, you may have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to your property for disabled tenants in line with the Equality Act 2010. Find more information about this on the Citizens Advice website.

Fire safety for landlords

As of October 2015, the law states that you must install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in all your residential properties. Additional obligations on top of this are:

●        To provide a smoke alarm on each floor

●        To provide an additional carbon monoxide alarms in rooms where there is a useable fireplace or woodburner

●        To ensure all furniture and furnishings you provide are fire-safe

●        To check that your tenant(s) have unobstructed access to fire escape routes

Find more information: Fire Safety Regulations For Landlords

Gas safety for landlords

It’s essential that any gas safety equipment you supply is safely installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer. You must also have a registered engineer carry out an annual gas safety check. Your 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.

Find more information: A Guide To Landlord Boiler Cover

Electrical safety for landlords

While you don’t have a legal requirement to perform an annual electrical safety check, it is your responsibility to make sure that all electrical wiring, sockets and fittings in your property are safe.

If you’ve supplied any electrical appliances in the property (e.g. white goods such as fridges, washing machines or dishwashers), you also have an obligation to make sure they’re safe. It’s strongly recommended that you provide usage instructions to your tenants, so they know how to use appliances safely.

Landlord obligations for other property types

Houses in multiple occupation (HMOs)

If you own and are renting out a house in multiple occupation (HMO), then this places a whole separate set of standards and obligations on you as a landlord.

These additional obligations include:

●        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

If you’re unsure about any of your landlord obligations regarding HMOs, we recommend seeking professional legal advice.

Commercial property

If you’re a commercial property landlord, your responsibilities will differ quite significantly from those of a residential landlord.

The main difference is that the terms defining what you are and aren’t responsible for tend to be dependent on a lease agreement, rather than statutory legal and regulatory obligations.

Most commercial lease agreements are Full Repairing and Insuring (FRI) leases. This puts the onus on the tenant to carry out electrical and fire safety checks, deal with asbestos, and maintain the hygiene and cleanliness of the property.

If you’re considering becoming a commercial property landlord, we recommend seeking expert legal advice around where your legal obligations as a landlord end and those of your commercial tenants begin.

Find more information at Know Your Commercial Landlord Responsibilities Around Safety

Remember, changes to legislation happen often, so whether you’re a new or existing landlord, we’d always recommend that you seek advice from a legal expert or the government.

Take the next step as a responsible landlord and talk to us about your landlord insurance.

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