For some individuals, a buy to let business might be their entire livelihood. For others, it might have been something into which they have fallen almost by accident – a property they inherited or a home in which they no longer live – the so-called accidental landlord. (Our own recent research, in fact, found that nearly half of our landlord customers are accidental landlords).
Whether you are either of these, an immediately hands-on landlord or one who has put the day to day administration of managing tenancies in the hands of a letting agent, you owe a host of special obligations and responsibilities as a landlord.
You need to adhere to these obligations as a matter of law and, by so doing, ensure that the essential landlord insurance which is in place to protect your investment continues to be valid.
So, what are some of those obligations?
Health and safety
- your fundamental obligation is in providing accommodation in which it is safe for your tenants to live and which is free from any health hazards;
- in some areas of the country, these standards may be supported and enforced by what is known as selective licensing by local authorities – in which case your property needs to be registered with and inspected by the local authority if it is to be let to tenants;
- Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – where several households share basic amenities such as bathrooms and toilets or kitchens – are especially subject to licensing requirements and with large HMOs (in taller buildings and with more than three households sharing basic facilities) there is a national requirement for them to be licensed;
- licences set out the particular and detailed obligations you have as a landlord, including your need to show that you are a “fit and proper” person – free of any convictions for housing offences or fraud, for example;
- amongst your specific health and safety obligations, protection of your tenants from injury or death through gas-related incidents is paramount;
- all landlords – whatever the type of let property or the nature of the buy to let business – must arrange an annual inspection of the gas supply, fittings and appliances by a registered Gas Safe engineer;
- a copy of the engineer’s safety certificate must be given to new tenants when they move in or to sitting tenants within at least 28 days of the inspection;
- you also have a legal obligation for maintaining a safe electricity supply and appliances that are safe and in good working order;
- although there is no specific requirement for periodic inspection, the electrical installation and appliances typically need checking at least once every five years or upon any change of tenancy;
- in accordance with national and local fire regulations, you have an obligation to provide accessible fire escape routes and to ensure that they remain clear at all times;
- the law also requires that you fit smoke alarms on every floor of the let property and install carbon monoxide detectors in any room which has a solid-fuel (coal or wood-burning) fire;
- in some let property comprising flats and bedsits, a statutory Fire Safety Order and its associated inspections may be necessary, explains the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA);
Right to Rent
- you also have an obligation (if your property is in England) to make the checks necessary to ensure that tenants and members of their household have a right to rent your property, in accordance with provisions of the Immigration Act;
- you have the right to ask your tenants for a deposit – as security against future breakages or damage caused by them, for example – but that money must be placed with an approved, independent third party, in compliance with the Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme;
- you are obliged to give your tenants due written notice to quit your let property and it is illegal to harass or bring undue pressure on them to do so;
- you may not take possession of the property without a court order to that effect.
Becoming a landlord is a serious business – and that is true whether the buy to let property is your principal livelihood or whether you are simply an accidental landlord.
The same obligations and responsibilities attach to the role of landlord in any guise and there are legal sanctions to ensure that you comply.
This may also impact upon your landlord insurance. If you have knowingly or flagrantly ignored or breached your obligations, and subsequently make a claim for any loss or damage which follows, you may find that this may be rejected by your insurer or that your actions may have amounted to contributory negligence and the value of any settlement reduced accordingly.