Decide on your target market
This will to a large extent be decided by the type of property you own and its location. Properties in desirable areas with good transport links, in or to major cities, good facilities such as entertainment and restaurants, dry cleaners and laundries etc, will always attract high end or middle market tenants – working and professionals.
On the other hand, if your property is in a rundown area or is in “multi-occupied bed-sit land”, then you may be looking at tenants that come with less security: lower incomes, perhaps on Housing Benefit, or perhaps students. In all these cases expect more problems and to be doing more work as their landlord. On the other hand, multi-occupied properties provide landlords with higher incomes.
Here we will assume you are letting to working and professional tenants, so your accommodation standards need to be fairly high to attract the right sort of tenant against your competition – all other landlords in the district.
A run down, poorly maintained and presented property will attract tenants with similar standards – this would not be a good place in which to start off.
It’s not complicated to get your property into good tenantable condition – it just takes time and some money. If you like DIY (most landlords do some for themselves) then you can save a lot of money.
Developing contacts with a team of local tradesmen you can call on when needed is a good strategy. You should always treat good tradesmen well and pay them on time. That way you a least stand a chance of getting them when your want them, though there’s no guarantee – good trades people are always in high demand.
Make sure that your property is well maintained and presented both inside and out – what agents call “kerb appeal” means that a good tenant driving past will be attracted to the property.
Go for neutral colours in decor and fabrics – gaudy colours do not suit everyone. Most of us can live with whites, creams and the landlord’s favourite, magnolia. Carpets are best when they are darker (not too dark) colours which don’t show stains too easily – a brown carpet perhaps with light speckles will not easily show stains and spills.
Don’t neglect the garden or balcony, if there is one. Good, usable outside space is a valuable asset and comes at a premium, especially in major towns and cities, so it can considerably increase your rental income. Keep gardens as maintenance free as possible as most tenants do not want a lot of work maintaining the garden – simple lawns, decking areas, patios and potted plants are good.
You might like to consider using the services of a gardener and/or cleaner in your lettings. The cost will be included in the rent and it has the effect of keeping tenants “on their toes”.
Other Things Worth Considering:
- Have enough sets of keys cut for yourself, the agent and future tenants
- There’s little or no difference in rental values for furnished or unfurnished property, and there’s no difference as far as tenancy legislation goes, so be flexible so that you encourage as many potential tenants as possible.
- Provide day-to-day items such as a vacuum cleaner, mop, bucket, brushes etc, to encourage your tenant to keep the place clean. But generally keep items supplied to a minimum to reduce the risk of injury claims – electrical appliances, knives, garden tools etc.
- When letting your own home always remove any items personal items of financial or sentimental value you wouldn’t want damaged or broken.
- Get the place professionally cleaned before the tenants moves in.
- Don’t use a part of the premises to store your own belongings. Technically, if you cordon off a part of the premises for yourself (attic, spare room) you could find yourself responsible for Council tax.
- Defrost and thoroughly clean the fridge and freezer. Make sure all radiators are bled and working efficiently. Check that smoke alarms are fitted with new batteries when this applies.
- Provided a Tenant Pack with useful information about the property, stop tap locations, bin days, etc. Provide photo copies of operating instruction manuals for all the appliances and keep the originals safe yourself.
Anyone living in rented accommodation can expect their home to be in good repair, warm, secure with all services working and free from health and safety hazards. Landlords of rented accommodation are required by the law to ensure that all such accommodation meets the legal minimum requirements.
Local Councils all have powers to take action against landlords who let property which is below the requited standards. Councils can issue landlords with enforcement orders to get repairs done, they can carry out the repairs themselves and charge the landlords, and they can bring criminal prosecutions against landlords.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
Having an EPC in place before you start to market your rental property is now a legal requirement. Getting a specialist surveyor to check the property and issue a certificate will cost in the region of £75 to £100 for an average size house. These certificates last for 10 years. It’s now a criminal offence for a landlord or agent to market a property without a valid EPC on file.
As a landlord you can be held liable if your tenant or a visitor to the rental property is injured through your own negligence under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and the Defective Premises Act 1972. You also have obligations for maintenance and repairs under Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
If you as the landlord have not complied with the legal requirements, that is done the necessary checks or if you know of defects (you have been put on notice by your tenant to do repairs), or when you should have known in the circumstances, you could be held liable if death or injuries result.
For this reason it is very important that landlords have a good landlord’s insurance policy that protects them against public liability claims up to a minimum of £5 million. See Landlords Liability for Injury.
Note, however that an insurance policy will not protect you against criminal acts for not complying with legislation, some of which can result in a criminal record and even prison.
It is not difficult for landlords to make sure that everything is safe – it’s a matter of paying attention to detail and being aware of the rules and regulations involved. If you do your job properly you will have all the documentary evidence you need to show that you have complied and you will not put yourself or your tenants at risk.
The key safety requirements are:
As a landlord, you are legally responsible for the safety of your tenants. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 deal with landlords’ duties to make sure gas appliances, fittings and flues provided for tenants are safe.
You are responsible for the maintenance and repair of flues, appliances and pipe work which you own and have provided for your tenants use by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Although there is no prescribed timeframe for these duties, good practice would be the demonstration of regular, annual maintenance checks and subsequent repairs.
You are also responsible for ensuring an annual gas safety check is carried out within 12 months of the installation of a new appliance or flue which you provide and annually thereafter by a Gas
Safe Registered engineer. You must keep a record of the safety check for 2 years and issue a copy to each existing tenant within 28 days of the check being completed and issue a copy to any new tenants before they move in.
- HSE Information on Gas Checks for Landlords and Agents:
- Gas safe Register of gas Engineers
As a landlord you are responsible for ensuring that all electrical equipment, appliances, wiring system and consumer unit supplied to tenants is safe. You are not required by law to have an electrical safety certificate issued as is the case with gas, but you are strongly advised to have regular safety checks.
You should have your electrical system checked every 5 years and appliances checked on every tenant change. It’s good practice to arrange for a Portable Appliance Test (PAT) for all the electrical appliances in your property when you let it. Some gas engineers will also carry out electrical checks saving you the bother of two visits.
- Electrical Safety Council Guide for Landlords
- Landlords Guide for Electrical Safety in Scotland
Furniture and Furnishings Safety
The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 set out safety requirements for soft furnishings such as cushions, beds, sofas and pillows supplied to tenants in rental properties. It is a legal requirement that all your furnishings comply.
Recently purchased items will usually automatically comply and should carry a fire safety label. Old items of furniture and furnishings many not comply if they don’t carry a safety label. These items must be replaced.
The Building Regulations (1991) state that all properties built since June 1992 must be fitted with mains operated interlinked smoke detectors/alarms with at least one detector per floor level.
It is also the case that all Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are required to supply mains operated interlinked smoke alarm system.
In the case of older single family rental properties, technically there is no legal requirement for landlords to provide a smoke alarm.
However, it is strongly recommended that landlords do provide at least a battery operated smoke alarm or alarms in their rented properties, one on each level.
Where landlords do provide battery operated smoke alarms they should have a clause in the agreement making it clear that it is the tenant’s responsibility to check their operation and replace the batteries as and when necessary.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal.
There have usually been several cases of poisoning by carbon monoxide in rental properties every year.
Although there is no legal requirement for landlords to provide carbon monoxide detectors it’s a good idea to do so when tenants are in close proximity to gas appliances, boilers, fires, cookers. It has been known for CO to seep through from adjoining properties.
Lodgers are not classed as tenants and do not have the full protection of the Housing Acts so they can be asked to leave with minimal notice.
A lodger situation exists where the lodger lives in and shares all facilities with the landlord. Also, they do not have exclusive possession of any part of the property – the landlord has access to their room.
Home owners are allowed up to 2 lodgers before their property comes under the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) rules. As a live in landlord, you are allowed two ‘non family’ lodgers before your property can be classed as an HMO.
When a tenant lives in the same building as the landlord, but has a separate entrance and their own facilities (washing, cooking and toilet), in other words they do have exclusive possession of part of the building, they too do not have full Housing Act protection.
In this situation the tenant is a common law tenant with common law rights, similar to a commercial tenancy. They can be evicted without going through the Housing Act possession procedure by issuing a notice to quit and if necessary seeking a court order.
Houses in Multiple Occupation(HMOs)
Under the Housing Act 2004, a property is classed as an HMO if there are three or more occupiers who form two or more households and who share a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.
A household is generally a family unit (including parents, grandparents, children (and step-children), grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces or cousins, plus half relatives and foster children).
If, you take in your brother as a lodger, this will not count as a separate household. Also, any ‘domestic staff’, for example an au pair or nanny is exempt.
If you were to take in three non-family lodgers your property will probably be an HMO. However if you take in two brothers and your cousin, and have a live in au pair, your property will not be an HMO, even though there will be more people there.
Mandatory HMO licensing applies to all privately rented properties with 3 or more storeys occupied by five or more people who form two or more households.
In this situation, a landlord of a HMO must apply for a licence to their local authority to operate their HMO. Failure to do so can result in a heavy fine.
Running a large HMO is a little more specialist type of business that most new landlords would contemplate, but if you do you need to ensure that:
- The property is occupied by a specified maximum number of occupants.
- There are adequate amenities in place for the occupants e.g. kitchens and bathrooms.
- The landlord has a valid license for letting HMO properties.
Fire Safety in HMOs must generally reach a higher standard than ordinary letting and should include:
- Fire warning systems such as fire alarms and heat or smoke detectors. These should be placed throughout the building, particularly in escape routes and high risk areas, such as kitchens.
- Fire warning systems should be serviced and checked regularly.
- Fire equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets. At least 1 fire extinguisher of the correct type should be provided on every floor, and checked regularly. At least 1 fire blanket should be provided in each shared kitchen.
- An escape route that can resist fire, smoke and fumes long enough for everyone to leave. This could be an external fire escape, or specially treated fire resistant internal stairs and corridors.
- All doors leading to the escape route must be also be fire resistant and must close automatically.
Health & Safety:
Under the Housing Act 2004, a new way for Local Housing Authorities to assess housing conditions has been introduced.
This replaces the old ‘unfitness’ standard. It looks at the effect that deficiencies in the home can have on the health and safety of occupants and visitors by using a risk assessment approach called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
The aim of individual risk assessment is to reduce or eliminate hazards to health and safety in domestic accommodation.
- Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
Potentially there are 29 hazards and each hazard is assessed separately and rated according to how serious likelihood of harm. For the first time the hazard of ‘Fire’ has been recognised as applying across all tenures.
This change has brought housing enforcement powers into line with modern Building Regulations which has recognised mains operated smoke detection as the minimum standard for all new houses or new conversions since 1991.
The risk assessment calculates hazards bands which are then ranked as category 1 or 2 hazards. Category 1 hazards trigger action by the Local Housing Authority and will result in enforcement action, depending on the nature of the hazard and the works required. Emergency action may need to be taken.
Fire safety in HMOs is assessed according to certain risk factors:
- Number of storeys
- Travel distance from farthest point in the house to the final exit
- Number of occupiers
- Type of occupation
- Layout of house
- Current structural fire precautions already provided
- Current detection/alarm systems provided.
For high risk HMO houses the local Fire Safety Officer will be consulted on each case to ensure the risk assessment and any proposed works are designed to make the house and the occupants as safe as possible. The Fire Safety Officer works closely with the housing enforcement team of the local council to identify and take action on rented houses where fire safety precautions are dangerous or below standard.
- The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006
Don’t Let all this put you off
Despite all these seemingly onerous regulations concerning safety in rental premises, in practice complying fully with these is not all that difficult. Most single let landlords, those letting their own home or a single buy-to-Let for the first time will find the process is straightforward.
It’s only the most irresponsible of landlords that get themselves in trouble with these issues.
You will find that your local authority will respond positively and provide help for those landlord who are intent on doing things properly.
However, it does mean that you need to be aware of these basic requirements (rules and regulations) so that you know you are in the clear.
Some “accidental Landlords”, those letting because they can’t sell, often do this on a hurried and casual basis and fall foul of the regulations through ignorance – they don’t take the trouble to find out – don’t be one of these. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
New Landlords – More Articles in this Section:
- Letting for the First Time
- Am I suited to becoming a Landlord?
- Getting Stated in Letting
- Preparing the Property
- Marketing the Rental Property
- Sealing the Deal – Offers and Deposits
- Check-In and Check-Out
- The Tenancy Documentation
- Dealing with Agents – Fees and Costs
- The Tenancy Documentation
- The Main Landlord’s and Tenant’s Responsibilities
- Useful Links and Contacts
By Tom Entwistle LandlordZONE® ID1990
©LandlordZONE All Rights Reserved – never rely totally on these general guidelines which apply primarily to England and Wales. They are not definitive statements of the law. Before taking action or not, always do your own research and/or seek professional advice with the full facts of your case and all documents to hand.