A Landlord Guide:
Residential Conveyancing Partner Amanda Sutcliffe of Bray & Bray Solicitors explains a landlord’s responsibilities to their tenants.
In a survey by Homelet, 90% of landlords stated that they were “very happy” (55%) or “quite happy” (35%) with their current tenants, but over 50% also stated that they’ve had problems with at least one tenant in the past.
Landlords’ relationships with tenants can make the difference between a seamless rental experience and a complete nightmare. I’ve known landlords to sell an investment property after dealing with tenants that have put them off renting to anyone ever again.
The best way to be prepared for both good and bad tenants is to know your rights as a landlord and how to enforce them. It’s also worthwhile letting your tenants know what rights you have as their landlord, so that they won’t be surprised when you serve them with a notice to evict them, or to inspect or sell the property.
Many things that a landlord cannot do are obvious. The list below has been compiled to help identify the things that you may not know you can’t do when renting a property to a tenant. The aim is to start the landlord/ tenant relationship off well and avoid any potential disputes in the future.
Things landlords cannot do:
Landlords can’t discriminate
This might seem obvious, but you can’t turn down a tenant on the basis of personal attributes such as age, gender, race etc. You also can’t charge them more than you would charge other tenants because of any personal attribute e.g. if you think they’re more likely to damage the property based on their age.
Similarly, if someone who is disabled wishes to move into your rental property, you can’t refuse to make reasonable changes to either the tenancy agreement or the property itself, which would allow them to live there comfortably.
Landlords can’t just let themselves into the property
Even if you know that the tenants won’t be at home, you can’t just go into the property without having given the tenants notice and without an agreed time for you to be there. Similarly, you can’t just arrive when they are home and demand to come inside without giving the tenants any notice.
Landlords can’t make it difficult for a tenant to stay there
If for any reason, you would prefer a tenant to move out after they have been living in the property, you can’t just try to force them to move out. This includes tactics such as not carrying out repairs that need doing to the property, or making a tenant feel uncomfortable in the property.
Landlords can’t use a security deposit to pay for improvements to the property
This also applies to using a security deposit to pay for any new equipment within the property, or paying for fixes to wear and tear during the tenancy period. A deposit can only be used at the end of the tenancy and even then, it can only be used to make up for unpaid rent or to pay for repairs caused by damages or cleaning required, due to anything other than reasonable wear and tear to the property and its furnishings.
Security deposits must also be paid back to a tenant within 10 days following agreement of the amount of deposit that will be returned to them.
Landlords can’t raise rent whenever they like
The regularity and notice period for rent reviews should be specified in a tenancy agreement. If you’ve had a bad month and need money quickly, you can’t just take or demand more money from a tenant. If you are raising a tenant’s rent, you will need to justify the amount it’s being raised by, in line with market rates and other properties in the area.
Landlords can’t charge excessive late payment fees
Late payment fees can be a great way of encouraging tenants to pay on time every month. However, if the amount of the late payment fee is excessive, tenants have the right to take you to court to dispute it. Once this has happened, a judge is likely to side with a tenant, unless your late payment fee reflects true and accurate damages incurred, due to late payments.
Landlords can’t evict a tenant because they’re selling the property
If you’re intending to sell the property that’s being rented out, as long as a tenant has a fixed term tenancy agreement, you can’t just tell them to leave so that you can sell up. Tenants also have the right to refuse viewings of the property whilst it is for sale, if the viewings are not convenient to them.
Whilst tenants have the right to stay in the property until their tenancy is legally terminated – at the end of their tenancy agreement – landlords do also have the option of coming to a mutually beneficial arrangement to terminate the tenancy agreement early (usually by paying the tenant a severance fee) in order to sell.
Landlords cannot leave longer than 12 months between gas safety checks being carried out at the rented property
This might not seem important, but landlords can actually go to prison for failing to have gas safety checks carried out annually. Other repercussions of not doing this include fines, invalid insurance and court action from tenants, who can sue for civil damages.
For more information about the legalities surrounding what you can and can’t do as a landlord, speak to a commercial property solicitor who specialises in landlord and tenant matters. It always pays to check with an expert before acting on a decision you’re unsure about.
See also: Documents needed when letting