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10 June 2015

Good Landlord Practice Series: 1

Taking on the responsibility of becoming a landlord is not simply a question of profit or convenience in respect of the use of an unoccupied property.  The regulation of the growing private sector is aiming to address a number of long running issues, which affect both tenants and landlords alike.

In today’s competitive market, however, it is expected that private landlords will be aware of their rights and duties in relation to such matters as:

a) Tenancy deposits
b) Licensing
c) Anti-social behaviour
d) Health and safety
e) Disrepair
f) Immigration

This piece and a series of commentaries to follow will look at some of  the practical issues and challenges for private landlords and the necessary steps they have to take to ensure that they and their asset is not only secure and protected but also compliant in relation to regulatory requirements and statute.

Focusing upon the basic requirements that have to be considered by a landlord/prospective landlord, it is logical to look first at the property itself, in order to ascertain whether it is essentially “fit for purpose”.

At the point at which a landlord makes an agreement to allow someone to rent/occupy the premises, they are in essence agreeing to abide by their duties under the Landlord & Tenant Act and they are also indicating that the property is safe for habitation.

It is safe to suggest, however, that many landlords within the sector may not be fully aware just how far their duties extend towards tenants, their households and indeed visitors to the premises.

The following issues are some to which the landlord has to be alive when taking the decision to rent a property:

  • Damp/Mould/Pollutants: It is essential to ensure that the property is free from these issues because they are considered a safety hazard and in the event of a tenant becoming ill, as a consequence liability will fall upon the landlord, not only to eradicate the problem but also possibly to pay damages to the tenant as a consequence.  Pollutants, such as asbestos, are a particular hazard and certainly in older properties it can still be present and if damaged (e.g. ceiling tiles, bath panels, vinyl floor tiles and artex coating), poses a serious risk both to anyone exposed to it as a consequence of living in the property, or attending to work within the premises.  Such is the seriousness of its presence that if it is to be removed, the removal must be undertaken by a certified expert.
  • Fire/Carbon Monoxide Alarms: With effect from 15 October 2015, all privately rented premises will be required to have carbon monoxide alarms installed.  The obvious risk to health and safety is clear and in the event of an incident occurring, it is be difficult to see how a landlord will be able to deny liability, should it transpire that the alarms had not been installed, were not checked regularly and were not in good working order.
  • Gas/Electrical safety: There is an expectation that, as a landlord, you will be able to provide the relevant safety certificates for these utilities and any fixtures provided to the tenant, such as cookers/heaters.
  • Accidents: Generally but particular regard needs to be paid to properties let to families with young children.  Have all precautions been taken in terms of safety measures e.g. locks on windows/railings on balconies?  Has care been taken to ensure that there are no slip and trip hazards, both within the premises and on any pathways leading to the property?

As a landlord, you should not forget that you are required by law not only to rent premises that are in a good state of repair, you are also required to keep them in this condition.

Failure to comply with your rights and obligations as a landlord could leave you open to a visit from the Environmental Health Department of the local council, or subject to proceedings in the event of a serious breach of repairing obligations.  It is not all one way traffic, however, as a landlord is not expected to repair damage caused by tenants, their household or visitors to their property.

The requirement to maintain and repair extends to such things as:

  • Basins, sinks pipes & drains;
  • Heating and hot water
  • Gas and electrical appliances;
  • Structure of the property and the exterior of the premises.

Any prospective landlord should take the view along the lines of the following questions:

“Is this property in the condition that I would expect and be happy with if I were living here?”

“What level of assurance would my landlord need to give to me to prove that my health, safety and ability to have peaceful enjoyment of my home are high on their list of priorities?”

The answers should be apparent and these should form the foundation of any decision to rent a property.  Whilst there are undoubtedly bad landlords and bad tenants in existence, the general position is that if you adopt a sensible and business like attitude to your asset, it should in turn attract tenants who will respect not only their landlord but also the property as well.