When renting a property, the agreements and documents required to agree a binding, lawful contract and provide a property that is safe are various and sometimes specific to the let.
But some obligations go beyond the law – moral obligations to look after the tenants as well as the property.
For landlords, the private rental sector is a business opportunity, a way to add to their pensions or secure a future for their family.
For tenants, it means a home, a safe and secure place to raise their own family and create memories..
But each party is under no illusion, the relationship is a transactional one in which each has very different priorities and often, expectations.
Establishing a mutually beneficial partnership of trust, respect, fairness and professionalism is essential. In an ideal world, there would be no need for external regulation, but the real world makes it necessary for the law to play an important part.
Legal obligations fall on both parties, not just under the explicit terms of a tenancy but in the preliminary steps towards the contractual agreement.
Legislation changes over the years and has often been divisive but together, the law-makers and the courts always sought to create and maintain a balance between the rights and obligations of the landlord and the tenant.
Many prospective landlords are deterred by the belief that the law imposes excessive demands on them, turning a commercial transaction into a minefield of potential missteps and unfair requirements.
In fact, the current regulatory system is refreshingly even-handed and sets out with clarity a landlord’s duties, which are based on pragmatic common sense and ease of compliance.
We want to look at the seven documents which landlords need to provide in the preparation of a new tenancy.
Every commercial transaction is governed by a contract. This is the function of the tenancy agreement, which contains all the terms and conditions, obligations and rights, limitations and exclusions by which both parties agree to abide.
Its basic information includes the names of the parties, the property address, tenancy start and end dates, rental amounts and the size of the deposit. It then goes on to specify any other terms regarding the use of the property by the tenant and the responsibilities which both parties accept.
How to Rent Guide
This is a government document which landlords have been obliged to provide since October 2015. It sets out the legal framework which underpins the agreement, occasionally even superseding some of its terms, because anything contained in the contract which conflicts with the law will be invalid.
Tenants must receive the guide before the tenancy begins.
Deposit Prescribed Information
The security deposit paid by the tenant to the landlord was, for decades, a source of great dispute, particularly at the end of the tenancy if landlords wished to withhold some or all of the deposit to cover repairs.
Since 6 April 2007, the law has made it mandatory in assured shorthold tenancies to place the deposit into a deposit protection scheme. England and Wales have three, while Scotland has separate provisions.
This means it is never in the hands of the landlord and can only be used for reparation by agreement or, if claims are contested, by order of the Housing Court. The landlord must provide the tenant with full details of the deposit protection scheme.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
Energy efficiency has always been an issue in the rental sector, but its importance has grown as the dangers of carbon emissions and climate change have taken centre stage.
Landlords must give their tenants a copy of the property’s EPC, which usually must show a performance level of at least ‘E’. This requirement is likely to become more stringent in 2025 when we expect the minimum to rise to ‘C’.
Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)
Inadequately installed or maintained electrical systems and equipment can be both dangerous and inefficient. The obligation on landlords to obtain and provide an EICR was introduced on 1st April 2021.
If the report identifies any problems, they must be resolved before the tenancy begins. Once granted, an EICR usually remains valid for five years.
Gas Safety Record
This is concerned entirely with safety. Gas leaks can have serious consequences for tenants and the damage can be done before they even become aware there is a problem.
Like the EICR, a gas safety record must be provided before the tenancy starts, but unlike the EICR, it must be renewed every year.
Property Inventory Reports
Unlike the other six agreements and documents listed above, it is not a legal requirement to have an inventory or check out report. However, it is unwise for either party to enter into a tenancy without one.
It is a definitive report on the condition of the property and its contents, designed to provide certainty on both sides in the event of disagreements about obligations to repair and to help settle deposit disputes at the end of a tenancy.
It’s virtually impossible for this to be too detailed and should cover not just fixtures, fittings and furnishings but also the state of walls, ceilings, floors, windows and outside spaces. Inventory Base specialises in providing property inventory software to help inventory clerks, landlords and letting agents carry out a comprehensive property inspection.
From this, they can generate a report that both parties sign, creating certainty and minimising the chance of arguments and disputes later on.
The Moral Dimension
Although legislation plays an important part in protecting both landlord and tenant, we must remember that the laws haven’t been drawn up in isolation as theoretical instruments.
By and large, they represent the kind of best practice that ought to be second nature to anyone involved in a transaction which is simultaneously about money, safety and comfort.
The law doesn’t ask landlords to exceed common courtesy and respect, it simply acts as a gentle but authoritative reminder that our moral obligations extend beyond the letter of the law. This means not only providing services as governed by law but also what is right, ethical and above all else, decent.