In our first blog of the series Want to be a landlord? Where to start your pre tenancy journey, we looked at the current guidelines for landlords seeking possession after the courts reopened as of 21st September 2020.
The types of issues and considerations a landlord has to broker are vast, and are set to increase. The Government is applying more legislation and is focusing on landlords activities in order to increase compliance and possible revenue for local councils. This is not an unexpected development in regards to licensing of additional HMO’s and those rental properties that are now deemed as being in scope.
From insurance, safety certificates to right to rent checks; the pathway to being a landlord is a precarious and very long one with more windy roads than Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) could have ever imagined and it doesn’t stop there.
A landlord’s obligation doesn’t end when the tenant checks in.
The law requires that tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment of the property is maintained as should be their safety so what should landlords plan for in the medium to long term?
Interim Property Inspections
Interim inspections are useful to understand if there are signs of over occupancy, smoking in the property or as is a rising issue for many rentals; cannabis farms.
Research by Homelet earlier this year revealed a significant surge in the number of policy investigations into the theft of electricity and its use in cannabis farming. Analysis of 2019 data found that police investigations into the theft of electricity are expected to be 13% higher this year than in 2018, with a projected 2,200 cases in 2019 compared to 1,950 in 2018 – an increase of 250 cases.
It is therefore vital to conduct periodic or interim inspections throughout each tenancy, to ensure that the condition of the rental property is both up to standard and that your tenants are complying with the tenancy agreement.
Regular property visits are very important in ensuring that the property is being looked after and that the tenants are behaving ‘in a tenant like manner’.
The term ‘tenant-like manner’ relates to the court case of Warren v Keen in 1953 and is still applicable to this day. Lord Denning stated that:
The tenant must take proper care of the premises. He/she must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler; he must clean the chimneys when necessary and also the windows; he must mend the electric light when it fuses; he/she must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his/her waste. In short, he/she must do the little jobs around the place which a reasonable tenant would do. In addition, he must not, of course, damage the house wilfully or negligently… but apart from such things, if the house falls into disrepair through fair wear and tear or lapse of time or for any reason not caused by him, the tenant is not liable to repair it.
This means that, under case law, the tenant is expected to look after the property and carry out small jobs around the property themselves which the landlord is not responsible for.
What you need to be careful here as a landlord is exactly what constitutes a ’small job’.
Examples could include:
- Changing / replacing light bulbs
- Changing the batteries in smoke detectors (not fixed wired or lithium sealed units)
- Re-pressurising a combi-boiler (instructions on how to do this should form of the tenant information pack)
- Bleeding radiators ( a key should be provided or serviced as part of the boiler contract)
- Unblocking toilets and sinks that do not require expert assistance i.e using sink blocker for kitchen sinks where grease has been poured down the plughole
- Keeping gardens and external areas tidy i.e grass cut and sweeping up fallen leaves
- Keeping the property free from damp caused by tenant use and not ventilating i.e wiping away excess moisture from windows due to condensation
Jobs that would not come under the tenants responsibility would include:
- Boiler maintenance
- Electrical maintenance of fixed and landlord supplied appliances
- Checking of gas appliances and renewal of gas safety certificate
- Replacement of sealed lithium smoke alarms and or fixed wire systems
The repairing responsibilities of the landlord are to be found in the express and implied terms of the tenancy under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985,
The exact dimensions of this statement are defined strictly in the law.
Under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is responsible to:
- to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling, including drains, gutters and external pipes,
- to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences) but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity, and
- to keep in repair and proper working order the installation in the dwelling for space heating and heating water .
Under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is not required to:
- to carry out works or repairs for which the lessee is liable by virtue of his duty to use the premises in a tenant-like manner, or would be so liable but for an express covenant on his part,
- to rebuild or reinstate the premises in the case of destruction or damage by fire, or by tempest, flood or other inevitable accident, or
- to keep in repair or maintain anything which the lessee is entitled to remove from the dwelling-house.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is the law, as it will be considered and regarded in the court of law. The tenancy agreement, in whatever form, cannot overstep these rules.
Any agreement that changes the above statements is automatically invalid.
Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarms
It is without question, one of the key requirements of a tenancy that all smoke alarms should not only be fitted in the correct areas of the property, i.e to every level/storey of the property, but that they are regularly push button tested (by the tenant) and maintained.
The tenant is responsible for alarms that are non sealed and or fixed wired units in regards to their testing and replacement of batteries. Any sealed alarms or those that are fixed wired are the responsibility of the landlord to replace/maintain and should form part of the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR).
Testing of alarms for audible tones should be carried out at the start of the tenancy, during interim inspections and again at checkout so that you know if there are any units that require replacement and or need to be fitted.
Gas and electrical safety certificates should be renewed at the point but before they become invalid, so should be scheduled at points as designated by their type and in compliance with Government leslisation. You can read more about your obligations in the first blog of our series – Want to be a landlord? Where to start your pre tenancy journey
Your properties current certificate is now available by accessing the Government website – MHCLG.
A valid Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is a legal requirement when a property is sold, let or constructed and must be completed by an accredited assessor unless an exemption can be applied. Despite restrictions due to COVID; properties that are let must have a valid certificate so safety protocols and social distancing guidelines should be adhered to for the safety of all.
Pre Check Out Process
A pre checkout is often overlooked, yet can be a vital source of information and evidence. It gives both you as the landlord and the tenant the opportunity to rectify any outstanding issues that may impact the return of the deposit.
InventoryBase has a self service pre-checkout report template which is especially useful if the property is located in a locked down area. It allows the tenant to complete a report if the clerk is unable to attend and or is prevented from meeting the tenant due to restrictions or self isolation.
The tenant can upload photos/video (if enabled), add their comments including any outstanding issues ready for when the inventory professional is able to carry out the check out report. This ensures that there is no loss of information, that the tenants are supported and the landlord does not lose vital evidence should the tenancy go to dispute.
Keeping your tenants happy
The English Housing Survey shows that the average length of time a private sector tenant had lived in their current home was up from 3.9 years in 2016/17 to 4.1 years in 2017/18. This does indicate that landlords (on some level) are doing something right in order to encourage tenants to remain renting the property.
But you should not be complacent as even with our current situation (COVID), tenants are still moving for a variety of reasons such as change in job, down or up sizing or because of issues and or poor quality of the property.
So my advice for a successful and continuing tenancy is to maintain communications with your tenant(s). This doesn’t mean just when you ‘have to’ talk to them to deal with an issue or query. Check in on them once in a while with a phone call or text just to see if everything is ok. Deal with maintenance issues as soon as is practically possible and show that you care not just about the rental payments but that they feel happy and secure in the property.
This will help promote feelings of safety and is likely to make them feel at ease and comfortable in ‘their home’ which helps you as the landlord to reduce void periods and the need for additional expense in finding new tenants.
Getting ready for the end of the tenancy is just as important as it is at the start. In the third blog of our series; Want to be a landlord? we look at how to prepare for the end of the tenancy, some vital do’s and don’ts and why not every tenancy has to end in a dispute – Want to be a landlord? Post tenancy blues and how to avoid them
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