Many landlords operating in the private rental sector are unclear of their legal responsibilities and statutory obligations.
Essentially, a landlord is responsible for providing accommodation to tenants that is safe and clean and with no health hazards. In other words a property that is fit to live in. Those who do not adhere to these standards can face fines and prosecution.
Hannah McCartan, Managing Director of Swansea based McCartan Lettings has come up with a list of responsibilities that landlords need to take into account when operating in the private rental sector:
Landlords Duty of Care
It is important that landlords understand that they have a duty of care to ensure that the contractors they appoint are qualified to undertake any work within the rented property. This applies particularly to plumbers and electricians carrying out relevant repair or replacement work. For example, only Gas Safe registered engineers can work on gas and boiler related issues.
Landlords and letting agents must carry out due diligence and check the credentials of their chosen contractors as well maintaining a record of those they use and when they were last certified.
The type of information a landlord should request from a contractor would be photo ID, all relevant insurances including professional indemnity insurance and employer’s liability insurance if relevant, plus copies of all related certificates, memberships of trade bodies and qualifications.
Gas and Electrical Safety Checks
If the property has a gas cooker, boiler or heating system then the landlord or his agent must arrange for annual gas safety checks to be carried out by a registered Gas Safe fitter or engineer. Every tenant should be issued with a report of the gas safety check prior to moving into the property and within 28 days of its renewal within the tenancy period. These checks must be carried out annually and the certificates maintained for at least two years. Without a valid gas safety certificate a landlord and tenants insurances could be rendered invalid.
It is a criminal offence for landlords not to comply with this regulation. Landlords who do not carry out annual gas safety checks could face prosecution and fines. Should an injury or fatality occur at the property due to problems caused gas defects, a landlord could also face going to prison or be charged with manslaughter.
Though there is no legal requirement for landlords to carry out electrical safety checks, they do still have full responsibility when it comes to ensuring that all electrics in the property are safe and working correctly. This obligation comes from the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994, Plugs and Sockets (Safety) Regulations 1994, and General Product Safety Regulations 1994.
In other words, landlords need to make sure that electrical fittings like sockets and light fittings and appliances like cookers and kettles are all safe to use.
It is best practice for landlords to commission an electrical condition of safety report at least every five years or before new tenants move into a property. In Wales, landlords are now required under the terms of the new landlord licencing regulations to ensure they have a conduits report for every property they rent out.
Fire Safety Standards
Landlords must ensure that all furnished rental properties comply with the standards laid out in the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988. All items must have a fire safety label attached to them; if they don’t have this label, then the furniture or furnishing must be removed from the property. If the label has been cut off, then it still has to be removed unless the landlord has retained proof of purchase.
For rented properties in England, it is a legal requirement to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed on every floor of the property. This is not yet a legal obligation in Wales, but it is highly recommended, for the safety of the tenants, that these are installed.
Risk Assessments for Legionella
Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) & The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) stipulates that landlords should commission a legionella risk assessment on their rental properties. Though not a legal obligation, landlords have a duty of care to minimize the risks of exposure to legionella by their tenants. So commissioning an assessment report is the most effective way of proving that the landlord has taken pro-active measures in order to minimize this risk.
Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)
All landlords must have an EPC before they can put their property on the market to rent. This certificate must be available to view or download by potential tenants on an online property portal. This is so the tenants are made aware of the property’s energy efficiency rating and the level of running costs they are likely to incur.
Energy ratings fall into one of seven categories, from between A to G, with A being the most energy efficient. From 1st April 2018, all private rental properties must achieve an energy rating of E or above in order to meet the legal standards for rental properties. All assessments must be carried out by an accredited assessor and local authorities have the right to impose fines for properties that don’t comply with these regulations.
Tenant Deposit Protection
Since 2007, it has been a legal requirement for all tenants’ deposits to be protected in an accredited Tenant Deposit Scheme within 30 days from the date the deposit was received (not from the date when the tenancy starts).
What’s more, landlords must also provide the tenants with all the relevant prescribed information with regard to the deposit to the scheme within the same 30 day period. To avoid any future disputes and to prove that the tenants have received a copy, it’s best to get the tenants to sign a copy of this information at the start of the tenancy.
This is one area of compliance that many do-it-yourself landlords fail to understand, resulting in hefty penalties and costs. If their deposit is not protected within 30 days of receipt by the landlord or if the tenants don’t get the prescribed information within the same time period, then they can claim compensation for up to three times the deposit amount.
Importantly, if these timescales are not adhered to, then the landlord will lose the right to serve a Section 21 Notice for possession of the property until the deposit has been protected, or returned. This situation can become very complex and messy if the tenant is in rent arrears.
As the statute of limitations also applies to this law, even if a tenancy has ended, the tenants can still claim against the landlord up to six years from the end of the tenancy if their deposit was not protected.
Maintenance and Repairs
It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the overall property is maintained and that repairs are carried out in a timely manner (Section 20 of the Housing & Tenants Act). Maintenance and repairs should cover the structure and outside of the property as well as all internal fixtures and fittings such as sanitary ware, sinks, baths, pipes, drains, boilers, appliances, electrical wiring etc. Services such as gas, electricity and water supplies should also be maintained.
Any appliances left in the property cannot be excluded from the tenancy and it is the landlord who is responsible for repairing or replacing these items.
Protection from Eviction and Harassment
All tenants have the right to peaceful and quiet enjoyment of the property they live in. As a result, as a landlord, you do not have the right to visit or inspect the property more regularly than every three months, apart from in emergency scenarios. In other words, you can’t simply ‘pop in’ as this could be classed as harassment. Tenants should be given a minimum of 24 hours’ notice prior to a quarterly inspection and accommodate the tenants if this timescale is not convenient.
Tenants cannot be lawfully evicted from a rented property without a Court Order, even if they are in rent arrears. You must also go to Court to get an order to take back possession of the property if you think it may have been abandoned. If the tenant is still occupying the property, then a possession order must also be applied for and enforced by the Courts’ bailiff. If you don’t follow this process, then as a landlord you could end up being sued for unlawful eviction by your tenants.
There are a number of licensing schemes run by local authorities across the UK and to which landlords must comply. It’s down to the individual landlord to find out which scheme applies to them and their properties.
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) have very specific criteria and requirements and are subject to their own specific licences. These relate particularly to electrical and gas safety within the property as well as the general management of these shared properties or bedsits. Landlords who are planning to rent out HMOs must apply to their local council to get the correct licence for their property. In some instances, some alterations may need to be made in order to comply with the relevant licence criteria.
More recent legislation i.e. the Housing Act (Wales) 2014, means that all landlords operating in the private rental sector in the region have to be registered. Landlords who manage their own properties or have any involvement in the property letting or management process will have to be licensed as well as being registered. This scheme is operated by Rent Smart Wales – check out the website for full details, including the penalties for non-compliance.
For more advice and guidance on landlord’s legal obligations, call McCartan Lettings today on 01792 430100.