By Lynne Swanson, Legal Executive, Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors
Landlords must fulfil a number of strict legal requirements when letting their property, and there can be significant consequences if they fail to do so. These include procedures that must be followed when renting out a property to a new tenant, during the tenancy, and when you want to bring it to an end.
If a landlord does not follow the exact requirements of the law, they may infringe on their tenants’ rights. Depending on the infraction, the consequences can prevent you from carrying out an eviction, cause you to receive a fine, or even result in jail time. As such, it is vital to understand your obligations as a landlord in full and take whatever steps are necessary to meet them.
Thanks to our experience working with landlords on a variety of related issues, the team at Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors is highly aware of some of the most common mistakes that residential landlords make. Here, the firm’s landlord law experts explain how private landlords can avoid making some of these common mistakes, emphasise the rules that must be followed at all times, and warn of the consequences that can arise when a landlord fails to meet their obligations.
When a new tenancy agreement begins
There are several steps that a landlord must take before letting a property to a new tenant in England. These rules apply to Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs), but the rules may be different for other types of tenancy agreement, so it is important to check your responsibilities with an expert landlord solicitor before you begin.
There can be serious consequences, including jail time, for landlords who fail to provide everything to which tenants are legally entitled. For example, you must protect the tenant’s deposit in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days of receiving it; you must also provide an Energy Performance Certificate, a copy of the government’s “How to Rent” guide, and records of safety checks for any gas or electrical equipment you have provided.
Finally, landlords need to check if their tenant has the legal right to rent under the UK’s immigration rules – this applies to any tenants over the age of 18, including any who are not named on the tenancy agreement. It also applies in cases where there is no formal written tenancy agreement, and this is one area where landlords can slip up. If you fail to check all new tenants (or fail to conduct follow-up checks on tenants whose permission to rent in the UK has a time limit) you may face serious consequences. You can receive a fine if a tenant’s permission to stay in the UK ends and you do not carry out a follow-up check. If you let property to a tenant who cannot legally rent in the UK, the consequences can range from a fine to up to five years imprisonment.
During the tenancy
Perhaps the most common mistake landlords make during a tenancy is failing to notify tenants properly before they enter the property. Even as the property owner, you must not enter the property for any reason without notifying the tenant in writing in a reasonable time. This is usually considered to be 24 hours before you enter, but may need to be longer in some circumstances.
This can be difficult in circumstances where the property seems to have been abandoned, but even in these cases there are procedures you must follow in order to avoid infringing on your tenant’s rights. There may be exceptions in cases where you need to make emergency repairs, but it is usually best not to take a risk, as there can be legal consequences for entering a property without the tenant’s permission and without giving notice.
Ending the tenancy
Other common mistakes happen when a landlord aims to carry out an eviction. There are several legal grounds that landlords can rely on to evict tenants under a Section 8 notice, or they can do so at the end of a tenancy agreement under a Section 21 notice. It is easy to mix up these notices, to list grounds for eviction that are not legally valid, or to make other mistakes when serving a notice.
Under most circumstances you must give tenants a reasonable time to leave the property, which is usually at least two months. The individual circumstances affect how much notice you must give, but demanding that tenants move out more quickly can have legal consequences.
It is best to work with a landlord solicitor if you want to serve an eviction notice and bring an AST to an early end. They can help you to identify the right type of notice, advise you on how much notice you must give in your circumstances, and discuss the legal grounds you are relying on to carry out the eviction, as this is another area in which landlords are often caught out. For example, if your tenant pays rent on a monthly basis, you can evict them when they are in rent arrears for at least two months. Once you have served the tenant an eviction notice with rental arrears listed as one of the legal grounds for the eviction, a court hearing will be arranged to determine whether or not the eviction is legally valid and can take place. It is important to avoid ending up at a final possession hearing, in which the court will scrutinise the claim you have submitted. This could result in your claim being stuck out, causing you to lose time and forcing you to start your claim again.
If the tenant pays back all (or part) of the rent they owe before the court hearing, you may no longer be able to evict them on this basis. As such, if you want to evict the tenant, it is best to rely on other grounds alongside the challenges you are facing with rental arrears. A landlord solicitor can help you to serve your notice and ensure you have the best chance of success before the court. Ultimately, it is best to work with an expert whenever necessary to ensure you fulfil all your duties successfully, as the costs of making a mistake when carrying out your landlord responsibilities can be severe.