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Residential landlord and tenant 101 – a superguide

Written with our partners at:Alma logo
5 min read

Update: changes in notice period 2021

From 1 August 2021, the government has announced that tenants who are in arrears of less than 4 months, will only be entitled to 2 months notice from their landlords. For tenants who are in ‘serious arrears’ i.e. more than four months of unpaid rent, the notice period will remain at 4 weeks. This change comes in efforts to support tenants with longer notice periods whist balancing the need for landlords to have access to justice and commence legal action for unpaid rent and possession. Read more about the change here.

Update: Eviction notices must include details of the 'breathing space' debt scheme

Effective 4 May, Section 8 eviction notices must include details of the 'breathing space' debt scheme, which also comes into force on 4 May. A new Section 8 form has been issued with those details. If a landlord serves notice using the wrong form, they run the risk of having their possession claim dismissed.

Under the breathing space scheme, debtors (including tenants who owe rent) can apply for legal protections from creditor action for up to 60 days. The protections include pausing most enforcement action and contact from creditors and freezing most interest and charges on their debts. Debtors have to meet three criteria to access the scheme: they must agree to access debt advice; the debtor must be assessed by a debt advisor, to confirm if they are actually facing debt problems; and the debtor must not be in the breathing space scheme in the previous 12 months. There is an additional breathing space scheme for those suffering mental health problems and receiving treatment for them on the NHS, where the protection period continues during the period of the treatment, plus 30 days.

Update: Eviction ban extended to 31 May

The ban on evictions has been extended in England and Wales to the end of May. Exceptions include illegal occupation, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and tenants with over six months’ rent arrears. Landlords can still give notice and bring possession proceedings but bailiffs can't carry out evictions.

The notice periods that landlords must provide are dependent on the type of tenancy and the type of notice that has been served: usually 6 months' notice for assured shorthold tenancies, except in some limited cases e.g. antisocial behaviour.

The government guidance can be found here.

Update July 2020 - Pre-action protocol

Initially announced back in March, the first expected changes to the pre-action protocols i.e. the steps landlords have to take before they can apply to court for a possession order have been announced.

Among the updates, landlords seeking possession due to non-payment of rent will be required to provide details of the impact of Covid-19 has had on tenants ability to pay rent.

The amendments also suspend the minimum period between the issuing of a claim form and a hearing taking place. A move that will help alleviate some of the pressure on the courts once hearings recommence.

These measures are due to remain until 28 March 2021 - for more details, read the announcement on the Judiciary's website here

Help for landlords…

Despite the crisis, both rent and mortgage payments will still be due as normal – either now or at a later date as things begin to recover.

Landlords whose tenants are struggling to pay the rent can also check what their mortgage lender may be able to do for them.

Many lenders are offering three-month payment holidays for their customers and this specifically includes landlords with either buy-to-let mortgages and tenants who are facing financial difficulties due to the impact of COVID-19.

However, lenders will add the interest to the end of the term of the loan, so it’s important to get a clear statement from them of the consequences of using this option.

Making a new agreement with your tenants…

While landlords are under no obligation to reduce or delay rent payments, even if their tenants are struggling, the intention is to pass on some of the benefit of a mortgage holiday to tenants and alleviate the pressures being felt by both parties.

They can do this by attempting to work together with their tenants to establish a repayment plan that the tenant finds affordable and takes their personal circumstances into account.

Landlords can use our payment plan template to record the terms of any temporary arrangement between them and their tenants during this time.

We also recommend that landlords keep an accurate paper trail of any steps they’ve taken to date, in order to protect their position and build evidence that helps support their case should they need to take legal steps in the future.

Once the government signals the end of the initial crisis, the option to repossess the property will be reinstated. But, it's likely that the government will place additional requirements on landlords for this to be successful.

The current gov.uk rental guidance only defines this as “landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.” but before possession orders can be granted, the courts will want to see that landlords attempted to do so.

Gov.uk advice

Finally, the government have consolidated all of their COVID-19 advice for landlords and tenants here.

You may also find the government’s guidance on landlord and tenant matters helpful.

Renting out a house or a flat to tenants comes with many rules and regulations that you need to follow, and it’s important to abide by these from the start – not only to protect your tenants but to protect yourself too.

If you’re looking for information on becoming a commercial landlord (i.e. renting buildings out to businesses to use), you’ll instead need our commercial landlord and tenant 101 guide.


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What types of tenancies are there?

Some common types of residential tenancy are:

Assured shorthold tenancy – This is the most common type of tenancy – and probably the type most of us think of when it comes to being a residential landlord. It’s where you have a property owned by a private landlord (or housing association), who doesn’t live in the property and the property is the tenant’s main address. We have a template for this sort of tenancy agreement here.

Excluded tenancy (or license agreement) – This is the name given to an arrangement between a landlord and a lodger, i.e. someone who lives in the property with the landlord and shares some of the rooms with them – for example, a bathroom or the kitchen. This type of tenancy doesn't give the tenant as many protections as an assured shorthold tenancy.

Regulated tenancies & assured tenancies – If you’re buying a property with a tenant currently in situ, then these tenancy types may be relevant to you.

They’re very similar – with both providing increased and long-term tenant protections, such as regulating the amount for rent that can be charged.

However, these tenancies are something of the past, where regulated tenancies refer to those that started before 15 January 1989 and assured tenancies refer to those that started between 15 January 1989 and 27 February 1997.

Any tenancies entered into after this date, if not an excluded tenancy, will most likely be an assured shorthold tenancy.

Furthermore, tenancies can be sub-categorised like so:

Fixed-term tenancies – This means the tenancy agreement between the landlord and tenant run for a set amount of time, usually 6 months or 12 months.

In the event that either the landlord or the tenant wishes to end the tenancy before the end of the fixed term, you'll need to include a ‘break clause’ in the tenancy agreement.

A break clause can give the landlord or tenant or both the right to end the tenancy after giving adequate notice (usually 2 months).

NB: Once you've let your property, you have no right to end the tenancy and retake possession within the first 6 months, whether you have a break clause or not.

Periodic tenancies – Unlike fixed-term tenancies, periodic tenancies roll continuously on a periodic basis. This period is reflective of the payment of rent i.e. weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually.

Most private sector tenancies will begin as fixed-term, only becoming periodic once the fixed-term has ended.

Houses in multiple occupation (HMO) - If you have a number of tenants forming two or more separate households – i.e. single people or members of the same family (including unmarried couples) who have their own room in the property – while also sharing amenities such as the kitchen or bathroom, then your property is likely an HMO.

A typical example of an HMO would be a student flat or house share, where your tenants share the property but are not members of the same family.

If you’re a private landlord with an HMO, then you may need a license from your local council. You may have other responsibilities too, which we discuss in more detail further down this guide.

The type of tenancy you choose is very much up to you…

For example, you may be taking a year out to travel and so would rather have a fixed-term tenancy for 12 months, so that it reduces the likelihood of you needing to find new tenants whilst you’re on your travels.

Or, maybe you’re letting your home out while you’re away but you’re not entirely certain of when you’ll be moving back in… if so, then a periodic tenancy would give you more flexibility.

Whichever tenancy type you decide on, you’ll need to put a tenancy agreement in place.

Holiday and AirBnb landlords

If you're renting out your property to holiday-makers, you should still have some sort of documentation in place and make sure your property is safe to let. Not only will this give your paying guests peace of mind, but it will also provide greater protection for you in the event of any kind of accident or damage to the property during their stay.


What should be in a tenancy agreement?

The tenancy agreement is the contract between you and your tenants and it should set out all the terms and conditions of the tenancy.

Starting with the names of the tenant and the address of the property, through to the amount of rent agreed, the deposit amount and all the obligations of the tenant during their time in the property.

Tenancy agreements can be verbal or written contracts, but the terms must comply with the law. It's always prudent to obtain a written tenancy.

Regardless of whether there’s an agreement in place or not – tenants and landlords both have rights and responsibilities.


What responsibilities do landlords have?

Protecting your tenant’s deposit

At the beginning of a new tenancy, tenants will usually pay a refundable deposit (usually the equivalent of no more than 5 weeks’ rent).

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 has capped the amount that can be taken as a tenancy deposit at 5 weeks’ rent where the annual rent is less than £50k and 6 weeks’ rent if more than £50k.

NB: Within 30 days of receiving this money, landlords must put it into a deposit protection scheme as outlined on this gov.uk website.

A deposit doesn't need to be put into a deposit protection scheme if the tenancy is an excluded tenancy.

If you’ve received a ‘holding deposit’ from future tenants (i.e. money received to reserve a property before all the paperwork can be finalised), this doesn't need to be protected.

Residential deposit schemes are there to make sure the tenants get their deposit back at the end of the tenancy, assuming that both you and the tenant/s part on good terms – for example, without them owing any outstanding rent or costs to repair or replace damaged property.

If there’s a dispute, say in the event of damages, then the schemes protect the tenant's deposit until it can be agreed how much of the deposit should be returned.

Whether repaying in part or in full, once the tenancy is finished, you must return the deposit to the tenants within 10 days of agreeing the amount to be repaid.

For more information, see our other guide for residential landlords on deposits and guarantors and this gov.uk website.

Ensuring your property is safe to rent out

As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to keep the properties you rent safe and habitable. This includes maintaining gas and electrical equipment installed at the property and fitting and testing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

You’re also responsible for repairs – and this includes both repairs to the property and repairs to the fixtures and fittings, subject to the terms of the tenancy i.e. if the property is rented as furnished.

If you don’t make repairs and fail to keep your property safe from hazards, tenants can complain to your local council who can inspect the property and take action against you.

The penalties include charging you to fix the hazard or even preventing you from using the property if they find a serious hazard. You could also be issued an improvement notice, which will inform you of when you’ll need to make the changes by to prevent being fined or prosecuted.

If you refuse to carry out repairs, tenants can seek remuneration via the small claims court or in some cases carry out the repairs themselves, deducting the costs from their rent.

NB: You must give your tenants 24 hours notice before you can enter the property to make repairs unless there is a genuine emergency according to the government's Guidance for landlords and tenants, section 1.12.

Paying tax as a landlord

If you own more than one rental property or you make your living through being a landlord, what you do is seen as running a business – and, like all businesses, your earnings will be subject to tax.

For landlords who aren’t running a business, your first £1,000 of income from property rental is tax-free (see the government's Property allowance figures here).

After that, you must pay tax on any profit you make – however, you can make deductions for allowable expenses such as agency fees, utility bills and buildings insurance… essentially any costs associated with the day-to-day maintenance of the property.

NB: Changes are being phased in regarding the tax relief that residential buy-to-let landlords enjoy. For more details about those and your tax obligations, we recommend seeking independent financial advice.

Checking tenant’s right to rent

In England, you must check that potential tenants or lodgers have the legal right to be residents in the UK and thus the right to rent your property.

Before making an agreement with a tenant, ask them to provide you with their original documents and make copies for your records.

In the event that a tenant doesn’t have the right documents, you must use the Home Office’s right-to-rent check service to confirm the tenant has the right to rent without them.

The penalties for failing to carry out right-to-rent checks, or renting your property to someone you had reason to believe didn’t have the right to rent property in the UK, are severe – including unlimited fines or even prison time.

Giving your tenants the information they need

In order to comply with the law, you must give your tenants a copy of a valid gas safety certificate before the tenant occupies the property.

Further, you must give your tenants a copy of a valid energy performance certificate, which must give the property a rating of E or above.

In addition, landlords in England need to hand this free how-to-rent checklist guide to tenants at the beginning of the tenancy.

There are fixed penalties for failing to provide this information to tenants and it can impact upon your ability to recover possession of the property at a later date.


Houses in multiple occupation (HMO)

If your property is an HMO, you'll be responsible for all of the usual necessary repairs, as outlined above, including those to any of the communal areas.

Landlords will also have additional legal responsibilities, including managing the risk of fire and not overcrowding the property with tenants, making access to kitchen and bathroom facilities unmanageable for those living in the property.

You may also need a license from your local authority responsible for housing. Our handy infographic below shows you how you might go about applying for one.

Your local authority will also have plenty of other information for landlords of HMOs and you should take a look around their website just to be clear on what they might require of you – for example:

Fees – Local councils normally charge fees for the issue of an HMO license.

Council minimum standards & extras – Some councils will also spell out extra standards and requirements of HMO landlords.

Penalties – The penalties for not having an HMO license can be steep. They can include an unlimited fine and you could be fined and ordered to repay up to 12 months' rent (follow this link for details). You could also be prevented from serving a section 21 notice to evict tenants according to this gov.uk website.


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