Assured shorthold tenancy
When you let out your residential property, the tenancy will now automatically be an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) under the Housing Act 1988 – unless you specifically agree another form of tenancy in writing.
In summary this means:
- You have a guaranteed right to get your property back after 6 months
- You can charge a market rent
- You can get your home back before 6 months if the tenant doesn't pay the rent – but it must be at least 8 weeks owing
- You'll need a written tenancy agreement – informal oral agreements can cause problems
- If your tenant paid a deposit on or after 6 April 2007, you must use a tenancy deposit protection scheme
- In most cases, you're responsible for making all major and structural repairs
- You must arrange and pay for all safety checks on gas installations and appliances at least once every twelve months
- An inventory would be useful to avoid future problems
Tenancy agreement up front
As a landlord, you should ensure that your tenants have signed a written tenancy agreement prior to renting. Informal oral arrangements can cause major problems.
Once your tenant is in occupation, you can't force them to sign an agreement that varies the terms of the tenancy, so it's essential this is done before the tenant moves in
With a formal agreement, you will be able to insert clauses that will protect your position and regulate the tenant’s use of your property. For example ‘no pets allowed’.
If no written tenancy agreement is provided, you're required by law to provide the tenant with written details of the main terms of the tenancy within six months, so it makes sense to provide a written tenancy agreement in the first place.
You must not discriminate against your tenant because of their race, sex, disability, sexuality or religion.
But you do have the right not to offer a tenancy where you have been unable to obtain a satisfactory amount of security from the tenant, or if you feel that he or she isn’t the right tenant for you.
Deposit protection scheme
If your tenant paid a deposit on or after 6 April 2007, you must use a tenancy deposit protection scheme.
This means your tenant's deposit is safeguarded and there are procedures in place to sort out problems about the deposit at the end of the tenancy, should they arise.
Within thirty days of receiving the deposit, you must place it into an authorised deposit protection scheme, and provide notice to the tenant about the scheme and their rights.
The main information you provide should be:
- contact details of the tenancy deposit scheme being used
- the landlord or agent’s contact details
- how to apply for the release of the deposit
- information explaining the purpose of the deposit
- what to do if there's a dispute about the deposit
Repairs to the property
In most cases, landlords will be responsible for making all major and structural repairs.
This is in accordance with the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985, section 11-17, which stipulates that landlords must keep the structure and exterior of the property in repair.
These would include walls, floors, roof and windows (including frames). You are also responsible for fixed heaters, electrical wiring and gas piping.
Also included are repairs to plumbing, basins, sinks, toilets and baths etc.
Tenants are usually obliged only to take reasonable care of the property. Reasonable care means carrying out minor jobs such as gardening, and general housework.
Tenancy agreement repair clauses
However, the terms of the tenancy agreement can be written to provide for other obligations on the tenant.
For example, it can be required that the tenant decorates and keeps the interior of the premises in good repair.
However, in a number of areas, the law will intervene to ensure tenants are not given too much responsibility. The tenancy agreement should specify who has responsibilities for which particular repairs.
In addition, you must take all reasonable precautions to prevent your property from causing personal injury or damaging personal property belonging to the tenant.
This obligation will also apply to the tenant, and anyone living with them and their visitors.
Gas and electrical appliances
The safety of gas installations and appliances are also the landlord’s responsibility.
You must arrange and pay for all safety checks and any necessary work to be carried out on appliances at least once every twelve months.
The checks must be carried out by a person who is registered with the Gas Safe Register.
You must keep a record of inspection dates, any defects identified and any remedial action taken. You must also give a copy of this record to your tenant.
Finally, you also have responsibility for ensuring that any electrical appliances supplied with the accommodation are safe. This includes heaters, cookers, kettles, and any other electrical goods.
An inventory is advisable when a tenant moves in. This is a list of furniture and other contents which have been provided in the accommodation.
The landlord usually writes an inventory, or it's done on your behalf by a letting agent.
The inventory should list everything provided in the accommodation for use by the tenant, with a description of the items, including their age and condition.
If your tenant is visually impaired, you should provide an inventory in a different format, for example, on an audio tape or in Braille.
You may be discriminating against your tenant if you refuse to do this.
The inventory should be checked and agreed by both parties, then signed and dated.
If you are using a letting agent to manage your property portfolio, be sure that it complies with the rules to display its fees before entrusting your assets with it.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced a How to Rent guide, which includes some useful tips for both landlords and tenants.