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4 Jan 2021

13 things buy-to-let landlords need to know in 2021

Investors face Brexit and COVID-19 uncertainty this year

Landlords are facing uncertainty around the future of the eviction process and the effects of COVID-19 and Brexit on property investment, meaning 2021 could be a tricky year for the buy-to-let sector.

It's a complex time to be a landlord, but Which? can help you get your head around the various regulations you'll need to be aware of when investing in buy-to-let and managing your portfolio.

Here are our 13 top tips on what to watch out for this year.

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1. COVID-19 eviction rules

Temporary rules introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic mean landlords must now give longer notice periods when starting eviction proceedings against their tenants.

  • England and Wales: landlords must give six months' notice, except from in the most extreme circumstances, such as when a tenant is proven to have demonstrated anti-social behaviour, committed fraud, or as is at least six months in rent arrears. This rule will apply until 31 March.
  • Scotland:landlords must give six months' notice in most circumstances. If the landlord or their family wants to move in, they can give three months' notice. If the tenant has moved out or has engaged in anti-social behaviour, only 28 days' notice is required.
  • Northern Ireland:landlords must give 12 weeks' notice, and should not issue eviction notices unless it is 'absolutely unavoidable'.

2. Possible abolition of Section 21

In late 2019, the government consulted on abolishing Section 21 - a clause which allows landlords to end 'rolling' tenancies with two months' notice without giving a reason for doing so.

More than a year on, Section 21 remains in place, with the Renters' Reform Bill having been delayed for an indefinite period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's possible we could see some movement on the bill this year, so landlords will need to keep their eyes peeled.

Other proposals featured on the bill include replacing security deposits with a 'lifetime deposit' that moves with the tenant, and making the rogue landlord database publicly available.

3. The end of mortgage payment holidays

If you're struggling to pay your mortgage or your tenant is having problems paying their rent due to COVID-19, you can apply for a payment holiday on your mortgage until 31 March.

The rules are as follows:

  • If you haven't taken a payment holiday since the start of the pandemic, you can apply for deferrals of up to six months in total.
  • If you currently have your first deferral in place or have resumed payments after one deferral, you can apply for another one to take you up to the six-month limit.
  • If you've already had six months' worth of deferrals, you won't be eligible for further payment holidays and will need to seek alternative support from your lender.

Find out more:how to apply for a payment holiday

4. The stamp duty holiday

Landlords in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland can benefit from the current stamp duty cut when buying investment properties until 31 March.

  • England and Northern Ireland: landlords still need to pay a 3% surcharge, albeit on the temporarily lower stamp duty rates. This means you'll need to pay a flat rate of 3% on purchases up to £500,000.
  • Scotland:landlords must still pay a 4% Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) surcharge, again on the temporarily reduced rates. This means you'll need to pay 4% on purchases up to £250,000.
  • Wales:landlords aren't eligible for the current Land Transaction Tax (LTT) holiday and must pay the same rates as before.

5. Stamp duty surcharge for overseas investors

From 1 April, overseas buyers will need to pay a 2% stamp duty surcharge when they purchase properties in England and Northern Ireland. This is on top of the regular buy-to-let surcharge.

The rules apply to all non-UK residents. To be classified as a UK resident, you'll need to have spent at least 183 days (six months) in the UK in the year before or the year after you buy the property.

keys on table

6. Brexit uncertainty

The UK has now agreed a deal with the European Union, but Brexit is likely to remain a big talking point this year.

With the finer details of the deal yet to be applied in practice, there could be some further bumps in the road.

If the recent economic uncertainty continues, we might see changes to interest rates. This would then have an impact on the the cost of buy-to-let mortgages.

7. Changes to Right to Rent

Currently, landlords need to check all tenants have the right to live in the UK before letting them move in to a property, but this could change in 2021.

Landlords have been encouraged to use the current system of accepting passports and photo identification cards until 30 June, but it's unclear how Right to Rent will work after this date.

8. Tax return deadline

Sunday 31 January marks the deadline for your online self-assessment tax return for the 2019-2020 tax year. Don't miss the deadline, or you might have to pay a penalty.

Some self-employed workers who owe less than £30,000 in tax can qualify to spread the cost of their bill using the government's Time to Pay scheme.

9. Capital gains tax uncertainty

The government is currently reviewing the capital gains tax (CGT) system, and any changes could have a significant effect on landlords selling their investment properties.

In November, the Office for Tax Simplification made 11 recommendations for CGT changes, including making rates 'more closely aligned' with income tax rates or reducing the CGT-free allowance.

The government is currently reviewing these recommendations. It's unlikely any wholesale changes will happen soon, but this is one to keep an eye on in 2021.

10. Mortgage interest tax relief

Mortgage interest tax relief is a sensitive subject for landlords, and we're now coming to the sharp end of the changes that have been phased in over the last few years.

When you file your 2019-20 tax return in January, you'll be able to deduct 25% of your mortgage interest and get a 20% credit on the remaining 75%.

But from your next tax return (due in January 2022 for the 2020-21 tax year), you'll instead just get the 20% credit on all your mortgage interest.

The rules can be complicated, but you can find out more in our guide to mortgage interest tax relief.

11. Client money protection rules

If you use a managing agent to let out your properties in England, they'll need to adhere to new client money protection rules from April.

Agents must sign up to one of the government's six approved schemes and hold money in accounts registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.

Those who fail to join a scheme could face fines of up to £30,000.

Agents in Scotland and Wales must follow similar rules, but there are no such regulations in place in Northern Ireland.

light bulbs

12. Electrical safety rules

New electrical safety rules mean landlords will need to ensure all electrical installations in their property are inspected and tested every five years.

Tenants must be provided with a copy of the test report within 28 days (or before occupation for new tenants). The report must also must be made available to your local council if requested.

New tenancies have been subject to the rules since 1 July, but from 1 April 2021 existing tenancies will need to follow the regulations too.

13. New smoke alarm rules (Scotland)

From February, all homes in Scotland must have a smoke alarm in living rooms, hallways and landings.

In addition, you must have a heat alarm in the kitchen and a carbon monoxide alarm near any boilers or wood burners.

Which? advice for landlords