Legislation can be a minefield for landlords. Regulations and laws relating to the private rental sector are increasingly in a state of near constant flux, meaning changes can be easy to miss. And this can be costly for landlords who fail to comply.
The latest government survey into private letting found that many landlords are not compliant with basic legislation. For instance, 38 per cent of those questioned did not check a tenant’s right to rent, while 48 per cent did not issue tenants with the Government’s ‘How to Rent’ guide. Meanwhile, over 30 per cent of landlords failed to provide carbon monoxide alarms. A potentially deadly mistake.
As a landlord, you have to stay one step ahead of changes in the law. Every year brings more stringent legislation and 2020 is no exception. Here, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know when it comes to legislation, updated for 2020.
1. Do you need a landlord licence?
At present, the only UK-wide ruling that requires a landlord to obtain a licence is if a property is let as an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation). A property is classed as an HMO if at least three tenants live there – forming more than one household – and the toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities are shared.
Courts are known to hand out huge fines to HMO landlords, and agents, who do not obtain HMO licences. In a recent case, a landlord and agent were given fines totalling £120,000 after a fatal house fire at an unlicensed HMO in Southall. LandlordZONE also reports that there are calls for tougher action surrounding the enforcement of HMO regulations, highlighting the need for landlords to ensure that they have obtained the appropriate licence for their property.
Individual councils are also able to issue selective licensing, through schemes that tackle poor housing stock or anti-social behaviour. This includes a 2018 ruling that allows them to define what constitutes an HMO in their area. An estimated 160,000 more rented homes required a licence under these decentralised powers. It is therefore a good idea to check with your local council to see if your property is classed as an HMO to license it correctly.
Landlords are already required to make sure that the wiring and appliances in their properties are safe, but from July it will be a legal requirement for private landlords to have their electrical installations inspected every five years and provide safety certificates to tenants and their local authority.
The regulations will apply to all new tenancies from 1 July 2020 and existing tenancies from 1 April 2021. If serious problems are identified, these will have to be remedied quickly. Local authorities will have a duty to take action if landlords do not comply with the requirements and will be able to issue fines if necessary.
There is no statutory requirement to have rented property formally inspected for electrical safety at set periods but a landlord is required to provide a dwelling that is safe…
The electrical safety laws affecting landlords letting property include:
The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 The Plugs and Sockets (Safety) Regulations 1994 The Consumer Protection Act 1987 The Low Voltage Electrical Equipment Regulations 1994 The General Product Safety Regulations 1994 The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (this Act inflicts an implied liability on letting agents and those who gain from self employment, as is the case with most landlords)
Some of these regulations only effect letting agents and those who rent property commercially or for business. There is debate about whether individual landlords letting a single dwelling without an agent must comply with all of them. However, as failing to comply can result in fines of up to £5000 per offence, up to six months’ imprisonment, being sued by the tenant for civil damages and, in the event of a death occurring, possible manslaughter charges, it is better to observe them and feel confident that your letting is legal and lawful to your fullest extent.
A wise landlord will employ a qualified electrician for an initial and further periodic inspections, producing a test report which can later be attached to the inventory. Ideally, the inspection should be carried out prior to each tenancy commencing, or at least annually. To become compliant, the following are recommended:
Check that all appliance manuals, instructions, safety notices and labels are available so that copies can be issued to tenants.
Have a qualified electrician check that all appliances are safely wired and operate properly.
Do not buy second-hand electrical goods unless you can prove they are safe and have the appropriate instructions.
Check that appliances have no damaged, worn or loose cables and that plugs are securely fitted and properly fused.
Check that plugs and sockets conform to BS1363 or BS1363/A.
Make certain that appropriate appliances are earthed.
Have a qualified electrician inspect the property wiring (power and lighting), earthing, sockets, switches and fusing system, to ensure they meet current regulations and operate properly.
Remember to inspect all areas of the property, including any attic or loft space, garage, outbuilding, shed and garden, and any appliances in then.