Landlord and Tenant Act: What Landlords Must Know
What do landlords need to know about the Landlord and Tenant Act?
With so many regulations to follow and rule changes coming into force fairly regularly (some might even argue thick and fast), it pays to know you’re upholding all your duties, and indeed sticking to the letter of the law.
That being said, as a well-meaning, law-abiding landlord, we have no doubt you are aware of your responsibilities to your tenants, as well as both your rights and theirs. But it is no exaggeration to say that there is a lot of small print surrounding this relationship, most of which can be found in the aforementioned Landlord and Tenant Act.
Now we’re aware that the very notion of a parliamentary Act sounds fairly intimidating and indeed time consuming, but fear not.
If you haven’t the hours in the day or in fact the inclination to scan through the Act itself with a fine-toothed comb, (or any other comb for that matter), we’re here to bring you the important bits that you really need to be aware of. If, having read this, you have any further questions, just get in touch – we’re always happy to help!
What is the Landlord and Tenant Act?
The current Act was brought into force in 1985. Before this date, assured shorthold tenancy agreements didn’t exist. Instead ‘regulated tenancies’ were the order of the day (but that’s an Aladdin’s cave we don’t need to delve too far into here and now).
In short though, the change came about because many landlords were finding themselves unable to make a profit or generate the income they needed to pay for any repairs, so the whole thing wasn’t proving very worthwhile.
And as if this whole proposition wasn’t unattractive enough, ‘fair’ rents were set by rent officers on regulated tenancies, and these often only equated to 50% of the actual market value, leaving the landlord out of pocket again.
Then there was the issue of ‘sitting tenants’, who had a home for life and would stay on a long-term basis – they were even able to pass the lease on to family members. Many properties could and did end up in an extremely poor condition as a result of all this.
What is the new Act for?
The new Act was designed to improve living standards, for the benefit of both landlords and tenants. Agreements could run for seven years or less, (which created a buy-to-let boom a few years later).
In short, this Act refers to all short leases or ‘assured shorthold leases’, as they’re referred to.
What are the key things landlords need to know?
If you have ventured to click on the link above, or plan to later, you will discover this is a fairly dense document. So to simplify things, here are the things landlords must take from it:
Who is the landlord and why does it matter?
In terms laid out by the Act, the tenant has the right to know who their landlord is.
This is relevant as many landlords choose to rent their property or property portfolio through a letting agent or other property management firm.
But the Act demands that if a tenant makes a written request for the landlord’s name and address, to anyone collecting the rent or acting as an agent for the landlord (i.e. the letting agent or similar), the agent must reveal the landlord’s name and address, again in writing, within 21 days of receiving the request.
If the landlord is a limited company, the tenant can make a further request by the same means.
In those instances, the tenant must receive the name and address of the company secretary and all directors within the same parameters as stated above.
What are ‘safe living standards’?
In Section 10, the Act states that a privately rented home must be fit to live in.
Granted, what constitutes ‘fit to live in’ is fairly vague, and the conditions some people happily accept as habitable would have others reaching for the hand sanitiser. Similarly, this can prove contentious if a tenant believes their home should be comparable to a five-star hotel.
But luckily, thanks to the Act, there is a clearly defined middle ground.
The Act is largely there to protect tenants from living conditions below a certain standard, though it has benefits for both landlord and tenant.
To this end, Section 10 offers a checklist of issues that landlords should address. These include (but are by no means limited to):
- If issues caused by damp and mould make the home unfit to live in
- Landlords must stop pests such as rats, mice, and other pests from getting into a home
- Landlords must commission annual gas safety inspections
- And the same with the checking of electrics – wiring, plugs, light sockets, and any appliances supplied by the landlord should be checked at least every five years.
- Landlords must supply working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms at the start of a tenancy.
It adds that ‘regard shall be had to its condition in respect of the following matters’:
- Freedom from damp
- Internal arrangement
- Natural lighting
- Water supply
- Drainage and sanitary conveniences
- Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of wastewater
And also that the house is regarded as unfit for human habitation if (and only if) it is “so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition”.
Who is responsible for minor repairs?
It’s not all on the landlord – is the first thing to note here, and this part of the legislation exists to protect both the landlord and the tenant.
Because as much as it’s not ideal to be called out to change a lightbulb, we’re sure you don’t want your tenant getting out their toolkit and attempting to re-roof your property (or similar) …as well-meaning as that would be.
Under most tenancy agreements, tenants have four obligations, which are:
- Keep their home reasonably clean and tidy
- Make sure any electrical appliances they own are safe
- Keep any garden or outside area in a reasonable state
- Carry out minor maintenance, such as changing light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries.
These are things most agreements class as ‘minor repairs’. In addition, your agreement should detail that tenants should pay for any damage made by themselves, their children, their visitors, or indeed their pets.
Who is responsible for major repairs?
We’re sure it won’t come as any surprise to hear that it’s the landlords’ responsibility to deal with any major repairs. Under Section 11, it’s the landlord’s obligation to maintain and repair a privately rented home to a good standard.
According to the Act, the following constitute major repairs (but this list is by no means exhaustive):
- Building structure. This includes the roof, windows and doors
- Plumbing. This includes gas pipes, radiators and boilers, water pipes from the mains into the home and hot water, sinks, baths, toilets, showers and drains
- Electrical wiring. Be sure to use a professional electrician
- Common areas. Halls and corridors in shared housing count as common areas
- Redecoration. After any repairs to the property are made, redecoration should be the final step
What is the ‘right of quiet enjoyment’?
If you feel like turning up to check on your property with your phone music blaring at full volume, perhaps think again. But this isn’t actually what the Act means by ‘quiet enjoyment’ – we just mention it on the grounds of it being antisocial.
So what does the Act mean by ‘quiet enjoyment’? It’s actually a legal term, and it’s one for both tenants and landlords to get acquainted with.
For tenants, it doesn’t mean a right to live in a peaceful neighbourhood, or away from noise from neighbours – that’s annoying, we grant you, but it’s probably one for the local authority to deal with.
Instead, this is about when a landlord or contractor can (or cannot) enter the tenant’s home. The important details of this are as follows:
- A tenant must be given at least 24-hour’s notice in writing of when this needs to happen and furthermore, it must be at a reasonable time
- A tenant can ask for a time that’s more convenient to them, but must let the agreed person in when this has all been agreed
Access in an emergency is different, for obvious reasons. No one wants to wait 24-hours for the emergency services to be let in, for whatever reason.
What is the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)?
This is basically a risk assessment local councils use and apply to, to decide if a privately rented home is fit to live in.
All private rented homes in England and Wales must pass the HHSRS test.
The HHSRS has been the standard assessment for property safety since 2006. But even though the system has been in place for over 15 years, criticism as to its complexity is ongoing.
In truth, many landlords and tenants actually have no idea what it is or how the system works. It seems that until very recently, calls for a simpler set of standards for the private rented sector have been ignored. In 2018 the Government announced the HHSRS would be reviewed.
As a result of this, The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government launched a two-year research project around the HHSRS, and the surveys for this closed in March 2021, so changes should be afoot in the not-too-distant future.
What is the Model Tenancy Agreement?
Do you hate dogs and can’t think of anything worse than owning your very own ‘man’s best friend’?
Well, you’re in the minority. Furthermore, via the Model Tenancy Agreement, the Government is now asking landlords to offer more flexibility in their approach to tenants owning pets.
In fact, it asks for landlords to accept responsible pet owners as tenants.
This agreement has been designed to encourage landlords to be more accepting of tenants with well-behaved pets (which you could argue also means responsible pet owners).
However, asks is the operative word here, and the Model Tenancy Agreement is not legally binding. Landlords can choose to issue their own precedent Tenancy Agreement, but landlords are being encouraged to adopt this new position. So it is recommended, but not yet required.
Where can you find it? Well, handily, the Government has published a free, downloadable guide here.
Do these laws apply to HMOs?
HMO’s or Houses of Multiple Occupancy are also affected by this Act.
The Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 applies to all private rented homes in England and Wales.
This is regardless of the type of tenancy. The Act covers tenancies of up to seven years, if they are fixed term or periodic.
Where to next?
That brings us to the end of this whistle-stop tour of this important piece of legislation.
It is worth noting that we haven’t covered everything here, and if you have further questions, it is definitely worth taking a look at the Act yourself. But in the meantime, we hope this article has helped you to digest some of the jargon and given you an overview of the essential points.
Or, if you aren’t sure about any of the points and you use a letting agent or management company, they will definitely be able to explain all of this to you further and in more detail.
However, if you have questions and that isn’t the case, get in touch, as we can offer plenty of advice about the finer points of the Act and your legal obligations.
If you manage the property or portfolio yourself, or just want more advice for belts and braces, we would always recommend seeking the advice of a solicitor.