4 ways you could be breaking the law

Even experienced landlords find it tough to stay on top of regulations, so it’s hard to make sure you’re staying within the law if you’re new to renting out property.

The law is there to protect tenants from so-called ‘rogue landlords’ who abuse the situation and try to make a swift buck without taking responsibility for their actions (or lack of them). Of course most landlords have perfectly good intentions, but it’s easy to fall foul of regulations, if you don’t keep up with them.

Here’s our quick guide to the top 4 most important responsibilities every landlord should take seriously.

Protecting your tenants’ deposits

It’s normal to take a deposit to guard against abuse of your property, but you can’t simply pocket it when repairs need to be made. To stop tenant deposits disappearing mysteriously, landlords now have to protect them. If you’re renting a room or a property using an AST or Assured Shorthold Tenancy you need to take action quickly. Remember, this rule doesn’t apply to homeowners renting a room to a lodger, using a licence instead of an AST.

Protecting a deposit means registering it with a government approved scheme shortly after the AST is signed – there’s a time limit of 30 days from the start of a new tenancy.

Some schemes hold the money on behalf of the tenant, and others work on an insurance basis – it’s your choice which you use. It’s crucial to ensure you give the tenant all the relevant information about where their money’s stored and how they can apply to get it back. If you don’t do this properly, a court could force you to repay the deposit in full to the tenant plus up to 3 times the deposit amount, so it’s worth getting it right first time.

Keeping your tenants safe

If your property has gas heating or appliances, you’ll have to get them checked and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer (formerly Corgi Registered) once a year. You should give your tenants a copy of the certificate when they move in, or within 28 days of the check. You also need to ensure that the electrical system is safe and all appliances are also safe to use.

Similarly, you also have a responsibility to keep the house in good condition and your tenants safe from the elements. This means maintaining your property and ensuring there are no leaks, the boiler works, and the tenants can keep themselves warm and have hot water for showers or bathing. If you don’t make repairs in reasonable time, you could be inspected by the council and the property deemed unfit to live in, as well as facing fines.

Giving notice to evict

If you want to evict a tenant without giving a reason, you have to give the right amount of notice. This is normally 2 months, and must be given in writing. If the tenancy is still in the fixed period, you most likely won’t be able to give notice to leave before the six months is up, unless they’ve broken the terms of the agreement. Rent arrears or misuse of the property (eg to sell drugs) are reasons why you could give notice earlier. If you haven’t protected the tenant deposit, or given the appropriate notice period, you will not be able to evict the tenant easily and may be subject to fines.

Discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, or disability. That means that you can’t advertise a room or a property as ONLY for females, Christians or Asians, for example. If you discriminate in this way, you could face legal action.

There is one exception to this rule – when you are living in the property and sharing with the tenants. In this case you can choose who you want to live with and discriminate on every one of these bases, except for race, which is always unlawful, according to the Equality Act 2010. If you’re a landlord of a shared property, advertising a room where there are existing sharers, you may advise of their preferences, but not yours. So if there are a number of young women living there who would prefer not to live with a man, you can state that in your ad.

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