All you need to know about landlords

What is privately rented housing?

Private renting refers to any situation in which you pay rent to the owner of a property, or to an agent acting on their behalf, where that owner is an individual and not a public organisation (e.g. a local authority). In this way, private rental property is distinct from local authority or housing association property. The term independent landlord refers to any individual who puts a room or property up for rent themselves, without using a letting agent. This means you are dealing with an individual owner rather than with a company. A professional landlord is a lettings agent who is employed by the property owner to rent out and manage their accommodation on their behalf. The privately rented housing sector in the UK is increasing, with almost 2.5 million homes and 11% of the housing stock currently rented privately. (Source: the Department for Communities and Local Government). However, this is still a very small proportion of the property market when compared with other European countries, some of which rely far more on private rentals. The UK has traditionally had a greater focus on property ownership (“The Englishman’s home is his castle”), but high prices and less job security is changing that. For many younger people, or for those who require greater flexibility about where they live and for how long, renting is a more suitable option than buying.

How does somebody become an independent landlord? Do they need to be registered or licensed?

It’s very easy to become an independent landlord. Aside from owning a room or property – or be renting it with a lease longer than that of the person they will be sub-letting to, although the property owner must agree to allow the property to be sub-let – a potential independent landlord doesn’t need to do anything. There are no official bodies to register with or licenses to buy. A landlord can choose to manage their property independently, or can employ a letting agent (a professional landlord) who takes charge of drawing up the lease, handling tenants’ problems, and maintaining the property on their behalf. Landlords can either let an entire property, or let out a room or rooms in the house in which they live. The latter situation is called a resident landlord letting. If you rent from a resident landlord (i.e. renting a room in the landlord’s house) then your rights differ in two important ways. You do not have a right to challenge the level of rent that you agreed to pay, and the landlord can give you less notice to leave if they wish to end the letting.

Who regulates private landlords?

Independent landlords are not registered or regulated by any specific body, so it’s important to be familiar with the legislation that protects your interests. The most recent Government legislation regarding property is the Housing Act 2004 (available online). Some (not all) letting agents are regulated by the National Approved Letting Scheme. #Association of Residential Letting Agents
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
  • National Association of Estate Agents,
  • Registered Social Landlords (housing associations).

How does it work? What formalities are there?

All a landlord needs to do to rent out their property is draw up a lease which you both sign. The majority of leases fall under the category of Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. (Notable exceptions to this are arrangements in which little or no rent is paid; business lettings; and student halls of residence). If you moved into your rental property prior to 27 February 1997, and were not notified otherwise, then you might be an Assured Tenant, which gives you greater rights. If you moved in before 15 January 1989 then you are classed as a Regulated Tenant, and have again greater rights over your property. An Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement must specify a fixed period of occupation, with a minimum period of six months. A two month period of notice is required before a tenant can be evicted, and the agreement cannot permit the tenant to leave earlier than the specified six months for any reason other than non-payment of rent.

How is a lease drawn up?

Landlords can draw up their own lease, but generally use a template provided by a lettings agent or bought from a number of companies for a fee. Lettings agents usually have a standard lease which they will customise for an individual property according to a number of factors – the landlord’s preferences, the property details, etc. The content and conditions of a lease are regulated by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations drawn up in 1999. These regulations can be viewed online. It is important for the tenant to check that a lease also includes an inventory, which is a list of existing furnishings and their state of repair. A detailed inventory that you both sign will safeguard you against being accused of causing damage to the property that predates your occupancy. If necessary, take photos of any existing damage (for instance, cracked windows or broken furniture) to ensure that you can prove that the landlord and not you is responsible.

What are my rights as a tenant?

The law requires landlords to keep the property in good condition, including exterior repairs, guttering, window and doors. You have the right to live in a safe property and the right to live undisturbed; your landlord cannot enter the property without your permission without a specific reason. In a situation where you feel that the gas or electrical connections in the property, or the building’s infrastructure, might be unsafe, you can contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who can investigate. It is a good idea to be aware of your rights as a tenant and to seek advice from the public bodies available to help you (Citizens Advice Bureaus, local authorities and any number of charity organisations who assist with housing) or legal advice. However, it is worth noting that it is relatively easy for a landlord to evict an Assured Shorthold Tenant. Bear this in mind if you approach the landlord with any concerns or complaints.

When a landlord and a tenant are both involved in a property, how is responsibility for repairs and rates divided up?

Your lease may specify where the responsibility lies for particular maintenance tasks. However, as a general rule, the landlord retains responsibility for:
  • repairs to the structure and exterior of the property, heating and hot water installations, basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary installations
  • the safety of gas and electrical appliances
  • the fire safety of furniture and furnishings provided under the tenancy
  • ensuring that the property is fit for habitation
  • repairing and keeping in working order the room and water heating equipment
  • the common areas in multi-occupancy dwellings
The tenant is responsible for:
  • paying the rent and taking proper care of the property
  • bills as agreed in the lease: things like water rates, council tax, gas and electricity and telephone bills can be allocated to you or paid by the landlord as specified.

What if I don’t want to leave after my lease is up? Or what if I want to leave early?

After living in the property for the minimum period specified in your lease, you can end the tenancy at any time, giving the length of notice specified in the lease. On the other side of things, the landlord can end the tenancy after the minimum period has elapsed, giving at least two months notice that they wish to take their property back. Landlords can also end a tenancy at any time for certain reasons, including non-payment of rent or damage to the property. If you refuse to vacate a property after the landlord has asked you to, and if the landlord has followed the necessary steps or has adequate grounds for terminating the lease, then they can apply to the county court to have you evicted.

Will my landlord ask for a deposit?

Landlords will almost invariably ask for a deposit. They will then return this on your departure unless there has been damage to the property or if you have failed to honour your lease. The Housing Act 2004 protects a tenant’s deposit from being unfairly retained. More information on this. Additionally, legislation brought in on 6 April 2007 now requires all deposits to be protected by a tenancy deposit protection scheme.

What are the advantages of renting property from an independent landlord over renting from an agent?

Renting property from an independent landlord appeals to some people because of its flexibility and lack of official bodies. You can deal with an individual person, often one who has a vested interest in taking care of the property and ensuring it is rented to the right kind of people (a landlord might not want to rent out their late Grandmother’s cherished house to someone messy or destructive, for example). It can be possible to forge a real relationship with the landlord, with the corresponding advantages that go along with that. They might be easier to get in touch with outside office hours, and they might respond more quickly when you call about repairs. Independent landlords may have more room for negotiation when it comes to rental price - and of course, they don’t have to include agents’ fees. Similarly, they might be prepared to be more flexible about terms and conditions: that “no pets” clause in the lease might be a catch-all intended to avoid noisy dogs and they could be very open to amending it for your tank of goldfish. However, the lack of red-tape and paperwork could also be a potential disadvantage. An individual landlord could be unhelpful, prejudiced, disorganised or dishonest, and getting problems sorted out is more difficult when there’s no official complaints procedure. For these reasons, some people prefer to deal with a letting agent – someone to negotiate with the landlord on their behalf. A larger company will have official standards of service to meet and it may be easier to approach them with problems.

Case 1

Name: Amy Age: 23 Occupation: Art student Lives: Brixton, South London, with 2 others in a 3 bedroom flat with an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. Rent: £90 per week plus bills; water rates are included. Amy chose the flat after looking at adverts in Loot magazine. She has found her landlady to be very friendly and helpful, particularly when emergency repairs were needed on a leaking shower – “she sent a plumber round straight away”. However, they have been involved in a long-running dispute about the fact that the flat has mice: the landlady feels that the students encouraged the mice by leaving food around, and wants to take the money needed for a rodent catcher out of their holding deposit.

Case 2

Name: Chris Age: 26 Occupation: Floor manager at WH Smith Lives: Willesdon, North London, with his girlfriend, a student, in a resident landlord property. Rent: £70 per week each for their large double bedroom, bills included. Chris and his girlfriend rent the top-floor bedroom in the house of an older lady called Angela. The couple get on well with Angela, and spend several evenings a week with her. They get relatively cheap rent in a nice house, while she enjoys the company and has the peace of mind of knowing she’s not living alone.

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