In Volume 1 I covered some common issues for private residential landlords. Here I continue on the same theme.
The Deregulation Act 2015
This introduced the requirements for landlords to provide their tenants with the How to Rent Guide, the EPC, and the Gas Certificate at the start of the tenancy. These must be given before a valid Section 21 Notice seeking possession can be served. Even when landlords have provided these documents, they often forget to obtain evidence that they have done so. It is good practice to keep a checklist showing what has been given, or have the tenant sign the tenancy agreement to confirm receipt of these items, in order to protect the landlord if the tenant later denies having received them in any later court proceedings. If you’re thinking of serving a Section 21 Notice, I can advise on compliance with these requirements.
Right to Rent
This can result in a prosecution if not carried out. So-called Right to Rent is the requirement for landlords to verify that prospective tenants and occupiers have the right to live in the UK by checking and keeping copies of documents of all adults who will be living in the property. The documents are too numerous to list here but include a British Passport or EEA identity card, and many others. The Home Office has a booklet explaining the types of documents that evidence a right to rent. There is also a Home Office helpline.
Landlords must show they have seen the original relevant documents for each occupier. If they fail to do so, and the occupier is later found to be an illegal migrant, the landlord is at risk of prosecution. Landlords should take care not to discriminate when carrying out these checks, and to carry them out equally on all prospective tenants regardless of their race or nationality. It is good practice to keep a checklist with the tenancy agreement detailing the documents that have been seen.
Certain private rental properties are subject to licensing, including Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and those in areas where the local authority has introduced selective licensing. Criminal penalties and fines are in place for non-compliance with licensing requirements, and an HMO landlord cannot serve a valid Section 21 notice without a license in place. Landlords should check with their local authority whether their property falls within a selective licensing area. If their property is let to more than one person or family, they should check the rules on what is classed as an HMO.
I’ve acted for landlords whose properties have been used for criminal purposes, including cannabis farms. There is nothing a landlord can do to prevent this altogether, there are sophisticated criminals out there, but there are warning signs, and precautions. If a new tenant is keen to pay a large amount of rent up-front, that might be a red flag; they want to be left well alone for a long period. If curtains or blinds are closed all day, that could be a sign. You should (as always) make sure you obtain references including from the previous landlord, and obtain the photographic ID (which you must do to comply with Right to Rent anyway), and don’t be rushed into accepting a tenant. Most tenancy agreements have a clause allowing the landlord to inspect. Make use of this, and carry out an early inspection. In August 2019 the RLA reported Cheshire Police had warned landlords to be vigilant for organised crime gangs using rental properties to house victims of modern slavery. Any suspicions should, of course, be reported to the Police.