Honourable and personal residential letting experts

1Jun

Are you breaking the law?

Many landlords are concerned about breaking the law. A regular question that I am asked is “What can you do for me as my agent?”

My answer always reflects what we have dealt with that day and will go as follows:

“Apart from looking after the investment, we provide marriage counselling, deal with domestic abuse, financial counselling for your tenant, neighbour disputes, parking issues, contact with the local council on environmental health and housing issues…”

But the main thing we do is save you from a large fine and possible criminal record or jail term.

How?

The lettings industry is massively regulated. There are around 170 specific laws that landlords and agents must abide by. Matched with this, we have the Renters Reform Bill coming our way, which will change the way that we end a tenancy. As a regulated agent we make sure that you are kept up to date with your legal obligations.

Many of the changes over the last ten years have been around improving standards to make sure properties are as safe as possible for tenants. Along with these new laws have come stronger penalties for landlords who fail to meet their legal obligations.

In our experience, the reality is that most lets go pretty smoothly. When there is an issue, it’s usually down to the tenant breaching their agreement in some way, but every now and then there are cases where a landlord has failed to ensure their property has been let and managed legally and safely.

Examples I have seen over the last 12 months include:

  • Notice was served on the tenant incorrectly
  • There’s a serious damp and mould problem which was not down to condensation
  • The landlord did not have the necessary licence to let the property as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)
  • There aren’t enough smoke alarms and/or they don’t work properly
  • Gaining entry to the property without the tenant’s agreement

In all cases the landlords in question were decent individuals but had not kept up with legislation. In fact they had a great relationship with their tenant, up until things started to go wrong.

Top 10 fines you could receive if you don’t understand the legislation.

  1. Fire safety and other safety breaches that endanger the lives of tenants – prosecution and potentially unlimited fines.
  2. Renting out an HMO without a licence – unlimited fine in court, plus tenants can apply for a Rent Repayment Order for up to 12 months’ rent.
  3. Breaching HMO licence regulations – unlimited fine in court.
  4. Not meeting ‘fitness for habitation’ standards – your tenants can sue for compensation and the award is at the discretion of the judge, plus fees.
  5. Illegal eviction – compensation for the tenant at the court’s discretion (which could run into tens of thousands), plus fees.
  6. Electrical safety breaches – £30,000.
  7. Breaching Tenancy Fees Act – up to £5,000 for a first offence, unlimited fine for reoffending within 5 years.
  8. Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) Regulations breach – £5,000.
  9. Not protecting your tenant’s deposit – up to 3 times the amount.
  10. Letting to someone who doesn’t have the legal right to live in the UK – £1,000 for a first offence, £3,000 thereafter and, in serious cases, a prison sentence.

There are two ways that you can ensure the property is legally complaint

  1. Make sure that you have access to information on the law. In 2020 the law changed three times on how to give notice to a tenant. Therefore, I am talking about weekly updates. Go on training seminars and carry out regular checks. Meet with your local council on a regular basis to find out what they are expecting.
  2. You know I am going to say this – use the services of a qualified agent because they are going to do all the above and more – see my opening sentence!

 

However, it’s important to understand that the ultimate responsibility for making sure your rental property is let safely and legally is yours. You’re the landlord, you own the property, and the tenancy agreement is between you and the tenant. (The exception would be if the property is owned and/or let via a company).

So it’s hugely important to choose a qualified letting agent such as ourselves. As members of ARLA Propertymark, all of the team at Maxine Lester undergo professional training, and we have robust systems in place to ensure every property we look after for our landlords is always legally let and managed. We also notify our landlords about any legal change that could affect them and/or their property.

If you’d like to discuss our fully managed service or want to know more about any legal aspect of letting, just contact us on 01480 494939.