We all know that being a residential landlord is a big responsibility. Whether you’re new to BTL or have an established rental portfolio to manage, it’s important that you understand your legal responsibilities to protect both yourself and your tenants.
There are many areas of ever-changing legislation that you must comply with in order to avoid the risk of prosecution for breach, potentially hefty fines, and invalidated insurance. The main areas of landlord responsibility include wide-ranging health and safety responsibilities to ensure the property is fit for habitation, and repair and maintenance obligations.
The vast majority of landlords understand their responsibilities and are diligent in their behaviour as property owners and managers. Indeed, many large landlords have proactive property maintenance programmes in place to keep on top of any issues before they become problems. Others rely on the professional expertise of their letting agents, such as this one offering comprehensive landlord advice “as to your responsibilities under the law in such matters as gas and electricity safety checks and furniture fire retardation”.
But even with the best will in the world, no one can know all the ins and outs. In practice, there may be many questions where the answer isn’t clear-cut. If you’re often asking yourself the question ‘Is this really my responsibility or should the tenant be paying for it?’, then read on as we delve into some common grey areas in this guest post.
1. My tenant is complaining about black mould in the property. Do I need to fix this?
Landlords must ensure that the rental property is ‘fit for human habitation’. Damp and mould on walls or ceilings is not only unsightly, it can pose a health risk, especially for people with respiratory problems or allergies. It also produces irritants and toxins that are harmful to human health. The responsibility for dealing with black mould in a property depends on what caused it. If it is caused by leaking pipes, rising or penetrating damp or structural defects in the property, then it is the landlord’s job to put it right. However, if the problem is caused by a tenant’s lifestyle choices leading to poor ventilation – not opening windows, drying laundry on radiators, not using the bathroom fan – then you’re not responsible for mould removal.
2. My tenant claims he has found asbestos. Is it my responsibility to deal with this?
Asbestos was a common building material used in many houses – it was only fully banned in the UK in 1999. In properties built before then, it can still be found in roof coverings, Artex ceiling coatings, as insulation in airing cupboards, behind fuse boxes, for pipe lagging, and more. Asbestos is a known carcinogen when the fibres become disturbed or damaged, but it is safe when left alone. If your tenant flags up asbestos, you have a ‘duty to manage’ under the Control of Asbestos Regulation 2012 and various other laws and you should have a professional asbestos survey carried out (in fact, your mortgage company may insist on it). The plan of action to deal with asbestos depends on its current condition. If the survey reveals that the asbestos is sound and best left undisturbed, you have no obligation to act.
3. My tenant says his washing machine is broken and I need to replace it. Is this correct?
As a landlord, you are required to ensure that all electrical appliances supplied with the property are in a safe condition, according to the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 and 2016. PAT testing is not a legal requirement but a good idea nonetheless. You also need to have an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) carried out every 5 years, of which the tenant receives a copy, to cover fixed electrical parts such as showers and extractor fans, light fittings, and power sockets. While you are responsible for the operation of any electrical appliances supplied under the tenancy agreement and clearly listed in the inventory (most likely white goods), tenants are responsible for looking after their own appliances or equipment. If the washing machine breaks and you didn’t supply it, it’s not your responsibility.
4. My tenants have seen rats in the garden and want me to get rid of them. Is this my job?
Whether it’s rats, foxes, cockroaches, or bed bugs, the responsibility for pest control is typically covered in the tenancy agreement which will usually state that the landlord must keep the property in a habitable state and the tenant must maintain sanitary conditions. If an infestation has been caused by a structural flaw in the property or inadequate precautions were taken to prevent a risk of infestation – say a hole in the roof has led to a pigeon infestation in the loft – it is your responsibility to fix the problem. On the other hand, your tenant may be liable to deal with the problem if it can be shown that their actions attracted the pests to the property. If they’ve been leaving rubbish outside and not using the bins provided, which in turn has led to rats coming into the garden, you are most likely not responsible.
5. My tenant refuses to do any gardening and the place looks a mess. What can I do?
Garden maintenance is a common source of frustration for both landlord and tenant. Under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, you must keep the structure of the property in good repair, which includes areas of the garden that tenants cannot reasonably be expected to maintain, such as guttering and fences. While one could reasonably expect tenants to carry out basic garden maintenance jobs to keep the area tidy, such as mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, and weeding the beds, it all comes down to what the tenancy agreement says. Make sure that you insert specific garden-related clauses that establish the tenant’s exact garden maintenance and upkeep responsibilities so that you are covered. That way, there’s no room for confusion.
Whether you’re an established landlord or are starting out as a new property manager, there are tips and training resources that keep you well-informed about how to oversee your responsibilities as a landlord successfully. With the help of professionals or under the guidance of local agencies, forging a good relationship between landlord and tenant is key.