Many people now own a property that they let out. Being a landlord brings legal responsibilities and you must make sure you know the rules. Robin Rowland, commercial property partner with Humphries Kirk in Wareham, explains who is responsible for keeping a buy-to-let property in good repair.
If you own and let out residential property on a short-term basis you are required by law to maintain:
You must also maintain installations that supply water, gas and electricity and ensure that all gas and electricity installations are safe.
So that you can comply with these obligations, the law gives you the right to go into the property to check its condition at reasonable times of the day, as long as you give the occupier 24 hours’ notice in writing.
In addition to your legal repairing obligations, you have a duty under the Defective Premises Act 1972 to take reasonable care that anyone who might be affected by a defect in the property is kept reasonably safe from injury. An example might be a broken floorboard that could lead to someone being injured.
Your obligations in relation to defective premises apply only if you are aware of the defect and have the right to go into the property to remedy it. A short-term tenancy agreement will generally include this right, so buy-to-let landlords are likely to be liable for defects if they are aware of them.
If the property is let on a monthly or yearly basis, the tenant must keep it in a ‘tenant-like’ manner. This means not deliberately damaging the property and making sure it does not deteriorate. The tenancy agreement will normally require the tenant to ensure the interior of the property is returned in the same condition as at the beginning of the tenancy, except for fair wear and tear. Any provision that tries to make the tenant responsible for the structure and exterior, or other things for which the landlord is legally liable, will be void.
A careful landlord will arrange to inspect the property at reasonable intervals, rather than relying on a tenant to pass on information. This will help you to comply with your statutory obligations in relation to repair and prevent major problems developing. If your tenant does tell you about a problem and you do not make the necessary repairs, the tenant may be able to carry out the work and deduct the cost from future rent payments. Alternatively, they may be able to claim sums up to £5,000 through the small claims court. Bear in mind that however you find out about a defect, your potential liability under the Defective Premises Act 1972 will be triggered, so you must do something about it.
Landlords who let out residential property on short-term tenancies must cover the cost of complying with their legal repairing obligations themselves and are not entitled to ask tenants to pay for these repairs on top of the rent. It is important to plan ahead and set aside money for a regular programme of repair and maintenance. Insurance may cover accidental damage, but be aware of any excesses or exclusions.
The tenancy agreement will usually mirror the legal requirement for the landlord to give 24 hours’ notice before entering the property, but it should also allow for immediate access to deal with emergencies. As landlord, you should have a set of keys which should be used only with the tenant’s consent, except in emergencies. You should make sure that your tenant knows how to contact you if something happens that requires your urgent attention.
If repairs are not done promptly, both the property and your relationship with the tenant will deteriorate. Landlords must be clear about their responsibilities and deal with repairs in a timely way.
If you own a buy-to-let property and require legal advice, please contact Robin Rowland on 01929 552141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help.