Landlords Responsibilities: Legal Liability

A landlord’s responsibilities under the section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985 are:

  1. To supply the property with water and electricity.
  2. Take preventive measures against damp.
  3. To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property (which can include drains, gutters, external pipes, lifts, stairs and halls).
  4. To keep in repair (and proper working order) the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation, including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences throughout the duration of the tenancy.
  5. To keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the premises for space heating and heating water.
  6. To ensure the safety of the residency they are renting out.
  7. To ensure that the property has proper ventilation.

A new law means that landlords must also comply with the rules of fitness for human habitation.

Landlords cannot absolve themselves of these responsibilities by excluding them from the contract, these obligations set out in law override any contractual clauses that excuse the landlord.

Lettings not covered by section 11 include:

  • Tenancies that are more than 7 years (providing they are not flexible or secure tenancies, assured or assured shorthold tenancies).
  • Tenancies covered by the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1986 and Agriculture Tenancies Act 1995, crown tenancies, most business tenancies

Structure and Exterior A landlord’s basic responsibility is to keep the structure and exterior of the dwelling in good state. However, structural frameworks which may not form part of the property, but are a vital part of the property, like common parts or parts of the building where they retain control, is the landlord’s responsibility. For example, lifts, stairs and halls in a building owned by the landlord fall under the landlord’s responsibility.

Landlords have extended responsibility to keep the exterior and structure of property in repair to a building such as a flat, if the tenancy was granted in 1988. Although the landlord is not required to repair unless the disrepair adversely affects the tenant’s experience in the property. Landlords who have built properties are liable to ensure that the premises is safe when it rented.

Landlords have various responsibilities to repair the structure and exterior of premises as well as various installations in their premises for all tenancies. The landlord is normally only liable once he or she has been notified of a defect. If a landlord fails to act on this, then they are liable to pay damages to the tenant and can be forced by a court to carry out the repairs.

This principle applies whether expressly mentioned in a tenancy agreement or not, although a landlord may be exposed to greater liability if it is expressly mentioned.

Compliance with legal requirements - management and maintenance (most recent letting)

Landlords have responsibility when it comes to the safety of tenants. These include:

  • Gas

    To ensure that gas equipment is installed properly and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer. To run annual gas checks on gas appliances.

  • Fire safety

    Follow safety regulations, provide a functional smoke alarm on each storey and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel burning appliance e.g. wood or gas stove, and keep these in good repair.

    Ensure continued functionality of fire extinguishers (HMO only).

  • Electrical safety

    Landlords need to ensure that the electrics of their property are safe, ensuring that sockets are functional and safe. They must also ensure that any installations that run off electricity in the property, such as an oven or a boiler are safe, as well as any furnishings included in the property, such as kettles and toasters.

  • Energy Performance Certificate

    Energy Performance Certificate Landlords are also required to get an EPC for their property and give it to the tenant upon the commencement of the tenancy. The EPC must have a minimum of an E rating.

Energy efficiency rating bands in the private rented sector for countries of the UK, 2016 to 2018

A new act in 2019 came in that changes landlord responsibility when it comes to the upkeep of the rented property. The Fitness for Human Habitation Act means that the property must comply with that standard at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout its duration.

If a tenancy is unfit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy, then the tenant has the right to end the tenancy unilaterally.

This requirement doesn’t have a universal standard that landlords need to comply with, rather it is according to the individual tenants needs, for example if a tenant is disabled, their requires. So one person’s definition of fit for human habitation may be different to another’s, and landlords have to take this into account.

Section 10 of the Landlord Tenancy Act 1985 defines fitness for human habitation, and sets out the following criteria that will define whether an abode is fit for habitation:

  • Repair

  • Stability

  • Freedom from damp

  • Internal arrangement

  • Natural Lighting

  • Ventilation

  • Water Supply (including both hot and cold)

  • Drainage and sanitary conveniences

Facilities for preparation of cooking food and disposing waste water

Any issues with the human habitation act are dealt with directly in court rather than with the local council, and therefore the tenant doesn’t have to go through the council first and can go directly to court.

A judge will decide based on several criteria, including repairs, water supply, damp, ventilation etc. It’s important to note that a landlord has a responsibility to carry out any repairs that affect fitness for human habitation, even if not expressly mentioned in the tenancy agreement.

Landlords could be sued for damages if they fail to comply with these standards.

Notifications It is expected that landlords’ obligations are the same as under section 11 of the Landlord Tenant Act of 1985. Therefore the tenants responsibility to inform the landlord will depend on the type of tenancy, see below:

  • Room

    It’s not a legal requirement for the HMO landlord to be notified of defects in the communal areas, so it’s on the landlord to take the initiative to ensure that everything is in a good state. For issues within the room, the tenant must inform the landlord of the issue, and then it becomes the landlord’s responsibility.

  • Joint tenancy basis

    Again there is nothing explicit in making tenants inform the landlord of an issue, although it’s expected that landlords get notified of any issues that arise in the property, and then will be expected to address the problem within a set amount of time. Landlords should make regular visits to their property to ensure that it is in a good state and fit for human habitation.

Landlords are not responsible for any damage caused by the tenant, any acts of God, e.g. damage by flooding, fires, etc.

These rules apply to all secured tenancies that are under 7 years, including subletting tenancies. All tenancies made or renewed on 20th March 2019 will need to meet the fit for human habitation rules. Legislation doesn’t apply to fixed term tenancies that began before March 2019, and for periodic tenancies that began before March, legislation applies, but after one year.

  • Negligence

    This refers to below-par repair work, or a failure to altogether carry out repairs. A landlord is liable to be sued if a tenant is injured as a result of insufficient repair work.

  • Private nuisance

    A landlord is liable if a part of the common area or another property under the landlords’ control is defective and affects the wellbeing and the ability of the tenant to enjoy the property, for example a burst pipe.

  • Statutory nuisance

    This overlaps with the newer fitness for human habitation act, a landlord must maintain the property in a basic state of acceptability to not harm the health of the tenant. This can include mould, vermin infestation and asbestos. Landlords can expect to hear from local authorities if there is a statutory nuisance.

  • Defective Premises Act 1972

    Landlords have a duty to prevent personal injury to tenants caused by defects to the property. This is valid when the landlord is required to repair or maintain the property, and this is valid if a landlord knows or should have known about a defect, even if the tenant doesn’t communicate this to the landlord.

A landlord has no responsibility for the damage to a tenant’s property, unless it is due to landlord negligence, such as a burst pipe that causes damage through no fault of the tenant.

Right to enter Landlords have a legal right to enter the property to carry out an inspection or repairs, but they have a responsibility to give 24 hours’ notice. There are special exceptions in the case of an emergency.

Landlords have a requirement to check the right of the tenant to enter into the agreement, whether they have the legal right to live and remain in the UK. Landlords are advised to request a copy of the prospective tenant’s ID, and if required, a visa. Failure to run these tests and renting to someone who doesn’t have the right to reside in the UK can lead to heavy fines and up to 5 years in prison.
If the tenant has already entered the property and the landlord learns that the tenant never had, or no longer had the right to remain in the UK, the landlord is required to evict them. This can take the form of a mutual termination agreement or can be taken up by the high court who will issue an eviction notice, but even in these circumstances, the landlord is required to give the tenant 28 days’ notice.

However, this was measure was recently found to be unlawful in the by the UK High Court, though the government is appealing the ruling. It is likely that it will be under close scrutiny, and parts of it, or even the whole thing may be revoked.

Compliance with legal requirements - letting (most recent letting)

Landlords have a responsibility to protect the tenants deposit in an assured shorthold tenancy, and put it in a UK government-approved deposit protection scheme. At the end of a tenancy, the deposit must be returned in full, unless there is damage caused to the landlord’s property, or if there is unpaid rent. Failure to protect a tenant’s deposit can lead to a fine and lead to difficulties in ending the tenancy.

If a landlord wishes to evict their tenant, there are strict rules and procedures they must follow, depending on the type of rent-contract they have:

  • Assured shorthold tenancies

    1. Give a section 21 notice to get a tenant to leave the property once their agreement expires.
    2. Give a section 8 if they have violated the terms of their agreement.
    3. If a tenant refuses to leave the property and there is no rent owed, then the landlord can apply for an accelerated possession order.
    4. If the tenant owes rent and refuses to leave the property, the landlord must get a standing possession order from a court.
    5. If the tenant still won’t leave, the landlord needs to apply for a warrant of possession, which means bailiffs can enter the property and remove the tenants.

      The most common reasons for evicting, asking a tenant to leave or not renewing a tenancy were due to rent arrears (58%) or due to the tenant not caring for the property (45%)
  • Excluded tenancies

    It isn’t usually necessary to go through a court to deal with excluded tenancies, landlords do however need to provide the tenant with reasonable notice, which is normally defined as the payment period. Notice doesn’t need to be a formal written notice, it can be a verbal notice. If the tenant doesn’t heed the notice, then when the notice period expires, a landlord ca n change the locks if they remain in the property or leave their possessions there.

  • Assured and regulated tenancies

    Anyone who began their tenancy before 1997 could be included in this category, which gives them more protection from eviction.

HMO landlords who have properties with three storeys and houses with more than five people need a licence, but other types of HMOs may also need a licence. The council will carry out a HHSRS check within five years of the application. If any risks are detected, the landlord is required to repair them. The HMO landlord must also inform the council of any planned modifications to the property. While HMO landlords with less than two storeys and less than 5 people aren’t automatically required to register with the council, its best the HMO landlord contacts the council to confirm their responsibilities.

A checklist for when tenants move in

  1. Make sure your property is fire safe e.g. install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
  2. Make sure your gas safety certificate is up to date
  3. Arrange an EPC – an EPC must be provided every time you let to a new tenant
  4. Test your electrical appliances to make sure they are safe to use
  5. Carry out an immigration Right to Rent check
  6. Reference your tenants
  7. Ask tenants for guarantor information
  8. Arrange a tenancy agreement
  9. Collect the first month’s rent and security deposit
  10. Protect your tenants’ deposit – the deposit must be put into a Government-backed tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days
  11. Conduct an inventory so that everything in the property is accounted for
  12. Take meter readings
  13. Provide tenants with your contact details

A checklist for during the tenancy

  1. Give your tenant/s a copy of the ‘How to rent checklist’
  2. Invite tenants to use Arthur Online’s tenant app
  3. Fulfil your maintenance and repair obligations
  4. Keep records of repair requests, inspections, safety checks, rent statements
  5. If carrying out viewings during the tenancy, give current tenants at least 24 hours’ notice beforehand

A checklist for when tenants move out

  1. Make a note of when the tenancy is due to end and see if the tenants wants to
  2. renew their agreement (two months’ notice must be given prior to the end of a tenancy)
  3. Provide instructions on what condition the property is to be left in upon the tenant moving out
  4. Conduct an inspection of the property
  5. Return the deposit (deducting costs to cover any damage)
  6. Advise the tenant about taking final meter readings for an end of tenancy bill
  7. Make arrangements to handover keys
  8. Arrange for your property to be cleaned before you let out to new tenants