Whether you’ve inherited a place or are diving into the world of buy-to-let, renting out a property is a pretty big deal. Often providing a handy extra income (whilst being another way to save for retirement), you also get the satisfaction of giving someone a much-needed home.
Becoming a landlord can be satisfying, but it certainly comes with plenty of risk and responsibility attached. This is one of those situations when ignorance is not bliss.
So, if you’re looking to make a decent return on your property whilst staying on the right side of the law, check out our guide for landlords.
How do I know if I’m a landlord?
Sounds like a bit of a weird question but it’s actually pretty reasonable. Whilst some people might think of landlords as wealthy land barons with pots of money, the reality isn’t usually the case.
People become landlords for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps they’re going travelling or working away, or move in with a partner so their property is going spare. Sometimes someone passes away and leaves a property vacant. Any number of life events can turn ordinary people into landlords – sometimes at fairly short notice!
Whilst you may not think of yourself as a landlord, if you rent out a property for money then, for good or for bad, that’s exactly what you are. And it’s up to you to make sure you meet your legal obligations.
Do you have permission to rent the property out?
You own the property (or have a mortgage on it) so surely, it’s yours to do what you want with? Well, not quite.
Most people have a standard residential mortgage on their property which allows them to live in it. However, you will need permission from your lender if you then wish to rent that property out.
Many lenders will give you permission fairly easily if you’re only renting out your place temporarily. If you don’t intend to return to live in the property and are letting it out long term, you’ll need to obtain a special buy-to-let mortgage instead. For this, you’ll need to meet their lending criteria, and it’s worth noting that interest rates are usually higher on buy-to-let mortgages too.
If you’re planning to rent out a leasehold property, you’ll also require written permission from the freeholder to do so.
How do I make my property more marketable?
How appealing your property looks makes a massive difference to how quickly you rent it. Go for neutral decoration inside, replacing tired or soiled carpets and furniture, and fixing any leaky taps. Get any other bits of DIY done while you can, and give the walls and ceilings a fresh lick of paint. It’s worth getting a professional cleaner in too.
Many landlords use letting agents to manage the tenancy and advertise when the property is vacant. Even if you’re going it alone, you might want to have a professional take some clear photos of your (decluttered!) rooms and write an enticing advert.
How much can I charge in rent?
Searching websites like Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket is a great way to see how much other local landlords are charging for similar properties.
When considering your prices, you’ll also need to decide what return on investment you’re looking for. Also ask yourself if you have enough money to cover property maintenance and mortgage repayments for any periods the property is unoccupied.
Five people or more, each from different households, are renting it out (a good example is student accommodation)
Some or all of the tenants share kitchen facilities or a bathroom
Even if your property is rented to fewer people than five it may still be an HMO, so you’ll need to contact your local council to check. In fact, it’s a good idea to speak to your council anyway, and inform them of your plans to become a landlord in case there are any local stipulations or rules you need to know about.
Obtain an EPC inspection
Next on your landlord-ing list should be getting an energy performance certificate (EPC) inspection. EPCs are a crucial part of making your property ready to rent. They look at how energy efficient it is, helping to you see where improvements are needed.
Once the inspection is finished, your property will be awarded a grade from A to G. A is the most energy efficient (a big draw for potential bill-conscious renters!) whilst G is the least efficient. You’ll need a new EPC certificate every 10 years.
The very minimum you need to let a property is an EPC rating of E.
Gas and electrical safety checks for landlords
Your property must, by law, have safe gas and electric supplies (and appliances) if you wish to rent it out.
For gas: This means getting a Gas Safe registered engineer to carry out a gas safety check every year. A copy of the certificate should be passed on to new tenants, and any repairs completed before they move in.
For electricity: UK regulations state that landlords must obtain an electrical inspection every five years. Any maintenance works the report throws up should be finished within 28 days, and your electrician must provide written confirmation. Once complete, an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) will also be issued.
If you’re including any electrical appliances for tenants to use, they must be PAT tested.
Fit (and maintain) carbon monoxide and smoke detectors
This is another safety requirement that’s absolutely essential legally. Landlords must fit and maintain both carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors. This is particularly the case where a property has fixed appliances such as gas fires or boilers.
All furnishings in the property must be fire resistant under the furniture and furnishings regulations act (1988). It’s not unheard of for landlords to be heavily fined, or even go to prison, if fire safety regulations are ignored.
Understand your maintenance responsibilities
Besides keeping your property on the right side of health and safety regulations, you also need to keep it in good condition. As a minimum, this involves carrying out repairs to:
The structure of the property and any additional buildings like garages
The heating and hot water system
Toilets, sinks, baths, and other sanitaryware
Any built-in kitchen appliances
Common areas if the property is a flat or apartment
Landlords must also fix any damage done by the tenant(s) or by themselves whilst making repairs.
Buy comprehensive landlord insurance
It’s likely you’ll have insurance on the primary property you live in, but this won’t cover a property that’s rented out. For that, you need special landlords’ insurance.
Your mortgage provider is likely to require you to have building insurance from the outset but you’ll also want contents insurance, especially for damage to big-ticket items like white goods, carpets and curtains.
These days you can even get insurance that covers you if your tenants can’t pay the rent. Plus, it’s well worth getting emergency cover too, just in case of a major electrical failure or water leak.
Check your tenants actually have the right to rent
Only people over the age of 18 can legally rent a property so you (or your letting agency if using one) need to see ID. Check your tenant’s right to rent on Gov.uk for more information.
Carry out tenant reference checks
Are you confident they’ll treat your property well, be a respectful neighbour, and pay their full rent on time each month? Don’t feel pressured if something’s not quite right.
Tenants should also be able to demonstrate their income and their right to reside in the UK. These checks are done by either landlords or, more commonly their agencies, and are known as tenant referencing.
Checking proof of income for potential tenants
When checking proof of income, prioritise tenants with at least three times the rent as their monthly income. For example, if you’re planning to charge £500 per month, their take-home pay should be around £1,500 a month.
You also need to know your tenant’s credit history and whether they have any debt. Credit check companies like Experian are your friend. If the tenant doesn’t pass the credit check but you’d still like to rent to them, you could request they provide a guarantor.
Finally, think of it like a job interview. Get references from current and previous employers as well as any prior landlords. Only sign on the dotted line when you’re absolutely sure.
Draw up a tenancy agreement
This is a rental contract and both you and your tenants must sign. If you’re doing this yourself, you may find one of the online templates useful. If you’re hiring a letting agency, they’ll sort this out for you.
Protect your tenant’s deposit
The vast majority of landlords require tenants to pay a deposit when they move in. This can help cover costs if they cause any damage, but the money must be held in a government-approved tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme – not in the landlord’s own bank account.
Security deposits can be no more than five weeks’ rent where the yearly rent is under £50,000. This cap is raised to six weeks’ rent if the yearly rent is more than £50,000.
Record inventory at your property
You need to have a record of what was in the property on the day the tenant moved in, and what condition it was in. Tenants should then be given the opportunity to check they’re happy with the inventory before they sign it.
If any damage occurs during the course of their tenancy, the inventory will help you justify any deductions from their security deposit.
Know what tax you need to pay on your rental income
Any profit you make after expenses will be subject to tax, so you’ll need to submit a tax return to HMRC in order to declare your profits. The type of tax return that you submit depends on how you own your property.
You’re able to reduce the amount of tax you pay by claiming allowable expenses and offsetting them against your tax bill. Allowable expenses include letting agency fees, service charges, utility bills, council tax, accountant fees, insurance, and costs relating to finding new tenants. It used to be that any mortgage interest payments on rental properties were an allowable expense but that’s no longer the case.
The government has written a How to Rent Guide which you must give a copy of to your tenants. It helps private sector landlords and their tenants get to grips with their rights and responsibilities, so it’s useful for both parties.
If you don’t provide this, you could find it difficult to start any legal action if needed further down the road.
Understand about gaining access to your rental property
Yes, it’s your property but that doesn’t mean you can come and go unannounced. And let’s face it, nobody wants to inadvertently walk in on someone fresh out the bath.
Sometimes however, landlords do need access to make repairs and undertake maintenance. If this is the case, you should give your tenants a minimum of 24 hours’ notice. And even if you have a key, don’t just wander in!
Of course, if water is randomly gushing from somewhere or there’s some other emergency then 24 hours’ notice may not be practical. But you should still let your tenants know when you’re on your way.
Thinking about maintenance, keep major works down to a minimum if possible. Bear in mind that if any remedial work is exceptionally disruptive, tenants are within their rights to request a temporary reduction in their rent. This is called a ‘rent abatement’.
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About The Author
I'm an experienced and fully AAT and ACCA qualified accountant, who is enthusiastic about helping business owners succeed. I also love cooking and needlepoint (at different times!). Learn more about Beth.