Entering the private rented sector can be gruelling for new landlords, with the first stages of letting a property commonly the busiest and potentially the most strenuous.
Preparing a new let for tenants requires thorough groundwork and understanding, with plenty of costs to factor in for marketing and property maintenance.
Landlords also have (many) legal obligations to adhere to, from tenancy deposits and fire safety to inspecting electrical installations and complying with Right to Rent checks (the latter has changed since the onset of the pandemic). There's also upcoming rental reform to be aware of, which will change the rules on repossession, resolving disputes and potentially the right of tenants to keep pets in their rental home.
With this in mind, we provide a comprehensive checklist to give budding landlords a firm idea of the key things to consider before opening their doors to new tenants.
Ensure the rental property is safe
The safety of your tenants is paramount, and failure to provide a safe and habitable home for them to occupy could lead to hefty fines.
Landlords are legally required to install at least one smoke alarm on every property floor and a carbon monoxide detector in every room where a solid fuel-burning appliance is present.
Regulations for renting a house in multiple occupation (HMO) are even firmer. Landlords with HMOs should check the government guidance here.
It is also a legal requirement to provide tenants with a valid Gas Safety certificate (also known as a CP12) at the start of the tenancy.
As the landlord, you must also make sure that all sockets, light fittings, overall electrical systems, cookers, kettles, and other appliances provided in the home are safe.
Arrange an EPC
Since 2007, rental properties in England and Wales have required an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). These must be given to the tenants on the day they move in.
An EPC is used to show tenants how energy efficient the property is. Failure to provide this before the tenancy starts can affect your ability to evict your tenant in the future.
EPC requirements changed for landlords in 2018 by introducing a minimum energy rating of 'E' or above for new tenancies. Now, the rule applies to all tenancies, not just new ones.
In 2021, the government proposed that all rental properties will need an EPC rating of 'C' or above by 2025 – a move to make homes more energy-efficient and reduce carbon emissions to reach net-zero targets by 2050.
With such a heavy focus on energy efficiency in the home, landlords must order an EPC before marketing their property to let and ensure their property remains energy efficient throughout.
It's also good practice to take meter readings at the start and end of each tenancy and contact energy companies to inform them who is responsible for the bills going forward.
Market your property effectively
A safe and attractive rental property won't mean much if it isn't marketed correctly, so a good advertising strategy is crucial.
Even if you don't plan on using a letting agent to manage your property, it could be worth considering an agent with access to the major property portals to give your rental plenty of exposure.
To get tenants in as soon as possible, your listing must be web-friendly with a short, snappy description and accompanying photographs of the highest quality.
Photos that are poorly lit or badly positioned could significantly reduce the number of enquiries you get from prospective renters. However, your chosen letting agent will guide you in snapping top-notch professional photos.
Carry out a Right to Rent check
Launched in 2016, the Right to Rent scheme requires landlords and letting agents to determine the immigration status of prospective tenants by checking ID (and their right to rent in the UK) before the start of the tenancy.
This includes UK passports, European Economic Area passports or identity cards, permanent residence cards or travel documents showing indefinite leave to remain.
During the pandemic, changes to the scheme were established to reduce in-person contact. This meant that checks could be carried out with applicants submitting scanned or photographed documents rather than the physical versions which were previously required.
This was seen as a temporary measure by the Home Office but was extended several times as the industry saw proven success with the new system.
Now, landlords are no longer required to carry out repeat physical checks on an adjusted check carried out during the pandemic.
Despite the changes, landlords and agents can continue to use specified hard copy documents for UK and Irish nationals or BJ5SSK nationals.
Changes were made to Right to Rent checks in April 2022 to reflect the post-pandemic landscape, which can be seen here.
Reference your tenants
Although not a legal requirement, referencing your tenants can help minimise the risk of letting your property to someone unsuitable.
Tenant referencing usually includes all of the tenant's basic information as well as previous or current employment details, addresses, bank statements and references from their current landlords.
As a landlord, making an informed decision about who rents your property is crucial. For extra clarity and peace of mind, it's valuable to lean on a comprehensive tenant referencing service.
In addition, tenant referencing is also critical if you intend to take out rent guarantee insurance. Luckily, there are rent protection services available in case of defaults on rental payments and breaches of tenancy agreements.
Arrange a tenancy agreement
A tenancy agreement is an official contract that gives the tenant the right to live in your property and you the right to receive rent from them.
The most common tenancy type is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), which includes the basic information of the tenant, landlord and property. It will also contain the proposed dates and duration of the tenancy, a breakdown of payments and required notice periods.
To make changes to any tenancy agreement terms, you must first get the tenant's approval. Many letting agents or rental sector firms provide templates for sample agreements.
Conduct an inventory
Along with the tenancy agreement, an inventory is one of the most important documents you will have as a landlord.
Inventories safeguard your investment as they contain evidence of your property's condition before and after a tenancy, ensuring that everything is accounted for. These can be compiled by the landlord, a letting agent or an independent inventory clerk.
Before the start of the tenancy, your tenants should use the inventory to check the property and note any changes to the report. Throughout the tenancy, it is good practice to make periodic inspections to identify any damage that does not correspond with the report.
Then, at check-out, compare the property's condition to the initial inventory to distinguish any deductions that need to be made from the tenant's deposit. This should help to avoid disputes, as the report will contain definitive proof.
Protect your tenants' deposits
The deposit is arguably one of the most essential factors of a tenancy agreement and will therefore need to be protected.
Landlords in England and Wales are legally obliged to place tenants' deposits in one of the three government-approved deposit protection schemes: the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS), MyDeposits and the Deposit Protection Service (DPS).
Typically, a deposit will amount to around one month's rent and is collected before the start of the tenancy.
As of June 2019, as part of the Tenant Fees Act, security deposits have been capped at five weeks' rent for homes with an annual rental below £50,000, while a deposit of six weeks' rent will apply for £50,000 or more.
Get insured and licenced
As a landlord, if you wish to insure your property, you must have the appropriate insurance. Failure to do so runs the risk of invalidating your policy – even worse, if you don't inform your building insurer that the property will be let out.
Equally important is your licence. Before letting out a property, you must check if you need a landlord license from your local council. In 2006, legislation was brought in to ensure landlords keep their rental properties to a good standard.
There is also a wave of new selective licensing schemes emerging across the UK, so landlords must ensure they obtain a relevant licence if their property falls under a designated area.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and these points are only the tip of the iceberg. However, getting to grips with the above can arm you with the necessary tools to navigate the letting process easily and confidently.
Working with a professional, local letting agent or property management company can also help you to overcome any hurdles and let with ease.