Guide to Becoming A Private Landlord
If you are considering becoming a private landlord, you are not alone. It has been estimated that there are now 1.75 million landlords in the private rented sector in the UK.
This guide is intended to take you through the whole procedure from the preparation of all the landlord documents required by law to what to do if you want to evict a tenant.
How to become a private landlord
There are two ways that property owners become landlords in the UK. The first is when they become an ‘accidental landlord’. This could be either because they inherit property or because their personal circumstances change. Perhaps they decide to live with their partner, so their own home is left vacant. Instead of selling the second property, they decide to rent it out to make some money.
The other way that people become a landlord is that they make the decision to invest in property. The easiest way to do so is to take out a buy-to-let mortgage.
Whatever your reason for becoming a private landlord, your legal and financial responsibilities are the same. However, the initial process is slightly different, so we will consider them separately.
Getting started as an ‘accidental’ private landlord
We will examine the two different ways you could become an accidental landlord.
Renting out inherited property
If you have inherited property, you may have to wait up to a year for it to clear probate. If the person who left it to you has a mortgage on the property, you will have to contact the lender about putting the loan in your name and changing it into a buy-to-let mortgage.
For example, your parents have passed away and left you their home but you live in a home of your own, why not consider renting out their property instead of selling? Not only could this generate extra cash to pay off your own mortgage, but it could help pay for the maintenance on the property.
Renting out your former home
If you have an outstanding mortgage on your own property and are moving out, your loan will probably be a residential mortgage. The terms and the conditions of this financial product stipulate that the property must be used as your primary residence.
You cannot, therefore, simply move and rent it out as this breaks the agreement you made with your mortgage provider. They would therefore be within their rights to demand the immediate payment of the outstanding loan in full.
The first thing you need to do is to make an application to them for a ‘consent to rent’. This is very straightforward, but they will probably charge you an administrative fee to change the mortgage terms and could possibly increase your monthly mortgage payments.
A ‘consent to rent’ is only usually valid for a few years, so as soon as possible you should switch to a buy-to-let mortgage. You could take this out with the same mortgage provider, or you could shop around for a better deal with another lender.
If you bought your property as shared ownership, you need the permission of the other owner before you can rent out the property.
Finally, you should check the property’s documents. If it is a leasehold property (rather than a freehold), you will need the landlord’s permission to rent out the property. This is because many freehold properties do not permit subletting.
How to buy to let
As long as you meet the eligibility criteria of the lender and have a deposit of at least 20% of the property purchase price, the buy-to-let procedure is quite simple.
The eligibility criteria for a buy-to-let mortgage may vary slightly according to the mortgage provider but concern your age, credit rating and earnings.
See our guide on How To Buy To Let
Interested in property? Read our guide on Property Investment
As regards affordability, a buy-to-let mortgage provider is more concerned that you will be able to meet your mortgage repayments after deducting all the extra expenses you will have as a landlord such as maintenance costs.
For this reason, the affordability check does not depend on your monthly salary but on your rental cover. This means that the rent that you charge your tenants should be 25%-45% higher than your mortgage payment.
Apart from the way that affordability is calculated, buy-to-let mortgages have higher administrative charges/fees and a higher interest rate than a mortgage you would take out to buy your own home. Variable, fixed-rate and tracker mortgages are all available for buy-to-let and some are interest-only (when the sum borrowed is paid off in full at the end of the mortgage term).
Before deciding whether to go ahead with a buy-to-let mortgage application, you should draw up a budget. This will ensure that you have all the money to cover the expenses of a property purchase such as Stamp Duty as well as the 20% deposit.
You should also research average rents vs. property prices in the area where you wish to buy a property. This will reassure you that you will be able to make money as a buy-to-let landlord. This will also increase the chances of your mortgage application being approved.
|Buying property at auction to become a landlord?|
|Get your Tenancy Agreement for England and WalesIncludes many useful legal documents for renting a property in England and Wales.|
Purchasing the right rental property
If you buy the right rental property, you can reduce the number of months that the property is left empty and make the highest possible return on your property purchase.
Factors to consider when buying property as a private landlord include location, property type and its price, prospective tenants and condition.
Location of the rental property
If you plan on being a hands-on landlord, then the property you buy should be within easy reach of your home. This means that you can respond quickly to any issues your tenants may have such as emergency repairs. Using a letting agency allows you to go further afield and even buy property at the other end of the UK.
Rural properties can be much cheaper, but it might be more difficult to find tenants than in big towns and cities.
Type of property and price
Flats, bungalows, terraced, semi-detached houses are just some of your options when it comes to choosing property type. Be careful of non-standard property types and those made of unusual materials as this can affect your chances of being granted a buy-to-let mortgage. To a certain extent, the type of property you choose will depend on your budget and who you intend to rent to.
Before buying a property, you should visualise who your ideal tenants are. Some landlords prefer families since they tend to look after the property better whilst others would prefer young professionals as they think they are less likely to default on the rent.
Your choice of tenants will also affect the location of your property. This is because the amenities they would like will be a major selling point for your rental property. Buying a family home which is miles from schools and recreational amenities for children will reduce the number of would-be tenants and increase the chances of the property standing empty for long periods.
It is also of the utmost importance to perform a background check on your prospective tenants.
Condition of the potential rental property
Buying a property at a bargain price, perhaps at a property auction, and then doing it up so that you can rent it out at a much higher rent is a great way to make money. However, it requires you to budget for the necessary repairs.
You should also consider the time frame. Remember that the longer the property renovation work takes, the longer you will have an empty property not making any money and for which mortgage payments will still be due.
Landlord insurance and why you need it
Landlord insurance explained
Like any type of insurance policy, you need private landlord insurance because it protects your investment. You only fully understand its importance when the unexpected happens – whether that is accidental or malicious damage.
You should always remember that you are entrusting your property to total strangers. However thorough the vetting procedure before you accept tenants, there is no guarantee that they will look after your property in the same way that you would. Under-insuring your property or not including the key components could leave you out of pocket if you cannot make a claim from your insurance provider.
Landlord insurance is made up of components such as:
- Buildings insurance
- Home contents insurance
- Public liability insurance
- Home emergency cover
- Rent guarantee insurance
- Alternative accommodation cover
If you have a buy-to-let mortgage, then buildings insurance is required by your lender. If you are renting out the property as furnished, then home contents insurance is highly recommended. If an accident occurred on your property you could be held accountable. If you are subsequently taken to court, public liability insurance will cover the costs of all legal fees and any pay-outs for compensation.
For all these reasons, it is recommended that your landlord insurance includes the first three core components as the bare minimum while the others could be regarded as optional add-ons. Bear in mind that the more extensive your insurance coverage, the higher your premiums.
Should you compare landlord insurance quotes?
Yes, you should definitely compare quotes for landlord insurance. Insurers can vary in the premiums they charge so you should always receive quotes from at least four different companies. The easiest way to compare the prices for landlord insurance is to use at least two price comparison sites.
When comparing the cost of landlord insurance quotes, don’t automatically choose the cheapest but make sure that you are comparing like with like. In other words, that the size of the coverage, the number of optional add-ons, the exclusions and the size of excess are all the same.
Other ways to get cheap landlord insurance are to become a member of a landlord accreditation scheme, prove to insurers how stringently you vet would-be tenants or to take out all policies from the same insurer. Remember that your tenants can obtain their own home insurance for renters.
Becoming a private landlord in Scotland
Although the process of becoming a private landlord in Scotland is very similar to the rest of the UK, there are a number of crucial differences that you should be aware of before you go ahead.
Firstly, the rules for Stamp Duty (known in Scotland as the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax) are different to the rest of the UK. In Scotland, you are liable for paying this tax on any second home worth over £40,000. This is something you should bear in mind when budgeting as it could significantly increase how much money you need when starting up as a landlord.
The bureaucracy regarding landlord registration also differs in Scotland. By law, you must register with the local council where the property is located. Before doing so, you should check the legal requirements. Failure to comply could lead to a fine of up to £50,000.
The fees for landlord registration in Scotland are £66 plus an additional fee of £15 for every buy-to-let property you own. You will be given a unique landlord registration number which must be prominently featured when advertising the rental property. Your registration needs to be renewed every 3 years. You should re-register a few months beforehand since a penalty of £132 is charged for late applications.
Once you have found tenants, you should notify the council of their personal details and the date when they will move into your property. In this way, the council will be able to charge the appropriate council tax.
Apart from registering with the council, you should also apply for accreditation from Landlord Accreditation Scotland. A form can be downloaded from the internet.
Private Landlord FAQ
How can I become a landlord?
Once you have researched the private rented sector and bought a property, you must make sure that all your documentation is in order such as landlord registration and insurance. The property also needs to be prepared and checked so that there are no issues with its amenities. You could use a letting agency to market the property or you could do it yourself by advertising it in the local press, on local noticeboards or online (through social media or property portals). Before you enter into a tenancy agreement, you should always make sure that you carry out a thorough background check.
Is landlord insurance expensive?
No, monthly premiums work out at £10-£20 per month for basic coverage consisting of buildings insurance, home contents insurance and public liability cover. However, the price that you pay depends on a range of factors such as the property itself and the number of exclusions and add-ons in your policy.
How much is landlord insurance?
A basic landlord insurance policy costs an average of £220-£240 per year per property. However it would be very wise to shop around for private landlord insurance as quotes vary depending on many factors relating to the property, yourself and which landlord insurance company you are speaking to.
What landlord insurance do I need?
As a prerequisite for a mortgage, you must have buildings insurance. If you are renting out a furnished property, you should also add a home contents cover to your policy. It is advisable to have public liability cover since this will pay any legal fees and compensation awarded by the courts if someone suffers an injury on your property. It might be a good idea to consider home emergency cover, rent guarantee insurance and alternative accommodation cover as add-ons.
What does landlord insurance cover?
The buildings and home contents components of a landlord insurance policy are the same as insurance for a primary residence. Buildings insurance covers damage – whether accidental or accidental – to the structure of the property such as from fire or theft. Home contents insurance pays out when the fittings and fixtures of the property (such as domestic appliances or carpets) are stolen or damaged. Landlord insurance usually also includes public liability cover. This will cover court costs if an unforeseen accident occurs on your property, for which you are considered liable.
Do I need to register as a landlord?
Yes, it is compulsory to register as a landlord if your property is located in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. In England, about 60 local councils run a selective landlord licensing scheme so you should always check with them before renting out your property. If you are the landlord of an HMO property, licensing is mandatory.
How do I evict a tenant?
Before evicting a tenant, they must be served with a notice asking them to vacate your property. The type of notice you serve depends on which part of the UK your property is situated. Which section notice you serve also depends on whether you want them to leave because the tenancy agreement has come to an end or because they have broken its terms and condition. For example, delayed/non-payment of rent or damage to the property.
What are landlord rights when evicting a tenant?
Essentially none. When it comes to eviction, the odds are weighed heavily in favour of the tenant. You cannot evict anyone from your property unless you go through the proper legal channels. Failure to do so could jeopardise your chances of an eviction and could even result in your being fined if it is not done properly.
Landlord registration around the UK
Scotland is not the only country in the UK to operate a landlord registration scheme.
In Wales, the RentSmart Wales scheme requires prospective landlords to undergo a training programme to show they are ‘fit and proper’. During this programme, landlords are taught their responsibilities towards their tenants and receive a licence to operate as a ‘self-managing landlord’.
This licence costs £33.50 (for an online application) and must be renewed after 5 years. If landlords in Wales prefer to use the services of a letting agency, then the agency must be licensed and adhere to a letting agency Code of Practice.
Northern Ireland also requires private landlords to register with their Landlord Registration Scheme. They are given their own individual landlord number and must renew their licence every 3 years at a cost of £70 (online).
England is unique in that it is the only country in the UK not to operate a nationwide landlord registration scheme. Instead, individual councils are given the autonomy to decide whether private landlords should be registered or licenced to operate.
Having said that, around 60 English councils operate a selective landlord licensing scheme. If your rental property is in England, you should therefore contact the council’s Housing Department to enquire whether licensing is compulsory, what it entails and how much it costs. If you use a local letting agency, they will be aware of the rules in their locality.
Landlord registration for HMOs
HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) are treated differently when it comes to private landlord registration. An HMO is characterised as a building of 3 storeys or more which is occupied by 5 or more people from 2 or more different households (in other words, unrelated).
To operate an HMO, it is compulsory for landlords to have a special licence from their local council which is valid for 3-5 years (depending on which part of the UK the property is). If the landlord owns more than one HMO, then a licence is required for each property.
The only way you can be sure that your application for landlord registration will be successful is if you meet your responsibilities. But what are your responsibilities as a private landlord?
You must stay within the law as a private landlord. Remember your legal obligations and if you are not using a letting agency take legal advice.
Your responsibilities as a private landlord in the UK
Your responsibilities as a landlord are important as there are financial penalties if you do not abide by the rules.
The treatment of your tenants affects what kind of relationship you have with them. The happier they are, the more likely they are to stay in the property. This means that you will not have to spend money every year advertising the property and vetting new tenants.
Most of the rules regarding your obligations as a landlord concern the safety of your tenants and the structural integrity and maintenance of the property. Before a property is rented out, all gas and electrical domestic appliances should be checked by a qualified engineer.
A fire alarm should be installed on each floor and all furnishings and furniture provided by the landlord should meet fire standards. Also, a carbon monoxide alarm is compulsory in any room which contains a solid fuel burning appliance such as a coal fire.
To be considered inhabitable, a rented property should have a heating system, adequate sanitary fittings and cold and hot water. The property should also be well ventilated with enough natural sunlight.
In the case of an appliance or heating system breaking down, the landlord is responsible for repairing or replacing it without any unreasonable delays.
Any inspection would require landlords to provide documentation. But what documents do you need as a landlord?
As a landlord, it is important that you are well organised and keep all documents related to the property in a file and look over them regularly. This will ensure that you do not miss deadlines for any certification which needs to be periodically renewed such as landlord registration. The documents you need are:
Safety certification for landlords
Gas appliances need to be checked once a year by a registered Gas Safe engineer. The gas safety check record should be made available to tenants within 28 days of their moving into the rented property.
Since July 2020, an EICR (Electrical Installation Condition Report) must also be provided for tenants in England. This certificate regards the safety of the electrical wiring, fittings and appliances and must be renewed every 5 years.
Energy efficiency certification
Before renting out a property, it must be inspected by an accredited DEA (Domestic Energy Assessor). They will survey the property and make recommendations, if necessary, about changes to make it more energy efficient. The DEA will also give the property a rating from A-G.
Since 2020, the rules have changed, and properties need to have a minimum of an E rating. Failure to have an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) can result in a fine of up to £5,000. In Scotland, this certificate must be displayed in the rental property.
The most common tenancy agreement in England and Wales is an AST (assured shorthold tenancy) which is known as a SAT (short assured tenancy) in Scotland. These types of tenancy usually run for a period of 6-12 months. At the end of the term, the property returns to the owner, a new tenancy agreement form is signed, or the agreement is automatically renewed on a month by month basis (called a periodic tenancy).
The other type of tenancy is an assured tenancy (known as a protected tenancy in Northern Ireland). This tenancy protects occupants to a greater extent. Tenants can only be evicted if they break the terms and the conditions of the tenancy agreement such as by non-payment of rent.
Tenancy agreements are important because they ensure that both landlords and tenants are aware of their rights and responsibilities. The agreement covers the terms and conditions of the lease and sets out details about how much rent must be paid, when/how it must be paid and what restrictions (if any) there are. It might also include a ‘break clause’. This allows either party to break the contract at any time during the first 6 months.
When adapting a template tenancy agreement, you should think about factors such as:
Is the property furnished or unfurnished?
Whether to rent out the property as unfurnished or unfurnished depends on who you will be renting it to. Families would usually have their own furniture while students tend not to. In general, furnished accommodation can command higher rents. However, there is a real possibility that furniture could be damaged – either accidentally or deliberately – by your tenants.
There is also the question of broken domestic appliances. If you provide them with the property, then it is your responsibility to fix or replace them when they break down.
Other letting restrictions
As a landlord, you can specify certain restrictions in the tenancy agreement. The two most common are about smokers and pets. Both can be selling points, but both have the potential to cause damage to your property too.
Setting the rent for the property
You need to set a monthly rent which is fair but also covers your expenses as a landlord. The best way is to research the market. Check the local press, letting agencies and online property portals to get an idea of what rent prices are like for properties similar to your own in the same neighbourhood or town.
Tenants and their rights
By law, landlords must provide tenants with an information pack explaining their rights and responsibilities. These easy-to-read guides vary slightly in different parts of the UK but contain the same basic information. They can be downloaded from the UK Government website or from the Scottish Government’s website. They must be given to the tenant when the tenancy agreement is signed.
According to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 1985 (and updated in 2019), tenants have the right to a safe, comfortable home with all the amenities working such as hot water, heating, toilet facilities, etc. Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenants Act of 1985 covers the maintenance of the property and the timely repair or replacement of anything broken.
By law, tenants have the right to know the identity of their landlord within 21 days of moving into the property.
Tenants are also protected from unfair terms on the tenancy agreement. Even if they sign the agreement, a landlord can be penalised if the terms are deliberately misleading or unclear. Similarly, tenants have legal protection from extortionate rents, unreasonable rent increases and eviction.
Another important right that tenants have in the UK is the right to ‘live in quiet enjoyment’. If a landlord bombards their tenants with calls, text messages and emails about rent arrears, this could be considered harassment and is heavily penalised.
Landlords and the law in the UK
When you become a private landlord, you should be aware of the laws which affect you and your relationship with, and behaviour towards, your tenants. Even if you use a letting agency, you are liable if any laws are broken. Penalties are stiff for non-compliance.
There are about 150 Acts of Parliament and 400 regulations concerning the private rented sector and the landlord-tenant relationship. We will highlight some of the most important laws concerning your right to enter your own property, tenant letting fees, deposit protection, discrimination against potential tenants, changes to the tenancy agreement and rent increases, the ‘Right to rent’ and how to evict tenants.
A landlord’s right to enter
Although the deeds of the house may be in your name, you surrender some of your rights as a property owner when you rent it out. Landlords do not have the right to enter their property whenever they want. You may want to inspect your property or carry out emergency repairs. However, you need your tenants’ permission to enter and they must be given 24 hours’ notice of your intention to come by.
Letting fees for tenants
Since the Tenant Fees Act of 2019, it has become illegal for landlords or letting agencies to charge prospective tenants any fees which solely benefit the landlord. This means any checks carried out to vet tenants such as identity checks, checks with a credit reference agency, etc. are the financial responsibility of the landlord.
Deposits and their protection scheme
The size of deposits varies according to the annual rent payments. For properties under £50,000 a year, landlords are only allowed to charge a maximum of 5 weeks’ rent as a deposit. For properties whose annual rent comes to over £50,000, the deposit is capped at 6 weeks’ rent.
Within 30 days of receiving a deposit from tenants, landlords must pay the money into one of the UK’s tenant deposit protection schemes. There are separate schemes for the different countries in the UK, but they all operate in exactly the same way by holding onto the deposit until the tenancy comes to an end. Landlords must notify their tenants which of the schemes is safeguarding their deposit and provide all relevant details about it.
Landlords and the DSS
Many private landlords are reluctant to rent their property to recipients of DSS state benefits such as Universal Credit because payments are made in arrears. There is also the worry that such tenants are more likely to delay or default on their rent payments. Because of this, there had been a growing tendency for landlords to specify ‘No DSS’ when advertising their property for rent. As the result of a court case in July 2020, it has become unlawful to discriminate against tenants on state benefits under the terms of the 2010 Equality Act.
The same piece of legislation prevents landlords from discriminating against would-be tenants on the grounds of their gender, race, religion, sexuality, and so on.
Changes to tenancy agreements and rent increases
The law forbids private landlords from making changes to the tenancy agreement without the written consent of the tenant.
Landlords are not permitted to increase the rent for as much as they want. Any increase must be reasonable and in line with similar properties in the neighbourhood. A rent increase is only allowed if there is a rent review clause in the agreement or when the tenancy ends. A Section 13 notice can be served informing tenants of the landlord’s intention to increase the rent, but this can only be done once a year. Landlords must also give tenants a month’s notice before putting up the rent.
Private landlord rules in England and Wales
All the above legislation and rules apply to the whole of the UK including England and Wales. The only law which is specific to England concerns the ‘Right to Rent’.
Since 2016, private landlords must investigate their tenants’ legal right to reside in the country by requesting copies of their documentation such as visas, applications for asylum, etc. Although this rule was challenged in March 2019 as being incompatible with human rights, it has yet to be officially revoked. This means that private landlords in England can be fined if they house illegal immigrants.
Evicting tenants in the UK
Eviction is the legal process to take back control of your property because your tenants have broken the terms of your tenancy agreement. Luckily, this only affects a very small minority of tenancies. In fact, according to the National Landlord Association, fewer than 1% of evictions go to court with the other tenants vacating the property after an eviction notice is served.
If it is possible, you should use eviction as a last resort. It can be time-consuming (lasting several months), costly and extremely stressful. Although delayed or non-payment of rent can be a stressful for you when you have financial obligations to meet (such as mortgage payments), you need to keep calm. Shouting or issuing threats to tenants could backfire because the court might award your tenants damages because of your harassment.
In the long term, it might be better to communicate with your tenants and try to sort out a repayment plan so they can pay off any rent arrears gradually. Then, you could give them a section 21 notice to leave two months before the end of their tenancy agreement.
The eviction procedure differs according to where your rental property is. In England and Wales, you must serve a Section 8 notice if your tenants have broken the terms of their tenancy. Grounds for eviction are either damage to your property or two successive months of late or unpaid rent.
In Scotland, you must serve your tenants with two documents when the terms of the tenancy agreement have been broken. The first is a Notice to Quit 28-40 days beforehand and the other is a Section 19 notice.
In Northern Ireland, the tenants must be served with a Notice to Quit 1-3 months before the eviction date (depending on the length of the tenancy agreement).
If tenants refuse to leave after being given an eviction order, it is imperative that you consult a professional for legal advice. They will be able to take you through the procedure step-by-step so that you follow the letter of the law.
You should always ensure that all your landlord documentation is up-to-date and that you have respected the rights of your tenants. If you have broken any of the laws and regulations regarding landlords, you may find that the court judgement will go against you and you may even be fined.
5 tips for new private landlords
1. Using a letting agency
Using a letting agency has both pros and cons. Although they have the expertise to help a new landlord deal with all the rules and regulations, they also charge monthly fees. If you decide to hire a letting agency, you should check their credentials and preferably choose one which follows a Code of Practice and operates a client money protection scheme. However, using a good property letting agency can save you a lot of time and trouble.
2. Setting up a landlord emergency fund
You should put money aside as a landlord emergency fund as soon as possible. This should be the equivalent of 3-6 months’ rent. Not only will this cash be able to pay for emergency repairs, but it can also be used to make mortgage repayments during the inevitable periods of non-vacancy.
3. Decorating your rental property
It is much better to decorate your rental property in neutral colours such as white or cream. The property will appeal to more tenants and so you will find it easier to rent it out. Also, make sure that you de-clutter as much as possible, especially if the rental property was your former home.
4. Vetting of prospective tenants
You should carry out the necessary checks before choosing a tenant. In this way, you are more likely to choose a good financially stable tenant and avoid future problems.
Your investigation of their background should include an identity check and a credit check (including details of current debts, previous evictions, etc.) You should also ask for character references from previous landlords and their employer. If you are unsure about how to go about doing a full background check, letting agencies can do it on your behalf.
5. Drawing up an inventory for the property
When your tenants move into your property, it is good idea to have prepared two copies of an inventory of the house contents. You should go through it with your tenants and both parties should sign every page. You should keep a copy with your rental property documents and the other should be given to your tenants. An inventory will make it easier to prove if anything is missing when their tenancy ends.
Another good idea is to take photos of the condition of the property. You may wish to claim part or all their deposit when they leave because of damage they have caused. Clear dated photos will provide proof of your claims.
What is the National Landlord Association?
The National Landlord Association (NLA) was a professional body for landlords in the private rented sector in the UK. In April 2020, it merged with the Residential Landlords Association to become the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA). It has over 80,000 members and membership fees start from £75 a year.
As part of its role in offering advice, help, encouragement and support to its members, the NRLA runs training programmes and seminars throughout the year.
The NRLA also acts in the best interests of its members by lobbying about issues affecting private landlords – on both a local and national level. It also acts a spokesperson in the media for any issues which affect the private rented sector and landlords.
|Popular UK Property Guides|
|Find out How To Buy To Let|
|Guide to UK Property Investment|
|Get much better Home insurance|