Do you know your ARLA from your elbow? Or how about a GSR from the TDS? If you don’t, you’re not alone.
Just like every industry, the lettings world has its own particular lingo to master, with plenty of phrases, abbreviations and rules to keep in your head.
From staying on the right side of the law to protecting your property and keeping your tenants safe, there’s a lot to know as a landlord, and plenty of responsibility too!
While you’re probably familiar with ARLA (The Association of Residential Letting Agents, just in case!), how much further does your knowledge stretch? Even experienced landlords can lose track with ever-changing lettings laws.
So with that in mind, and whether you own a property to rent in Leeds or somewhere else in the UK, we’ve put together a two-part blog with all you need to know to bust lettings jargon. This week is about starting off on the right foot to set your tenancy up the right way and keep your property legal.
GENERAL LETTINGS TERMS TO KNOW
Knowing the jargon is an essential part of being a landlord, and there are some general terms you’ll come across quite regularly. These are some of the most common:
- Fixtures and fittings
The items you supply at your rental property (even if it’s unfurnished) including curtains or blinds, floor coverings, light fittings, kitchen units and appliances.
- Holding deposit
You can take up to one week’s rent from a prospective tenant to reserve your property as you take up references, and this must be returned through the rent or security deposit at the start of the tenancy, or refunded if the tenancy doesn’t proceed.
A report on the contents and condition of your property at the point your tenant moves in. Essential for winning disputes if you’re unhappy with how your property is returned when the tenancy ends.
- Joint & several liability
If you have more than one tenant, they share responsibility for the property and paying the rent. So if one of your tenants stops paying their share, the others are responsible for making up the shortfall.
- Permitted and prohibited payments
The Tenant Fees Act 2018 made it illegal to charge tenants for references, credit checks and preparing a tenancy agreement. However, you can charge for lost keys and amendments to the tenancy agreement after it’s started.
- Security deposit
You can take up to five weeks’ rent (or two months in Scotland) as a security deposit against damages.
- Tenancy Deposit Scheme
Also known as the TDS, this mandatory Government scheme requires landlords to register and protect any security deposits they receive.
As with any profession, having a handle on the vocabulary will help you sound like a real professional and meet your obligations to run a successful business.
PREPARING TENANCY AGREEMENTS
A legally-enforceable tenancy agreement is not only essential to give you the full protection of the law; it will also be a condition of any rent protection insurance or buy-to-let mortgage offer.
Here’s some common tenancy agreement terminology for England, Scotland and Wales.
- Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)
The standard type of private residential tenancy in England and Wales, with a guaranteed right for the landlord to regain possession at the end of the term in the agreement.
- Break clause
Typically for AST tenancies of a year or more, a break clause allows the landlord or tenant to end the contract from an agreed point before the initial term ends by giving (usually) two months’ notice.
- Non-housing act tenancy
Residential tenancies which don’t meet the criteria of the Housing Act 1988 are known as Non-Housing Act Tenancies. Examples include company lets and renting rooms to lodgers.
- Periodic tenancy
In England and Wales, an AST automatically becomes a periodic tenancy if it runs beyond the original term, and notice can be given at any time (one month for tenants, two months for landlords).
- Private Residential Tenancy
The name for new tenancies in Scotland from December 2017. These are open-ended and last until the tenant wishes to leave, or the landlord gives one (or more) of 18 grounds for eviction.
KEEPING YOUR RENTAL PROPERTY LEGAL
Before you move any tenants in, your rental property needs to meet specific health and safety standards to avoid hefty fines, a criminal record and even imprisonment. Some of the most important ones are:
- Gas Safety Check and Gas Safety Record (GSR)
A gas safety check must be carried out annually by a registered engineer on every rental home, with a supporting document to show the property has passed.
- Electrical safety
Rental homes in England must have an electrical safety check by a registered engineer every five years. For the rest of the UK, the recommendation is for a periodic inspection.
- Smoke alarm safety check
Every rental home must have a working smoke alarm on each floor with living accommodation. Landlords must ensure and provide confirmation that the smoke alarms are in full working order on day one of each new tenancy.
- Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
An EPC rates a property’s energy performance on a scale of A-G, with A being the best. Rental homes must have a rating of at least E, and the certificate must be renewed every ten years.
Although it can seem a bit boring and time-consuming, remember that the law is there to protect everyone, including landlords. A safe property means less risk of accidents and liabilities, while an energy-efficient home will always be more popular and attract a higher rent.
TAKING UP REFERENCES
Thorough referencing is a crucial part of setting your tenancy up to ensure your tenant (and any guarantor) is a suitable candidate and financially able to pay the rent. The process includes:
- Credit check
A report on a potential tenant’s credit history, including any late payments, default notices or County Court Judgements, usually carried about by an external agency (you need the tenant’s written consent first).
- Proof of income
Confirmation from a tenant’s employer of their work and income, often backed up with 3-6 months of payslips. For self-employed tenants, get an accountant’s reference, their latest tax return, and/or 3-6 months of bank statements.
Someone prepared to guarantee the rent payments if your tenant cannot pay. A guarantor should also go through an income and credit check.
- Identity check
This can include photo ID like a passport or driving licence, otherwise proof of address from bank statements, utility bills, or memberships.
- Landlord reference
A statement from a tenant’s existing landlord confirming whether the rent was paid on time, the property was well looked after, and if the landlord would rent to them again.
- Right to Rent check (England only)
In England, landlords are legally required to confirm that a potential tenant has the Right to Rent, either through being a British citizen or having permission to stay with valid documentation. This doesn’t apply to the rest of the UK.
Never let anyone move into your rental property without sufficient referencing. No matter how well you get on, and even if they’re recommended by someone you know and trust, references are your greatest safeguard in getting the very best tenant.
GETTING THE RIGHT HELP
Not everyone needs a managing agent, and if you’re a full-time professional landlord with an experienced team around you, a tenant-finding service may be all you need. But if you’re busy elsewhere, or you prefer to be more hands-off, here’s a quick rundown of the different levels of services letting agents provide:
- Let only
Your agent carries out viewings, finds you a tenant, takes up references, prepares the tenancy agreement and inventory, and then hands everything over to you after the tenants move in.
- Rent collection
As well as including everything from the Let Only option, this service covers taking over collecting the rent, chasing up late payments and getting things back on track.
- Full management
Your agent handles everything, including safety checks for gas, electricity and smoke alarms; repairs, improvements and emergencies; mid-tenancy inspections; dealing with disputes; serving notice; and helping you get your property back.
Not sure what’s right for you? Think about whether you’re calm in a crisis, up on lettings law, time-rich and have a circle of trusted contractors to call on. If you don’t, treat yourself to a managing agent – you’ll definitely thank yourself!
Do you have any questions about landlord lingo?
We’re here to answer any questions about being a landlord and owning property to rent in
Leeds, so why not get in touch? Call us on 0113 460 2416 or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for some friendly, expert advice.
And remember! Part two of our landlord lingo buster is released on Monday, February 13th. It’s packed with tips on managing your tenancies, reviewing rents, handling disputes and serving notice correctly – so pop a note in your diary to check back here!