It is easy for landlords to get caught out when granting an assured shorthold tenancy (AST). A failure to strictly comply with procedural requirements can mean taking back possession at the end of the tenancy is more difficult.
New laws come into force on 1 October 2015. It is vital that landlords are aware of these, regardless of whether they own one investment flat or have a large portfolio of residential property. The key changes are:
Smoke alarms - As from 1 October 2015, every storey of a residential rented dwelling must be equipped with a smoke alarm and every room with a solid fuel burning appliance (i.e. wood or coal) needs a carbon monoxide alarm no matter when the tenancy was granted. These alarms must be tested at the start of every tenancy granted on or after 1 October 2015. Failure to do so may render the landlord liable to a fine of up to £5,000.
Provision of "How to Rent: the checklist for renting in England" - In addition to the requirements to register deposits and provide tenants with prescribed information in relation to those deposits, at the beginning of any tenancy granted on or after 1 October 2015 a landlord must also provide a copy of the Government booklet "How to Rent: the checklist for renting in England". This can be downloaded from the DCLG's website.
Prescribed form of notice - Terminating an AST is usually achieved by serving a section 21 notice giving at least two months' notice to the tenant. This notice is often served on the grant of a tenancy so as to ensure that the tenancy will end on expiry of the fixed term. Until now there was no set form of section 21 notice. This has changed. A new prescribed form has been issued by the Government and it must be used for tenancies granted on or after 1 October 2015. This notice cannot be served until after four months of the tenancy have passed. Landlords therefore should keep a careful note of when they want the AST to end and ensure notice is served at the correct time.
Provision of EPC and gas safety certificate - In addition to the new form of notice there are more hurdles to overcome to ensure that the notice itself will be valid. Section 21 notices will only be valid if (a) any deposit has been properly protected in a deposit protection scheme and the prescribed information given to the tenant within the relevant timescales and (b) the tenant has been given an EPC and a gas safety certificate.
Prevention of 'retaliatory' evictions - If the tenant has complained about the condition of the property and the local authority serves an Improvement Notice or an Emergency Remedial Action notice as a result (or indeed has served any such notice on the landlord within the six months prior to service of the section 21 notice), any section 21 notice served by a landlord will have no effect.
These changes have been introduced to give greater protection to tenants. Landlords must therefore keep up to date with the changes in the law or may face difficulties in recovering possession from their tenants.
If you have any further queries or would like advice on these issues please contact Mark Reading or Jonathan Warren.