The private rented sector in England is governed by an increasingly complex array of legislative and regulatory requirements, a breach of which can carry significant financial penalties or even cause a landlord to conduct a criminal offence.
Keeping abreast of these legal and regulatory requirements can be a challenge for even the most diligent and conscientious landlord. However, a great source if information and a reference point to help landlords provide safe and compliant rental property is the Private Rented Sector Code of Practice (PRS Code).
The PRS Code was developed by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in 2013, working with a cross industry group of organisations including, but not limited to, the Association of Residential Letting Agents, The Chartered Institute of Housing, The Institute of Residential Property Management, The National Landlords Association, the Property Redress scheme, The Property Ombudsman and the Depository Protection Service.
Among the stated reasons why the PRS code was put in place was to ensure that landlords (and their agents) let and manage properties in an “honest, fair, transparent and professional manner” and with “due skill, care and diligence” and ensure that all laws relating to the letting and management of residential property are adhered to. The code’s intent is to ensure the provision of good quality homes for rent and that landlords and their agents apply consistently high standards of management.
All landlords in England should be familiar with the code as it not only provides a useful summary of legal requirements, but also recommends a number of “best practices” that, while not being legally binding, will help landlords deliver high quality rented property into the private rented sector and help manage and mitigate the risks associated with letting and managing residential property.
The code clearly delineates between legal requirements and best practices by;
- Using the word “must” to refer to anything that represents a legal requirement or obligation placed on a landlord (or agent).
- Using the word “should” to refer to any best practice, which while not being a legal obligation, ought to be performed to demonstrate high standards of competence in property management.
While not wishing to cover the entire PRS code, some of the more fundamental issues addressed in the code are as follows;
1. Using agents
The code states that landlords should only use letting and management agents who are members of an accredited body, are members of an independent redress scheme, can offer client money protection and have appropriate public liability and professional indemnity insurance. We are pleased to advise that at Aspire Residential, being members of ARLA propertymark, the Property Ombudsman, the Information Commissioners Office and Client Money Protection scheme (CMP), we “tick” all of these boxes.
2. Tenancy terms and conditions
Properties should be advertised honestly and in accordance with the law. Landlords and their agents should not undertake any action that would mislead a tenant about the condition of the property or the terms of the tenancy.
You must not discriminate against a tenant on the basis of age, gender, race, language, sexuality or any other factor that might place an individual at a disadvantage.
You must make reasonable endeavours to check the lawful immigration status of potential tenants. All information that you gather and hold about a tenant should be retained and managed in accordance with relevant data protection principles and legislation.
The code recommends that all tenancies should be covered by an agreement written in plain, intelligible language. In addition, prior to the start of a tenancy, the code recommends that an inventory of the condition of the property should be prepared.
Any deposit taken from a tenant under an assured shorthold tenancy must be protected in a Government authorised scheme and tenants must be furnished with various documentation at the start of tenancy including the Governments “How to rent” guide, a valid Energy Performance Certificate, a gas safety certificate (where relevant) and details of the depository protection scheme used.
3. Property Condition
At the start of a tenancy, Landlords need to take reasonable measures to ensure that they provide housing that is “safe and without risks to health”. Properties must be fitted with an appropriate number of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms as dictated by legislation. While not currently a legal requirement (legislation is currently being considered), the code recommends that a property's electrical installation should tested and certified by a qualified electrician every 5 years.
Throughout the period of the tenancy, landlords should undertake inspections of the property at appropriate intervals to identify whether there are any hazards or repairs that require their attention. Any matters of disrepair should be attended to in a timely and appropriate manner appropriate to their urgency, particularly where they pose a risk to people. Tenants should be made aware of their responsibility to act in a “tenant like manner” and to carry out minor repairs such as replacing light bulbs or cleaning pipes and drains that have blocked.
Tenants should be informed how to report issues with the property and in particular what the procedures are for dealing with any out of hours emergencies that might occur.
Where a landlord engages a contractor to undertake any works at the property, they should take reasonable steps to ensure that the contractor has an appropriate level of public liability insurance, relevant trade qualifications and processes to risk assess and manage any health and safety concerns and adopt a safe system of work.
4. Property Inspections
Tenants have a right to quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property. Any inspection of the property should be conducted at a normal time of the day and on the basis that reasonable (24 hour) notice has been given to the tenant. You cannot enter a property without the consent of the tenant, as to do so would be considered harassment. However, the tenancy agreement should make allowance for the landlord to enter the property without permission in the event of an emergency or should they think the property has been abandoned.
5. Ending a tenancy
A tenant should only be removed from a property in accordance with the law. A tenant cannot be evicted without a possession order and by following due process.
Procedures to be followed for vacating the property should be in accordance with the tenancy agreement. Any deposit sum not in dispute should be refunded to the tenant within a reasonable period of time. Any dispute with the tenant about the amount of deposit to be retained to cover damage to the property should be referred to the relevant tenancy deposit protection scheme.