Life can be messy and involve red wine stains on the carpet, scratches on the walls and a lightbulb replacement or three. Anything that requires more than elbow grease to get a home in order, though, should be of concern for conscientious landlords.
This is because landlords assume some responsibility and potential liability for the behaviour of their tenants. This is not always something landlords are aware of but should be. Liability can extend beyond behaviour too, which is why we’re highlighting some of the key things landlords should be aware of before letting out a property.
As a landlord, you’re not technically liable for nuisance tenants or occupiers of your property. However, you may be liable if you’ve allowed the tenants to cause the nuisance or if, when renting out your property, you were aware that nuisance was inevitable or almost certainly going to occur. This can not only make you very unpopular with the neighbours, but it can cause further legal headaches. Nuisance behaviour can range from noisy tenants to anti-social behaviour (which is a criminal offence), and so it’s best to address any concerns sooner rather than letting the situation escalate.
What you can do:
- Install a noise-monitoring device as a preventative solution – you’ll receive an alert if noise levels breach an acceptable limit, which will also help you verify any noise complaints. Make sure your tenants are aware if a device is installed when letting out the property
- Ensure there is a ‘noise clause’ in your tenancy agreement and that tenants are aware that if they breach that clause a possible repercussion could be eviction. Do feel free to re-send tenants a copy of the agreement highlighting this clause if problems arise
- Tell tenants to be courteous to their neighbours by being sensible about their sound volume on the television or radio throughout the day, to limit noise during inconvenient hours, and to avoid placing sound-emitting appliances next to any shared walls
- Encourage neighbours to address their concerns with the tenants first, before taking any further action with the council or police
Preventing criminal activity
Earlier this year, we saw a UK first – a landlord was responsible for the criminal activity of their tenant. Landlord Leonardo Viscomi became the first person prosecuted in the country after admitting to knowing about criminal activity taking place at a Lincoln High Street premises he owns. While this case is related to a commercial premise, it still serves as a stark lesson and wake-up call for private landlords that just because you’re not the one undertaking the activity, it doesn’t mean you won’t be held liable.
Equally, as a landlord you are also responsible for providing a habitable and safe premise for your tenants. Because rented properties can cycle through a lot of tenants, agents and tradesmen, they require higher attention to security matters.
What you can do:
- Carry out thorough background and reference checks before approving a tenant’s application
- Carry out routine inspections and report any suspicious activity that may be taking place at the property as soon as you become aware of it
- Provide window and door locks that comply with the Building Regulations 2010 (including the 2015 update about security in dwelling), and ensure all locks are changed at the start of each tenancy
- Provide adequate and perhaps consider sensor lighting, including in stair wells and outdoor areas
- Install a security system (like an alarm) and ensure any equipment is inspected as part of routine maintenance and property inspections
- Take immediate action to address any concerns from tenants over their safety
You may feel that allowing your tenants to keep pets should be a personal preference, but the law is that you are only allowed to refuse permission if it is reasonable to do so; for example, if the animal is unsuitably large for the property or is known to be dangerous. You will not be liable for any consequences that might arise as a result of having a pet in the property, unless you exercise some control over it, or you knew the animal was potentially dangerous.
What you can do:
- If you are insistent that you do not want pets at your property, ensure there is a valid pet prohibition clause (which will only be applicable if it is a reasonable refusal). If a valid prohibition clause does apply, you are within your rights to request the pet’s removal if your tenant is in breach of this condition, or to initiate the eviction process for failure to comply
- Ensure the property is appropriately enclosed and that any fences or gates are properly maintained. Remind tenants to notify you of any maintenance issues as soon as they become aware of them
- If you’re able to prove that the animal is causing damage to the property or is causing a nuisance to neighbours through constant barking, for example, then you may be able to apply to the court to get a possession order for the property if the tenant refuses to remove the animal from the property
Liveability hazards, such as second-hand smoke
Landlords are obligated to prevent tenants from the harm of second-hand smoke within the communal areas in the property; for houses with multiple occupancy, the Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007 makes it an offence to smoke in shared parts of residential premises, including kitchens, bathrooms, hallways and balconies. Most adults in the UK do not smoke and would welcome a smoke-free environment.
A survey conducted by easyroommate.co.uk found that 38% of private landlords would evict tenants who smoke inside their property, however the actual percentage of those evictions being lawfully carried out would not be as high. Relying on ground 12 of the Housing Act 1988 (the tenant has broken one or more of the terms of the tenancy agreement, except the obligation to pay rent) is enforced at the discretion of the court and orders are not likely granted as a result of smoking. There are preventative measures you can take, though.
What you can do:
- Ensure you advertise for non-smoking tenants only
- Add a no-smoking clause in the tenancy agreement
- If you do not want to fully prohibit smoking on the property, design permitted smoking areas that are well clear of the air-space of communal areas; be sure to clearly label where smoking is permitted or prohibited
Ensuring child safety
Every year, 4,000 children under the age of 15 are injured falling from windows each year due to inadequate barriers. This is in addition to the more than 4,200 children who are involved in falls on the stairs. Falls can cause serious injury and carry the risk of head injuries, learning disabilities or personality changes, which can have a lifetime impact on the involved family. Also, if the property has a pool, children are a high-risk group who need to be protected from drowning dangers.
What you can do:
- Install safety catches or window restrictors to windows
- Fit solid or tightly spaced barriers on any staircases or balconies to ensure small children can’t slip through the gaps
- Enclose any pool or static water sources on the property
- Provide a safety gate as a barrier to stop babies and toddlers climbing or falling down stairs
- Remind tenants to report any damage to safety equipment as soon as possible
Get expert property advice
Whether you’re an experienced or accidental landlord, there are lots of factors to consider before letting out your property as well as throughout the life of the tenancy. As trusted and local property solicitors, we can help you protect your castle now and for years to come.
Contact us today at our Cardiff (02920 093 600) or Bristol (0117 925 6257) office to see how we can help.
 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, ‘Home Safety: Facts and Figures’