Make sure you know where you stand with problem tenants!
The rental sector is enjoying a boom time – 40% more people live in rented accommodation now than did in 2006. On the whole tenants are responsible people, who will treat you and your property with respect.
But, unfortunately, it’s possible that you’ll encounter some tenant difficulty – whether that be from tenants unable to pay the rent because of redundancy or relationship breakdown, or tenants that have no concept of, and pay no heed to their responsibilities to you and your buy-to-let property.
Choose your tenants carefully
This sounds an obvious one, but it’s so important to screen your tenants thoroughly before letting your property out.
A good letting agent (preferably one that’s registered with the Association of Residential Letting Agents) will be able to help you by checking a prospective tenant’s:
- credit rating
- employment status
- getting references
Make an inventory
Your first line of defence against tenant damage is a proper inventory of the condition and contents of your buy-to-let property before the tenancy begins. The best way to do this is to pay an independent and competent party to carry out the inspection (your letting agent is unlikely to be considered independent).
You can do this yourself, although if you later need to rely on the inventory in dispute, you’ll need to bear in mind that your word (as opposed to an independent party) may not be considered as reliable. Therefore you should look to take photos of the property that are dated, to establish the condition.
Know your rights as a landlord
You’ve taken all precautions, thoroughly screened your tenant and conducted a meticulous inventory. Yet somehow, against all the odds you’ve managed to let your flat to an unhygienic, antisocial tenant who has a very ‘easy going’ attitude when it comes to paying you rent. So what are your rights?
Payment of rent
You should aim to have a written tenancy agreement in place, such as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. This sets out the amount of rent payable and when.
Try to get your tenant to pay their rent into your account by standing order. That way you can evidence which payments you receive and, more importantly, which payments you don’t.
If your tenant doesn’t pay rent for a set period, and no solution is forthcoming, then you have the right to evict them. However, there is a procedure to follow when doing this (please see below). You can also attempt to reclaim any unpaid rent as well.
Raising the rent
You can put up the rent at certain points in a tenancy. This will depend on the specifics of the tenancy agreement – you may have to wait for a fixed term to end before you can make the increase.
You can’t charge what you like though. The rent has to be justifiable and comparable to similar properties in the area, otherwise the tenant can complain and you could be forced to restore the rent to an acceptable level.
Neglect and damage of the property
Your tenants have a level of responsibility to keep your buy-to-let property in good condition. Whilst you are responsible for most repairs, if damages are caused by the tenant, then you should be able to claim these back.
The tenant is obliged to stick to the terms of the tenancy agreement regarding matters such as the keeping of pets – if damage or maintenance is required because of this, again you can make a deduction from the tenant’s deposit or charge them.
The exception to this is for ‘fair wear and tear’ such as to carpets or other furnishings – you can’t charge the tenant for these. Wherever you propose to charge a tenant make sure you have properly costed out with quotes to back you up if the tenant chooses to dispute the figure.
What you can’t do
You can’t just pay your tenants an impromptu visit, you have to have a good reason, and you need to let them know in advance.
You can’t harass your tenants as this is a criminal offence.
You can’t just physically chuck your tenants out on the street or ‘help’ them move. When it comes to evicting problem tenants you have to be careful not to make an illegal eviction –
again this can lead to legal action.
How to evict a tenant
There are three stages to this in most cases:
- The tenancy agreement should normally specify a notice period that you can give your tenants to vacate the property.
- If the tenants remain in the property at the end of the notice period you can apply to the courts for a possession order.
- If you get the possession order granted and the tenant does not comply, you can then apply for an eviction warrant from the county court. The county court will then arrange to send in the bailiffs.
What to do about deposit disputes
If you are letting using an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, you are obliged to put your tenant’s deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme. Each TDP scheme offers a free dispute resolution service to help agree how much of the deposit should be given back.
If you want to make a deduction from your tenant’s deposit, you must be able to prove that the damage was the tenant’s fault. This can be achieved through an independent inventory conducted at the outset and at the end of the tenancy.
You should also be able to back up why you need to deduct the amount – get quotes for any cleaning or repairs needed. You are unlikely to get the result you want if the dispute boils down to your word against the tenant’s.
Source : moneyfacts