The accidental landlord
FOR ages, I had been meaning to attend one of the National Landlords Association training days but never managed to find the time and, between you and me, I never made it a priority because I was fairly sure that after letting property for more than 10 years, I knew pretty much everything. How wrong was I?
When the NLA’s head of policy Chris Norris finally persuaded me to drag myself along to its one-day foundation course, I realised there were big gaps in my knowledge.
The main thing I learned was how important it is for landlords to keep detailed records of everything we do to protect ourselves from possible legal action. For instance, it’s not enough to check your smoke alarms at the start of every tenancy, you also need proof that they were tested. So you could ask tenants to sign a document confirming the alarms were working when they moved in or, better still, make sure your smoke alarms are included on the inventory.
You should also get the tenant to confirm in writing that you have given them all the documents you are required by law to provide at the start of the tenancy, including the gas safety record, the latest version of the government How to Rent guide (which no one will ever read), the Energy Performance Certificate (which no one understands) and the details of the scheme used to protect their deposit.
You can send all this information by email, but if you do you should ask the tenant to confirm they have received it. If not, you ought to provide paper copies and get the tenant to sign a written document stating they have every one of the above. Tedious, I know, but if you don’t and the tenant denies having received these, you won’t be able to end the tenancy. NLA trainer Chris Daniel suggested landlords should also take photos of all the fire safety labels attached to furniture in rental homes to prove it is fire retardant, or make sure the inventory states the labels were checked, just in case they get torn off. Then if there’s a fire, a landlord can prove they were observing all the regulations on furniture.
I was previously unaware that landlords must provide operating instructions for all electrical items, even small appliances such as kettles and toasters. This is in case the tenant decides to do something nuts like clean the kettle in the dishwasher. It could happen. Giving your tenants the user manual won’t stop them behaving like idiots but when they blow up the microwave or fry their fingers in the toaster, at least you won’t be to blame.
Despite the low risk of tenants contracting Legionnaires’ disease in a residential property, Chris insisted landlords must routinely inspect their place for potential risks and, crucially, log the details of these inspections. They must also provide tenants with details of how to avoid legionella bacteria, such as running hot water taps for several minutes in properties that have been left empty for more than a week.
Essentially, landlords have a duty to look after their tenants and their property — and to keep proof that they are doing so.
£2,400 a month: a threebedroom flat on the second floor of this block in Park Road, Beckenham, with parking, is available to rent through Foxtons (020 8012 6720).