What Landlords need to know about the How to Rent guide

When letting a property out there are some legally required documents which a landlord or a landlord’s agent must give to a new tenant. Along with a tenancy agreement, in total there are 5 other documents which every new tenant should be given:

  1. Government how to rent checklist
  2. Gas safety certificate
  3. Deposit protection scheme details
  4. Energy performance certificate
  5. Landlord’s or agent’s contact details
  6. EICR

In this guide we will take a look at the Government’s how to rent guide.

What is the How to Rent guide

The how to rent guide is a document published by the Government which gives a tenant important information on the rental process and what to look for when renting, but also covers the rights and responsibilities of both the tenant and the landlord.

The guide is broken up into 8 sections:

  1. Assured Shorthold tenancies. This section explains that the most common rental agreement types are Assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) and that these are legally binding contracts which detail the rights and responsibilities of all parties. The section makes it clear that a tenant should read the contract carefully and understand the requirements of the agreement.
  2. Before you Start. This section is a checklist with some key questions that a tenant needs to answer before signing an agreement. The section covers asking questions around fees, the amount of the deposit, length of tenancy, affordability (suggesting that a maximum monthly rent should be no more than 35% of take-home pay), entitlement to benefits, location, availability of the required rental documents, right to rent and whether a guarantor is needed. This section then moves on to cover ways to rent a property. This covers the process of rental when renting directly from the landlord and things to look for like landlord accreditation. It also covers renting through an agent and gives guidance on things like agent accreditation, being members of redress schemes and also members of a client money protection scheme.
  3. Looking for your New Home. This section covers quite a few different aspects that a tenant should be looking for and to understand:
    1. Deposits. The guide covers deposit caps, deposit protection schemes and also deposit replacement products such as zero deposit schemes.
    2. Tenancy length, stating clearly that most tenancies are 6 or 12 month but that a tenant must be offered at least a 6 month contract.
    3. Terms and conditions such as whether pets are allowed, whether smoking is allowed, who pays for the bills and what fixtures and fittings are in the property and whether they are suitable.
    4. Safety aspects such as the presence of smoke and CO detectors and alarms, what a safe home looks like and the requirement that a property is fit for human habitation.
    5. The guide goes into detail on the fees that are allowed to be charged and also gives guidance to ensure a tenant knows exactly who the landlord is and what their address is. These two parts are key legal renting requirements.
    6. The final part of this section covers licencing requirements for HMOs and selective licencing areas to give the tenant guidance on when licences are needed.
  4. When you’ve found a place. In this part of the guide the tenant is given guidance on reading and understanding the tenancy agreement, understanding and agreeing the inventory check, taking meter readings at the start of the tenancy, contact details of agents and landlords and also to ask whether the agent or landlord have a code of practice. More importantly, in some respects, this part details exactly what information and documents a landlord must give to the tenant. This includes the documents already mentioned above and also evidence that all some and carbon monoxide alarms have been tested and are function at the start of the tenancy.
  5. Living in a rented home. This part of the guide goes into detail on the tenant’s responsibilities when it comes to living in your property. It is broken up into things the tenant must do (a-e) and should do (f-k)
    1. Pay rent on time
    2. Pay the bills as agreed
    3. Look after the property and get permission for any decorating or repairs
    4. Be a considerate neighbour
    5. Do not sub-let without permission
    6. Understand how all the utilities work and where the meters and stop cocks are
    7. Test smoke and CO alarms
    8. Report maintenance issues to the landlord in a timely manner
    9. Obtain insurance for possessions
    10. Install a smart meter
    11. Register to vote.

Section 5 then goes on to discuss the things a landlord must do (a-k) and should do (l-n)

  1. Maintain the property
  2. Fit smoke and CO alarms
  3. Deal with any problems associated with utility supply
  4. Maintain any furnishings and white goods provided
  5. Carry out repairs
  6. Carry out annual gas safety checks
  7. Carry out 5 yearly electrical inspections
  8. Get a licence if required
  9. Only enter the property with permission from the tenant giving at least 24 hours’ notice
  10. Ensure the property has an EPC of at least an E
  11. Ensure the property is free from any serious hazards
  12. Insure the building
  13. Check all fixtures and fittings are safe
  14. Ensure blinds are of a safe design without lopped cords.
  15. At the end of the fixed period. This element covers the options at the end of the initial fixed term. This looks at what happens if the tenant wants to stay and the options around another fixed term or moving to a periodic tenancy and also rent increases. The section also covers the scenario where either the landlord or the tenant wants to end the tenancy and the requirement to give appropriate notice and the process for ending the tenancy including ensuring rent is paid up-to-date, bills are paid and that the property is left in a good condition.
  16. If things go wrong. In section 7 of the guide the tenant’s rights when things go wrong are discussed. This covers things like poor service levels from an agent, ending the rental early, what to do when struggling financially, unsafe properties, property complaints, legal action, what to do if illegal fees have been charged, landlord harassment and illegal evictions.
  17. Further sources of information. This section is simply a list of places a tenant can look to get more information on renting.

The how to rent guide is part of what is called prescribed information and legally has to be given to a tenant at the start of a tenancy. It is important to note that, at least at the moment, if this document is not given to a tenant, it could affect a landlord’s ability to serve a section 21 eviction notice. It is also important to make sure that the tenant has the most recent version of the how to rent guide. A landlord cannot be fined for not supplying the document to a tenant so, although it is a legal requirement, it isn’t a crime to not give the document to a tenant. As mentioned, though, not giving a tenant a copy will make it impossible to serve a section 21 notice. It is advisable, to have the tenant sign a confirmation that they have received a copy of the document so you have documented proof that it was supplied at the start of the tenancy.