Government publishes updated “How to Rent” guide

Written on 4 Jul 2018

On 26 June 2018, the government published an updated “How to Rent” guide, together with a further collection of “how to” housing guides.

The four guides are:

  1. How to Rent;
  2. How to Rent a Safe Home (supplementing “How to Rent”);
  3. How to Let; and
  4. How to Lease.

The key features of each guide are set out below.

  1. How to Rent

This is aimed at tenants in the private rented sector that are renting/about to rent a property on an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) basis.

A landlord letting property on an AST basis must provide a copy of the latest version of the ‘How to Rent Guide’ to its tenant (in hard copy) at the start of the tenancy. There is no continuing obligation to provide the tenant with updated versions if these change during the term of the AST, although best practice would be to do so. Failure to provide the tenant with a copy of the ‘How to Rent’ Guide will restrict the landlord’s ability to serve a section 21 notice terminating an AST (for all ASTs granted on or after 1 October 2015).

The purpose of the guide is to help tenants to understand their rights and responsibilities. The contents include:

  • Pre-rental considerations (including budgets, location, right to rent, guarantor requirements, ways to rent, deposit protection, length of tenancy, safety, furnishings and bills);
  • Documentation, including:
    • paperwork such as the tenancy agreement itself, inventory and meter readings, and
    • documents that the landlord must legally provide (the ‘How to Rent Guide’, a gas safety certificate, deposit paperwork, the electrical performance certificate (EPC), records of electrical inspections, and details of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors);
  • The obligations a tenant can expect whilst renting under an AST, including payment of rent and bills, standards of maintenance, restrictions on sub-letting, etc.;
  • The landlord’s reciprocal responsibilities in terms of maintenance, safety, repair, insurance etc.;
  • The options at the end of a tenancy (extension of the tenancy, notice requirements etc.); and
  • What to do if things go wrong – procedures to follow and details of who to contact.
  1. How to Rent a Safe Home

This guide supplements the ‘How to Rent’ Guide. It is for current and prospective tenants and outlines potential hazards to be aware of in a residential property and what to look out for in terms of common and dangerous hazards and when/how to report them to the landlord. It should be provided to the tenant at the same time as the ‘How to Rent’ Guide, though its provision is not a mandatory precursor to serving a section 21 notice to terminate the tenancy.

In particular, the guide sets out the landlord’s duties in respect of safety (e.g. responsibility for safety and repairs, and to provide copies of gas safety and energy performance certificates).

It also explains to the tenant how to review a gas safety and energy performance certificate and about testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

The guide also sets out the standards that a tenant should expect in terms of condition, space, security, hygiene etc. and how to report incidents where such standards are not met.

  1. How to Let

This guide is for current and prospective private residential landlords in England letting to tenants on an AST basis.

It sets out the landlord’s legal responsibilities, including protecting deposits in a tenancy deposit scheme, providing the ‘How to Rent’ Guide to tenants, carrying out gas safety checks, ensuring electrical installations are safe, installing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, providing tenants with an EPC, and carrying out right to rent checks and includes the potential penalties for breach of the requirements.

The guide also covers factors such as legality of letting (e.g. where the property is mortgaged or requires an HMO licence), and regulations concerning letting agents.

In addition, there are sections covering practical considerations when agreeing the terms of a tenancy and sections covering the landlord and tenant’s respective responsibilities, as well as steps to be taken at the end of a tenancy and what to do if things go wrong, which mirror the guidance in the ‘How to Rent’ guide.

  1. How to Lease

This guide is for leasehold occupiers or prospective purchasers in England. It explains what a long leaseholder is, and outlines the difference between being a leaseholder and freeholder.

It largely focuses on the steps required to purchase a leasehold and additional costs to consider (e.g. ground rent, service charges or reserve funds).

There are also sections covering the freeholder (as landlord)’s obligations and the leaseholder’s rights in terms of information (such as detailed service charges or insurance premiums).

Comment

Although the provision of the How to Rent guide to tenants has been a requirement for some time now, there are still question marks over the interplay between provision of the guides and service of section 21 notices if a landlord has failed to provide the tenant with a copy at the outset. Questions over the impact of late service, and what version should be served prior to service of any section 21 notice but post grant of the tenancy, still need to be clarified. Unfortunately, like with many of the other regulations in place for the private rented sector, it is likely to fall to the courts to provide the clarity.

The publication of the revised guides should be used as a reminder for landlords operating in the private rented sector to ensure their systems are up-to-date and suitable to manage the numerous regulations that are in place. The How to Rent guide has also been updated to reflect the forthcoming ban on tenant fees and HMO changes being introduced in October 2018. Landlords need to ensure they are ready for these changes as a failure to adhere to the various requirements strictly can have costly consequences.

Written by Sian Edmonds (Associate), Sue Thompson (Associate Director)  Rebecca Francis (Senior Associate).