There are around 150 laws that apply to the lettings industry and most of those that have come into force in the last decade have been focused on making properties safer for tenants.
Among other things, landlords are now legally obliged to maintain rented properties to a good standard, remove potential hazards and install fire safety measures.
While good landlords – and that’s the vast majority – have taken on board all the legislation that’s been thrown at them, absorbing the ever-increasing cost of letting a property legally, the cowboys have continued to flout the laws. And that’s probably largely been down to a lack of enforcement. Local authorities simply haven’t had the resources to find and prosecute bad landlords and, even when they have, the penalties have been nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Although councils had the power to impose civil fines of up to £5,000, the average has been around just £1,500 – a drop in the ocean for most of the rogues.
New legislation from April 2017
In April this year, the maximum civil penalty went up substantially. Now, if they find a property that’s not being safely and legally let, councils can fine landlords up to £30,000, ban them from letting for 12 months and share details with other councils across the country. Importantly, the money raised from these fines is ring-fenced to help fund further enforcement activity.
The reasons you could be fined or jailed
In almost all cases, if you violate your legal obligations, you’ll be given a warning and the opportunity to put things right. But if you continue to break the law, you’ll certainly be fined and could be banned from letting. And if the violation is considered serious enough you’re likely to face time in prison.
The most common offences:
|Violating the Housing Act 2004, including: failure to comply with an improvement notice, failing to license an HMO, contravention of an overcrowding notice, failing to comply with management regulations for an HMO||Civil penalty of up to £30,000|
|Letting to someone you know does not have the legal right to be in the UK||Up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine|
|Failure to protect a tenant’s deposit||Unlimited fines, but generally calculated at three times the initial deposit taken|
|Health and safety violations that result in a tenant or visitor to the property being injured or dying||Unlimited fines or a jail term for manslaughter|
Given the potentially serious consequences, you really do need to take the best expert advice to make sure every property you let is legally compliant and you’ve met your obligations in terms of administering the tenant paperwork properly. And if you receive any communication from your local council about an alleged violation of any lettings laws, consult a lettings legal expert right away.