INTRODUCTION
Under-performing pensions, new pension legislation, a volatile stock market and cheap mortgage finance make investing in a ‘buy to let’ property a very attractive proposition and, indeed, more and more people are grasping the opportunity. However, there are some essential things you need to know to avoid falling foul of the law and possibly even committing a criminal offence.

Becoming a landlord isn’t just about property; It’s also about people – your tenants – and being able to manage them firmly but fairly. Ever increasing amounts of legislation which needs to be complied with also make buying a property to let more involved than you might think. Careful, considered preparation is, therefore, essential if you want to make a success of letting property.

Before you even start looking for a property, you need to decide what type of tenants you want, i.e. professional, students, nurses, DSS etc. You need to be crystal clear about this because it will determine, to a large extent, the type and location of a suitable property. Buying the right property in the right place to suit your prospective tenants is something you MUST get right because it will also determine the likely rental income you might expect, the potential yield and the ease of letting.

Another big decision you have to make is how much you can afford to spend on a property and whether you intend to manage it yourself, i.e. find and vet tenants, collect the rent, organise appliance checks and repairs etc, or whether you will put the property in the professional hands of a Managing agent.

Now that your clear about all the above and have made your decisions, you can start looking for a property!

BEFORE YOU FIND YOUR TENANTS

Before you let your property, you must, by law, ensure that it and its contents comply with various safety regulations, including –

  • Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, as amended 1993
  • Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998
  • Smoke Detectors Act 1991
  • Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994.

You will also need to make sure you have –

  • Up to date Certificates showing that these regulations have been complied with, where appropriate
  • An inventory of all items in the property
  • a Property Condition report
  • Carried out a Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) for all electrical appliances
  • Got permission from your mortgage lender (if you have a mortgage on your property) or told your freeholder
  • Informed your insurers
LETTING AGENTS v MANAGING AGENTS

Even if you decide to manage the property yourself, using a Letting agent to find your tenants can save you a lot of time and trouble. In particular, a letting agent will –

  • Advise on the appropriate length of tenancy and the rent to charge
  • Advise whether to let your property unfurnished, partially furnished or furnished
  • Advertise your property and circulate the details to potential tenants
  • Deal with the letting process
  • Prepare the tenancy agreement (e.g. the RICS Assured Shorthold Tenancy). Getting this right is essential.

If you decide to take the easier, less stressful, route and get a Managing agent to look after your property once it’s let, they will –

  • Collect the rent and account to you
  • Hold the deposit. (RICS members must follow regulations for holding clients’ money, which includes consumer protection)
  • Organise and deal with repairs
  • Obtain the necessary safety certificates and insurances
  • Follow the necessary procedures at the end of the tenancy
  • Advise on how to claim any outstanding rent and retake possession at the end of the tenancy.
FINALLY – WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT?

It is the responsibility of the LETTING AGENT, if you use one, to –

  • Get written references for your prospective tenants. Usually these include –
    • Credit reference checks
    • Current and previous employer(s) to confirm that the tenant is a permanent employee, and their salary
    • Current and previous landlord(s) to confirm whether the rent was paid on time, is not outstanding and that the property was kept in good condition
    • Where needed, guarantor’s references.

It is YOUR responsibility to –

  • Pay the Home Insurance
  • Pay any ground rent and service charge where applicable
  • Insure any items, such as furniture and kitchen equipment, you leave in the property
  • Not discriminate against prospective tenants on the grounds of sex, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, marital status or disability etc

and it is the TENANTS responsibility to –

  • Pay the deposit and rent on time
  • Pay or make a contribution towards the bills, as well as any other costs agreed and stated clearly in the tenancy agreement, such as:
    • Inventory and tenancy agreement costs
    • Administrative charges
    • Council Tax, water rates, gas, electricity, telephone charges, television licence fee, etc
  • Return the property to you at the end of the tenancy in the same condition as at the start of the tenancy allowing for fair wear and tear.

This is not a complete list of all the matters you will have to deal with, but it will give you some idea of what you will face if you go down the, potentially very lucrative, buy to let route – Good luck!

PLEASE NOTE: The information provided is for guidance only and should NOT be used as a substitute for essential professional assistance.