On 1 October 2015 the Deregulation Act 2015 introduced big changes to section 21 notices and landlords’ responsibilities. For ASTs which started before 1st October 2015, Landlords can still serve a section 21 notice at any time during the tenancy and there is no change to the form of the section 21 notices you use. There is no time-limit after which a section 21 notice expires unless you give your tenants a new fixed term tenancy, or arguably if you change the terms and conditions of the tenancy, for example by increasing the rent (although these rules will change in October 2018).
For ASTs starting on or after 1st October 2015, landlords now need to provide the following documents to tenants at the start of each fixed term tenancy:

  • Gas appliance safety certificate
  • An energy performance certificate (EPC)
  • The government’s document called ‘How to rent: The checklist for renting in England’ (you can download a copy from the government’s website).

 s.21 notices

Some important changes have been made.

  • Landlords can only serve a section 21 notice after 4 months of the first tenancy;
  • The form of the section 21 notice has to be in the new ‘prescribed form’ (available online);
  • there is a 6 month limit after which a section 21 notice expires, running from the date of service;
  • Any health and safety improvement notice served by the local authority means no section 21 notice can be served for 6 months.

Disrepair

New rules have been introduced about complaints about the property. Any complaint in writing from the tenant about the condition of a property has to be responded to within 14 days. The landlord has to set out in the reply;
• What they intend to do;
• The timeline for doing the repair work.
If the landlord then either:

  • Fails to reply to the written complaint;
  • Gives an inadequate reply; or
  • Serves a section 21 notice

Then the tenant can complain to the local authority which must inspect the property.

The local authority can then:

  • Serve a remedial notice
  • Carry out emergency remedial action

If the local authority does so, then no section 21 notice previously served will be valid, and no further notice may be served for 6 months. The landlord can still serve a section 8 notice (if grounds exist to do so) but given the repair issues which will be supported by the actions of the local authority, a properly-advised tenant is likely to counterclaim to prevent possession and claim damages.

Smoke alarms

Each floor of each property must be fitted with a functioning smoke alarm from 1 October under the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.

Deposits

If a landlord took a deposit after 6 April 2007 but has not registered it by 23 July 2015, then if the landlord has not registered a deposit in a government-backed deposit scheme within 30 days of receiving the money, the landlord has to return the deposit money to the tenant immediately. Until the landlord does so they cannot serve a Section 21 Notice. If the prescribed information relating to the deposit has not been given to the tenants (and “any other relevant persons” such as a guarantor) within 30 days of the deposit being received, then the landlord cannot serve a section 21 notice. If the deposit money has been put into a scheme within 30 days, the ‘prescribed information’ relating to the deposit can be served at a later date, which then allows the landlord to serve a section 21 notice.
It is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure all “relevant persons” receive the prescribed information and it would be best practice for landlords to not only serve the information but also to keep the evidence of doing so (don’t serve by special delivery though, often these are not accepted by their intended recipients).

The prescribed information required

  • A copy of “How to rent: The checklist for renting in England” (either via a link or as a printed copy);
  • Any applicable gas safety certificate (the landlord must provide one each year, if there is a gas installation);
  • Any deposit paperwork (if the tenant has provided a deposit, the landlord must protect it in a government approved scheme);
  • The Energy Performance Certificate for the property (except for Houses in Multiple Occupation).

If the landlord does not provide these, the tenant cannot be evicted until they are. Any deadlines for compliance with the rules that are missed mean that the landlord will be liable to the tenant for between one and three times the amount of the deposit, should the tenant bring a claim, or a counterclaim.

For more information contact David Vaughan-Birch.

New rules for residential landlords