Developing good working methods as a landlord is a matter of experience, and all landlords will have their own ways.

Guest article by Tim Briggs from LegalMentor Landlords

Before they sign

1) Deposits

Register deposits (if any) in a scheme before the tenants sign the agreement. Get the deposit money put into a scheme, and get the deposit certificate and prescribed information ready to give to the tenants a few days before they sign the tenancy agreement.

Reason why: if the deposit is not registered when you serve the Section 21 Notice, the Section 21 Notice will not be valid.

2) Inventory

Make a detailed record of the state of the property. If you decide not to get a professional inventory done, at least use a digital camera and take plenty of photos of each wall, floor, ceiling, or item, both close-up and further away. Try to get a digital date and time on each picture. Download the photos onto a computer file for safekeeping. Also write a list of all items in the property in each room for the tenant to sign, with a detailed description of everything, with dates and times.

Reason why: if you have no record of the state of the property, tenants can claim the damage was there before they moved in, and you will not be successful in claiming money back from a deposit scheme, or at court. Good visual records are also essential for defending against disrepair claims brought by tenants.

3) Tenancy agreement

The tenancy agreement should set out the method by which Notices have to be served.

Reason why: if the tenancy agreement does not mention the method of service of Notices (e.g. post, by hand, in person), many judges will require the Notice to have been served personally (i.e. put into the hand of the tenant), or service will not be valid and a claim for possession will fail.

The tenancy agreement should not be ambiguous or unclear on the important terms.

Reason why: if the tenancy agreement is ambiguous (e.g. ‘Rent of £100 per week payable on the 1st day of the month every 4 weeks in arrears’) the Judge may decide rent is due on a different day, invalidating the Notices, and therefore the whole claim.

The tenancy agreement should ideally have a fixed term of 6 months or a year, unless there is a good reason for a longer period.

Reason why: if the fixed period of the tenancy is for two years and after a few months the tenants are still paying rent late and damaging the property, there is nothing you can do to get rid of them until the two years is up.

4) Reference check and tenant ID

Some tenant reference checks are very basic, and not always to be relied upon. Whether you have reference checks done or not, always take photocopies of the tenants’ passport photo page and drivers licence, and recent bank accounts.

Reason why: good High Court Enforcement Officers will be able to track down a tenant using a driving licence and passport. Bank accounts are good for other enforcement procedures.

On the day of signing

5) Deposit certificate and ‘prescribed information'

First of all, do NOT (repeat DO NOT) miss out on giving the tenants (and any other permitted occupiers) any leaflets, certificates, terms and conditions or ANY other documentation from the deposit scheme, however innocuous-looking. Just give them everything. Get the tenants to sign, date and put the time of signing on your copies of everything you give them, which you then file away for safekeeping.

Reason why: tenants will often turn up to court saying they have not been given the ‘prescribed information’. If the judge agrees then any Section 21 Notice will not be valid unless the landlord has provided the prescribed information to the tenant and served a new Notice. Even worse, this could make the landlord liable for a claim in damages of three times the amount of the deposit. So you could pay to take your tenant to court for thousands of pounds in unpaid rent, and the court could order you to pay them thousands of pounds while they live in your property for free.

6) Tenancy agreement

Keep a copy of a tenancy agreement signed by both parties. Get the tenant to date and write the time of signing on the agreement.

Reason why: tenants can sometimes attend court saying that the only agreement they agreed to by signing was a previous tenancy agreement. If the judge agrees that will invalidate the Notices relating to this tenancy agreement, and the claim will fail.

7) Serve a Section 21 Notice on this day

Make the tenant sign a Section 21(1)(b) Notice after they have signed the tenancy agreement, and put the time of signing on both copies.

Reason why: this will save you needing to serve another Notice (which can take over two months to expire), unless (arguably) you have changed any of the terms and conditions of the tenancy, for example by agreeing to increase the rent. Even lawyers and judges sometimes get confused on this point. Also, the time of signing being written on the agreement (which should be a few minutes later than the time on the tenancy agreement) will prevent any later issues about whether the Notice has been served, or served before the tenancy agreement was signed (which would invalidate the Notice as no tenancy agreement was in existence at the time of signing).

The Notice should expire on the last day of the fixed term of the tenancy, so if the fixed term runs for a year from 18th June 2013 to 17th June 2014, the Notice should state that possession be given ‘after 17th June 2014’.

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