36 Practical Tips ALL New & Accidental Landlords Should Know in 2020!

Accident

Well shhhheeeeeeet. By definition, you didn’t plan for this to happen, but it has. You’re one of us now (or at least, on the verge of crossing over)!

According to this article by the Business Reporter, around 1 in 12 (8.2%) homes that came onto the rental market in 2017 were by accidental landlords- equating to around 80,000 properties across Britain.

So if there’s one positive takeaway, it’s that you’re not alone.

I’ve always found the term “accidental landlord” rather hollow, because it doesn’t really give much away. However, there seems to be a trend whereby most accidental landlords are here due to one of the two following scenarios (please, tell me if you fall into an entirely different barrel):

  • Economical circumstances has forced you into renting out your home
  • You’ve inherited a property

I guess it doesn’t really matter why you’ve been lumbered with the ‘accidental landlord’ job title, the point is you’re here, and that means you need to get up to speed. Pronto! You’ve stumbled into the right place…

As part of my build-up to writing this blog post, I briefly eyed-up several high-ranking articles on Google, offering guidance and advice to accidental landlords.

Now, I don’t want to be the venomous bitter asshole, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to be. Every article I came across seemed to offer the same colourless regurgitated dog-shit, drafted by marketing content creators, rather than actual landlords with real experience.

Sure, they cover the basic textbook essentials; Tenancy Agreements, Energy Performance Certificates, Tenancy Security Deposits, , Landlord Insurance etc. Yada, yada, yada!

All useful and vital tips, but it’s nothing new, and in my opinion, there’s very little information that helps equip landlords for the critical day-to-day realities, which is arguably just as important as the low-level textbook information.

Either way, no matter how you dice it, the learning curve is steep – so prepare yourself – but there are definitely perks to grinding through the mundane homework in order to substantially minimise your risks.

Due to my realisation, I’ve decided to do what I can to help by compiling my own creepy and repugnant list of tips for all those accidental landlords that didn’t expect to be here…

1) New landlord guide

First and foremost, I’m going to conduct some utterly shameful self-promoting, but with impeccable reason.

I’ve already written a detailed guide for new and first-time landlords [free to download], which covers pretty much everything you’ll find in here, plus more! In fact, I think it’s fair to say that everything I’m going to spew out on this page is a watered-down version of what’s contained in the book. So, downloading it should be your first port of call, or at least your primary objective after you’re done with this page.

It’s received some decent reviews, so make of that what you will.

2) Landlord Building Insurance

I know, I know!

In my brief intro I mentioned that getting the right type of insurance is basic advice, but I also said it was crucial, and that’s why I need to mention it (along with the forthcoming tippets that generally go unsaid by other publishers).

Building insurance isn’t a legal requirement, but you’d be a fool not to have a suitable policy in place, because ya’ know- otherwise you’ll get sweet bupkis if your tenant burns your house down.

If you currently have a standard ‘residential’ policy, contact your provider and get it updated to a policy suitable for buy-to-lets! If your rental has a residential policy, your policy will most definitely be void.

Here’s a full guide on landlord insurance (there are many types of landlord insurance), and a more specific blog post targeting landlord building insurance.

3) Content Insurance

Again, it’s not a legal requirement to have contents insurance, but this one isn’t often required.

If you have a fully-furnished property, then it would be wise to splash out on contents insurance. However, if it’s unfurnished, it’s typically the tenant’s responsibility to get their own contents insurance policy, if they choose to.

4) BTL Mortgage

It’s a similar gig to building insurance; you need a mortgage policy that caters for buy-to-let, and not for standard residential purposes.

You should inform your lender that you wish to let your property (if you don’t currently have a BTL mortgage), and they may need to switch or amend your current policy.

5) Leasehold properties

If you have a leasehold property, it’s important to check if your lease permits subletting (technically, you’ll be subletting if you let a leasehold property). Some leases don’t permit it!

6) Online letting agents

Most new landlords instinctively think using their local high-street agent is the only option to finding tenants and fully-managing a BTL. While that was largely the case a decade ago, times have massively changed [for the better]. Online letting agents are the latest cost-saving craze, so I strongly urge you to look into them if you haven’t done so already.

In a nutshell, online letting agents have digitalised the process of finding and managing tenants for a fraction of what traditional high-street agents charge. For example, I used to pay my local agent £750 to find a tenant, but now I pay around £50 with an online agent. If that hasn’t piqued your interest…. then, you’re just batshit crazy.

Granted, online agents aren’t for everyone, but before making that call, I highly encourage you to look through my complete guide on online letting agents.

High-street agents will argue that their one-to-one service is superior and can’t be matched by an online agent, but I completely disagree. Yes, once-upon-a-time online letting agents were better geared towards experienced landlords that wanted to self-manage their own tenancies, but that’s definitely not the case anymore.

Online letting agents have revolved; many of them now offer cost-effective managed services (from as little as £45pm) that are remarkably suitable for new and first-time landlords. My advice: at least look into it so you know your options.

7) High-street letting agents

Putting aside all the negative press and stereotypes high-street agents are associated with, I’m not adverse to encouraging accidental landlords on using them, especially if you feel completely out of your depth. So if you decide that using a high-street agent is the route you want to take (after reading my guide on online letting agents, of course), then my only advice is to choose wisely.

While I don’t think they’re all snake-oil assholes, many of them are. If not worse. To spare myself from rewriting the traps to be aware of when dealing with agents, I invite you to hop over to my guide on how to choose a good high-street letting agent.

8) How much rent to charge

Don’t fall for the trap of being greedy, despite how tempting it might be! Always stick to the going rate, and no more.

Overpricing can easily lead to extended vacant periods (which ultimately costs more than setting the correct price in the first place) and more importantly, bitter tenants.

Feel free to ask local agents what the going rates are, and also utilise websites like Rightmove.co.uk and Zoopla.co.uk to see what other landlords are demanding for similar properties in the same area.

9) Tenancy deposits

You don’t legally have to take a deposit (which many landlords don’t realise), and many [stupid] landlords don’t. But I’d highly recommend taking one.

Landlords typically take one months’ worth of rent as a deposit, or one and a half months’ rent if the property is furnished, or if the tenant has pets.

If you take a deposit, you will be must legally comply with the tenancy deposit legislation (which is also covered in the link I provide in the landlord legal obligations section below).

10) Referencing / Good tenants

This blog post may seem like a chaotic and unorganised list of cautions, but there is some strategy in my ordering. But it’s not ordered by importance, because if it was, this might have ended up at the top of the pile.

Landlords, even the experienced ones, often under appreciate the value and importance in finding good tenants.

New landlords are often like headless chickens, in the sense that they’ll do whatever they can to find any ol’ tenant as quickly as possible to reduce the vacancy period. In theory, yes, it makes sense, because a vacant property is costly. However, in practise, compromising the quality of the tenant to reduce void time can definitely be more expensive. For example, leaving a property empty for 2 weeks longer than anticipated because you didn’t receive interest from the right applicant sooner is almost always cheaper than rushing into a deal with an unsavoury tenant who may cause havoc down the road.

My advice is, don’t stop looking for a tenant until you’re confident you’ve caught a good one. If that means prolonging your vacant period, then so be it. Be diligent, and thoroughly reference your tenancy applicants. Referencing is key.

11) DSS tenants

While DSS was dissolved in 2001, it’s still commonly referred to tenants who receive benefits. They come with both positive and negative attributes, all of which I’ve discussed in my guide on tenants that receive housing benefits.

DSS tenants are a controversial topic of discussion, especially in this current toxic climate, where more and more people are relying on benefits.

I don’t want to encourage or discourage anyone from taking on DSS tenants. However, every landlord should be aware of what a DSS tenant is, and what they bring to the table. Before starting your tenant-finding conquest, please, do some homework on DSS tenants.

12) Don’t stop looking for tenants until the bitter end!

This point covers a whopper of a mistake so many novice landlords make, and it can be so devastatingly costly!

For whatever reason, tenancies fall through at the last minute all the flippin’ time, very similarly to how the sale of a property falls often through, at which point you’ll have to dust off and reset.

On that basis, I urge you NOT to stop looking for tenants until a tenant has signed the contracts, and the first months’ rent and deposit has been paid. Don’t stop even even if you think you’ve unearthed the sweetest of all tenants that’s adamant on moving in – circumstances often change, quickly!

13) Landlord legal obligations

Well, you knew this one was coming.

There are a barrage of legal obligations landlords must adhere to, from safety aspects to the administrative duties, all of which I’ve covered in detail over in my landlord legal responsibilities and obligations blog post. Enjoy!

Needless to say, failing to comply with your legal obligations can quickly and easily lead to prosecution. Don’t be that guy!

14) Tenant Vs Lodger

This is a common issue, whereby landlords confuse a tenant with a lodger and vice versa.

While there are a few key differences between a tenant and a lodger, the biggest give away is that a lodger is someone who rents a room in your home and shares living space (e.g. kitchen, bathroom) with you. A tenant is someone who has exclusive rights over a property for a fixed term, and the landlord will not live in the same property.

It’s important to note that lodgers have far less rights than tenants, and this blog post is covering shorthold tenancies only!

If you’re sitting there with your mouth wide-open, just realising that you’ve actually got a lodger- don’t worry, I’ve still got your back. Here you go, jump over to my guide on lodgers.

15) Utility bills

I never recommend for landlords to include the costs of utility bills in the rent. I just think it can get messy and very complicated if shit hits the fan (i.e. if there are excessive heating bills). Above all, it can be difficult to predict energy usage as it can fluctuate dramatically, particularly due to seasonal climate changes.

On that note, ensure that all the utilities (gas, water, electricity, telecommunications, broadband, council tax etc.) are transferred over to your tenant(s) and make sure it’s stated in the tenancy agreement that they are responsible for payment utilities.

I also strongly encourage all landlords to contact each utility provider to ensure the accounts have been transferred over (with the correct meter readings where necessary), and not just rely on your tenant’s word. That way, in the event that they fall behind on their utility bills, they will be held responsible, not you.

That said, I know some landlords do prefer including utility bills with the rent, especially HMO landlords. Of course, it’s your funeral. If, for whatever reason, this option makes the most sense for your circumstances (which it may well do), then my only parting tip to you, is to recommend looking into energy auto-switch services, to help ensure you’re always benefiting from the most cost-effective tariffs.

16) Furnished Vs Unfurnished

Personally, I wouldn’t encourage you to provide a furnished rental property, although in some cases I know it’s unavoidable without splashing out on storage. However, if you have the choice, I recommend going unfurnished, because the point to remember is that the more you provide with your property, the more you’re making yourself responsible to repair and maintain. That can be a real hassle, not to mention a black hole for money. I actually think it’s worth paying for storage, or selling the damn lot, just to avoid the potential problems that come with furnishings.

If you’re in the mood to read a more detailed blog post on furnishing (specially why I think it’s a disastrous idea), here you go.

17) White goods

From my experience, most tenants expect white goods to be provided, and it’s difficult to find tenants that are willing to supply their own, which includes – at the very least – fridge/freezer, cooker and oven.

Just to clarify, providing white goods doesn’t mean you’re providing a furnished property.

18) Tenancy agreement contracts

Here, just a couple of my most crucial tips when it comes to tenancy agreement contracts…

  • A tenancy agreement can be a verbal agreement between landlord and tenant. However, you should ALWAYS use a written tenancy agreement so the agreed upon T&C’s are documented to avoid confusion i.e. length of tenancy, rent amount etc.
  • Most tenancy agreements are fixed for 12 months, but I recommend initially using a 6 month fixed period (which is legally the minimum length for an AST). This will allow rogue tenants to be evicted as quickly as possible. If after the initial 6 months you’re happy with the tenant, you can either allow the tenancy to continue without doing anything (the tenant will then roll onto a periodic tenancy), or simply provide a new tenancy agreement with new fixed terms.
  • Read every clause in the tenancy agreement carefully and ensure you understand everything! If there’s something you don’t understand, get advice (i.e. ask the question in the landlord forum)- don’t just blindly use it.
  • Don’t download a random tenancy agreement off the internet because it’s free, ensure it’s up-to-date and sourced from a reputable supplier. Speaking of which, you can download one from here.
  • Don’t just amend or add your own clauses willy-nilly, because they may not be legally enforceable. If you wish to make amendments to your tenancy agreement, I recommend seeking advice from a professional (i.e. solicitor)

For more details, here’s a guide on tenancy agreements.

19) Tenant Guarantor

A “Guarantor” is the person that accepts the liability on behalf of the tenant in the event of the tenant failing to meet their obligations (e.g. if the tenant falls into arrears). The Guarantor is legally bound to accept the liabilities on behalf of the tenant (i.e. cover the rent arrears). Most commonly, a guarantor is usually a close family member of the tenant.

I recommend for all landlords to ensure that their tenants have a guarantor. In fact, I would insist on it. It’s actually easy to arrange- all the landlord needs to do is reference the guarantor (to ensure they’re suitable), and then get them to sign a contract (similar to a tenancy agreement).

For more information on tenant guarantors and guarantor contracts.

20) Rent Guarantee Insurance

Yup, another type of insurance. The third in this blog post alone, to be precise.

RGI (Rent Guarantee Insurance) protects landlords against loss of rent. It’s most commonly relied on when tenants fall into arrears, and then the insurance will cover the rent, or at least a percentage of it, depending on your policy.

This kind of insurance is always useful for every landlord, but particularly for those who rely on rent each month to cover the bills. For example, if you know you’ll be in deep shit if your tenant misses two months’ of rent (i.e. you don’t have a contingency to cover it), then it probably makes good sense to bag yourself some landlord RGI.

21) Tax liabilities

To put simply, being a landlord is a business, so that means any profit made is subject to taxation. Almost all accidental landlords will be subject to income tax; that means they’ll need to file a Self Assessment tax return form for each tax year.

The running costs of being a landlord can be a burden on the purse, but the good thing is that many of those expenses are tax deductible, commonly known as ‘allowable expenses’, which includes:

  • Letting agent fees
  • Legal fees e.g. tenant eviction costs
  • Accountant fees
  • Insurance
  • Council tax
  • …etc

Needless to say, safely keep all your receipts!

Bottom line, tax is a real thing when you’re a landlord. For more depressing info on the subject matter, here’s my landlord tax guide.

22) Run it like a business

I ‘spose I’m following on from my previous point with this one, but I do want to provide some extra emphasis on how important it is to run your landlording affairs like a proper business (because that’s what it is). That means having a separate bank account (doesn’t need to be a business account), keep a spreadsheet of all your finances, set yourself reminders of key dates (e.g. when the annual gas safety check is due), and maybe even go the whole 9 yards and file everything away neatly. Might even be worth looking into some landlord software to help assist with the admin.

Believe me, being organised and professional will make life so much easier.

23) Repairs & Maintenance

According to Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is legally obligated to:

  • keep the structure and exterior of the property in good repair, including drains, gutters and external pipes
  • keep installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation in good repair and proper working order
  • keep installations for space heating and water heating in good repair and proper working order

Kind of a no-brainer if you ask me, but apparently it’s not (based on how many depressing horror stories I hear from tenants).

More on Landlords responsibility to repair and maintain.

24) Contingency fund

If there’s one thing you can rely on as a landlord, it’s for unforeseen expenses to crop up and punch you in the nuts, from general maintenance & repairing issues to the financial consequences of having a tenant that’s a pillock! So always have a bit of dosh on the side to cover those expenses.

If you’re the type of person that likes to live from paycheque to paycheque, I’m not entirely sure that being a landlord is well suited to your lifestyle. I can only encourage you to make an exception this once by prepping a contingency pot that can fund the unforeseen circumstances that are, ironically, always inevitable.

Allow me to throw an example your way, just so you have a practical point of reference; in the space of a year I had to replace two boilers, and that set me back £5k! OUCH!

25) Document correspondence with tenants

Use common sense to determine what constitutes as noteworthy, and then be sure to communicate by means that leave behind a footprint (e.g. text messages and emails), so you can call-back on conversations. This is particularly useful for when agreeing to changes in the tenancy, or getting permission to enter the premises to make repairs.

26) Inventory

An inventory is a listing of all the contents of a property and a record of the condition of the property. Always do one! The process of creating an inventory is typically simple- it usually involves taking pictures and taking down notes on a clipboard, and then getting the report agreed upon and signed by both landlord and tenant.

Shockingly, inventories are often sidestepped by landlords, which is just crazy, because they protect all parties, specifically when identifying damages (which is an extremely common reason for dispute). Inventories are crucial when it comes to putting reins on unnecessary and unwarranted spending.

More on property inventories and how to create one.

27) Tenant’s right to live in “quiet enjoyment”

Yes, it’s your property, but the tenant has the legal right to live in the property as his or her home, therefore entitled to “quiet enjoyment” as part of their statutory rights. That means, as the landlord, you can’t just turn up at the property announced, even for repairs or inspections.

You must give at least 24 hours notice if you wish to enter the property, and it must be convenient for the tenant, otherwise they can refuse entry.

28) Property inspections

Routine property inspections are crucial- they help identify if your tenant isn’t taking care of your property as you would expect, and it also provides the opportunity to flag any maintenance issues, which the tenant may have overlooked e.g. leaks, mould etc.

I recommend quarterly inspections, or at the very least, 2 times per year.

Don’t forget, your tenant has the right to live in quiet enjoyment, so you should properly schedule inspections with your tenant. You can use this inspection template to serve notice.

29) Ending tenancies

Landlords can’t just kick their tenant’s out on the last day of the fixed-term without serving proper notice prior (i.e. the tenant normally requires 2 months notice). There is a protocol to ending tenancies, which must be followed. Here are different ways of properly ending tenancies.

30) Rogue tenants

Ahh yeah, the underbelly of being a landlord.

My theory is, if you’re a landlord for long enough, you’ll eventually have a head-on collision with an asshole tenant (no matter how experienced and thorough you are with your referencing). Most commonly, that will involve a rent-dodger and/or someone that uses your carpet as toilet paper. One or two always slip through the net.

None of the ‘accidental landlord’ guides I’ve scoured through mention the reality of rogue tenants, and that’s pretty alarming, because it’s like a sky-diving instructor not mentioning the risks of jumping out of a plane (even though it’s pretty damn obvious, but you get my point).

I really have no point here, other than to both prevent and prepare yourself for the day! That may entail thorough referencing, insurance policies, and regular inspections (all of which I’ve mentioned). On a side note, if the shit has already hit the fan, and you’re at the mercy of a rogue, then you might want to take advantage of this free problem-tenant advice service.

31) Don’t be a pussy!

Yup, I said it.

Be a fair landlord, but don’t be a pussy and get pushed around like a chump. I’ve learnt the hard way that there’s a lot of pushing, elbowing and cheap-shots in this industry. It can get ugly, and it often does.

When I first became a landlord I was naively timid and futile; you could pierce my skin with a used tampon that’s lost it’s structural integrity. In hindsight, if I was the landlord I am today when I first started out, I would be a lot better off. I wouldn’t condone anyone to be thick-skinned and insensitive, but I do believe in a happy-medium.

Most experienced landlords are stern and tight-fisted by nurture (or nature, you decide), but a lot of them are timid and pathetic at the early stages of the cycle. That’s an extremely vulnerable state to be caught in because some tenants can be overly demanding, and if you’re not strong enough to put your foot down when appropriate, you end up buckling under pressure and adhering to all kinds of unnecessary and crazy requests. A lot of the times landlords buckle because they’re unfamiliar with the law, so they just “do it” out of fear. This kind of behaviour has a spiral effect, because once an over-demanding tenant becomes aware of your weak-spot, they will attack the same spot every time, and then try their luck in other areas.

This is relevant to many situations, but the most common is the handling of late rental payments and compensating for unnecessary fixtures. By all means, allow tenants to make a late payment if they’re having a difficult month. However, DO NOT allow them to get into the habit of making late payments- be stern and signify that it cannot be a regular occurrence, and always follow up on arrears so the tenant doesn’t get the impression you’re relaxed about the situation. In regards to the fixtures, I’m referring to tenants asking for unnecessary fixtures, like replacing curtain rails, just because it doesn’t match their butt-ugly curtains.

Those were two scenarios that were just examples, but it’s generally important to remain firm and play fair.

This may sound like a really weak tip that has very little significance, but I promise you, it’s imperative. Don’t be a pussy.

32) Evicting tenants shouldn’t be the last resort

So many landlords consider the process of Evicting Tenants as a last resort. Oh man, you guys are such silly willies.

Eviction is part of being a landlord, and most long-term landlords will most likely start the process of evicting a tenant at least once in their miserable existence.

If you have a problematic tenant which you have grounds to evict, don’t sit back and hope the issue will get resolved. Prolonging eviction because you believe it’s the “last resort” can be more expensive and complicated than actually using a professional eviction service. Eviction is an extremely normal and common practise in this industry, so don’t hesitate to do it when necessary.

33) Serve notice if you don’t like your tenant

Life is too short, don’t waste time on tenants that give you headaches.

If for whatever petty reason your tenant gets on your veiny little tits, don’t be scared to legally terminate the tenancy agreement.

A tenant/landlord agreement is a professional relationship; both parties should feel comfortable within the relationship. However, like with all types of relationships, sometimes it just doesn’t workout, and that’s just a part of life. It’s also usually the case that if you don’t like your tenant, the feeling is mutual, and chemistry like that is just asking for trouble. Get rid.

Remember, as the landlord, you have the right to decide who lives in your property.

I know I’m a lot happier and relaxed when I have tenants I actually like in my properties.

34) Don’t make up your own bullshit laws

This is a classic.

Avoid.

A prime example of this practise is when landlords believe they can write any clause they wish into a Tenancy Agreement and assume it automatically becomes binding by law if the tenant signs the agreement. I actually wish that were true.

But for now, tenants and landlords have a funny thing called “statutory rights”, which even Tenancy Agreements can’t override.

If you want to add your own clauses to your Tenancy Agreement (which can be perfectly legal and normal), make sure it’s actually enforceable by law. For advice, speak to a solicitor.

35) Stick to your end of the deal, even if your tenant is a prick

This can be a tough one, but it will serve you well in the long run.

With good reason, I’ve genuinely despised a few of my ex-tenants in the past. There’s probably going to be a time when you also hate one of yours. Unfortunately, it’s another one of those ‘orrible elements which comes with the job.

I remember years ago when I was practically harbouring a cold-blooded criminal. This tenant was claiming Housing Benefit but still managed to fall into 2 months arrears. God knows what she was doing with the money, but I suspect it was being pumped into her veins through a needle (which oddly enough, I wanted to jam into her eye-sockets). Either way, even though she was failing to stick to her end of the bargain, I still kept to mine (as much as it killed me).

Unbelievably, she had the audacity to contact me while she was in arrears to inform me that she was having issues with the heating. I assume a lot of landlords in my situation would have naturally laughed and told her to go choke on her dealer’s shrivelled-up cocaine penis. I wanted to, I really did. Unfortunately, I resolved her heating problem as quickly and efficiently as I would have with any one of my other paying tenants.

The saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right” couldn’t explain my reasoning any better, and that’s exactly how the law will see it. If your tenant is in breach of contract, the law WILL support you and justice will prevail. However, as soon as you become a vigilante by taking the law into your own grubby little mitts, you’ll inevitably lose your credibility and your case. I don’t agree with that, but that’s just how it is.

Stick to the right side of the law, even if your tenant doesn’t.

36) No one will care for your property as much as you do

Be under no illusion, no letting agent or tenant will care about your property as much as you do. If they give you the impression they do/will, pay no mind. I’ve heard so many protective tenants say, “I’m looking for a property I can call a home, so I can treat it like my own” It could be true, but it’s probably not, and it’s safer and better practise to assume that will never be the case.

Your letting agent isn’t going to stay awake at night if your tenant falls into arrears. Your tenant won’t stay awake at night if there’s a leak in your property.

Again, not really a tip, just something to bear in mind. Manage your expectations; be realistic. Why would anyone care about your property more than you? If it doesn’t make sense…

So, there you have it!

That may all seem like a lot to digest, but unfortunately I’ve only just scratched the surface in this blog post, but hopefully I’ve given you some actionable steps, along with some food for thought. If you’re craving more guidance, I can point you in the direction of my landlord guide once again, but also invite you to scour through the rest of my landlord articles.

Finally, I’d like to welcome you to the club! Have fun.

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