As a landlord, you have certain legal obligations to your tenants. If you have decided to have an agent manage your property, they may ensure these obligations are carried out on your behalf. However, your tenants will still have access to your name, address and telephone number and may still contact you if they are not satisfied with the service provided by the agent.
You have a number of legal obligations to your tenant. These are set down in the legislation that governs the Private Rented Sector in Northern Ireland. Terms in the tenancy agreement or contract between you and your tenants cannot take away or reduce these basic legal obligations. The Environmental Health Department of your local council is responsible for enforcing much of the legislation surrounding the private rented sector and can take enforcement action against landlords who fail to comply.
Provide your registration number
All landlords operating in Northern Ireland must register. You need to cite your registration number on any correspondence relating to the tenancy.
Provide a rent book
You must provide your tenants with a legal rent book. This must be provided free of charge, within 28 days of a tenancy beginning and must include your name, telephone number, address and details of rent and rates charged. You can be prosecuted if you fail to provide a rent book.
If an agent is managing the property for you, make sure the agent has supplied your tenants with this item and that it contains all the information set out in law.
Protect the tenant's deposit
Any deposit received on or after 1 April 2013 must be protected with one of three approved deposit schemes. If you fail to protect a tenant's deposit or to provide the tenant with certain prescribed information relating to the deposit within certain timeframes you can be issued with a fixed penalty fine.
Provide an Energy Performance Certificate
You need to have a valid Energy Performance Certificate for any property you are letting out. This certificate should be available for any potential tenants to view when they visit the property and must be provided to your tenants once they move in.
Gas safety measures
You are legally required to have all gas appliances and gas heating systems checked annually by a Gas Safe Registered engineer and to provide a Gas Safety Certificate to your tenants.
Following due process of law when evicting a tenant
You cannot evict a tenant, even if the tenant has broken the terms of the agreement or hasn't paid the rent, without obtaining a court order. Before obtaining a court order, you must first serve the tenant with a Notice to Quit in writing. The amount of notice you must give the tenant depends on how long the tenant has lived in the property.
Trying to remove your tenant by force or changing the locks on a rented property to force a tenant out is a crime.
Allow the tenants peaceful enjoyment of the property
Once your tenants have signed a tenancy agreement or handed over rent to you, the property becomes their home. This means that you cannot enter the property without your tenants' consent. Entering the property without informing your tenants could be seen as harassment. Interfering with any of the supplies or services to the property also constitutes harassment.
If you need to access the property, make sure you give your tenant at least 24 hours' notice. In an emergency you may not be able to get advance notice, but you should always try to contact your tenants to let them know you will be entering the property.
Carrying out repairs
You should specify in your tenancy agreement what repairs you are responsible for. In most cases, the landlord is responsible for making right any structural repairs, repairing appliances provided with the letting and dealing with dampness, wiring, heating and electricity problems. If you haven't given your tenant a tenancy agreement, you will be held to the default repairing obligations.
If something has been damaged by the tenant, it is reasonable to expect the tenant to repair this item or to take the cost of the repair from the tenant's deposit. If you intend to do this, make sure you write to the tenant to inform them and keep receipts for the costs of the repair.
It is important that you understand how legislation dealing with equality and discrimination impacts on your business. As a landlord, you have to abide by this legislation and you can be prosecuted for failing to do so. When choosing tenants you must be careful not to discriminate on grounds of race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
You must also be consistent in how you treat your tenants to avoid allegations of discriminatory treatments. Discrimination includes treating someone differently or less favourably than others on account of his or her race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
Examples of discrimination include carrying out a credit check on a non-UK national if you do not require this of a UK national or imposing certain terms in a gay person's tenancy agreement that would not be present in a contract issued to a straight person.