1. What are the legalities of entering into an AST Agreement?
Answer: Letting agents cannot sign on behalf of landlords or tenants, and any agreement would need to be signed by both parties (landlord and tenant). The tenancy agreement sets out the rights and responsibilities for both landlord (or head-tenant) and tenant (or subtenant), i.e., how much rent is payable, notice periods, who is responsible for repairs, etc.
If someone wishes to end a tenancy before it expires, they either need to give up their genuine interest (i.e., hand back all keys and vacate) or seek consent from their landlord to sublet to someone else. The landlord cannot unreasonably refuse consent but can ask for additional information and charge a reasonable fee (at most, one month's rent).
2. Can the same tenancy be offered on a shorthold basis and as an excluded occupier?
Answer: Both would be possible; it is essentially up to the wording of the agreement.
3. Is there any legislation around what can be charged by letting agents?
Answer: Letting agents must display their fees in such a way that it is clear to tenants before they proceed with signing contracts. There are currently no set guidelines; however, Trading Standards enforce these rules, which includes the law surrounding unfair terms in tenancy agreements.
4. Are landlords or tenants responsible for electrical inspections?
Answer: Although the onus is on the landlord to carry out electrical safety checks, agents/landlords can request that tenants submit an electrical safety inspection report carried out by a recognized electrician before moving in, and at least annually afterward. This would be included within your tenancy agreement with the tenant. Landlords are ultimately responsible for ensuring their property is safe and habitable before they rent it out but may delegate the responsibility of completing these safety inspections to letting agents/tenants themselves under certain circumstances. However, tenants should always ensure work carried out is checked by a qualified electrician before signing off any pieces as 'finished.'
5. What are the legalities of subletting regarding the termination of tenancy?
Answer: Both parties would need to agree about how much notice is required, although if someone requires their property back, they must give 'reasonable' notice. The law isn't clear on what is considered reasonable i.e. some landlords may require longer than 28 days of written information, whereas others may not be so stringent on the time frame of notification. Agents/Landlords can refuse any request for subletting without giving reasons, but it is advisable that they consider each case carefully before refusing consent or charges could be made against them.
6. Can a landlord discuss contract terms with prospective tenants over the phone?
Answer: No, landlords cannot discuss any contractual terms (such as rent) with prospective tenants without a written copy of the tenancy agreement (TTA).
7. Do agents need to be members of any regulatory body?
Answer: All Estate Agents and Letting Agents must be registered with one or more of the regulatory bodies that set professional standards – these are: The Property Ombudsman, The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Council Of Licensed Conveyancers (CLC), National Association Of Estate Agents (NAEA) or The Law Society.
8. What is included in agency fees?
Answer: Allowable expenses would include; advertising costs, administration costs such as photocopying, postage, etc., check-in/check-out fees for viewings, credit checks on the tenant(s) and registration fees to the tenant referencing company. Expenses must be fully evidenced and properly recorded before deducting from the holding deposit or final balance.
9. Do agents have to provide evidence of a comprehensive inventory at the start of a tenancy?
Answer: Yes, this should include details of current contents as well as pictures/diagrams where appropriate. The inventory itself doesn't need to be a comprehensive home condition report completed by your professional building surveyor, but it does need to be detailed enough for tenants and landlords to understand what is included/excluded within the property; otherwise, any dispute over damage will result in an expensive court a claim, which will only cause more headaches between landlord and tenant(s).
10. Can agents charge rent in advance?
Answer: A holding deposit is non-refundable and can only be paid by cash or cheque. This should be no more than one week's rent and will hold the property for a short period (usually three to five days) while you carry out your checks on the tenant(s). Any additional monies over this amount may not necessarily be returned to you by the agent if they fulfill their obligations in finding suitable tenants for your property.
11. Is it worth instructing an agent who doesn't charge any 'managed' fees?
Answer: There is no legal requirement on agents/letting agents work on a managed fee basis where all charges are disclosed upfront; however, it's probably best practice that landlords receive an estimate of all fees and who will be responsible for what to avoid any hidden costs down the line.
12. When can agents/letting agents charge a renewal fee?
Answer: This is when a tenant agrees to renew their tenancy, there is often an administration fee charged at this point.
13. Can I claim my marketing expenses back from tenants?
Answer: Yes, you can claim back expenses that aren't covered by the tenancy agreement. This includes internet costs and phone calls, which should be itemized and backed up with notional invoices from your telecommunications supplier.
14. How long does a tenancy deposit have to be protected?
Answer: Tenancy deposits must be protected within 30 days of receipt if it was paid by cash or cheque – any further monies over this amount may not necessarily be returned to you by the agent if they fulfill their obligations in finding suitable tenants for your property asset out in your TTA.
15. Do I need to inform the tenant(s) when I sell my home?
Answer: Not necessarily, but it's certainly advisable that you tell your tenants if the property they are renting is due to be repossessed on behalf of a mortgage lender. You're legally obliged to inform them at least four weeks in advance, and again after 14 days have passed, giving details of how to claim back their deposit.