The UK’s constitutional settlement means that landlord laws in England, Scotland and Wales are diverging, with different rules for each nation. But how do the rules differ across the UK? And which nation offers landlords the most powerful rights over their properties?
This article is a crash course in the differences in private rented sector regulations and law across England, Scotland and Wales. It can be used by landlords looking at investing in property in another part of Britain for the first time. Northern Ireland is not included here.
In England and Wales the majority of tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs). There is no rent control, although rents can only be increased at the renewal of a tenancy, by serving a Section 13 rent increase notice, or by activating a rent increase clause already in the tenancy agreement.
In Scotland, from December 2017, short assured tenancies have been discontinued. New tenancies must be Private Residential Tenancies (PRTs). This form of tenancy gives tenants some protection from rent increases. Increases in designated areas can be capped by local authorities if market rents begin to increase excessively.
Eviction and Security of Tenure
English tenants on ASTs can be evicted by a Section 21 notice (also known as a no fault eviction) at any time after their fixed term ends. They can also be evicted during a fixed term via a Section 8 notice. Tenants in England have very limited tenure security because of this. The government has committed to ending Section 21 evictions, but no progress has been made since this announcement in 2019.
A similar situation exists in Wales. The Welsh government is now diverging, however, with a new legal framework being introduced around a new ‘standard occupation contract’. This may restrict no-fault evictions. Plans to reform the rented sector have been disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic.
In Scotland, tenants on a PRT have indefinite tenure. As long as they abide by their tenancy agreements, landlords cannot convict them unless specific grounds for repossession exist. These are quite limiting.
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Repairs and Property Condition
In England, since 2019, properties must be fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout the duration of the tenancy. This is the result of the Homes (Fitness) Act 2018. Housing standards are assessed by local authority officers, who apply the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
English landlords are responsible for repairs for tenancies with a fixed term of less than seven years. This includes the structure and exterior, sanitary installations like sinks, and heating and hot water installations.
Scotland uses the Tolerable Standard as a minimum standard for rented property. This can be found in the Housing (Scotland) 1987 Act. Without passing the Tolerable Standards, properties are not fit to live in. Problems that would fail the Standard include severe damp, no sink with hot and cold water, structural issues, no indoor toilet.
Scottish landlords must repair according to the Repairing Standard, so that the property meets it at the beginning and throughout the tenancy. The property must be wind and watertight, with structure in a reasonable condition. Utility installations must be in good order, and appliances working and safe to use.
In Wales, landlords are, in practice, without the ongoing fitness standards seen in England and Scotland. The Homes (Fitness) Act applies only to England. The Welsh government looks likely to introduce new requirements for landlords to maintain the fitness of their properties through upcoming legislation; the Renting Homes (Wales) Act passed in 2016 but it is not yet in force, though this could happen in early 2021. The Act will introduce new types of tenancy agreement and make landlords responsible for the fitness of their properties throughout the tenancy. The HHSRS, mentioned above, will be used as in England.
Penalties, Enforcement and Redress
Landlord Registration and Licensing
Licensing of landlords in England is somewhat different. There is no mandatory registration scheme. Government has announced plans for all landlords to join a mandatory redress scheme, and the number of properties that fall under licensing requirements is gradually increasing. There is also the infamous ‘rogue landlord database’.
In all nations, mandatory licensing of HMOs is in force. In England and Wales, this applied only to ‘large’ HMOs. Large HMOs are properties let to five or more tenants who form more than one household, with some or all tenants sharing facilities.
Wales has introduced additional licensing which requires self-managing landlords to undergo training. In England local authorities may run additional and selective licensing schemes which can require any rented property to be licensed — although very few boroughs require all properties to be licensed. In Scotland, all properties occupied by three or more unrelated people who share facilities must be licensed. The license holder must be a fit and proper person and the property must meet minimum standards.
The penalties landlords can face for breaking regulations vary across each nation, too. Local authorities in England can prosecute landlords via the courts or through civil penalty notices. They can also apply to court for banning orders for serious landlord offences. Landlords can be disqualified from the register, making their letting of property in the future unlawful. In Wales, landlords who are not on the register are not allowed to let or manage property themselves. Failing to be on the register can lead to a fine of up to £1,000 (level 3 fine).
Information Landlords Must Serve Tenants
Landlords in the UK are required to serve information or documents to their tenants at certain times in the tenancy. Like the above areas of regulation, this differs from nation to nation.
Landlords in England must give tenants the ‘How to Rent’ booklet, a gas safety certificate and an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). If registering a tenancy deposit with a government-approved deposit protection scheme, landlords must serve the scheme’s information to the tenants. Since 1st July 2020, landlords have been required to serve tenants with a copy of the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) within 28 days of the inspection.
In Scotland, landlords creating new PRTs must give tenants a copy of the written tenancy terms, and any other information, prescribed by the relevant Scottish Minister. The Private Residential Tenancy (Statutory Terms) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 prescribes nine statutory terms that every PRT must include.
Scottish landlords who use the government’s model tenancy agreement must also give the tenant the Easy Read Notes, which explain the terms in plain language. Landlords who use their own tenancy agreement must give the tenant the PRT Statutory Terms Supporting Notes. Landlords advertising property in Scotland must have and display an EPC in their adverts. Scottish landlords must perform Portable Appliance Testing and tenants must be given a copy of the inspection report when it is completed or when tenancy begins.
Welsh landlords will see new rules once the Renting Homes (Wales) 2016 Act commences, which may happen in spring 2021. Occupants must be given a written statement of the contract within 14 days of the occupation date. There will be a model contract, but landlords will also be able use their own agreements. The code of practice that all landlords in Wales must sign up to requires them to give tenants this guide to renting, or at least to signpost them to it, for example by sending a link to the guide in an email. As in England, an EICR is now compulsory and must be served to tenants within 28 days.