Once you've accepted new tenants for your property, you need to make sure that you have all the legal documentation in place to allow the tenants to occupy the property. It is good practice to prepare an information pack for your tenants which contains all the documents you are required to give them by law as well as information that will be of use to them in the property.
Landlord registration number
All landlords operating in Northern Ireland must register. You need to cite your registration number on any correspondence relating to the tenancy.
Once you have decided on new tenants, you will usually ask them to pay a security deposit and sign a tenancy agreement. This can be done before they move in or on the day they take over the property. If you ask the tenants to sign before they take over the property, you should remind the tenants that once they sign they become legally bound by the contract.
There are certain terms which should be contained in the tenancy agreement and you can decide on additional terms to include. You must make sure that the terms in the agreement are fair and not discriminatory.
You should also make sure that the tenancy agreement is written in plain English and that the tenants understand its contents. If your tenants do not speak English as a first language, or have literacy problems, you must make sure that they understand the contents of the agreement. If you do not, you could be guilty of an offence under equality legislation.
You must supply all tenants in the property with a valid rent book, free of charge, within 28 days of the tenancy commencing. The law specifies certain items which must be included in the rent book. These are:
- the tenant's name,
- the address of the property;
- your name, address and telephone number,
- the name, address and telephone number of the letting agent (if you have one),
- the amount of rent and rates the tenant must pay,
- the period covered by each rent payment,
- capital value of the property (after 1 April 2007),
- the amount and purpose of any other payment (for example, heating),
- the date on which the tenancy starts.
You can purchase sample rent books from some stationers or download a version from this site.
Prescribed information and deposit protection
If you take a deposit on or after 1 April 2013 this money must be registered with one of the 3 Tenancy Deposit Scheme administrators appointed by the Department for Communities within 14 days of your receiving it. You also need to serve "prescribed information" on your tenants within 28 days of the tenancy beginning. Failing to either protect the deposit or serve the required information on your tenant could result in a fixed penalty or prosecution.
The Court of Appeal in England and Wales recently made a judgment on how the tenancy deposit legislation in GB should be read. The "Superstrike" judgment held that a periodic tenancy is a new tenancy as far as the legislation is concerned and that prescribed information should be served with each "new" tenancy. No cases on this issue have been heard in NI yet. In the absence of any guidance on this judgment in Northern Ireland, it may be safest to serve the prescribed information on your tenants every time the tenancy is renewed. For a periodic tenancy that would mean serving the information each time rent becomes due.
Often the first month's rent for a property is paid, in cash, on the day the tenants move into the property. However, you should carefully consider how you wish to collect rent in the future. Many landlords find it easier to ask tenants to set up a direct debit for their monthly rental payments. This will remove the obligation on you to call to collect rent from your tenants and will make it less likely that the tenant will miss a payment.
If your tenant will be receiving housing benefit to help with housing costs, you should discuss how you would like this to be paid. The tenant can request that the Housing Executive pay the housing benefit directly to you, the landlord.
If there is a shortfall between the amount of housing benefit that the Housing Executive will pay and the amount of rent that the tenant is contracted to pay, you should check how the tenant is going to pay the shortfall. All rental payments should be added to the tenant's rent book and receipts given for any cash or cheque payments made.
Your tenants should be given copies of the Energy Performance Certificate for the property and a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate for any gas appliances. If your property is a HMO you should also provide tenants with a copy of your NICEIC electrical safety certificate or building control approval if the property is less than 5 years old.
Utilities and services information
You should make sure that any top-up cards or account details that your tenants may require to access heating and electricity services are given to them on the day they move in.
Tenant information pack
Providing your tenants with an information pack at the start of your tenancy is good practice. This pack should contain all of the items listed above as well as information about the property. You may wish to include the following information:
- instructions for any appliances provided in the property, such as a washing machine or oven;
- instructions for tenants to follow in the event of a burst or leaking pipe, including the location of the stopcock and mains electricity switch
- information explaining how tenants should report repairs
- details of account numbers for gas or electricity meters in the property
- an inventory of the furniture provided and the condition of the property, completed by the tenants and agreed and signed by you and the tenants. You could also include photographs of the property taken at the time the tenants moved in.
Keeping accurate records and providing your tenants with detailed information will protect you if you have to take your tenants to court. The court will often lay the burden of proof on the landlord and being able to prove that you have acted in a business like and professional manner will help your case.