Partners and Suppliers Steve Barnes 27/02/2024

The complete guide to preparing a property to let for first-time landlords

Renting out your property is a significant responsibility and can be daunting for first-time landlords. The process requires a thoughtful and diligent approach, not only to make sure you attract the best tenants and provide them with a safe home, but also to safeguard your investment and ensure compliance with your legal responsibilities. This comprehensive guide by the NRLA’s landlord insurance partner, Total Landlord, aims to help first-time landlords navigate their way through the crucial steps of successfully preparing a property to let. It covers the key legal obligations and provides strategies for success, from how to decorate your rental property, to what to include in a welcome pack.

Understanding the rental market and legal framework

Private rented sector legislation is increasingly complex, with stringent regulations designed to protect both landlords and tenants. Familiarising yourself with these laws is paramount - ignorance is no excuse for failure to comply and can lead to hefty fines and legal challenges. If, like many landlords, you are short on time or don’t live near your rental property, the benefits of using a letting agent are likely to outweigh the costs. But it’s important to carry out due diligence to make sure that the agent is compliant with the law, for example by choosing one who is a member of a property redress scheme and a client money protection scheme. And remember, even if you use an agent, as the landlord you are ultimately responsible for making sure they comply with the relevant regulations. 

Landlords’ legal obligations

Making sure your property is safe and fit for human habitation is not just a moral duty but a legal one. Getting the basic legal requirements in place from the outset is crucial for the well-being of your tenants and the compliance of your rental business. As a landlord you are responsible for providing a safe and habitable living space and making sure the rental property meets all the health and safety requirements, as well as complying with standard regulations set out by your local authority such as HMO licensing

Here's a deeper dive into each key area:

Gas safety

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 mandate that landlords conduct annual safety checks on all gas appliances and flues. This inspection must be performed by a Gas Safe registered engineer, who will assess the safety of gas boilers, ovens, fires, and any other gas fittings, ensuring they are working correctly and safely. The outcome of these checks is documented in the Gas Safety Certificate, a copy of which must be provided to tenants within 28 days of the inspection or upon the start of their tenancy. Maintaining accurate records of these checks for at least two years is essential for compliance and provides a clear history of appliance safety in your property. You can find more information about complying with landlord gas safety regulations on GOV.UK

Electrical safety

Electrical safety is governed by the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 and, more recently, by the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020. These laws require landlords to make sure that electrical installations (such as wiring, sockets, and fuse boxes) and appliances provided to tenants (like refrigerators and washing machines) are safe at the start of the tenancy and maintained in a safe condition throughout. A qualified electrician must inspect and test the installations at least every five years, and the resulting Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) must be shared with new tenants before they move in. Any identified faults or recommendations for improvements should be addressed promptly to make sure of ongoing compliance and safety. Visit GOV.UK for more guidance on electrical safety standards for landlords in the private rented sector. You can also read Total Landlord’s separate article for the NRLA on protecting your property from electrical hazards

Fire safety

Fire safety responsibilities for landlords include several key actions to protect tenants from the risk of fire. Installing smoke alarms on every floor and carbon monoxide detectors in rooms with solid fuel appliances (e.g., wood-burning stoves) is mandatory. Furniture and furnishings provided as part of the rental agreement must meet specific fire resistance standards. Conducting a fire risk assessment helps identify potential fire hazards within the property and outlines measures to mitigate these risks. This might involve ensuring clear escape routes, providing fire blankets in high-risk areas like kitchens, and regularly testing alarms to make sure they are functional. Visit GOV. UK for more information on complying with fire safety regulations in rented accommodation, and read our NRLA guide, Total Landlord’s complete fire safety guide for landlords.

Legionella risk assessment

Legionella bacteria pose a health risk, particularly in water systems that are not frequently used or at temperatures conducive to bacterial growth. Landlords are required to assess and control the risk of Legionella exposure in their properties. This typically involves regular water system inspections, maintaining hot water temperatures above 60°C, and ensuring cold water is kept below 20°C. Flushing out the system before new tenants move in and removing any unnecessary pipework can also reduce the risk of Legionella proliferation. Find out more at GOV.UK.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)

An EPC rates a property's energy efficiency, with a scale from 'A' (most efficient) to 'G' (least efficient). Since April 2018, rental properties must have a minimum rating of 'E' to be legally let. Landlords should consider improvements such as better insulation, upgrading heating systems, or installing double-glazed windows to enhance their property's energy efficiency. Not only does this comply with legal requirements, but it also makes the property more attractive to prospective tenants and can reduce energy bills, enhancing the overall desirability of the rental. Visit GOV.UK for more guidance on minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), and read Total Landlord’s ultimate guide to having an eco-friendly property, which is packed with tips to help you improve your EPC rating and save money.

Right to rent checks

Introduced as part of the Immigration Act 2014, right to rent checks are a legal requirement for landlords in England. Before entering into a tenancy agreement, landlords must check and keep records of documents that prove a tenant's right to rent in the UK. This includes checking the immigration status of all adult tenants, with follow-up checks required for those with time-limited permission to stay in the UK. Failure to conduct these checks properly can result in penalties, including fines (which were increased in February 2024), and imprisonment. Visit GOV.UK for a landlord’s guide to right to rent checks.

Tenancy deposit protection

Deposits taken from tenants must be protected in one of the three government-approved tenancy deposit protection schemes, such as the NRLA and Total Landlord’s deposit protection partner, mydeposits, within 30 days of receipt. This protection scheme safeguards the deposit throughout the tenancy and makes sure that any disputes about the deposit at the end of the tenancy can be resolved fairly and impartially. Landlords are required to provide tenants with prescribed information about where their deposit is protected, including the terms and conditions of the deposit scheme used.

‘How to Rent’ guide

The UK Government’s ‘How to Rent’ guide provides a checklist and more details on each stage of the process for renting out your property and includes guidance on what to do if things don’t go according to plan. By law, landlords must provide the latest version of the guide to their tenants as part of the prescribed information that landlords in England must issue at the start of any new tenancy, and on renewal if there have been any updates to the guide. You can find the latest version of the ‘How to Rent’ guide on GOV.UK.

Preparing your property: strategies for success

As a landlord, you should of course be aiming to go above and beyond meeting the basic legal responsibilities outlined above. Next, we round up some of the other important aspects of successfully preparing your property to let.

Tenant referencing: reducing the risk of renting to an unsuitable tenant

As a landlord, thorough tenant referencing is your main line of defence against renting out your property to troublesome tenants and will help to maximise your chances of having a successful tenancy. The referencing process enables you to build up a profile of a tenant and should flag up potential issues, so that you can avoid renting to unsuitable tenants. If a bad tenant does slip through the net and causes malicious damage to your rental property, you’ll need to show your insurance provider that you carried out a robust tenant referencing check.

Our Premier policy offers protection against malicious damage by tenants and their guests, including loss of rent if you need to carry out repairs. But you’ll need to provide evidence that your tenant passed a full and robust reference check and that you carried out regular inspections. We recommend a four-point check including proof of identity from the tenant, a utility bill or bank statement, a credit check and confirmation of employment. If you plan to use an agent, ask them to explain what their referencing service covers.

Steve Barnes, Head of Broking at Total Landlord

You can carry out the tenant referencing process yourself, and our ultimate guide to tenant referencing for landlords contains detailed guidance to help you. However if you would prefer to outsource this important job, the NRLA offers a Full Tenant Check with results provided on average within 48 hours.

Repairs and maintenance: enhancing durability and comfort

The foundation of a well-prepared rental property lies in its structural integrity and the reliability of its essential systems. A proactive approach to repairs and maintenance will not only make sure you are compliant with housing standards, but also enhances tenant satisfaction and retention.

  • Structural integrity: Regular inspections of the roof, foundation, and walls can identify potential issues before they escalate. Look for signs of wear and tear and address any concerns promptly to prevent costly repairs down the line. Our guide for the NRLA, ‘The complete guide to spring property maintenance for landlords’, provides lots of useful tips.
  • System reliability: Making sure that heating, plumbing, electrical, and gas systems are in top condition is crucial. Annual servicing by qualified professionals can prevent breakdowns, and make sure that tenants have access to heating, hot water, and electrical services without interruption. Read our ultimate guide to preparing your boiler for winter for useful tips. 
  • Damp and mould prevention: Addressing dampness and mould is not just about aesthetic appeal but also health. Make sure there is adequate ventilation, especially in kitchens and bathrooms. Installing extractor fans, improving insulation, and sealing windows can help manage moisture levels and prevent mould growth. Landlords need to be aware of the Government’s updated guidance on damp and mould, which aims to make sure that both social and private landlords have a thorough understanding of their legal responsibilities. The guidance explicitly states that tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould, and that landlords are responsible for identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the problem. Our comprehensive guide to damp and mould contains a checklist for you to share with your tenants.

Decorating for a broad appeal: creating welcoming spaces

Decorating your rental property may not be a legal requirement, but it is an important part of preparing your property to let, will help you present a more appealing property and attract the best tenants. Decorating a rental property is about striking a balance between style, durability, and functionality.

  • Neutral tones and quality materials: Neutral walls serve as a versatile backdrop that appeals to a wide range of tenants, allowing them to personalise the space without clashing with the decor. Choose durable materials for flooring and surfaces that can withstand the rigours of tenant life while maintaining their appearance.
  • Functional furnishings: When furnishing the property, select items that offer both comfort and durability. Think about the practical needs of your target market; families might appreciate spacious dining areas and washable surfaces, while professionals might value a dedicated workspace.
  • Lighting and accents: Good lighting can transform a space. Combine overhead lighting with task lighting in work and reading areas. Accent lighting can highlight architectural features or art, adding character to the property.

The welcome pack: Fostering a positive landlord-tenant relationship

A comprehensive welcome pack not only provides essential information but also makes tenants feel valued from day one. Total Landlord’s recent quiz found that over a third of landlords don’t provide their tenants with welcome packs, missing an opportunity to provide their tenants with useful information to help them take care of the property.  By providing a welcome pack, you will be making your tenants feel welcome and will build a rapport with them, fostering a positive landlord-tenant relationship. Here are some suggestions of what you could include in a welcome pack:

  • Essential documents and guides: Include the tenancy agreement, EPC, Gas Safety Certificate, and appliance manuals. Add a property guide that covers how to operate the heating system, bin collection days, and any other specifics about living in the property.
  • Local insights and emergency contacts: Provide a list of local amenities, including public transport, grocery stores, and emergency services. Include contact information for property management or maintenance services for urgent tenant needs.
  • Maintenance tips: Offer advice on troubleshooting basic appliance issues, gardening tips, a cleaning checklist, and preventing damp and mould – you could include our damp and mould checklist for tenants.  Educating tenants on simple maintenance can prevent issues and foster a cooperative relationship.

For more ideas, read our article on why you need a tenant welcome pack, which also features a handy template for you to download.

Special considerations for HMO landlords: navigating complex regulations

If you are preparing an HMO property to let, you will be aware that managing an HMO requires extra diligence due to the more complex regulations that apply, especially concerning fire safety and licensing.

  • Regulatory compliance: Stay abreast of licensing requirements in your area, as local authorities have specific conditions for HMO properties and these vary from one authority to another. Make sure your property meets all standards for room sizes, amenities, and safety measures to secure and maintain your licence.
  • Enhanced fire safety measures: In addition to standard fire safety precautions, HMOs may require more extensive measures such as fire doors, emergency lighting, and escape route signage. Regular fire drills and safety checks can make sure that these measures are effective and that tenants are aware of evacuation procedures.

Securing your investment with comprehensive landlord insurance

Although it is not a legal requirement, landlord insurance is essential for protecting against the unique risks associated with rental properties. A conventional home insurance policy won’t cover you for the higher risks associated with buy to let, such as loss of rent. If you have a mortgage on your rental property, you need to check the terms of the agreement before you let it out – most mortgage lenders will require landlords to take out a specialist landlord insurance policy.

We know that landlord insurance can be confusing, so we’ve put together a checklist of what we offer, to help make sure you get the best landlord insurance cover for your needs:

  • Accommodates all types of tenants (subject to the landlord having full control and an assured shorthold tenancy agreement in place) such as benefit recipients, students, retired people, professional tenants – with no difference in cover or price
  • Provides full cover between tenancies for up to 90 days subject to policy terms and conditions
  • Theft cover including by tenants and their guests
  • Offers loss of rental income or alternative accommodation up to 30% of the rebuild value with no time restrictions
  • Includes public liability with a minimum of £5,000,000 limit of indemnity
  • Includes a Tenants Subrogation Waiver
  • Has an in-house claims team with authority to make payments on behalf of insurers
  • Has a team that is trained to provide an advised sale, and can offer tailored guidance on what cover a landlord needs based on their own requirements

As well as being an NRLA recommended insurance partner, we are proud to have won 'Best Landlord Insurance Provider' at the Insurance Choice Awards 2023. This is the sixth time we have won this award, which is voted for by our loyal customers, demonstrating our commitment to quality customer service and support. 

Renting out your property is a complicated process that requires diligence and attention to detail, from understanding your legal obligations to creating a welcoming and safe environment for tenants. This guide aims to offer guidance for first-time or inexperienced landlords, to help navigate the complexities of the rental market confidently. Remember, a well-prepared property not only attracts desirable tenants but also makes for a smoother, more rewarding rental experience.

For more detailed guidance, read Total Landlord’s ultimate guide to preparing your property to let, and for more information on the lettings laws for landlords, read our guide, ‘Legislation for landlords: everything you need to know’, updated for 2024.

Being a member of the NRLA is a great way to make sure you keep up to date with the ever-changing private rented sector legislation, and subscribing to landlord news websites such as Total Landlord’s news partner, LandlordZONE, will also help make sure that you are up to speed with any changes.  

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes Head of Broking, Total Landlord

Steve Barnes has worked with landlords and leading landlord associations for over 25 years and oversees the HFIS group as Head of Broking for Total Landlord. Our award winning landlord insurance offering has been providing comprehensive cover for landlords since 1996. Whether you have a single property or a portfolio, Total Landlord has a property insurance policy that will give you value for money and the required protection to support your business requirements. Our dedicated claims team of expert advisers deal with more than 82% of claims in-house and provide customers with a sole point of contact should the worst happen. Named 'Best Landlord Insurance Provider' five times at the Insurance Choice Awards and with a rating of 4.8 out of five on Smart Money People, you can rest assured that you are in safe hands.

See all articles by Steve Barnes