Rob Cooke answers your rental questions

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If landlords get the basics right at the start of a tenancy, there is far less chance they will end up in trouble with the courts. This month, Rob Cooke highlights the steps you can take to stop a dispute occurring before it starts...

Developing good ways of working with tenants comes with experience. However, there are a few basic principles to which we should all adhere, whether you are a first time landlord or the owner of a large property portfolio.

Before tenants sign up: If the deposit is not registered when you serve a Section 21 notice, it will not be valid. To ensure you can use this document from the outset, register deposits with one of the approved schemes before your tenancy agreement is signed and make sure you have the certificate and prescribed information ready a few days before the tenants move in.Having detailed records of the property’s condition is also essential. If you decide not to commission a professional inventory, at the very least take photos of each wall, ceiling, fixture and fitting. File them somewhere safe, alongside a descriptive list of items in each room. Ask the tenant to sign, date and add times to everything you produce, as good visual records are essential if you have to defend a claim for disrepair.

If you cannot prove the state of your property, the tenant could claim any damage was done before their occupation and you will be unsuccessful in recovering any bond money in recompense.

Your tenancy agreement: Your tenancy agreement should set out the method by which a possession notice will be served – many judges expect it to be delivered personally. It must also be unambiguous on important matters.

For example, if payment terms are unclear, the judge may decide rent is due on a day that differs from your calculation and throw out your claim.

Ideally, a fixed term of six months or a year is preferable, unless there is a good reason for making it longer. Be wary of extending it any further, as there is nothing you can do to regain possession during this period.

Don’t forget to reference and check the identity of prospective occupants and always take copies of their passport, driving licence and bank statements. If you have this information, good High Court Enforcement Officers will be able to track an absconded tenant.

On the day contracts are signed: First and foremost, DO NOT forget to give tenants any leaflets, certificates, terms and conditions or any other documentation from the deposit protection scheme. Ask them to sign, date and put the time on your copies, which you should file away for safekeeping.

Tenants often say they have not been provided with the prescribed information and if the judge agrees your Section 21 notice will be invalid. You may also be at risk of a claim for damages that can amount to three times the deposit.

Keep a copy of the tenancy agreement and again, ask the tenants to write the date and time alongside their signatures.

If they tell a court they didn’t sign the most current lease and you cannot prove otherwise, it will once again cause your claim to fail.

Finally, ask the tenants to sign a Section 21 notice that expires at the end of the fixed period and put the date and time on both copies.

By adding the time to the Section 21 (which should be signed a few minutes after the tenancy agreement) you will prevent any questions cropping up about its validity.

l Taylor&Emmet partner Rob Cooke specialises in landlord and tenant issues. Telephone 0114 218 4000. Visit Taylor & Emmet or Lamdlord Disputes