Becoming an ‘accidental landlord’ is more common than many people think. For example, there are many life events that could make you an accidental landlord such as:
When a property is bought with the intention of letting it out, it is likely that a buy to let mortgage will have been arranged. This is why accidental landlords need to be particularly careful that they have ‘consent to let’. Letting a property straight away without getting consent to lease from the mortgage provider could violate the terms of the mortgage agreement.
Whether you are an accidental landlord or have decided to invest in buy to let, when you let out your property for the first time you need to make sure you have ‘consent to let’. Some consents will safeguard you from future problems, but more importantly, some will make sure you rent out your property within the law. You may have decided to let out the property yourself or to appoint a letting agent. Either way, you should familiarise yourself with what’s involved and the valid reasons for consent to let. In this article, we’ve identified the five key ‘consents to let’ that you need to know about. But first, what is consent to let?
Simply put, consent to let is permission to let out a property from a mortgage lender, if a property’s mortgage isn’t a buy to let mortgage. Getting consent to let from your mortgage lender if you have a residential mortgage allows you to rent out your property without having to apply for a buy to let mortgage. This could be helpful in the short term, for example if you’re locked into a fixed term mortgage deal and you need to move out but can’t sell your property.
Landlords may in some circumstances need to get consent to let from other parties too. In this guide, we’ll explore the key consents you may need before you can let out your property.
There’s a lot of information to take in here, but you can skip ahead using the menu below to go to the sections that are most relevant to you.
We’ll explore the five key consents to let in more detail below. Here’s a quick summary.
If your property is mortgaged on a standard homeowner’s mortgage you will need a consent to lease from your mortgage lender, to get their permission to rent out your property. They may allow you to rent for a limited period on the same mortgage, at the same rate, but some lenders will insist that you transfer to a buy to let mortgage. Getting consent to let typically involves paying a higher rate of interest or a fee.
You may need planning permission for change of use before you can rent your property out, so check with your local authority first.
Your property may need a licence to rent it out. Check with your local authority about this too, especially if your letting could be classed as multiple occupancy (HMO) or if the property is in a designated licensing scheme area. You can read more about licensing in our article, What is licensing – and do I need a landlord licence to let my property?
If your property is leasehold, then as a leaseholder you will almost certainly need permission from your freeholder before you can rent it out. Rental properties need a special landlords’ insurance policy as opposed to a standard householders’ one. Check with your current insurer or contact a specialist landlord insurer
There is more to letting a property than most people realise, especially when doing it for the first time. Making sure you understand the key consents to let, as well as all the other private rented sector regulations, means you need to get yourself organised and mug up on the rules, or run the risk of being fined. Read our comprehensive guide to legislation for landlords and our article, Landlord fines: How much are the charges and how do you avoid them? for more information. So long as you spend a bit of time doing some homework it’s not as difficult as it might seem.
Here, we go into more detail on the five key consents to lease identified above.
If you are a homeowner, the terms of your mortgage may not allow you to rent out your home unless you obtain consent to let. Even letting out a single room without the permission of your lender is classed as mortgage fraud. This is the case even if you are in the process of switching to a buy to let mortgage. This is because the mortgage lender will be concerned to make sure that nothing is done that may affect the value of the investment and the lender’s ability to recover the loan that was made when the property was purchased.
It is important to check the terms of any mortgage contract. For many buy to let mortgages, permission to rent the property may be automatic, but even with buy to let mortgages there may be conditions on the type of let permissible – for example, ‘assured shorthold tenancies only’.
If, as an owner, these requirements are not fully understood then seek advice from a solicitor – the one who assisted with the purchase should be able to help. If it is proposed to let the property as ‘rooms’ or bedsits, which will create a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), this must be made clear as a commercial loan will be required. You can read more about letting out HMOs in The complete guide to letting out an HMO property.
If the property was purchased for an owner-occupier on a standard mortgage for homeowners, then permission will need to be obtained to let the property to tenants. The lender may increase the cost of the mortgage or change its terms if permission to let the property to tenants is given. Usually a lender will not object to one room in an owner-occupier’s home being let to a lodger. There are however a few things you’ll need to think about before having a lodger.
Daniel Lee, principal at Total Landlord Mortgages, part of the HFIS group, says that anyone considering letting on a buy to let basis with an existing homeowner’s mortgage must get permission in writing from their lender. In his experience most lenders will give this permission with certain conditions, and the same is true for lodgers where the owner shares facilities. In some cases you may need to switch to a buy to let mortgage on a higher rate. Airbnb letting is a different matter. There are a limited number of mainstream mortgage lenders willing to lend on a room let only, with the owner living in, but anyone letting out the whole house on Airbnb will find it very difficult to get a mortgage provider willing to lend on that basis. The answer here is a commercial loan for a holiday let business.
Whether you are a new or established landlord, your legal obligations are the same. The penalties for getting it wrong can be quite serious and sometimes breaches of property laws mean you are committing a criminal act. That’s why it is so important to be clear about what you have to do from the outset.
Ordinarily you won’t need planning permission to rent out a domestic property, but it’s always a good idea to check with your local council when letting for the first time.
If you are letting a property where there are likely to be three or more sharers – that is three people sharing from different households – then there is a likelihood you will need permission for change of use.
Small shared houses or flats occupied by between three and six unrelated individuals who share basic amenities were reclassified under planning laws from “C3 Dwelling Houses” to “C4 Houses in Multiple Occupation” from 6 April 2010. Councils have the power using an article 4 direction under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, to require landlords to apply for planning permission.
If a council decides it does not want shared houses (C4 use class) in a part of its borough, it can refuse planning permission and your right of appeal is limited. It is also the case that an existing shared house (C4) will need planning permission to revert back to a single dwelling family home (C3).
Large HMOs, (those with more than six people sharing) are unclassified by the Use Classes Order, being described as sui generis (which means of ‘unique kind’). This means that a planning application will be needed for either C3 or C4 use, and the council can impose further restrictions as they see fit.
For some years now local authorities have been setting up landlord licensing schemes across the UK. When approved by central government, these schemes give councils a degree of control over how the rental market operates within their local areas, particularly when it comes to the health and safety of occupants and anti-social behaviour.
It’s important to check with your local council to see if your rental home requires a licence before you let it out, otherwise you could be prosecuted and fined up to £30,000 per offence. In addition, if you are caught out without the proper licence, your tenants can apply for a rent repayment order (RRO). This means you would have to pay back up to 12 months’ rent. The average cost of a landlord licence is around £100 per letting per year.
What is selective licensing? Under the Housing Act 2004, local authorities can require any type of privately rented home to be licensed under a ‘selective licensing’ scheme. However, if they want to introduce licensing that would cover more than 20 per cent of their area or more than 20 per cent of their rented homes, they need to get government permission. Selective licensing is generally applied by local authorities in designated areas, mostly those suffering deprivation and anti-social behaviour and/or low housing demand. Selective licensing schemes run for five years.
The policy thinking behind these provisions is to enable local authorities to try to improve an area and the overall standard of rental housing available for private tenants by imposing strict licence requirements on private landlords.
What is additional licensing? Where there is no selective licensing scheme in place, the council can apply additional licensing to other categories of HMOs in areas where the council has declared an additional licensing scheme. The designation applies to privately rented flats or houses where three or four unrelated people live in two or more households and share some basic facilities. Local authorities have the power to run additional licensing schemes for rental properties that fall outside of the mandatory category.
What is mandatory licensing? Houses in multiple occupation (HMO) licences are mandatory for all shared houses with five or more occupants from two or more households, living over three or more storeys. These licences were introduced as part of the Housing Act 2004 as a means of protecting people living in shared houses, which were often overcrowded with poor fire safety measures in place.
From 1 October 2018, mandatory licensing of HMOs was extended to smaller properties (of two storeys or less) used as shared housing, now designated in England as HMOs which house five people or more in two or more separate households, typically student housing.
New mandatory HMO licensing conditions were also introduced at this time, prescribing national minimum room sizes used as sleeping accommodation and requiring landlords to adhere to council refuse collection and recycling schemes.
Licensing schemes throughout the regions vary. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly extended its powers under the 2004 Act to vary the conditions for designating an area or an area in a district for licensing that comprises a minimum of 25 percent of rental housing let by private landlords.
In addition, every landlord in Wales must be registered with the landlord registration scheme known as Rent Smart Wales. Both landlords and agents must be licensed if they are to let and manage tenancies themselves. They must show they are a ‘fit and proper person’ for that occupation and undergo approved training.
You may think that owning a property gives you the right to do exactly what you want. This is not so if you are a leaseholder, or a shared freeholder, in certain circumstances. You will need the consent of the freeholder or management company before you can rent out or make substantial changes to your property.
This permission is often in the form of a licence agreement between the leaseholder and the management company or freeholder. So any property owner who is a leaseholder and does not hold the full freehold title to the property – typically flat owners – may need to secure the necessary permissions before they let or make alterations.
The lease will most likely contain a clause which states either that subletting is not permitted at all, or that the freeholder’s permission must be obtained prior to sub-letting, with permission not to be unreasonably withheld.
It is very important that this permission is obtained before letting because otherwise the lease conditions will be breached and the freeholder can take legal proceedings against the leaseholder, with the ultimate sanction of forfeiting the lease.
The safest option is to always check with the management organisation or direct with the freeholder before you even think about letting or make any substantial changes, internal or external, to your property.
The management company – in legal terms ‘the freeholder’ – might be a private estate, managing agent, the local council or a housing association.
The basic information about what you can and cannot do should be in your lease (or covenant, if you’re a shared freeholder). There is also often a general guide to these issues on the management company’s website, but as a rule you can obtain permission for letting if the lease allows it, and you can make repairs without permission, but any substantial changes or improvements will need approval.
Seeking the freeholder’s permission should generally be a formality and this permission cannot be unreasonably withheld. But the freeholder may decide to make enquiries, for example, have there been any complaints by other leaseholders about noise or antisocial behaviour by previous tenants, or will there be any major objections from other leaseholders relating to your request?
It is usual for the freeholder to charge for granting their permission, to cover the cost of their time in making enquiries and any legal costs involved in drawing up an agreement. In some cases, a block of flats will have both managing agents and an ultimate freeholder, so it may be necessary to consult both and pay administration fees to both.
If permission is refused, you should read the lease carefully to find out what it says about granting permission in your circumstances. Ask the freeholder to provide specific reasons for their refusal in writing, and seek advice from the Leasehold Advisor Service.
Any material change in the risk that your insurers are underwriting must be declared to them at the earliest possible time. This includes short term Airbnb type lettings, renting to a lodger, holiday lets or standard longer term lets.
If you have a standard homeowner’s insurance policy, you must inform your insurers that you are letting, otherwise you will most likely find that your insurance cover is voided. If you need to make a claim the chances are your insurers will not honour the policy cover.
Steve Barnes, Associate Director at Total Landlord Insurance emphasises that landlords letting a typical buy to let on a long term letting need a specialist landlord’s insurance policy which provides cover for the specific risks involved when renting out a property, as these are not covered by a homeowner’s insurance policy.
This includes public liability, which is included as standard on most landlord insurance policies. Public liability claims can run into millions, as can claims for injuries to tenants and visitors, so any landlord without this cover is taking a personal risk.
Accidental or malicious damage to the property caused by the tenants, a burglar or vandals should also be covered. Other disasters like water leaks, floods and fires should also be covered by a landlord insurance policy, along with alternative accommodation for tenants if the property is left uninhabitable.
While insurers may allow lodgers on a standard homeowner’s policy, you need to get permission in writing. Airbnb on either a room only or whole house basis is more problematic, so you need to consult with your insurers before going ahead.
Before you let out your property, you need to make sure that you have obtained the necessary consents to let. In some cases, you would be breaking the law by letting without consent, so there could be serious consequences. Many landlords have ended up being fined thousands of pounds, and the number of fines is increasing. This is largely down to the rise in big fines for non-compliance with selective HMO licensing schemes across the UK. Even if you manage to avoid a hefty fine, failure to obtain consent to let can leave you vulnerable to serious financial risks.
Make sure you are protected from inadvertently breaking the law or taking unnecessary risks by diligently checking that you’ve carried out the five key consents to let, before you sign up a tenant. You can find more information on consent to let and other responsibilities you have as a landlord, in the Government’s How to Let guide on GOV.UK.