The ultimate landlord’s guide to rental property management - Total Landlord Insurance

October 24, 2023
The ultimate landlord’s guide to rental property management - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

Buying the right property, preparing it to be legally let and then attracting and securing an appropriate tenant are all critical to the success of your buy to let investment.

But once your tenant has moved in, that’s when the ‘day job’ of being a landlord really begins.

Many years ago, when there wasn’t anywhere near as much legislation as there is now, a lot of landlords saw letting as more-or-less an ‘armchair investment’.

But today, with over 400 separate rules and regulations, and potentially huge penalties for breaking the law, you have to be able to manage your rental professionally if you want to make and hold on to good returns.

And it’s not easy. A recent survey of 2,000 landlords carried out by, found that almost two-thirds of those who currently self-manage are considering switching to a lettings agency. The top three reasons given were: dealing with repairs, dealing with legal requirements, and the process of finding tenants.

If you’re not sure whether property management is right for you, at the end of this guide we cover what you need to consider and the instances where it might be better to use the services of a professional agent.

However, if you have enough time to dedicate to being a hands-on landlord and want to self-manage, read on! Our ultimate guide covers all the key elements of successfully managing both the tenancy and your property, to help make sure your rental investment journey is as rewarding as possible – both personally and financially.

This information mainly covers landlords letting in England. To manage a property in Scotland or Wales you need to be registered and in Wales you need to take a course and be qualified. Visit Rent Smart Wales or the Scottish Landlord Register Rent for more information.

File all paperwork related to the property and tenancy

Owning and operating a rental property comes with a lot of paperwork, all of which needs to be carefully filed. This includes:

  • ‘Bricks and mortar’ documents: your purchase documents, any planning permission for conversions or extensions, etc., which you’ll need when you come to sell or transfer ownership
  • Warranties, guarantees and receipts: everything related to works carried out, fittings and furnishings purchased, and repairs made
  • Health and safety documentation: e.g. your gas and electrical safety certificates, any written risk assessment and fire alarm testing records. If anything goes wrong, you need to be able to show you took all reasonable steps to ensure your tenant’s wellbeing
  • Tenancy paperwork: e.g. referencing and right to rent checks, the inventory, deposit protection information - as well as any correspondence with your tenant during the tenancy. Bear in mind that any personal information you hold on the tenant must comply with data protection regulations
  • Insurance information: including specialist landlord insurance with malicious damage cover, additional insurance such as rent guarantee, emergency cover
  • Financial records: everything related to rental income, property expenditure - including receipts, budgets and KPI calculations, and any buy-to-let mortgage documentation

It’s important to file everything securely - ideally in both hard copy and digital formats - so it’s easy to find if you or someone else needs to see a document. And if you want or need to hand over management of the property to someone else at some point, you become ill for example, it’ll help smooth the transition.

You should also be aware that:

  • The local council may ask for copies of health and safety documentation at any point
  • HMRC can ask you to provide documentation for up to the last seven years if they carry out a tax investigation
  • Your tenants can bring proceedings against you for up to six years after their tenancy ends

As such, it’s advisable to hold on to all relevant documentation for at least those time periods.  

Protect any deposit in a government-approved scheme

While the majority of landlords take a security deposit, not all do – see our separate article on the pros and cons. But if you do, you must protect it in one of the government-approved schemes and provide your tenant with the related ‘prescribed information’. This must all be done within 30 days of receiving the deposit.

If you don’t do what’s required, your tenant may be able to make a claim for up to three times the deposit amount and you will be unable to serve a valid section 21 until you’re compliant.

Full information on taking and protecting deposits, including what to do if you want to make a claim at the end of the tenancy, can be found in our ‘Ultimate guide to tenancy deposit protection legislation’.

Establish communication expectations

Good communication between you and your tenant is key to helping the tenancy go smoothly, so make an effort to establish a good relationship from the start.

When you check them into the property, take them through the inventory, show them how everything works and let them know they can contact you with any problem during the tenancy, no matter how small. Remind them about the importance of ventilation and heating for keeping damp and mould at bay and make sure they have a list of emergency contact numbers and know what to do if something goes wrong.

Let them know how often you’ll be carrying out periodic inspections and what notice you’ll give them, and that if any repair or maintenance work is needed, you’ll keep them updated of the progress.

And if they’ve never rented before, it’s worth taking the time to explain how they should look after the property – such as cleaning regularly – to make sure it’s returned at the end of the tenancy in the same condition identified in the inventory, which will help protect their deposit. Our end of tenancy cleaning guide includes a checklist for you to share with tenants.

Finally, make sure you leave them with a ‘welcome pack’, containing copies of documents relating to the tenancy, instruction manuals for equipment in the property, and useful information and advice. See more on what to include in our separate article.

Make sure you (and your tenant) have appropriate insurance cover

Rental properties are viewed as being at higher risk from damage than owner-occupied homes, so it’s important to make sure you have landlord insurance that gives you an appropriate level of cover for your tenancy in case things go wrong. That could be accidental damage, malicious damage, contents, damage to the fabric of the property from things like storms or having a claim brought against you by someone who has been injured in your property.

Bear in mind that if you’re an HMO or student landlord, you will need a specialised product, as the different risks that come with having multiple tenants from different households may not be covered by a standard landlord insurance policy.

It’s also good practice to remind your tenants their belongings are not covered under your policy (many tenants don’t realise this), so they’ll need to take out their own contents insurance. 

“Having landlord insurance is one thing, but you’ve got to do all you can to make sure that if you need to make a claim, it will be settled as you expect. Nobody wants to have a claim refused! So, when you’re arranging cover, make sure you understand your obligations, such as maintaining the property in a good state of repair, and any excesses and exclusions on the policy. Importantly, find out what changes you need to inform your insurance provider about – which will include any change in the type of tenant or tenancy, if building works are being carried out and if the property is unoccupied for more than 30 days – so they can adjust your policy to make sure you remain covered.”

Steve Barnes, Head of Broking, Total Landlord Insurance

Our guide to finding the best landlord insurance for you contains lots of useful advice to help you make sure your specific needs are covered .

Set diary dates for important and essential tasks

There are a number of tasks that have to be carried out regularly when you’re managing a rental property, then there will also be other important things that come up as the tenancy progresses, so put all these dates (and times) in your diary to make sure they don’t get missed.

Things you should diarise include:

  • The annual gas safety check
  • An annual boiler service
  • Electrical safety inspections – including PAT testing
  • Periodic inspections (ideally every 6 months)
  • General maintenance – e.g. clearing the gutters and redecorating
  • Repairs – including reminders to chase up progress and update the tenant
  • Rent due dates – so that you can check it’s been received (see next section)
  • Tenancy renewal – with a note two months ahead to confirm whether the tenant intends to stay on
  • Check-out – and a visit around three weeks ahead of this date, to advise the tenant of anything they might need to do to help ensure the return of their deposit

Importantly, if you require access to the property, make sure you diarise giving your tenant at least 24 hours’ notice in writing. And, don’t forget, it’s down to you, not the tenant, to be around to let trades people in.

Monitor rent payments and know how to handle arrears

Rental income is the lifeblood of your property investment, so you’ve got to check your tenants are paying on time and in full, every month. If they don’t, you need to take action quickly to make sure they don’t fall into serious arrears.

As above, you should make a diary note to check each time the rent is due and if it’s not in your bank by the end of the day, contact the tenant to find out why.

It may be a simple mistake that can be rectified immediately, such as a bank error, or the tenant forgot – in which case, advise them to set up a standing order.

If they’re having some short-term financial problems, you may be able to come to an agreement that allows them to make up what they owe. Sometimes it’s better to help a tenant, particularly if they’ve been in the property for a while and intend to stay there long term, rather than evict them and risk having a void period - not to mention the extra expense, work and risk involved in arranging a new tenancy.

However, if it’s a longer-term affordability problem or deliberate non-payment, you need to act quickly to mediate a speedy exit or evict them so you can begin a new tenancy with a tenant that can and will pay.

For more detailed information and advice, read our article on what to do if your tenant can’t pay the rent and falls into arrears, which also has tips on how to avoid it happening in the first place.

Make sure the property continues to meet health and safety requirements

Before the property is let, it must have been risk-assessed and meet all the appropriate legal health and safety standards, including:

For full information see our separate guide on preparing a property to let.

However, you also have a legal responsibility to make sure the property remains in good condition and ‘fit for habitation’ throughout the tenancy, which means:

  • Making periodic inspections to assess what maintenance and repairs might need to be carried out.
  • Responding within 14 working days to a tenant that reports an issue and fixing the problem in a reasonable timeframe.
  • Keeping up to date with changes in the law and taking whatever action is required to make sure the property is always compliant.

With the Government keen to raise the minimum EPC rating for a legal let to ‘C’ by 2030, it’s well worth looking at what eco-improvements you can make now to get ahead of legislative changes and help keep your tenant’s energy costs down. The lower the tenant’s energy bills, the more likely they are to pay your rent.

See our ‘Ultimate guide to having an eco friendly property’ for ideas and advice.

You should also try to make sure the tenant is present for periodic inspections, so you can have a chat and make sure they’re happy, as well as remind them about things like ventilation (to avoid condensation and mould) and keeping fire exits clear, if necessary.

Be able to deal effectively with maintenance and repairs

Landlords canvassed by Uswitch said that dealing with repairs took up around a fifth of their spare time, on average. And it can be challenging to find tradespeople to carry out maintenance and repairs when you’re an individual landlord, whereas letting agents have a roster of contractors that tend to prioritise their jobs.

So it’s worth taking the time to find qualified, reliable local tradespeople that are used to working on buy-to-let properties and know the standards that need to be achieved. Pay them quickly, treat them well – maybe give them a gift at Christmas - and leave positive reviews on trade and consumer websites so they get to know that you’re a good customer. That way, they’re more likely to respond quickly when you need them.

Two other key things to bear in mind:

It’s always better to fix something properly first time around, so unless it’s a very easy repair that you know you can make yourself, call a qualified contractor that understands letting legislation. For instance, if there’s a small patch of surface mould on the ceiling above the shower, you may be able to clean it off with mould removal spray. But if there’s more widespread mould or indications of damp, call a specialist to address the issue – don’t just clean it up and paint over it.

And be prepared to make yourself available to give tradespeople access to the property - there is no onus on the tenant to wait in for them.

For more on your repair responsibilities, see our separate guide.

Respect your tenant’s privacy

Under the law, your tenant has the right to ‘quiet enjoyment of the property’ (as per Section D, clause 2.1 of the Government’s model tenancy agreement).

That means you can’t make unannounced visits and must give the tenant at least 24 hours’ written notice. If they don’t respond, you can’t simply let yourself in – you must have their permission to enter the property. Any visit you do arrange must be for a good reason, e.g. a periodic inspection or to give a contractor access, and at a reasonable time of day.

It’s also important to know that you can’t harass your tenant – either by visiting the property or contacting them repeatedly in any other way – even if they owe rent or have breached their tenancy agreement in some other way.

If the tenant feels you are bothering them more than you should, they may make a complaint about harassment, which could result in them getting an injunction against you, claiming compensation and even asking the local authority to prosecute you.

If you are having issues accessing the property and need to do so to keep the property compliant, for example to carry out a gas or electrical safety check, it’s worth speaking to the housing officer at the local authority for advice so they are aware you trying to be legally compliant landlord. Read our article on how to gain access for a gas safety inspection for more guidance. If you need legal advice regarding gaining possession of your property or a court injunction, contact our legal partner, Landlord Action.

Be prepared to deal with emergencies

You are responsible for making sure the property remains safe and secure for your tenants, with all services in good working order, so you need to be prepared to respond quickly if there’s an emergency – which there is bound to be at some point! 

Even if you have trusted, qualified contractors you can call on for general maintenance and repairs, they may not be available at all times of the day and night to deal with emergencies. So it’s well worth considering taking out home emergency cover, alongside your standard landlord insurance.

That guarantees 24/7 access to emergency assistance for you or your tenants in case something needs dealing with right away, such as burst pipes, storm damage that makes the property unsafe, an electrical supply failure, boiler breakdown - even your tenant losing their keys and needing to gain access. Many emergency policies also cover overnight accommodation costs if the property is unsafe.

Make sure your tenant has a list of emergency contact numbers and knows what to do and who to call if something goes wrong – and it’s worth reminding them of these procedures ahead of winter, when home emergencies are more likely to occur.

See our dedicated article on protecting your property and tenants against emergencies over the winter months, which includes an emergency ‘action sheet’ for your tenants.

Keep up to date with legal changes and the latest industry guidance

As a self-managing landlord, you need to make sure you have a reliable way of staying up to date with legal changes that may affect your rental. If you fall foul of the law, even unintentionally, the penalties and consequences can be significant, so you must always make sure your property is legally let and you understand your responsibilities. The challenge for landlords is that changes are not always widely or well publicised, particularly if they’re not ‘headline grabbing’.

For instance, in September 2023, the Government published new guidance on who is responsible for dealing with damp and mould, which wasn’t big news and went unnoticed by many landlords.

To summarise: this has always been something of a ‘grey’ area, because while landlords have to maintain the property in good condition and keep it free from hazards, tenants are required to take care of their rented home – and that includes ventilating and heating it properly to prevent damage from condensation. As a result, there have been many tenancy disputes over who should organise and pay for rectifying damp and mould issues.

Now the DHULC has put the ball firmly in the landlord’s court:

“[Landlords] must treat cases of damp and mould with the utmost seriousness and act promptly to protect their tenants’ health….Damp and mould in the home are not the result of ‘lifestyle choices’, and it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address the underlying causes of the problem”.

Our guide to dealing with damp and mould, which is up to date with the new guidance, contains a damp and mould tenant’s checklist for you to share with your tenants.

To make sure you are always aware of even relatively small clarifications like this – which could make a huge difference to your tenant’s wellbeing and the smooth progression of their tenancy, there are several options:

  • Join the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), which provides members with free updates, advice and resources to help them stay compliant
  • Join a local landlord association to keep up to date with changes made by your local authority
  • Sign up to receive newsletters from leading industry commentators, such as LandlordZONE

Also see our guide, ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know’.

Make sure the tenancy agreement is updated with any changes

As a tenancy progresses, there may be changes that means the agreement needs updating, for instance if you agree to let the tenant redecorate, the tenant gets a pet or they move a partner into the property.

You can either amend the current agreement by attaching an addendum or issue a new one, but it’s important to know that the original contract is binding, so both you and the tenant will need to agree to the changes, which should always be in writing and signed.

If you have been using a letting agent, do not just adapt their tenancy agreement for your purposes. Rules around tenancy agreements can change regularly and you can’t just ‘add’ your own clauses as they may be against the law. So, make sure you have an up to date tenancy agreement and whenever you are changing a rental agreement, seek specialist legal lettings advice to make sure the amendments are legally sound.

If the tenant moves a partner into the property, issue a new joint tenancy agreement that makes both parties jointly and severally liable for the rent, to protect you in case one of them subsequently moves out.

And remember that anyone over 18 living in the property must have a right to rent check carried out on them to make sure they can legally live in the UK.

For more on what to include in a tenancy agreement, see this guide from our deposit protection partner, mydeposits.

Understand how to deal with tenancy renewals and rent increases

If the current tenancy is coming to the end of a fixed term, you can either renew it for another fixed period or simply allow it to become periodic – i.e. ‘rolling’ from one rent period to the next. A periodic agreement gives the tenant more flexibility if they want or need to move, but a fixed term gives you the peace of mind that they’re committed to pay rent for a certain period - usually six or 12 months - and gives them the assurance that you can’t evict them via a Section 21 during that time.

Because you need to formally bring the tenancy to an end by issuing a Section 21 notice if you want the tenant to leave at the end of a fixed term, you need to discuss this with them at least two months ahead of time. And if you want them to stay on, it’s advisable to find out their plans as early as possible, so you can agree whether to renew the agreement or have time to look for a new tenant if necessary.

At the same time, you need to think about rent increases. It’s common for landlords to increase the rent annually – and advisable, to make sure you maintain profits – which may coincide with a tenancy renewal. Any increase must be fair and there should be a clause in every agreement that specifies when and by how much the rent will go up so it doesn’t come as a surprise to the tenant.

For more on how to legally increase rent, see our separate article.

Having a good relationship with your tenant and communicating with them about any changes well ahead of time should make sure things go smoothly. However, if you need any support, it may be worth joining an organisation such as the NRLA that can provide you with advice and document templates.

Be prepared to deal with disputes

Occasionally, no matter how clearly things are laid out in the tenancy agreement, you may have to negotiate with a tenant – whether that’s during the tenancy or at the end if you’re making a claim against their deposit.

The better your relationship with your tenant, the less likely you are to end up in a negotiation or dispute, but you still need to be prepared to explain responsibilities and obligations, and negotiate with them if necessary.

If you’re an HMO landlord renting properties by the room, you’re also likely to have to deal with disputes between your tenants – something that’s to be expected when you have multiple unrelated people sharing the same house.

If you’ve had a good relationship with your tenant(s) up to that point, you may be able to work things out between you. However, if that’s not possible, then it’s worth exploring mediation, such as via the Property Redress Scheme Tenancy Mediation Service, which offers impartial advice and can help you find a resolution.

In the case of any dispute, it’s important to remember that you are not allowed to harass your tenant (see the section above: ‘Respect your tenant’s privacy’). And make sure you record everything clearly in writing, in case things escalate and you end up in court.

Manage your property finances carefully

As a landlord, you are running a rental property business, which means – just like any other business - you have to:

  • Carefully track your income and expenditure
  • Understand your tax obligations
  • Budget ahead – for the next five, 10 and even 15 years
  • Set money aside from your rental income each month for maintenance, repairs, upgrades and tax
  • Monitor your profits and returns (KPIs) so you can track the success of your investment

Property tax can be particularly complicated, so it’s sensible to take advice from an accountant and/or property tax expert to make sure you’re operating as efficiently as possible and not paying any more tax than necessary. You could use the services of a professional bookkeeper, but there are also very good landlord software options that can help you manage both the property and your finances.

As an individual landlord, you have to complete self-assessment tax returns, and you need to be aware of the upcoming Making Tax Digital changes that will require you to submit quarterly returns to HMRC via MTD compatible software if you have a property income of:

•             more than £50,000 - from 6 April 2026

•             between £30,000 and £50,000 - from April 2027

For much more detailed information and guidance, see our separate guide to UK landlord tax.

Have a back-up plan for holidays or in case you’re unable to work

As is clear from this guide, being a self-managing landlord requires time, knowledge and skill, and it’s neither easy nor straightforward – particularly if you’re new to it. So you need to think about who could take over from you and keep things on track while you’re away on holiday or if something happens to you and you’re not able to carry on working.

The first thing to ensure is that all your paperwork and systems are properly recorded and filed (see the first section of this guide) so that someone taking over can easily access everything they need to manage your property or portfolio.

The next thing to consider is who is able to do the job in your absence. Ideally, if you’re not managing your rental yourself, it should be put in the hands of a professional agent – and that’s what we’d suggest you do if you’re going to be out of action for a while.

However, agents won’t do holiday cover, so one option is to pay another landlord to take over from you. If there’s a local landlord association, that’s the ideal place to network and find one or two other people that you can ‘buddy up’ with and provide cover for each other over holidays, etc. However, you must make sure they are qualified, trustworthy and that you have an agreement to protect you should things go wrong.

Otherwise, if you’re only going to be away for a short time, you could ask a friend or family member to be on standby. Just make sure your tenants know you’ll be away and give them the contact details of whoever you’re leaving in charge in case there’s an emergency.

Should I manage my property myself or use an agent?

Not everyone has the time, skill or inclination to handle everything required to be a successful self-managing landlord. Among other things, you’ve got to:

  • Live fairly local to your rental property
  • Know about and understand all the regulations that apply to the private rented sector, and stay up to date with changes
  • Have the time and ability to deal with tenants’ queries and any problems that crop up during the tenancy
  • Be able to handle ongoing general property and financial administration
  • Build a network of reliable, suitably-qualified contractors that you can call on to deal with maintenance and repair issues

For more, take a look at our guide, ‘Nine steps to becoming a good and successful landlord’.

So, if you:

  • Work full time
  • Have a stressful job
  • Have children
  • Want to completely relax in the evenings and at weekends
  • Get annoyed or irritated when things go wrong
  • Aren’t very good at attention to detail when it comes to paperwork

…then it’s probably better to have a professional agent.

One common reason for landlords wanting to manage themselves is the perceived cost of paying an agent. It usually amounts to somewhere between 12% and 20% of the monthly rental income, which may sound a lot, but it still leaves you with 80% to 88% of the rent. Considering the time, hassle, worry and expense that a qualified agent can save you, it’s generally well worth the investment to make sure your property is always legally let and professionally managed – and remember that their fee is tax deductible!

For more information and advice, head to our ultimate landlord guide to choosing a letting agent.

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