Guide

Ultimate guide to the landlord lifecycle: how to be a landlord

January 31, 2024
Ultimate guide to the landlord lifecycle: how to be a landlord

When it comes to letting property, there is a huge amount to know and do, and if you’re handling most or all of it yourself, it can be hard to find reliable information and resources.


That’s why we created our Total Landlord Knowledge Centre, where we have blogs, podcasts, videos and guides that bring together legal know-how, property investment news, advice on best practice, and informed opinion from respected industry figures and members of our expert team.

Here, we take you through the different stages in the lifecycle of being a landlord and signpost to all of our ultimate guides where you’ll find more comprehensive information on each stage. This includes:


How to create a buy to let property investment strategy

Preparing the property to let

Marketing the rental property

Tenant referencing

Inventory management

Tenancy deposit protection

Managing the property during the tenancy

End of tenancy

Getting landlord insurance


Each guide is packed with information and advice to help you succeed as a landlord and run a legally sound and hopefully profitable buy to let business.


1. Investing in rental property 


Succeeding as a landlord begins with having clear goals and putting together an investment strategy that will enable you to achieve them. 


Most of your goals are likely to be financial, so it’s advisable to seek help from professionals who can help you create an effective business plan. That should include taking bespoke investment advice from a financial adviser or wealth manager, and consulting a property tax specialist who can talk you through all the taxes landlords are liable for.  They will be able to advise you on how to invest in the most tax-efficient way and work out what you could earn net of tax. This is especially important as you may lose some benefits, such as child benefits,  if the rental property increases your earnings.  


You’ll also need to consider how best to finance your property investment(s) and it can be hugely beneficial to use the services of a mortgage broker who’s experienced in working with landlords and can access the whole buy to let mortgage market. Remember, around 75% of buy to let mortgages are only available through brokers rather than directly from lenders, so a broker may be able to access deals that aren’t available on the high street.


Then you have to carry out research to make sure you buy the right type of property in the right location, and for that you’ll need to work with good, qualified, local estate and letting agents. You will also need to find a good legal representative who can complete transactions quickly when necessary and make sure you own property in a way that fits with your investment strategy, especially if you are buying a property with tenants in situ.


To find out about property as an investment vehicle, the four key factors to consider when creating a property investment strategy, the benefits of investing with a mortgage and how to find the right experts to work with, head to our ultimate guide to buy to let property investment.



2. Preparing the property to let 


There are more than 400 rules and regulations covering the private rental market, so getting everything in place to let a property safely and legally can be quite a challenge.


The overall condition of the property needs to meet certain ‘fitness for habitation’ minimum standards, then there are specific requirements for gas, electrical and fire safety. You have to know how to properly identify and assess potential risks and hazards and take every reasonable step to eliminate them.


In addition to national laws, each local authority in England has the power to introduce its own licensing and planning rules, so you must make sure you know what those are and whether they apply to your type of let.


At the same time, you need to be taking into account your target market and making sure the accommodation, facilities, services and overall presentation will attract and retain the best tenants. And all this needs to not only satisfy legal standards, but also make financial sense, as per your investment plan and budget.


Many landlords choose to use the services of a qualified letting agent, who can advise them every step of the way and take on much of the responsibility for making sure the property is legally let. But even if that’s the route you decide to do down, it’s still essential to understand what’s required. 


To find out all about your legal responsibilities and recommended best practice, read our ultimate guide to preparing your property to let



3. Marketing the rental property 


Once you’ve prepared your property to let, the next step is to promote it in the best possible light so that you attract and retain great tenants. 


Photographs are the first thing that catches tenants’ attention, so it’s essential to have professional photographs – and ideally a video tour. 


If you aren’t working with a qualified agent and are self-managing, In the listing description you need to highlight all the aspects of the property that are unique or will specifically appeal to your target tenants. So, if you’re looking for young professionals, you could point out local amenities and state how near the property is to the train station. 


You also need to take into account current trends: what features and facilities are at the top of tenants’ wish lists right now? For instance, is the property particularly suitable for pets and is there room to create a home office?


In terms of how and where to advertise, if you’re not using an agent you need to consider the best ways to reach your target audience. Should you focus on social media, local print press, third-party platforms – what’s going to generate the best response? For example, very targeted marketing may not result in a flood of enquiries, but you often find those tenants who do enquire are high quality and ready to commit.


Viewings are an important stage of the marketing process. This is your opportunity to really sell the property – and yourself as the landlord - and also assess the suitability of prospective tenants. So you’ve got to be well prepared with questions and answers and present in a professional manner. 


And the marketing doesn’t stop when you find a tenant. One of the keys to a successful let is having a good relationship with your tenants, so you need to know how to create a great impression when they move in and maintain communication and understanding throughout the tenancy.


For more detailed information and advice, check out our 7-step ultimate guide to rental property marketing.



4. Tenant referencing 


Carrying out comprehensive referencing of your prospective tenants is essential. Not only does it help protect you against letting to criminals – or even simply people who will fail to make rent payments – but it is likely to also be a condition of your landlord insurance policy. 


For instance, if you ever have to make a claim for malicious damage, your insurance provider is likely to require evidence that you carried out robust checks on the tenant.


It should also reassure your tenant that you are a professional landlord who doesn’t cut corners and help set the tone for the tenancy.


Before beginning reference checks, if you’re letting property in England, you must carry out a ‘right to rent’ check, to make sure the prospective tenant is legally able to live and work in the UK. Be aware that if you’re found to be housing illegal migrants, you could be fined up to £10,000 for a first offence.


The reference check itself includes as a bare minimum: proof of the tenant’s identity and address, confirmation of employment and a credit check. It’s also advisable to ask for the tenant’s last three months’ bank statements so you can see their income and expenditure and assess whether the rent is affordable for them, and to get a previous landlord’s reference.


You can carry out each of these steps yourself or outsource the process to a professional referencing service provider, such as our partner, TenantVERIFY.


While most tenants do pass referencing and credit checks, there are various reasons why some don’t, and failing a check doesn’t always mean you shouldn’t let to them. 


In some cases – for instance, if they simply haven’t built up a credit history or they have only recently arrived in the country - they can still make very good long-term tenants. It may just mean getting a guarantor in place for the tenancy.


Our ultimate guide to tenant referencing for landlords takes you through everything you need to know about how to carry out the checks, red flags to watch for and how to proceed if a tenant fails a check.


5. Inventory management 


An inventory is a document that details and describes the contents and condition of the whole property, inside and out. 


It should be made at the start and end of every tenancy, to provide evidence of how the condition has changed over the period and can also be helpful as a reference point during periodic inspections. Then an assessment can be made as to how much of any deterioration is damage that the tenant should pay for, and how much is just normal wear and tear.


Since deposit protection legislation came into force in 2007, if landlords do want to make a deduction to cover the cost of damage or theft and the tenant challenges it, they need to provide evidence to the deposit protection scheme provider that it was caused during the tenancy. A robust inventory report is the only way to do that, providing protection for both parties.


It’s also important to understand that damage caused by wear and tear is not covered by landlord insurance. So, if you submit a claim for damage caused during the tenancy, it’s likely to expedite the process if you can provide evidence of the original condition of the property via the check-in inventory.


If it’s something you’re not used to doing, putting together the inventory can be time-consuming. You need to detail every area of the property, from floor to ceiling, rating the condition of the paint, woodwork, light switches, furniture and furnishings, outbuildings and garden – everything. There should also be photographs showing the general condition of each room and close-ups of any damage. 


In addition, the inventory usually includes whether electrical appliances, fixtures and lights are working, the result of smoke and CO alarm tests, utility meter readings and details of keys that have been supplied to the tenant. 


Using a professional inventory clerk can be very cost-effective and give you peace of mind that the report is comprehensive and robust. It also reassures the tenant that it has been carried out by an independent third party. If you use an agent to let the property, they will usually offer an inventory service either within their management fee or at an additional cost.


For more on the importance of inventories, when and how to use them and the difference between wear and tear and damage, head to our ultimate guide to a landlord inventory and schedule of condition.



6. Tenancy deposit protection 


If a tenant pays a security deposit, it must be protected in a government-approved deposit protection scheme.


There are two types of scheme

  • Custodial, where you pay over the deposit monies to the scheme provider, and they hold them for the duration of the tenancy
  • Insured, where you keep hold of the deposit yourself and pay an insurance fee to protect it


The deposit must be protected within 30 days of receipt and the tenant provided with ‘prescribed information’ relating to the scheme.


At the end of the tenancy, if there are no deductions to be made, you simply authorise the scheme provider to return the full deposit to the tenant. 


However, if there is damage or the property is not left sufficiently clean, you may want to retain some or all of the deposit funds to cover the cost of making it good. If the tenant agrees, both parties confirm with the scheme the amount to be returned.


If the tenant doesn’t agree with your proposed deductions, you will have to submit a claim to the deposit scheme provider, along with supporting evidence. That will include the check-in and check-out inventory reports, quotes for work and/or receipts. The scheme adjudicator will then make a decision, which is final.


Any unpaid rent can also legally be retained from the deposit – but again, you may need to provide evidence that the tenant is in arrears. 


Legally, the deposit remains the tenant’s money unless and until the landlord can provide evidence that they have a valid claim. Without evidence, the scheme adjudicator is likely to rule in favour of the tenant – which is why it is so important to have a robust inventory and keep proper financial and property management records.


For more information and advice, read our ultimate guide to tenancy deposit protection legislation.



7. Managing the property during the tenancy 


Once your tenant has moved in, that’s when the ‘day job’ of being a landlord really begins unless you are using a qualified agent to manage the property for you. 


Throughout the tenancy, you must make sure that the property remains legally let and in good condition, and that any required repairs are carried out within a reasonable timeframe.


That means making periodic checks at least once every 6-12 months, to inspect the property inside and out, and responding within the legal timeframe required to tenants if they report any issues or request repairs be made. 


You must also have an annual gas safety check and a five-yearly electrical check carried out by suitably qualified engineers, and secure certificates for both.


If you fail to meet your obligations, your tenant complains to the council and you then don’t make the required improvements, you could face a fine of up to £30,000 or be taken to court. In addition, your tenant could apply for a rent repayment order for up to 12 months’ rent. So it’s really not worth risking your property falling into disrepair.


You’ve got to monitor rent payments and know how to handle things if your tenant slips into arrears. Calls from tenants reporting problems or property emergencies can come at any time of the day or night, and you’ve got to be prepared to deal with disputes in a diplomatic and legally sound way.


And when it comes to the law, you must have a reliable way of staying up to date with any changes to lettings legislation that might require you to make changes to the property or tenancy. For example, the Renters (Reform) Bill will change a lot of the lettings rules and regulations and you need to keep updated on how and when this will affect you and your tenants. 


There’s also a lot of paperwork involved in managing a buy to let property – including tenancy agreements and reference checks, receipts and guarantees for work, health and safety documents and financial records – all of which needs to be correctly administered and properly filed. Your local council or HMRC could request documents at any time, and you may want or need to hand over management of the property to someone else at short notice.


And be aware that your tenants can bring proceedings against you for up to six years after their tenancy ends, so you must make sure you keep clear records, especially of any disputes.


In short, there is a lot of work involved in managing a property professionally and successfully, which is why many landlords who aren’t full-time investors use the services of a letting agent


For more information on exactly what’s involved and to help you decide whether to self-manage or outsource the job, read our ultimate landlord’s guide to rental property management.



8. End of tenancy 


Tenancies can end for a variety of reasons and in a number of different ways. As a landlord, it’s essential to know what all of these are and how to legally regain possession of your property in each case.


A tenancy may be within a fixed term, where the landlord and tenant have committed to a minimum tenancy term, or it may be periodic, rolling from one rent period to the next. The notice a landlord or tenant is required and able to give depends on which of these is in effect.


  • If the landlord wants the tenant to leave at the end of a fixed term, they must give two months’ notice by issuing a Section 21
  • If the tenant wants to leave at the end of a fixed term, they are not required to give any notice
  • During a fixed term, although the tenant is liable for rent for the whole period, the landlord and tenant might come to a private agreement to end the tenancy early
  • If the tenancy is periodic, the landlord can give the tenant two months’ notice at any point (via a Section 21) and the tenant only has to give one month’s notice (four weeks’ notice if rent is paid weekly, rather than monthly)
  • If the tenant has breached their rental agreement, the landlord can issue a Section 8 notice at any time. The notice period depends on the ground(s) for eviction
  • If the tenant refuses to leave by the date stated in any eviction notice, the landlord has to apply to the court for a possession order


Assuming there aren’t any disputes, ending a tenancy should be fairly straightforward – and most tenancies do end without a problem.


However, if you have a difficult tenant who refuses to leave, you may end up having to go through the full legal eviction process, which has the potential to be stressful, time-consuming and costly. 


If you have a managing agent, they should be able to handle things on your behalf, but if you are self-managing, it’s well worth considering using the services of an eviction specialist, such as our partner, Landlord Action. Getting any part of the legal process wrong can result in the court not recognising the eviction as valid and you’ll have to start again from scratch – while your tenant remains in the property, probably not paying any rent.


To make sure that any Section 21 notice is legally valid, you must also have provided tenants with certain required documentation at the start of the tenancy, including the current gas safety certificate, the Government’s ‘How to rent’ guide and ‘prescribed information’ relating to their deposit. 


Before the tenancy ends, you should arrange the check out and inventory with the tenant. Once that has been completed, the final piece of administration is to arrange for the return of the tenant’s deposit, making a claim against it if needed.


To find out more about giving notice, how to handle disputes, regaining possession and preparing the property for the next tenant, read our ultimate end of tenancy checklist for landlords.



9. Getting landlord insurance   


Tenanted properties are more likely to suffer damage than owner-occupied homes and there are other specific risks connected with the business of letting, which is why landlords need specialist insurance that provides the right level of cover. 

It’s important to be aware that if you only have a standard homeowner’s insurance policy on a property you let, any claim you make is unlikely to be valid.


While having landlord insurance isn’t a legal requirement, it’s an important step in protecting yourself and your letting business financially in case anything goes wrong.


You also need to make sure that you have the right type of insurance, depending on how many properties you have and who your tenants are. For instance, in addition to our Essential and Premier landlord insurance policies, we offer tailored products for student landlords, HMO landlords, portfolio landlords and expats.


A basic landlord insurance policy should provide:

  • Buildings insurance – for the full rebuild cost
  • Accidental damage cover
  • Public liability insurance in case someone injures themselves in your property
  • Legal expenses


Many policies also include the following, but make sure you check and consider taking out separate cover if necessary for:

  • Malicious damage and theft by tenants
  • Loss of rent and alternative accommodation, in case tenants need to be re-homed while remedial works are carried out
  • Landlord emergency cover, which provides assistance in the event of a domestic emergency
  • Rent guarantee insurance, in case your tenant fails to pay
  • Glass & locks replacement
  • Boiler repair or replacement


For more details on the different types of cover and how to find the best landlord insurance policy for you and your type of let, read our ultimate guide to finding the best landlord insurance. 


And if you would like to discuss appropriate cover for your properties, you can call us on 0800 634 3880, email enquiries@totallandlordinsurance.co.uk or fill in our online form and one of the team will be in touch.


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