On 10 December 2020, the Government published a new version of its “How to Rent: The Checklist for Renting in England” guide. The booklet had not been updated since July 2019 and since that date the private rented sector (PRS) has seen a number of changes including the implementation of the electrical safety regulations, the end of the transition period in the Tenant Fees Act 2019 and, of course, the series of changes to possession procedure in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Changes to the Guide

The new How to Rent Guide provides tenants with updated and more comprehensive information on a range of tenancy matters including licensing requirements, tenant fees and deposits. It now includes reference to landlords’ obligations regarding mandatory electrical testing and gives more detailed information on permitted fees under the Tenant Fees Act. For the first time, the guide includes reference to Rent Repayment Orders (RROs) reflecting the growth in RRO applications and their importance as a method of enforcement in the PRS. Rather than set out all the recent changes to section 8 and section 21 possession claims, the guide links to the Government’s recent publications including its Covid guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities as well as its guidance on understanding the procedure for possession claims.

A reminder: which tenants need to be given the How to Rent guide?

All assured shorthold tenants who have been granted a tenancy on or after 1 October 2015 must be given a copy of the How to Rent guide. This includes the first grant of a new tenancy as well as renewal tenancies.

The tenants should be given a copy of the guide “that has effect for the time being.” That means for all new tenancies granted on or after 10 December 2020, including renewals, tenants should be given a copy of this new guide.

For existing tenants currently within a fixed-term tenancy, the new version of the guide will only need to be given if they remain in occupation at the end of their tenancy term and they are granted a new fixed-term tenancy (a tenancy renewal) or their tenancy becomes statutory periodic at the end of the fixed-term. That is because a replacement tenancy, which includes both an active renewal and a statutory periodic tenancy, triggers the requirement to provide the tenant with a further copy of the guide where there is a new version in force.

Therefore, landlords and agents should be providing this latest version of the guide to all tenants before they grant new tenancy agreements or before existing tenants’ tenancies become statutory periodic.

A reminder: how must the guide be given to tenants?

The legal requirement is to provide the tenant with the How to Rent guide in hard copy or by email, but only where the tenant has notified the landlord or agent of an email address where they are content to accept service of notices or documents under the tenancy.

If the tenant has not agreed to accept service by email then emailing the guide to the tenant will not be sufficient and a hard copy must be provided. If the tenant has agreed to accept service by email, the guide should be attached as a pdf. to the email. Emailing the tenant a link to the Government website will not be sufficient. To ensure compliance, if your tenant agrees to accept service by email it is recommended that a clause documenting this is included in the tenancy agreement together with the tenant’s email address.

A reminder: what happens if I don’t give my tenant the How to Rent Guide?

If you do not provide your tenant with the How to Rent guide when you are legally required to do so, then you will not be able to serve a valid section 21 notice to regain possession of the property. That is because supplying the tenant with the How to Rent guide is one of the statutory pre-conditions for serving a section 21 notice.

If you forgot to give your tenant the How to Rent guide at the start of their current tenancy and you want to serve a section 21 notice, you should provide the How to Rent guide to your tenant before serving the section 21 notice. If the How to Rent guide has been updated between your tenant’s current tenancy commencing and the date you wish to serve a 21 notice, it is recommended that you provide your tenant with the version of the How to Rent guide in force at the beginning of their current tenancy and the version in force at the time of serving the section 21 notice. You can find a useful archive of previous versions of the How to Rent guide on the Nearly Legal website.

Changes on the horizon

The How to Rent guide refers to the Government’s plans to abolish the ‘no fault’ section 21 eviction procedure. Nearly a year has now passed since the Government announced the Renters’ Reform Bill, the legislation that would get rid of section 21. A draft bill was anticipated in 2020 but this has been pushed back as the Government has had to deal with more pressing matters including the pandemic and Brexit. There seems no doubt that the Government still intends to proceed with abolishing section 21 but this is likely to be many months or even years away as the Government waits for greater economic and social stability before embarking on reform.

Regardless, 2021 is still likely to be a busy year for the PRS. In addition to continuing Covid-related developments, consultations are underway on extending the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms regulations and improving energy efficiency in privately rented homes. The Building Safety Bill and Fire Safety Bill will also have an impact on the PRS. These topics will be covered in future blogposts throughout next year.