Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Sunday, 25 April 2010 17:20 UK

Landlords' questions answered

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The downturn in the housing market led some homeowners to become reluctant landlords and deal with tenants for the first time.

Landlords who have been in the business for years have already had to face many different issues arising from renting out their homes.

Previously Ruth Bamford, of Citizens Advice, answered questions from tenants in England and Wales about how to deal with problems with landlords or letting agents.

Now she answers questions from landlords.

Q1. Some recent tenants of mine have absconded, leaving no forwarding address and a house that has been soiled and damaged by their dog. It is costing me thousands to repair and in lost rent, yet without a forwarding address I cannot even get the deposit back because it is held in a tenancy deposit scheme. I am powerless to do anything and the police will not get involved because it is a civil matter. Where is the help for us landlords? James Abbott, Hove.

In order to get the deposit back and to cover some of your costs incurred by the tenant's damage to the property, you will have to contact the relevant tenancy deposit scheme.

As you state that the scheme holds the deposit, it appears that you may have protected the deposit in the custodial Deposit Protection Scheme. After 14 days have passed from the end of the tenancy, you can lodge a claim for the deposit to be paid to you as compensation for the damage.

The Deposit Protection Service has a single claim process where the landlord can claim an amount of the deposit for loss or damage caused by the tenant. This is done by way of a statutory declaration sworn in the presence of a solicitor/commissioner for oaths or magistrate.

The declaration is then issued by the scheme to the other party's registered address. If there is no response from the tenant within 14 days, the scheme will release the deposit to the landlord.

If this does not cover the whole of the amount of calculable damage caused by the tenant, you can bring a civil claim for the rest of the damage costs but you will need some contact address for the tenant so that the papers can be served on the defendant.

The other thing to consider, to ensure that this does not happen again in the future, is to take out contents insurance to cover loss incurred by tenants or insist on a guarantor for the prospective tenant.

Q2. I wish to rent my house to my disabled brother and we are in the process of converting it into a fully accessible house. As my brother will be renting, I do not want to take a bond off him as I think that would be overkill, but he says that by law I must take a bond from him. Is he right? Also, some of the conversions are being paid for with his money, should I offer to offset some of the cost against the rent or just accept that the costs should be met by him?Ed Thomas, Cardiff.

There is no statutory law that requires that a deposit has to be taken. However, if a deposit is taken for any new tenancy that began in England and Wales after 6 April 2007, the deposit has to be protected in one of the three tenancy deposit schemes.

In a lot of family arrangements, as in this case, it is not uncommon that no deposit is requested. You do not have to request that a deposit is paid by the tenant if you do not feel that it is necessary.

Ruth Bamford
Ruth Bamford says landlords have various rights

In regard to the adaptations to allow for the disabled brother, you have a choice. If you wish to offset the cost of the adaptations against the rent, then effectively you are paying for the adaptations.

If your brother pays for the adaptations, then there might be a case that he could possibly claim a "beneficial interest" in the property at a later date if these adaptations added to the value of the property. However, such a claim would be unlikely to be successful unless there was an agreement between you and your brother that he would have a share of the property.

If you wish to be certain regarding the specific adaptations and beneficial interest, you should seek legal advice.

Q3. As a prospective landlord, where can I find information about what my responsibility is to protect myself and my tenants and what laws and regulations I need to have covered?John Mackintosh, Coventry.

If you are considering letting your property, then information for landlords advising you of your rights and responsibilities is freely available via publications on the Communities and Local Government (CLG) and Direct Gov websites.

Q4. I have heard that tenancies are automatically assured shorthold tenancies (AST) and that a tenant is, therefore, entitled to a minimum term of at least six months. Suppose I rent my house out and there is a vacant gap of say three months between two long-term tenants which I would like to fill with a short three-month contract. Does this six-month minimum rule on ASTs mean that it is impossible for me to enforce a fixed three-month term for a short-term tenant? Other people have told me yes, which seems ridiculous! Tim, Cardiff.

Since 28 February 1997, all tenancies in England and Wales are automatically assured shorthold tenancies under section 19A of the Housing Act 1996 - unless the landlord specifically grants an assured tenancy in writing, which is a rare occurrence today.

The AST will have a statutory minimum of six months security of tenure - whether the tenancy was granted verbally or in writing - because an order for possession cannot take effect earlier than six months after the beginning of the tenancy under section 21(5) of the Housing Act 1988.

There is nothing to prevent you from granting a short-term three-month tenancy to a tenant. If the tenant agrees to leave when the three-month fixed term ends, there is no problem.

However, you will have a problem if the tenant refuses to leave by mutual surrender at the end of the three months. You would then have to gain possession though the court in order to evict the tenant and that would initially require service of a notice seeking possession under section 21 (1) (b) of the Housing Act 1988 within the fixed term, or a section 21 (4) notice if the fixed period has expired.

You could then apply for a possession order as soon as the notice has expired, but the date for possession could be no earlier than six months after the start date of the tenancy. For example, if the tenancy commenced 1 January, 2010, the earliest date that a court could order possession would be 30 June, 2010.

You would not be able to install a new tenant into the accommodation until you have lawfully gained possession and evicted the previous tenant.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

Citizen's Advice disclaimer

The advice provided is specific to the originating client's query and circumstances as posed by them. It should not be seen as being definitive in any other context, for example as general advice on the same subject or to form part of any general advice. The advice will be based on the law and regulation current at the time of the original query and may become invalid, inaccurate or inappropriate at any time after it is provided. The advice provided is not intended to be used as the sole basis for any advice provided to the individual and the use of the advice is at the recipient's own risk and on an "as is" basis.

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