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The house always wins - your tenancy rights and how to enforce them

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 13 July 2015
  2. Housing
  3. 0 comments

If you’re renting a home, you should make sure you know your legal rights as a tenant, to ensure you aren’t treated unfairly or taken advantage of by your landlord. In the event that things do go wrong, you should also be aware of what you can do to compel your landlord to put things right.

Tenancy rights

The law on tenancies is designed to ensure that tenants are not mistreated despite being in a situation where they are literally relying on their landlord for the roof over their heads. As such, there are limitations on what landlords can legally do, as well as requirements for situations where they must act.

As a tenant, you have the right to:

  • live in a property which is kept safe and in good repair by the landlord
  • live in the property without facing unnecessary disturbances from your landlord
  • know who your landlord is, and their contact details
  • challenge any charges imposed by your landlord that you think are too high
  • see an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property
  • be protected from unfair increases in rent or unfair eviction
  • a written tenancy agreement in cases where you have a fixed-term tenancy lasting more than 3 years
  • have your deposit protected by a Tenancy Deposit Scheme which will protect you from any unsubstantiated deductions - your landlord must forward the details of the Deposit Scheme, known as prescribed information, within 30 days of receipt of the deposit

As well as these rights, you may have signed a tenancy agreement with your landlord. A tenancy agreement cannot take away rights you have under the law, and any unfair, discriminatory or illegal clauses in such an agreement cannot be enforced. However, a tenancy agreement may set out additional rights and rules relating to your occupancy of the property, and both you and your landlord are required to abide by these.

Handling a breach of your tenancy rights

What to do if your tenancy rights are being breached is likely to depend on exactly what has happened. Your landlord may have a complaints procedure, so you should ask them for a copy of this if it does exist and follow the guidance given.

If they do not have a complaints procedure or it is not helpful, it would be advisable as a first step to write a letter to your landlord explaining what you think they have done wrong and explaining which right they are breaching (citing, for example, the relevant law, or referencing where in the tenancy agreement the clause in question can be found). Suggest what could be done to resolve the issue. This will hopefully lead to them investigating the problem and taking action.

If there is no response to your letter, you should send a follow-up letter restating the problem and setting a deadline for the date by which you expect a reply.

Changes in the future

The Deregulation Act 2015 which was passed on 26th March 2015 makes many changes to the law regarding landlord and tenant legislation. Many of the changes relate to whether a deposit should be protected in certain circumstances and there are differing stances depending on when the tenancy was entered into. It’s recommended that you obtain legal advice for your individual circumstances.

There is also a change to the landlord’s ability to serve a section 21 notice in England on a tenant as a result of any complaints in relation to the repair of the property. If a tenant submits a written complaint to the landlord regarding the condition of the premises or common areas before a section 21 notice is served, and the landlord does not respond or the response is inadequate, they may not be able to rely upon a section 21 notice to bring the tenancy to an end. The tenant can then complain to the local housing authority who can impose enforcement notices on the landlord. If this occurs, the landlord cannot serve a section 21 notice for a period of 6 months from the date of an enforcement notice being served.

There are also changes being made to the details which must be included in a section 21 in England, with prescribed information now being a requirement. These regulations will come into force on 1st July 2015 and further changes, which include the landlord not being able to serve the section 21 notice in the first four months of a fixed term, will come into force on 1st October 2015. The details have not been published yet, so watch this space for further developments.

Getting more help

If your landlord does not respond to your complaint or does not do enough to fix the problem, you may want to take further action. In some situations, your local council could help you to deal with your complaint.

If your issue involves illegal eviction, failure to carry out repairs, harassment from your landlord, or any other breach of the law, you should see if your council has a Tenancy Relations Officer (TRO). TROs are council officials who will confront landlords who are breaking the law to warn them, and can prosecute them if they do not relent.

If your complaint relates to a health and safety issue, such as the property being unsafe or making you ill, you can contact your council’s Environmental Health Officer (EHO). They can carry out an inspection of the property and advise the landlord on what they ought to do, and can also issue an order which will force the landlord to carry out the relevant work if they have refused to do so.

If your complaint does not relate to these issues or you need more help, you may be able to find a local adviser through the Shelter website’s advice directory.

For more information on tenants’ rights, see our Tenancy section.

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