Private Renting and Tenancy

If you are renting a home from someone else, it's important to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and what the law says about how your landlord must act.

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If you rent a home from a private landlord, you should be aware of your rights in order to make sure your landlord does not take advantage. At the same time you must make sure to keep to your tenancy agreement to avoid any potential problems which could arise.

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities

The law on tenancies tries to balance the rights of tenants and landlords to ensure that both groups are fairly treated. Each side also has certain responsibilities towards the other.

If you are a tenant, you have the right to:

  1. have the property you are living in be safe and in good condition
  2. Your landlord is responsible for many of the repairs to the property, and must ensure that it is a safe place to live (see the Repairs section below for more information).

  3. live in the property undisturbed
  4. This means that your landlord cannot bother you continuously while you are living in the property. If they wish to visit the property to carry out repairs or for an inspection, they must give you 24 hours’ notice to do so, and they must arrange to visit at a reasonable time. The only exception is if they need to undertake emergency repairs, in which case they can access the property immediately.

  5. be aware of who your landlord is
  6. If you are not sure who your landlord is, you can write to the last person to collect your rent to ask. Request the landlord’s full name and address, and be sure to send the letter by recorded delivery and retain a copy.

    If there is no response within 21 days, this is a criminal offence and the landlord could face a fine.

  7. challenge any charges you think are too high
  8. In some properties, you may pay your landlord for the energy you use. If you think you are being charged too much, you have the right to challenge your landlord on this. You can ask them for an explanation of how they work out the charges.

    If your energy usage is based on a meter, your landlord can only charge you at the domestic rate for the units you have used, plus your share of any standing charge they pay. If there is no meter, they must work out your proportion of the bill fairly and be able to show you how they have done it.

  9. view an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property
  10. An Energy Performance Certificate shows the energy efficiency and typical energy costs for a property. It also suggests how money could be saved and gives the property a rating for its level of energy efficiency. Your landlord or letting agent should show the certificate to you.

  11. protection against unfair eviction and unreasonable rent increases
  12. There are processes that your landlord must follow if they wish to evict you, and if they fail to do so then you can take action against them (see the Ending a Tenancy section below). They also have to obey certain rules about how much they can increase your rent, and when (see the Rent section below).

  13. receive a written tenancy agreement for a fixed-term tenancy for more than 3 years
  14. In most cases, you will not have any right to a written copy of the tenancy agreement. However, if you are in a fixed-term tenancy lasting longer than 3 years, you have the legal entitlement to receive your tenancy agreement in writing.

  15. get your deposit back after the end of the tenancy, and have it protected when applicable
  16. Your landlord cannot simply keep your deposit or part of your deposit without a good reason, and in most cases they must put it in a tenancy deposit protection scheme soon after receiving it (see the Deposits section below for further details).

Tenancy agreements

A tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord permitting you to live in their property in exchange for rent. It might also set out any rules you need to obey while living there.

Tenancy agreements do not need to be written down – they might simply be decided upon by speaking to your landlord. It is usually best to get a written copy of the terms so that you have a record of what has been agreed, however. Either way, there are certain things that should be discussed if you wish to set out a tenancy agreement.

Tenancy agreements should include:

  • the names of everyone involved
  • the address of the property in question
  • how much the rent will be
  • how the rent will be paid
  • the process the landlord will use if they want to increase the rent
  • which bills you have to pay, if any
  • how much the deposit will be
  • how the deposit will be protected
  • the situations in which money can be deducted from the deposit
  • when the tenancy begins and ends
  • any specific responsibilities on the part of the landlord and tenant

The agreement may also include other rules for your tenancy. However, it is important to note that any terms in a tenancy agreement must comply with the law, and also cannot be discriminatory. If the conditions of your tenancy are unfair or illegal then the landlord will not be able to enforce them.

In order to modify any terms of a tenancy agreement, both you and your landlord need to agree to the changes.

Repairs

Your landlord is responsible for keeping most of the property in good condition and repairing anything major which is damaged.

When necessary, your landlord must fix:

  • any structural problems or damage to the property’s exterior (external walls, roof, windows, etc.)
  • sanitary fittings like sinks, baths and toilets, as well as pipes and drains
  • heating and the hot water supply
  • gas appliances
  • chimneys, pipes, flues and ventilation
  • electrical wiring
  • any damages to common areas, like entrance halls or shared staircases
  • any damage they have caused themselves when trying to repair things

If any of these things need repairing, you should contact your landlord about it. If the damage is potentially dangerous, tell them immediately. Your landlord should let you know when they will have the repairs done.

If your landlord neglects to repair something which could cause harm to someone if not fixed, you can contact your local council, who can force the landlord to deal with anything dangerous on the property. They can also help you if you think the house is not safe to live in.

As well as carrying out repairs, your landlord is responsible for keeping your home safe in general. Their duties include checking up on:

  • gas safety (they must ensure that gas equipment on the property is installed, maintained and annually checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer, and provide you with a copy of the gas safety check record prior to you moving in or within 28 days of the check taking place)
  • electrical safety (they must ensure that the electrical system and any electrical appliances supplied are safe)
  • fire safety (they must ensure that the property complies with fire safety regulations and supply fire alarms and fire extinguishers where appropriate, as well as only providing fire-safe furnishings on the property)

Your landlord cannot demand that you do repairs which are their responsibility, but if your tenancy agreement allows it, you can carry out minor repairs to the property. You may be able to claim money back from your landlord if this costs you money or you have to pay someone to carry out the repair.

If you cause damage to the property, you will need to fix it or pay to have it fixed. Let your landlord know about it so they can ensure that they approve of the way the repairs are done. If you don’t repair any damage you have caused, you may lose some of your deposit at the end of the tenancy to cover the cost.

Deposits

When you rent a property, your landlord will take an initial deposit to cover any losses they may suffer due to your tenancy. You should get this back when you leave if you have paid your rent and bills and not breached your tenancy agreement or caused damage to the property.

In order to ensure that tenants are treated fairly, your landlord is now required to protect your deposit if you are in an assured shorthold tenancy (the most common type) which began after the 6th of April 2007. They must use a government-backed tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme so that you know your money is safe.

Once you become a tenant, your deposit must be placed in a TDP within 30 days. Within this time, your landlord must also formally notify you of:

  • their name and contact details, or that of the letting agency
  • the address of the property being rented
  • the amount of the deposit
  • the name and contact details of the person who paid the deposit if it was a third party (e.g. a parent)
  • how the deposit has been protected, including the TDP’s name, contact details for it and information about its dispute resolution service
  • how to get the deposit back at the end of the tenancy
  • reasons the landlord might deduct money from the deposit
  • what to do if you cannot contact the landlord when the tenancy ends
  • what to do if you and the landlord have a disagreement over the return of the deposit

If you’re not sure if your landlord has actually protected your deposit, you should contact the TDP they claim to have put it into. If they have not protected it, or have not given you the information listed above, you can apply to the local county court, who will tell the landlord that they must either protect the deposit within 14 days or repay it to you. They may also demand that the landlord pay you compensation, which can be up to three times the value of the deposit.

A landlord who fails to protect your deposit may also be prevented from serving a notice to evict you from the property after the fixed term ends unless they pay the deposit back to you.

At the end of the tenancy, you and your landlord need to reach an agreement on how much of the deposit you will get back. They may make deductions for any loss of money they have experienced due to your actions as a tenant - for example, if you owe them rent or have failed to pay the bills when you should have.

It is your responsibility to keep the house in good condition, and if you do not then the landlord can also deduct money from your deposit to make necessary repairs to the property. However, some natural “wear and tear” will always take place when living in a house, and they cannot reduce the amount of your deposit they return because of this.

For example, if an old carpet is getting worn out and they decide to replace it after you move out, they cannot take money from your deposit to pay for this. However, if the carpet was relatively new when you moved in but you have spilled drinks on it and stained it, they may make a deduction from your deposit to cover the cost of getting the carpet cleaned or replaced if necessary.

Once you and your landlord agree on how much deposit will be returned to you, they must pay it within 10 days. If you can’t reach an agreement, then the TDP in which your deposit is protected can provide a dispute resolution service to help. You and your landlord both need to agree to this.

The TDP’s dispute resolution service will listen to both sides of the story and look at the evidence to decide how much of the deposit should be returned to you. Their decision will be final.

If you can’t contact your landlord after the tenancy ends, you should contact the TDP and they will look into the matter and ensure that your deposit is returned to you.

Rent

When you move into a property, you will agree with your landlord how much rent should be paid. Your tenancy agreement should also state how often they can review this.

If the landlord wants to increase the rent on a fixed-term tenancy (that is, a tenancy where you have signed up to live in the property for a set period of time), there must be a clause in the tenancy agreement which will allow them to do this, or else they cannot increase the rent until the fixed-term period ends unless you agree to let them do so. They may also choose to raise the rent if you continue living in the house after the fixed term ends.

For periodic tenancies (that is, tenancies which run from month to month or week to week), your landlord generally cannot increase your rent more than once a year unless you agree to it.

Regardless of the type of tenancy you have, your landlord cannot raise the rent by an amount more than previously agreed unless you are willing to accept this. They should also only increase rent in line with similar properties in the area – they cannot push for an unrealistic or unfair increase in your rent.

Your tenancy agreement may set out a procedure for proposing a rent increase, and if it does then your landlord must use it. If not, they have several options.

If you are in a fixed-term tenancy, they can increase the rent when renewing your tenancy agreement after the initial fixed-term period is up, or fill out a government form entitled ‘Landlord’s notice proposing a new rent’, which will do the same thing.

In any tenancy, they can raise the rent by negotiating an increase with you and having you both sign an agreement stating this. Otherwise they will have to issue a section 13 notice in accordance with the Housing Act 1988, allowing them to increase your rent without your agreement and without having to have mentioned it in the tenancy agreement. However, this can only be done after the initial fixed term has elapsed.

If you pay rent weekly or monthly, your landlord needs to give you one month’s notice before increasing rent. For yearly tenancies, 6 months’ notice will be required.

If you disagree with a rent increase, you can appeal to the Residential Property Tribunal, who can take a look at the amount you are being expected to pay and decide whether it is fair. You should contact them if you receive a notification from your landlord that they intend to increase your rent and you do not feel that the increase is fair or proportionate.

Ending a tenancy

If you want to leave the property, you may need to give notice to your landlord. Your tenancy agreement should say how much notice you need to give, but there are also general rules for this.

If you have a fixed-term tenancy, you can leave at the end of that tenancy without giving notice. If you want to leave the tenancy early, however, you will only be able to do so if there is a “break clause” in your tenancy agreement or your landlord agrees to allow it. Otherwise, they may insist that you continue to pay rent until your tenancy expires (though they are expected to try and find tenants to replace you, so it is rare that you should have to pay for the full period your tenancy would have lasted).

If you have a periodic tenancy, you should give notice to your landlord equivalent to your rent period. For example, if you pay rent on a monthly basis, you will need to give a month’s notice of your intention to leave.

If your landlord wants you to leave the property, they also need to give notice and follow specific procedures. With assured shorthold tenancies, the most common type of tenancy, they do not need to give a reason for wanting you to leave. However, they must follow certain rules in order to get the property back.

First of all, your landlord must give you written notice at least 2 months before the date on which they wish you to leave. They need to let you know that they are asking you to leave the property and give the date by which you must leave. The date your landlord asks you to leave by must also be at least 6 months after you initially moved into the property.

Your landlord must also have protected your deposit in a deposit protection scheme, or a court may decide that you cannot be told to leave even if your landlord follows the procedures for giving notice.

If you have a periodic tenancy, this is all your landlord needs to do. However, if you have a fixed-term tenancy, your landlord cannot usually tell you to leave the property until the original end date for the tenancy. There are, however, a number of exceptions.

The Housing Act 1988 sets out certain grounds for possession which allow a landlord to ask a tenant to leave even during a fixed-term tenancy. Examples of these include:

  • the tenant is failing to pay their rent and is in arrears
  • the tenant is using the property for illegal purposes or engaging in antisocial behaviour
  • the tenant is causing extensive damage to the house or its furnishings

In these cases the landlord will still need to give a notice period ranging from two weeks to two months, depending on which grounds for possession they are using.

Landlord harassment and illegal eviction

It is illegal for a landlord to try to evict a tenant without having gone through the correct court procedures first. Landlords can also sometimes resort to using harassment to try and gain back possession of their property. In these cases, the tenant has the right to claim damages through the court.

What is harassment?

The term harassment in this context refers to anything the landlord does or doesn’t do which makes the tenant(s) feel unsafe or forces them to leave the property. The main examples of this are:

  • putting a stop to services such as electricity
  • not giving out enough keys to the property
  • ignoring the tenant’s requests to carry out repairs
  • anti-social behaviour by the landlord or someone associated with the landlord
  • threats and physical violence

Tenants' rights against illegal eviction

If your landlord wishes to evict you from their property, they must first give you notice that they intend to do so. If after this notice you still fail to leave the property, your landlord can apply to the courts for a possession order, which would legally force you to leave the property. You landlord would be classed as acting illegally if:

  • You are not given the correct amount of notice.
  • You return to the property to find the locks have been changed.
  • The landlord evicts you without first applying for a court order.

If the property you are renting in is being repossessed, the landlord’s mortgage lender must give you notice before you are evicted. If you have an assured short hold tenancy then the lender will have to honour the terms set out in your agreement. You may also be able to apply for possession to be postponed for up to 2 months if your landlord’s lenders are unaware of your tenancy. In these instances, you can either talk to the landlord’s mortgage lender directly or you can do it through the courts.

Need tenancy legal advice?

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