Around a fifth of all households in the UK rent from a private landlord, but what do tenants need to know before moving into a rental property?
Private renters have recently been expressing their frustrations with the private rental sector through the hashtag #ventyourrent, which was started by Generation Rent. The stories range from extortionate rent prices to a lack of basic facilities.
However, an important part of fighting against rogue landlords and spiralling house prices is for tenants to know exactly what their rights are.
We have all of the main questions that renters will have before moving into a rental property, to ensure they know what their rights are and how to be a good tenant. However, these guidelines relate to England and Wales, as the law is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Do landlords need to be accredited?
No. Although there are a few landlord accreditation schemes, landlords are not required to join any of them. Neither are letting agents. You should ask from the outset if your landlord or agent is a member of any scheme so that you can look up the standards or code of practice that they must adhere to, and report them to the organisation if they break the rules.
Is it legal to hold fees?
Yes. You should ask as early as possible what these will be, as sky-high fees are not illegal.
What must my tenancy agreement include?
Under the Housing Act 1988, your contract must include:
- The date the tenancy began.
- The rent payable and when it is due.
- The length of the tenancy.
- Any information about when rent prices will be reviewed.
- Anything specific that the landlord wants you to take responsibility for, which they would usually be liable for (for example, certain repairs).
The landlord must also provide you with a copy of the latest gas safety record, which must be conducted every year, the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), and the prescribed information from the tenancy deposit scheme.
What about the inventory?
Either your landlord or letting agent must compile an inventory of everything in the property and the home’s condition, which you must then check and sign. You should bring up anything that isn’t exactly as is stated on the report so that you won’t be charged for it at the end of the tenancy.
Is it legal for my landlord to hold my deposit themselves?
No. Under the Housing Act 2004, tenancy deposits must be paid into a Government-approved protection scheme within 30 days of receipt. You must then be given the prescribed information about when and how your money is protected. However, if your deposit is just rent paid in advance, it doesn’t need to be paid into a scheme.
What furniture must the landlord provide?
This depends. If the property is unfurnished, they don’t have to provide anything, although they may agree to provide white goods, for example. Always check what is included before signing your contract.
If the property is let furnished, all furniture must be safe and usable. It is typically expected that this includes a table and chairs, sofa, bed and storage in each bedroom, heating appliances, curtains and floor coverings, a cooker and a fridge.
What general standards must my rental property meet?
The home must meet health and safety standards, but not much more. Recently, a move to ensure all rental properties are fit for human habitation was rejected.
If something is directly affecting your health and safety, the landlord is legally obliged to sort it out. This includes: mould or damp, asbestos, gas leaks, unsecured entrances, a lack of lighting, excessive noise due to poor sound insulation, pests, poor drainage and a lack of water supply. If your landlord does not act on any of these problems, you have a right to take legal action.
However, your landlord is still responsible for certain repairs, even if they do not affect your health. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 states that landlords are always responsible for repairs to:
- The property’s structure and exterior.
- Anything that comes into contact with water – basins, sinks, baths, pipes, drains.
- Heating and hot water.
- Anything to do with gas.
- Electrical wiring.
- Any damage they cause while fixing the above.
For other issues, such as broken beds, fridges or washing machines, your landlord is expected to repair them (unless you were directly responsible for the damage or it says otherwise in your contract).
How long should a landlord take to complete repairs?
This depends. Legally, landlords must complete repairs within a reasonable period of time.
For emergencies, such as an electrical or gas failure, this would be around 24 hours. For leaks and roof repairs, around a week. For aesthetic issues, such as broken kitchen units, a reasonable period would be within 28 days.
What should I do if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem within a reasonable period?
You can take legal action through your local council’s Tenants Relations Officer (TRO) to seek the repairs and compensation for your inconvenience. You could also pay for the repairs yourself and then bill the landlord. If you do this, you must record all communication in writing. Initially, you should report disrepair to your landlord by email so that you can prove when you first made the request and do the same with any follow up.
Can I hang pictures, put up shelves or paint the walls?
Any of these changes can be seen as damage, as they change the state of the property. You should always check with your landlord first, as they may deduct from your deposit if you make these changes.
Who is responsible for pest infestations?
Almost always your landlord. Unless it says otherwise on the tenancy agreement, or the infestation is your fault and they can prove it.
Can they increase my rent?
If you have a fixed term tenancy agreement, they cannot increase rents during the length of time set out in the contract. At the end of the agreement, they can, as you’d be signing a new agreement if you decided to stay. There are no legal limits on how much rent can be raised by at the end of a tenancy.
If you have a periodic or rolling tenancy, your landlord can generally only increase the rent once a year, depending on your tenancy agreement terms. They must give you one month’s notice if you pay weekly or monthly.
Can I stop paying rent if I’m unhappy with my landlord?
Yes, but it is risky. For example, you don’t have a right to stop paying rent because repairs haven’t been carried out, and your landlord can start repossession proceedings.
A better option would be to use your own money for repairs and then recuperate the cost from future rent. However, you must follow the right procedure: write letters to your landlord, keep copies and send the landlord quotes from contractors. Always get legal advice before you proceed – the Citizens Advice Bureau is a great place to start.
Can my landlord evict me?
Landlords must follow legal procedure and have grounds to evict you. They cannot harass you to leave the property, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997; if you receive any verbal threats or physical violence, go to the police.
If you’ve been evicted illegally or think you are at risk of it, go to your local council’s TRO, who can take your landlord to court.
Can the landlord come to the property whenever they want to?
No. It is against the law for a landlord to enter the property without notice or permission. Under the Housing Act 1988, they must give you 24 hours’ notice in writing before coming round, and should only come at reasonable times so that you can be present.
There are, however, a few exceptions. If there is a fire, smell of gas, urgent structural damage, or evidence of a criminal incident, they can enter without your permission.
If your landlord does turn up unannounced, you do not have to let them in, but if you do, you’re not revoking your right to expect 24 hours’ notice in future.
During the last 28 days of your tenancy, the landlord or agent can show round new tenants, but again, they must give you 24 hours’ notice in writing.
Is subletting illegal?
Yes, unless the landlord agreed to it first. A landlord can evict you if they find out you are subletting. In social housing, subletting is even more serious and is actually a criminal offence, which could put you in prison for two years.
Can they keep my deposit?
The landlord can deduct money from your deposit for any damage or mess that isn’t due to fair wear and tear.
Adjudicators at your deposit protection scheme can investigate any disputes between you and your landlord, but you should always have evidence, including the inventory and photographs.
Do I need to pay for a professional cleaner before I move out?
If it says so in your tenancy agreement, you will. Otherwise, you do not have to, although you should leave the property in the same condition that you moved into it in, allowing for fair wear and tear.
If tenants remember to abide by their responsibilities and landlords stick to the law, the renting process should be enjoyable for all!