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A Guide to Tenant Rights

Sawbridgeworth Property Market Adam Mackay 28th January 2022

Renting has become more commonplace over the past 20 years or so, with 4.4 million households (18.7% of dwellings in England) occupied by private renters in 2020. A further 16.7% of dwellings were occupied by social renters (who rent their home from a housing association or council).

Additional research shows:

There is a lot of information about tenant rights in the UK, so we’ve compiled everything you need to know in this guide. With a lot of money changing hands, it’s important to know what you are entitled to as a tenant.  

What is a tenant?

A tenant is a person who rents and occupies property owned by someone else. A tenancy is the period of time they will rent and occupy the property for. It can be a fixed term (such as six months), or periodic (running from month to month, for example).

If more than one person is renting the same property, it is known as a joint tenancy. A houseshare is an example of a joint tenancy.

Tenant rights in the UK

Every tenant in the UK has rights and responsibilities, which are often detailed in your tenancy agreement (although not always).

Different types of tenancy agreement

  • Assured shorthold tenancy (AST). A private tenancy, whereby you rent from a private landlord. This starts with a fixed term, such as six or 12 months. At the end of the tenancy, it can be renewed, the tenant can choose to move out, or the landlord can serve notice (providing the tenant has enough time to move out). You can also convert to a periodic tenancy, which is a rolling tenancy that does not have a fixed end date.
  • Assured tenancy. A private tenancy, whereby you rent from a private landlord. The tenancy must have started between 15 January 1989 and 27 February 1997. Often, it will have been granted by a Housing Association or Housing Trust. The tenant can live in the property indefinitely, providing they pay rent and meet the terms of their tenancy agreement.
  • Regulated tenancy. A private tenancy, whereby you rent from a private landlord and the tenancy began before 15 January 1989. The tenant is entitled to what is known as “fair rent”, which is “based on the size, condition and usefulness of the property, but not its scarcity value.” This is reviewed every two years.

If you are starting a new tenancy now, it will most likely be an assured shorthold tenancy.

Starting a new tenancy

Moving into a new property can be exciting. But there is also a lot to do.

When you start a new tenancy, your landlord must give you some information.

You also have the right to:

  • See an energy performance certificate (EPC), which should have a minimum rating of E. The ratings run from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient).
  • Have a written agreement if you have a fixed-term tenancy of three years or more.
  • Know who your landlord is. This information is often stated in the tenancy agreement. If it isn’t, you can ask your letting agency or the person you pay rent to. Your landlord must give you the information within 21 days or they could be fined. 

It’s good practice for a landlord to provide you with a tenancy agreement, signed by you both before you move in. This agreement must be fair and compliant with the law. 

What should be included in a tenancy agreement?
  • The names of the tenants and the landlord
  • The address of the property
  • The start and end date of the tenancy
  • The cost of the rent
  • How the rent should be paid
  • Information on when the rent will be reviewed, and how
  • The deposit amount
  • How the deposit will be protected
  • Circumstances in which the landlord would make deductions from the deposit
  • Which bills the tenant is responsible for
  • Any other tenant obligations
  • Any other landlord obligations

Source: Gov.uk

The agreement may also include information on whether the tenancy can be ended early and how, who is responsible for minor repairs (outside of the landlord’s legal responsibilities), and whether the property can be let to someone else.

New terms to a tenancy agreement must be negotiated between the landlord and the tenant, then added as an addendum to the original agreement and signed by both of you.

Your rights laid down by law will always take precedence over anything in a tenancy agreement.

Tenancy fees

There are rules about the fees letting agents can charge you. These apply in England, Scotland and Wales.

Permitted Not permitted
Rent Admin fees
Deposits Credit checks
  References or police checks
  Renewing your tenancy contract

Don’t feel pressured into paying extra fees. If a letting agent tries to make you pay, remind them of the rules. They could be fined £5,000 if they charge these fees – more if they continue to charge them after the first fine.

Under the Tenant Fees Act, tenants have the right not to pay certain fees when arranging their new tenancy. You should be able to see how much the property will cost to rent, with no hidden fees.

Paying the deposit

You will normally pay a deposit. This is often the equivalent of around four or five weeks’ rent. It is against the law for a landlord to force you to pay a deposit of over five weeks’ rent (this increases to six weeks if your rent costs more than £50,000 annually).

This should be placed in a deposit protection scheme, such as the approved schemes listed below.

Once you’ve paid your deposit, you landlord must confirm, in writing, within 30 days:

  1. The address of the property you are renting
  2. The deposit amount
  3. Which scheme the deposit is protected under, and their contact details (including for its dispute resolution service)
  4. Their name and contact details, or the letting agency’s name and contact details
  5. The name and contact details of any third party that paid the deposit
  6. Why the landlord would keep some or all of the deposit
  7. How to ask for the deposit back
  8. What to do if you can’t get in touch with the landlord when your tenancy ends
  9. What to do if there is a dispute over the deposit

Source: Which?

It is possible your landlord will not place your deposit in a protection scheme. You can write to them to ask about it. If they do not give you the information you need, or if they do not respond at all, then you could take them to court.

During your tenancy

Tenants have the right to live undisturbed, in a safe property which is in a good state of repair.

Rent

Your landlord should charge you what is known as market rent – the rate in your area. The property can be valued based on area, the number of bedrooms, and the outside space available, and the landlord should base their rent off this figure. Rent cannot increase during a fixed-term tenancy. 

If your landlord lives outside the UK and charges you £100 or more per week in rent, paid directly to them, you need to contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You could have to deduct tax from your rent, under a scheme called the Non-Resident Landlord Scheme. 

You can challenge excessively high charges (i.e. if the rent cost is much higher than market value) by applying to the tenancy tribunal and asking for the rent to be reduced. This is more difficult if you’re in a periodic (rolling) tenancy.

Repairs and maintenance

Tenants have the right to enjoy good living conditions and have access to working appliances, including an oven, hot water, and phone ports.

Tenants are responsible for everyday maintenance such as cleaning, unblocking sinks, gardening, and changing light bulbs. You must take good care of the property, for example you must switch the water off at the mains if you go away in cold weather, or report any repairs or damage to the landlord before they become bigger issues.

Larger issues and repairs like the ones listed below are the responsibility of the landlord:

  • Broken boiler
  • Broken doors and windows
  • Damp
  • Exposed or faulty wiring
  • Gas leak
  • Leaking pipes
  • Pest infestations

Your landlord must also ensure that you have water, gas and electricity that works safely.

You can reach out to your landlord in writing if you need to get anything repaired. Which? has a template which can be edited to suit your situation. How quickly they fix the repair depends on its severity. 

Make sure you know the difference between a repair and an improvement. A repair makes an existing fixture or fitting work or safe to use again, whereas an improvement is a replacement that could be considered better than the previous fixture or fitting. Landlords must carry out repairs, but they do not have to make improvements.

What if my landlord refuses to carry out repairs?
  1. Contact your landlord as soon as you notice the problem. They do not have to do anything until they are notified. You can telephone them, but it is best to put your request in writing.
  2. Send photographs of any damage or disrepair to your landlord. Save these photographs and the correspondence, as well as receipts (if you have tried to carry out repairs yourself) and letters from your GP (if the problem is affecting your health).
  3. Contact the environmental health department of your local council if your landlord isn’t carrying out the repairs, or the property is unsafe to live in. They can inspect your home and write a report. They will either notify your landlord, or arrange the repairs themselves and charge your landlord.

Living peacefully in the property

Tenants have the right to enjoy the property they are renting in peace. You can control who has access, who enters, and when – including your landlord. It is illegal for them to let themselves in without warning, unless there is a legitimate emergency.

Your landlord must give you at least 24-hours’ notice by text, email, phone call or in person, if they want to access the property, and they must have a genuine reason for doing so. Reply to their request in writing, so you have a record of it in case of a future dispute.

Additionally, your landlord must visit during reasonable hours. The definition of reasonable hours will vary for each tenant. For example, what is reasonable for someone who works 9-5 will be different to what is reasonable for someone who works night shifts. 

You have the right to turn your landlord away if they arrive unannounced, unless there is an emergency.

Living in a house in multiple occupation

A house in multiple occupation (HMO), also known as a house share, is when you rent a room in a property with at least two other tenants, and you share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen.

Your landlord should have registered the property as a HMO with the local council. You can contact the council to check this.

In addition to their usual responsibilities, landlords of a HMO must also ensure:

  • Communal areas and shared facilities are clean and in good repair.
  • There are enough cooking and bathroom facilities, and bins, for the number of tenants.
  • Fire safety measures are in place (i.e. working smoke alarms, fire-safe furniture).
  • The property isn’t illegally overcrowded* (also known as statutory overcrowding).
  • Gas safety checks are carried out once a year.
  • Electricity safety checks are carried out every five years.

*Overcrowding can be calculated in two ways: room standard and space standard.

  • Room standard. This looks at the number and sex of people who have to sleep in the same room (including bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and studies). A property is overcrowded by law if two people who are a) of a different sex, b) not a couple, and c) aged 10 or over having to sleep in the same room.
  • Space standard. First, count the number of people living in the property. Anyone aged 10 or over counts as one person, children aged one to nine count as 0.5, and children under one don’t count.

Second, either count the number of rooms or measure the floor space of each room. Do not include any room smaller than 50 square feet or 4.6 square metres, or a room that isn’t a bedroom or living room.

Finally, use Shelter’s figures below to see if your home is overcrowded.

Number of rooms Maximum number of people allowed
1 2
2 3
3 5
4 7.5
5 10

 

Room’s floor space in square feet Room’s floor space in square metres Maximum number of people allowed
50-69 4.6-6.4 0.5
70-89 6.5-8.3 1
90-109 8.4-10.1 1.5
110 10.2 2

Approximately 3.5% of households were overcrowded in the period between 2017 and 2020.

If your privately rented property is overcrowded by law, you can contact your local authority, who will act against the landlord on your behalf.

When your tenancy ends

Getting your deposit back

You have the right to have your deposit returned when your tenancy ends, if you have met the terms of your tenancy agreement. Your landlord must give it back to you within 10 days of you agreeing how much you’ll receive.

Landlords have the right to make deductions from your deposit if:

  • The property is damaged
  • Items are broken or missing
  • They need to pay for cleaning costs
  • You have unpaid rent or bills

They must give you a list of these deductions and the costs. You can ask your landlord for your deposit back if you disagree with these deductions. 

A deposit protection scheme, such as the ones listed above, can usually help with any disputes surrounding deposit returns. It will also protect your deposit until any disagreements have been solved.

What if your deposit is not protected under a scheme?

You have the right to have your deposit returned to you. The landlord may make deductions for the reasons listed above.

However, by law your deposit must be protected by the scheme, and tenants can take landlords to court if they can prove their deposit was not protected. Most landlords would rather pay back the deposit than go to court.

Ending your tenancy early

Sometimes your circumstances change when you do not expect it, and you may need to end your tenancy early. Always give your landlord notice in writing.

If you’re in a fixed term tenancy

Check your tenancy agreement. It may have a break clause, which allows you and your landlord to end the agreement before the original tenancy period ends.

Without this clause, you can only leave early if your landlord agrees. Otherwise, tenants are liable for the remaining rent due for the tenancy, until someone else begins renting the property.

If you’re in a periodic tenancy

You must give a minimum of four weeks’ notice to end the tenancy, unless your landlord has agreed on a shorter notice period.

Evictions

The Housing Act 1988 lists two types of eviction notice:

  1. Section 8 notice seeking possession, when the landlord has reasonable grounds to evict you. Your landlord should be clear about which terms of the tenancy you’ve broken. The minimum amount of notice depends on the grounds upon which they have chosen to evict you, with the maximum notice period at six months.
  2. Section 21 notice seeking possession, when the landlord would like you to move out at the end of your agreement. These are sometimes called ‘no fault evictions’, as the landlord does not need to state a reason. The government is planning to abolish this, although it’s not clear when.

Check your landlord has followed the procedures correctly if you’re served an eviction notice. You can challenge them if they haven’t.

Challenging a Section 8 notice

You can appeal a Section 8 notice if you believe the reasoning the landlord has given is incorrect. The courts will send you information about how to appeal.

Challenging a Section 21 notice

You can appeal a Section 21 notice if:

  • Your landlord has not given you a minimum of six months’ notice
  • They have not served the notice according to your tenancy agreement
  • They have not put your deposit within a deposit protection scheme within the required limit

The court will send you information about how to challenge the notice (known as ‘defending possession’). Always seek legal advice before taking your landlord to court.

 

Guide thanks to Manak Solicitors.

 

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