Renters don’t always know their rights. Here are some common misunderstandings:
(A word of warning: the information here applies to Assured Shorthold Tenancies or ASTs. Since 1989, this has been by far the most common type of tenancy in the UK. If you live with your landlord, you are a licencee rather than a tenant, and you have fewer rights than this. If you started your tenancy before 1989, you have more.)
- “My landlord has given me notice, so I have to leave when they tell me to.”
- “It’s my landlord’s house, so they can do whatever they like.”
- “Landlords are only putting the rent up because they have to.”
- “My landlord said he’s putting the rent up next month, so I’ve got to pay it.”
- “Going through a letting agency protects me from a bad landlord.”
- “I live in a shared house, so I can’t do anything about a bad landlord.”
- “I can’t complain about my landlord because if I do, they will evict me.”
- “I haven’t got a written contract, so I’ve got no rights.”
- “I shouldn’t expect to get my deposit back; landlords usually take it and that’s just the way it is.”
- “I rent from an agency, so I’m not allowed to know who my landlord is.”
- “If I don’t like what my landlord does, I can go elsewhere.”
- “I don’t want to make my life harder, so I’ll put up with it.”
- “If I don’t like renting, I should just buy my own home.”
- “Private renting is better than renting from the council.”
- “I get housing benefit, so I am a council tenant.”
- “That’s just the way it is; there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Wrong. It is a criminal offence for your landlord to evict you without a court order, and a court order is not the same thing as a notice to leave. Legally, a landlord has to give a minimum of two months’ notice. But after that, you can stay in your home right up until you have received a court order, which usually gives you another few months. You still have to pay rent during this time. You should tell your council what’s happening, in writing, because if your landlord tries to make you move out sooner by intimidating or threatening you, it is a criminal offence and the council can prosecute them. You are allowed to change the locks to protect yourself from harassment, as long as you keep the original lock and put it back on when you leave. If your landlord has not protected your deposit, any notice to leave is invalid.
Wrong. It’s your landlord’s property, but while you’re paying rent it is your home. You do not have to let the landlord into your home if you don’t want to, and you do not have to give them a key. The only time you have to let them in is when they need to do repairs, but they must agree a time with you first, with at least 24 hours’ notice. If they come in without your permission, it is trespassing. Many people, both landlords and renters, think that owning something means you can do whatever you want with it. But a home is so important to a person’s health and wellbeing that rules are there to protect the people living in it. If you own a car, you cannot drive it in any way you want: you have to follow rules about how to drive it so that you don’t harm others. The same principle applies to owning a home and renting it out.
Wrong. Many landlords say this, but actually business is booming for landlords. Monthly rents are much higher than monthly mortgage payments, and landlords are enjoying record profits. Many landlords have already paid off their mortgages, using the income from their tenants, and banks offer cheap deals on Buy to Let (BTL) mortgages. The real reason landlords are increasing rents is because they can: fewer and fewer people can afford to buy their own homes and there is not enough social housing, so more and more people have no choice but to rent privately.
Wrong. Landlords cannot put the rent up just by telling you they’re doing it, or by writing you a letter. Rent can only be increased if you sign a new contract at a higher rent. Unfortunately, the legal minimum tenancy length in the UK is only six months, so some landlords increase the rent each time a short tenancy expires – and if you can’t afford the increase, they just get new tenants who can. But it is worth asking your landlord to justify the increase: some renters tell us they have negotiated the rent down. We have not had rent control in the UK since 1989, so rents are determined by the market, not by quality or by average earnings. You can check what the market rate is for your area at the Valuation Office Agency (www.voa.gov.uk).
Wrong. Letting agents work for the landlord, not for the tenant. Agents charge tenants extortionate fees – sometimes around £500 – but usually, once you have signed up for a house, agents lose all interest in getting repairs done: they tell the tenants that they can’t get in touch with the landlord or that the landlord hasn’t given permission. Some agents are known to encourage landlords to end tenancies every six months because they can put the rent up each time they get new tenants, and the agents can charge new fees each time. Since 1st October 2014, all letting agents have been legally required to belong to one of three recognised redress schemes. If you find one that has not registered with a redress scheme, tell your council: they can fine them £5,000. Some people have started to set up letting agencies that don’t charge renters extortionate fees, like Open Rent, DSS Move or Easy Property. Letting agents are not always transparent about the fees they charge. If yours tries to charge you a fee they have not told you about first, you should report them to the trading standards department at your local council, and your council should fine them £5,000. Find out more about how you can do this here.
Most shared houses have joint tenancy agreements. If one person doesn’t pay their share of the rent, everyone else is liable, and some landlords use this to their advantage. For example, if one renter complains, they try to punish all the others by threatening eviction or rent increases in the hope that the other renters will then turn on the one who complained. Or they try to trick individual tenants into thinking that all the others have agreed to something they haven’t agreed to, like a rent increase. But if you all stick together and support each other, joint tenancies can be more powerful. A group is always more powerful than a single voice.
Sadly, it’s true that retaliatory evictions (also called revenge evictions, no-fault evictions or Section 21 evictions) are very common in areas of high demand like London. But in most other developed countries, renters are protected against them – either by longer minimum tenancies, as in Europe, or by specific legal protection against retaliation, as in some US states. So it doesn’t have to be this way. Since October 2015, a Section 21 eviction notice is invalid if your landlord has not protected your deposit in a recognised scheme, or if your home hasn’t got a gas safety certificate, or if there is a ‘category 1’ safety hazard in your home that your council knows about. It’s also invalid if your council runs a landlord licensing scheme and your landlord has failed to get a licence. If you get a Section 21, tell your council straight away – ask for someone in the housing department who deals with private renting.
Wrong. As long as you have proof that you’ve paid rent (for example, from your bank statement) then you have exactly the same rights as someone with a written tenancy agreement. The standard tenancy is called an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
Wrong. Surprisingly few renters are aware that since 2007, landlords have had a legal obligation to put your deposit in a protection scheme and give you proof of the protection within 30 days of the start of your tenancy. If they try to deduct money from your deposit after you move out, the deposit scheme will provide an independent resolution service and will decide what is fair. Remember, ‘wear and tear’ is allowed; you can only be charged if you have caused serious damage. If your landlord has failed to protect your deposit, you can take them to court and win three times the value of the deposit. You can check if your deposit is protected at Shelter’s website.
Wrong. Anyone can find out who owns their home (and how much they paid for it) by checking the Land Registry and paying £3. You just need your postcode and house number. Go to https://www.gov.uk/search-property-information-land-registry . When you have the name of the owner, you should also check with the HMRC that your landlord is paying tax on their rental income.
Landlords often say this, but they know that people can’t keep moving house every six months: it affects people’s health, relationships, jobs, schools and communities. A home is not like a T-shirt or a sandwich: if you don’t like the price or the quality, you can’t just walk away and choose a different one – and you certainly can’t do it every six months.
Even if you’re willing to tolerate broken central heating, a leaking roof, spiraling rents or landlord bullying, it still affects your fellow renters – whether it’s the ones you share a house with or just other people in your position. The worst landlords behave badly partly because they think they can get away with it. Do your fellow renters a favour: don’t put up with it.
Landlords often say this, but they know that buying a home is impossible for the majority of private renters in London – even those with quite high salaries. Most people do not choose to rent privately; we do it because we have no choice. The average price of a home in London is more than 10 times the average salary, and prices are rising all the time. But for landlords, it’s a great time to buy; business is booming.
Not necessarily. Social tenants (people who rent from the council or from a housing association) usually have a different type of tenancy, which means they get long term tenure rather than the standard 6 or 12 months that private renters get. And rents in the social sector are usually set at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which means they are lower than the market rents that private renters pay. Lots of private renters would prefer to rent from the council or a housing association, but because there is not enough social housing, waiting lists in some areas are decades long.
Wrong. People get housing benefit if they can’t cover all their rent, whether they rent from the council, from a housing association or from a private landlord. If you pay rent to someone who is not the council or a housing association, you are a private renter – whether you get housing benefit or not.
Wrong. Private renters in other countries have a much better deal. There are tighter regulations about rent increases, tenancy length and repairs, so renters can have proper homes. In lots of European countries, people choose to rent rather than buy: this is not a different ‘cultural attitude’, it is simply because renting is better in those countries than it is here. Even here in the UK, we had a form of rent control until 1989, and tenancies were longer than the standard six months that we have now.
Tenants’ Rights Sussed is a great e-book by Ben Reeve-Lewis who works for the Rogue Landlord Enforcement team at Lewisham Council.
Shelter advice helpline: 0808 800 4444 (free call, even from mobiles)