To assert our tenants’ rights confidently, we need to be sure of what rights we actually have when renting.
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 licensee 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.”
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.
It is your landlord’s property, but while you’re paying rent, it is your home. You don’t have to let the landlord into your home if you don’t want to, and you don’t 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 the landlord goes into your home without your permission, it is trespassing. A home is so important to a person’s health and well-being that rules are in place to protect us in our home. If you own a car, you cannot drive it in whatever way you wish: you have to follow rules about how to drive so that you don’t harm others. The same principle applies to owning a home and renting it out.
Many landlords say this but actually, business is booming for landlords. Monthly rents are much higher than monthly mortgage payments and landlords are enjoying high profits. Many landlords have already paid off their mortgages, using tenants’ income, and banks offer cheap deals on Buy to Let (BTL) mortgages. The real reason landlords increase rents is because they can. Fewer and fewer people can afford to buy a home and there is not enough social housing, so more and more people have no choice but to rent privately.
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).
Letting agents work for the landlord and their power is quite limited. The Tenant Fees Act protects renters from paying letting agents’ fees, in most circumstances. All letting agents are legally required to belong to one of three recognized redress schemes and also, to a client money protection scheme. Agents must display details of their memberships clearly, on their website and in their office. If you find an agent that has not registered with a redress scheme or client money protection scheme, tell the trading standards department of your council. Trading standards can issue a fine of £5,000. If an agent tries to charge you a fee, check whether it’s a legal charge here. If it is not, you should report that agent to the trading standards department at the local council.
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.
That doesn’t matter. As long as you have proof that you’ve paid rent (for example, from your bank statement), you have exactly the same rights as someone with a written tenancy agreement. The standard tenancy is called an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
Since 2007, landlords have had a legal obligation to register your deposit with a deposit protection scheme and give you proof of that, within 30 days of the start of your tenancy. If a landlord tries to deduct money from your deposit after you move out, the deposit scheme will provide an independent resolution service to decide what is fair. Remember, ‘wear and tear’ is normal and cannot be deducted from your deposit. You can only be charged if you have caused damage. If the 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.
Every renter is entitled, by law, to know the name and UK correspondence address of the property owner (the landlord). If you request the information, in writing, from an agent, they should respond within 21 days. If they refuse or fail to do so, they are guilty of a criminal offence (Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985). If the landlord is a company, you have a right to obtain the names and addresses of the directors. The local authority (the council) can take action against an agent failing to provide the landlord’s contact details. 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 year. So doing negatively affects people’s health, relationships, jobs, schooling and community ties. 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.
People who rent from the council or from a housing association usually have a different type of tenancy, which offers better security of tenure than the standard 6 or 12 months most private renters. And rents in the social sector are usually set within Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, making them more affordable 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.
Private renters in other countries have a much better deal. There are tighter regulations about rent increases, tenancy length and repairs, so renters can enjoy peace of mind in 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, tenancies created before 1989 were subject to rent controls, and could not be terminated by a landlord without a good reason.
Tessa Shepperson, a housing lawyer, has designed a free e-course in renters’ rights.
Shelter London Advice Centre gives expert help with renters’ problems. Call them on
0344 515 1540 if you’re aged 25+
0330 053 091 if you’re under 25 years of age