There has been plenty of publicity in recent times about how difficult it is to get on the property ladder. For many of us this means that renting is a reality – now and for the foreseeable future. The UK rentals market is not the easiest to navigate. Rent prices are high, landlords are not that accountable and there isn’t that much security for tenants. However, you do still have rights as a tenant in the UK. Making yourself aware of both your rights and the risks of renting can ensure you have a better overall experience.
What are the main risks of being a tenant?
Being evicted – you are protected from unlawful eviction in the UK (see below). However, you must be a tenant to benefit from this. If you are a subtenant or a lodger this won’t apply to you. The best way to make sure that you have as much protection as you can is to sign a tenancy agreement. Most standard tenancies are called Assured Shorthold Tenancies. If your landlord doesn’t have a tenancy agreement you can download a template from the Government information website.
Losing your deposit – a landlord will ask you to pay a deposit when you begin the tenancy. This is usually 4-6 weeks rent, paid before you move in. The deposit can be used by the landlord to cover any damage you cause to the property, unpaid bills or missed rent. Sadly, landlords will often do their best to hold on to a tenant’s deposit. It’s important to do an inventory when you move in and when you move out to show the state of the property. This prevents landlords from charging you for damage that already existed before you arrived. You should make yourself fully aware of the Govenment’s tenancy deposit protection scheme (see below).
Unsafe properties – tenants often complain of problems with damp, mould, lack of security and even carbon monoxide fumes. Landlords are legally required to get a Gas Safety Check every year to make sure that any gas appliances, such as the boiler, are in good working order. Electrical appliances don’t require the same annual check and certification but must still be regularly inspected to make sure they are safe. You should also be provided with a secure property, hot water, somewhere to dispose of rubbish and a property that is not overcrowded.
What are your legal rights as a tenant?
Your tenancy agreement will set out exactly what rights you have. However, there are also rights as a tenant that are protected by law no matter what the tenancy agreement says. Here are four of the most important rights you have:
To have your deposit protected – there are some very strict rules about how landlords (and agents) must deal with deposits. It’s worth noting that your deposit remains yours throughout the process, it never becomes the property of the landlord. This means that if deductions are to be made at the end of a tenancy agreement you have to agree to them before any of your money can be taken. Your landlord must legally protect your deposit with a government deposit protection scheme. This is to ensure that when the time comes to repay it the landlord cannot say they no longer have it. If your landlord does not protect your deposit you can make a claim against them for the return of the deposit plus compensation. The compensation could be several times the amount of the deposit. Where a deposit has been protected with a deposit protection scheme you also have access to that scheme’s dispute resolution service. So, if you don’t agree with deductions the landlord wants to make from your deposit you can dispute them.
Not to be discriminated against – you have the right not to be treated unfairly because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation.
To live in a property in a reasonable state of repair – the landlord is responsible by law for maintaining and repairing sinks and basins, the structure and exterior of the property, water and gas pipes and electric wiring, as well as fixed heaters.
Protection from unlawful eviction – your landlord must give you notice before asking you to leave. Your tenancy will set out how much notice is required – this is usually one or two months. With an assured shorthold tenancy, the end of this notice must not fall before the end of the first six months of the tenancy. If you don’t leave at the end of the notice period the landlord must follow a strict procedure to evict you. This involves obtaining a court order and using court appointed bailiffs. The landlord cannot remove you – or your belongings – themselves.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley