We read a lot about rogue landlords in the press but, on the whole, the vast majority are law-abiding and any problems you encounter as a tenant should be easily resolved.
The information here largely relates to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own regulations. For more information, visit:
As with any issue, prevention is better than cure and by doing your research before you rent a property you can improve your chances of a happy rental situation.
Trade bodies and landlord associations keep their members up to date with the latest legislation and have recognised codes of practice. There are two main ways of renting a property privately:
Make sure you read through the contract so you are fully aware of both your and your landlord’s/letting agent’s responsibilities, eg regarding paying utility bills, garden maintenance, etc. This can reduce the risk of a dispute later on, as all parties will have realistic expectations.
Protecting the deposit in a government-approved scheme within 30 days of the start of the tenancy is a legal requirement for Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) so if your landlord cannot answer this question, alarm bells should ring.
This is a set of documents which the landlord is legally obliged to provide at the start of the tenancy. As well as the deposit information, you should be given:
When you view the property, look for items such as smoke alarms (a legal requirement) and carbon monoxide detectors (highly recommended and a legal requirement where there is solid fuel). Look for any hazards or damp patches, too, as it is illegal to let a property which is unsafe.
If you are renting a room in a house share (House in Multiple Occupation, or HMO) it may need a licence, so check this out. Some areas, such as Nottingham, many parts of London, Oxford, Gateshead and Blackpool to name a few, require all rental properties to have a licence.
This makes a record of the contents and condition of the entire property and must be signed by you and your landlord/letting agent. Take your own photos, too, especially of any scratches or marks which are present at the start of the tenancy.
Find out who you should call if there is a problem, eg the landlord or letting agent, and when you can call. Is there an out-of-hours emergency number for issues such as flooding?
These are some of the problems you could face, and how to deal with them. If you are renting via a letting agent, you should approach them rather than the landlord.
If your tenancy is an AST your landlord is legally obliged to protect your deposit (see above).
For more information on taking your landlord to court for non-protection of the deposit, and for links to template letters you can use, see What if I can’t get my rental deposit back?
If the property is managed by a letting agent, you should report any repairs to them, unless you are told otherwise via the tenancy agreement. Make sure you do so in writing; they have to respond within 14 days or you can report them to the council.
Check your tenancy agreement as it may be your responsibility to fix certain minor problems, including damage you caused accidentally. The landlord is usually responsible for major repairs.
Early notice of problems can prevent them from escalating. Having said that, it’s important to use common sense – a full-blown leak should be reported immediately, day or night, but a dripping tap can wait until the next working day.
Email is fine, but keep a copy, including the date you first reported the issue. Landlords in England are legally obliged to respond to repair requests within 14 days, so knowing when you first reported the problem is essential.
The timeframe for carrying out repairs is defined merely as ‘reasonable’, which is where disputes often arise. You may think it’s reasonable for a boiler repair to be carried out the next day but if your landlord/agent cannot get a plumber immediately, this will not be feasible. However, if the weather is cold and you or another household member is vulnerable (eg elderly or very young), it is reasonable to ask your landlord to provide portable heaters while you wait.
If the problem persists, gather evidence, eg photos of the damage, or receipts if you have had work done yourself or replaced any items.
Important: You cannot withhold rent if your landlord refuses to carry out repairs. Keep paying the rent as normal or the landlord may try to evict you.
It is important to follow the correct procedures for escalating a complaint, whether to a landlord or to a letting agent. You may also report the problem to your local council housing officer.
If you rent a whole house or flat, the landlord cannot enter your property without permission or without giving you at least 24 hours’ notice, preferably in writing, and they must visit at a time to suit you. The only exception to this is in an emergency situation, such as fire or flood, in which case they can enter at any time, even without permission.
When you rent a room, the landlord may enter the communal areas of the property at any time, although good ones will give notice.
Assuming they have followed the correct procedures, you should not refuse access to your landlord for periodic checks and visits. If you do:
As long as it is not an emergency and you are renting the whole property, this can be classed as harassment under the 1988 Housing Act.
If this happens, write to your landlord and/or letting agent, asking them to stop. Keep a copy of all correspondence. If they persist, contact Citizens Advice on 0345 404 0506 or Shelter on 0808 800 4444. If you feel threatened, go to the police.
You have the right to change the locks, although check your tenancy agreement as it may be stipulated that they hold a set of keys. You should still grant access for pre-arranged visits.
Check your tenancy agreement as it may contain the procedure for rent increases. By law, any rent increases must be fair and in line with local market rates.
If you are on a fixed term tenancy (eg six months, a year, two years), your rent can only be increased if you agree, or when the fixed term ends.
If you are on a periodic tenancy, which runs on a month-by-month basis after the initial fixed term is over, your landlord can only increase the rent once a year. Any additional increases must be with your agreement.
It is easier and cheaper for your landlord for you to stay in the property, as reletting costs time and money, so you can use this as a negotiating tool when it comes to proposed rent increases.
If you feel you would benefit from legal advice, and do not qualify for Legal Aid, you can contact an organisation such as Advice4Renters.
If you are having a problem with your landlord or letting agent, please get in touch with us and we will do our best to help.