A few weeks ago we asked readers for their worst experiences of landlords and letting agents. Some of the stories were horrifying and several not actually legal. So here's a quick guide to your rights as a tenant in the private rented sector.
This is a simple one: if your tenancy started after 6 April 2007, the landlord has to use a tenancy deposit scheme (TDP). There are three that are backed by the government: Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Your landlord is not allowed to spend your deposit, as happened to two of our readers, or ask you to just 'trust them'. Within 30 days, your landlord has to confirm which deposit scheme they've used, the situations under which they might keep some of the deposit, how to apply for your deposit back at the end of a tenancy and what to do in the event of a dispute. If your landlord refuses to protect your deposit you should contact your local county court (London has several: find your local court). It could be worth your while — the judge has the power to order the landlord to pay you up to three times the amount of your deposit.
This should also be a simple one, but too many landlords can't be bothered to spend money to make sure you live somewhere that doesn't leak, isn't a fire hazard, make you ill or leave you to freeze.Your landlord is legally responsible for repairs to:
- the structure and exterior (so: roof, walls, windows, etc)
- baths, sinks, toilets, pipes and drains
- heating and hot water (so: the boiler)
- gas appliances, pipes and ventilation
- electrics and wiring
- any damage caused from landlord-approved repairs. If you attempt a repair and bodge it, that's your responsibility.
Your contract may list other things that your landlord is responsible for maintaining, but the above is the basic minimum. If there's an emergency then you're perfectly within your rights to call the water board or gas supplier, but let your landlord know as well. For non-urgent repairs, Shelter has a good guide to the process to follow and some sample letters to use if your landlord isn't doing anything.
If you've had enough and the problems are causing damage to your health, your council's environmental health department can do an assessment and may serve legal notice on your landlord. If that doesn't work, the council can do the work itself and bill your landlord, or fine them up to £5,000.
There is an option to do the work yourself, or get it done by professionals, and take the money out of the rent but you don't actually have a legal right to withhold rent, and if your landlord's a total bastard you could end up being evicted (see below). Shelter has another guide to the process you should follow, and sample letters: the basic takeaway is to keep your landlord informed at each and every step. Even then, there's nothing to say the landlord won't decide you're troublesome and refuse to renew your tenancy at the end of the year.
Harassment / your landlord turning up without notice
Several readers complained about their landlords or the letting agents letting themselves in without notice or permission. And quite rightly — that's trespass. You're supposed to be given at least 24 hours notice if your landlord wants access for non-emergency repairs.
The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 makes it an offence to "do acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of a tenant or anyone living with him or her" (as well as withdrawing services; e.g. if your landlord turns off the power or water in an attempt to drive you out, it's an offence under this law). Shelter defines harassment as
- behaving in a threatening or violent way towards you
- deliberately moving in neighbouring tenants who make your life a misery
- harassing you because of your race, gender or sexuality
- forcing you to sign away your legal rights.
Then there's what they term unreasonable behaviour which, depending on the amount and context, could count as harassment:
- interfering with your mail
- coming into your home without permission, whether you're there or not
- coming round without notice, especially late at night
- preventing you from having guests.
Legally, everything becomes a bit of a grey area if your landlord is just a berk with no sense of boundaries, rather than trying to force you out. If you start to feel threatened or less secure because of your landlord's behaviour, start keeping a record of every instance — it'll help you in case you need to take it further. You can also talk to your local Citizen's Advice Bureau or the housing team at your council for advice. And don't be afraid to call the police if your landlord is doing something that makes you feel unsafe, like trying to gain access late at night.
This is all well and good, you might be saying, but if I try to assert my completely legal rights to live in a decently maintained home and not have my deposit stolen from me, my landlord may well kick me out. This, sadly, is true, and the lack of regulation and protection shows exactly why renters have the shitty end of the stick in the UK.
A 'retaliatory eviction' happens when a landlord ends your tenancy because you complained about the poor state of your living conditions. 'No fault' evictions — when the tenancy ends and either the rent is increased beyond the reach of the tenant or the landlord decides not to renew the tenant's contract — are increasing, and is the reason a third of newly homeless households became homeless in the final quarter of 2013. And as this case demonstrates, if you challenge an eviction you could end up ruining your references — and chances of renting in future.
Unfortunately, if you're at the end of your tenancy there's nothing you can do if the landlord decides to evict you. So long as the correct procedure has been followed, the court has no option but to grant a possession order, and that's you out of a home. If you find yourself at risk of this happening, get advice as soon as you can — if nothing else, just to make sure that your impending eviction is actually legal.
Get more information about ending assured shorthold tenancies (the form most private renters will have) on Shelter's website. Shelter also has a petition you can sign to support Sarah Teather MP's work on ending revenge evictions.
Renting is a two-way street. If you trash the place, don't pay your rent on time and cause problems for your neighbours you not only make your eviction more likely — at the end of the tenancy, and also provide grounds for mid-tenancy eviction — you're also helping to blacken the reputations of the blameless tenants who come after you.
Photo by msmornington from the Londonist Flickr pool