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A Guide to Tenants Rights

Once a tenant signs and agreement with a landlord and agrees to move into a privately rented property they are entitled to a number of rights which are upheld by law. For those left asking “What are my rights as a tenant?” they comprise the following:

  • To have a clear understanding of who the landlord is
  • Have protection against unlawful or unfair eviction and rent increases
  • To live in a property that is safe to occupy
  • Have the tenancy deposit returned once the rental period expires
  • See safety documentation regarding the rental property
  • Have a written tenancy agreement if the rental period if over three years
  • To be able to live in the property undisturbed

A Tenant’s Right Quiet Enjoyment of a Property

Of course, with a landlord maintaining ownership over a rental property, even when occupied, it can become a grey area on who has overruling access to the property. Despite this ownership, once a landlord accepts a new tenancy agreement and occupants are settled into a property they have an expectation of privacy and a right to live in the property undisturbed.  Even if landlord decides to enter a clause into the tenancy agreements stipulating they can enter the rental property at any point, this cannot be legally upheld and is not enforceable. 

If a landlord wished to gain entry into a rental property if they are required to conduct remedial work they are responsible for throughout the tenancy, then they must provide the tenants with at least 24 hours’ notice. If the landlord refused to abide by this they could be prosecuted for harassment under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. The act details that a landlord will be considered as breaching an offence if they “interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of the household.” Further breaches would be considered valid if the landlord or property owner “persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises in question as a residence.”

What Does a Landlord Have to Provide?

All parties want a tenancy to get off to the best start possible, for a landlord this may mean addressing any reservations or concerns regarding upcoming rent and accessing the property; whereas a tenant will need to be provided specific information about the rental property and their future home.

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Energy Performance Certificate

To this end a landlord is legally obliged to issue new tenants with a valid Energy Performance Certificate, within 28 days of the new tenancy commencing or the landlord receiving the certificate after an inspection. As the name suggests an Energy Performance Certificate, or EPC, reveals the energy efficiency of a property, rating it on a scale from A to G, with the former being the most efficient and the later the least.  This also details predictions on how much it is likely to cost the tenants to heat the property, keep it well lit and what its carbon impact is. Whilst a landlord only has to obtain an EPC for each property every ten years, if the rental receives a rating of “E” or lower, the landlord will be prevented from letting out the property.

Gas Safety Certificate

Likewise, a tenant must be provided with a current Gas Safety Certificate before they move into a rental property. With the implementation of the gas Safety (Installation and use) Regulations 1998, the regulations dictate that a landlord must serve their tenants a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate within 28 days of the safety inspection being carried out. The property owner is also legally required to safeguard these documents for the two years following each annual inspection of their gas appliances.  If the landlord fails to supply the occupants of a rental property with a valid gas Safety Certificate then the penalties can be severe, and is viewed as a criminal offence. If a landlord rents out a property whilst failing to abide by these standards then they could face court action, fines of up to £6000, and even imprisonment.

Deposit Protection Scheme

With tenants being expected to pay rent in advance, produce a holding deposit and provide the landlord with a tenancy deposit, the initial entry into renting can be costly for some. Whilst the holding deposit is often deducted from the first rental payment and with the tenancy deposit not being returned until the end of the rental period, obvious concerns about safeguarding these sums are valid, yet can be easily addressed by the landlord.

 As of the Tenant Fee Act 2019 Landlords are no longer able to request unreasonable amounts for the tenancy deposit, with a limit being placed on the total sum that can be handed over. If the total annual rent charged for a property is below £50,000, the landlord is permitted to take a maximum of the equivalent cost of five weeks rent; however, if the tenant pays over this amount in yearly rent the property owner can request up to six weeks rent for the deposit. Once the deposit is taken the landlord is legally obliged to enter the sum into a recognised deposit protection scheme within 28 days of its receipt.

The landlord is also legally obliged to inform the tenant of any reasons why the full amount would not be returned to them at the end of the tenancy, details of the organisation overseeing the scheme, the rental property the deposit is for, and details of the property owner.

Can You Argue Rent Increases

The amount that a tenant is expected to pay and when these payments are required to be made should be outlined in the tenancy agreement, and clearly understood by both parties before the occupants move into the property.

A landlord is only able to change the rental charge for a property during a tenancy period providing they have either obtained a section 13 notice, or have a rent review clause in the tenancy agreement. If this is not the case then it is likely that if the landlord wants to change the rent they will do so through a new tenancy agreement, something any existing tenants are not legally obliged to agree to or accept the higher rent.

If however, the tenancy agreement does contain a clause that allows the landlord to change the rent during the rental period, it will stipulate how much warning the tenant should receive of the impending increase, when the rental increase is going to happen and the amount by which it is likely to increase.

With this being said, when increasing the rent the landlord must still operate within what is considered a “fair” amount to pay for the property, keeping in line with what similar opportunities are charging in the area. Additionally if the tenant is on a rolling or periodic tenancy agreement, the landlord is only required to give one months’ notice before increasing the amount the tenant has to pay each month.  

Protection From Unlawful Eviction

Once a tenancy agreement has been signed the landlord is legally obliged to follow a specific process when trying to evict a tenant. At the time of writing the UK government has established a series of protectionary measures for renters, with The Coronavirus Act 2020 significantly lengthening the amount of notice that landlords are required to give to tenants before possession proceedings are able to commence. Whilst these changes will be detailed below, we will first address the “normal” timeframes as these are expected to return once the UK eviction ban comes to an end.

The majority of tenancies in the UK are what is referred to as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, meaning landlords only have two options if they choose to pursue a possession order; issuing either a Section 8 or Section 21 Notice.

If a landlord issues a tenant with a Section 21 Notice they are not required to give the occupant any reasoning for its serving. This is because a Section 21 notice simply states that once the agreed tenancy period has come to an end, the landlord wishes for the tenant top vacate the property so the owner can reclaim possession. Whilst less common, a landlord is also able to issue a section 21 notice if they have reached a mutual agreement with the properties occupants to end the tenancy early, enabled by a break clause in the original tenancy agreement.

In an effort to reduce the amount of tenants being wrongfully evicted from rental properties as retaliation for reporting an issue with the landlord, section 21 notices are unable to be issued if the local authority has issued a notice regarding improvements to the property, potential hazards or emergency remedial work in the last six months. In a similar vein, a section 21 notice will also be invalid if the landlord has been served with a formal complaint regarding the safety, structural integrity or overall condition of the rental property by its occupants. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, if the landlord fails to provide tenants with the appropriate documents, such as the Energy Performance Certificate at the start of the tenancy period then a section 21 notice will not be upheld.

If however, the landlord seeks to issue the tenant with a section 8 notice of eviction they are required to submit an application detailing how the occupants of the property have breached the terms of the tenancy agreement.  The reasoning and justifications for serving a section 8 notice are typically, excessive amounts of overdue rent, anti-social behaviour or intentional or malicious damage to the landlord’s property. If you are issued with a section 8 notice of eviction it is imperative to assess the validity of the document as this could determine if the landlord’s application for court ordered possession is upheld. If the Section 8 notice does not accurately detail the landlords claims of grounds for possession, the correct date on which proceedings will commence, alongside ample warning being provided to the tenant, them the notice will be dismissed.

The typical notice period a landlord must provide to a tenant when serving a section 21 notice is eight weeks; however, with the introduction of new government measures tenants in private rentals are entitled to a minimum of six months warning before proceedings begin.  Additionally, in a new tenancy, a landlord is not able to issue a section 21 notice for the first four months of the rental period.

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What Are a Tenant’s Responsibilities

Whilst a tenancy agreement clearly details the legal obligations of the landlord, the document is ultimately defining the expectations from each party; meaning the tenant also holds some key responsibilities to uphold.  Many of the responsibilities of a tenant are to be expected when moving into a rental property; ensuring rent is paid on time, abiding by the terms of the tenancy agreement and keeping the property in a decent state of repair. However, when a new occupant moves into a property they must report any damages that occur, or urgently needed repairs that arise throughout the duration of the tenancy. It goes without saying that a landlord cannot be expected to address issues in their rental properties that they are unaware of. With this in mind, if any problems are raised with the landlord it is good practice to document any communication had, as if he repairs are not carried out these details will be invaluable when turning to the council, or if legal action is taken.

How Do I Make a Complaint Against My Landlord?

If you are unhappy with the behaviour of your landlord is it always advised to try and establish a line of communicated with them in regards to the issue. If this unfortunately doesn’t yield any results then making a formal complaint through a physical letter to your landlord should be your next step. This correspondence should outline what your rights as a tenant are, the issue at hand and how it should be addressed. If the landlord is still reluctant to offer their support then the local council and citizen’s advice can be approached to escalate the matter.

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