Your rights as a tenant and what you can do about problem landlords
What your rights are as a tenant and when a landlord can take action against you
For the millions of people renting homes across the UK it’s important they know their rights as tenants.
Unfortunately tenant and landlord relationships can be difficult when problems arise.
Under such situations both parties need to now their rights and obligations.
We’ve spelt out below some of the common problems and the best way to solve them.
Boiler broken? It’s your landlord’s job to fix it. But what if they don’t?
Your landlord is responsible for most repairs in your home. This applies to private, council and housing association landlords.
Nick Denton, housing advisor for the Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “A landlord’s responsibilities include the structure and exterior of the building, sinks, baths, toilets, pipes and drains, heating and hot water, chimneys and ventilation, gas appliances and electrical wiring.
“A tenant is unlikely to be responsible for minor repairs, for example changing fuses and light bulbs. Equally a landlord is unlikely to be responsible for decorations or gardens and fencing.”
How to deal with a repair – when your landlord won’t fix it
When one 34-year-old woman whose landlord lived abroad noticed severe damp and black mould on the walls of her bathroom, she tried to contact him – as she was concerned about the health risks.
She said: “He told me to scrub it off and put the phone down.
“It wouldn’t come off the walls, and the black mould was getting worse due to the fact we didn’t have double-glazed windows.
“After weeks of trying to get our landlord to sort the problem, we had to pay for it ourselves as it was a waste of time trying to get a reasonable answer from him.”
Mr Denton said: “If there is a problem with damp, your landlord could be responsible, but not always as it depends on what type of damp it is and what caused it. Regardless of this – they shouldn’t ignore you.
“If you are unsure whether your landlord is responsible, check your tenancy agreement, as it could state that your landlord is responsible for repairs over and above the legal minimum.”
If the property is in an unsafe condition and your landlord won’t repair it, contact your local authority environmental health or trading standards department. They have powers to make landlords deal with serious health and safety hazards.
2. Lack of communication
A 25-year-old man told the Manchester Evening News he had been repeatedly ignored by his letting agency.
“We had problems with our letting agency from the moment we moved into our apartment. On the day of the move, we stumbled upon numerous problems – from finding hundreds of toe nail clippings on the floor to broken furniture.
“We called and emailed the property management team several times, constantly being ignored. It made the experience of moving a complete nightmare.”
Victoria Green from Citizens Advice deals with this issue frequently. She said: “If your landlord refuses to help, you may have the right to take it further. If they ignore your attempt to report an issue you should put your complaint in writing and keep a copy of the letter or email.
“If they STILL ignore your complaint then you may be able to take legal action to obtain an order forcing your landlord to complete repairs and in certain cases – to pay compensation. Legal Aid is available in certain cases. Otherwise you might be able to instruct a solicitor on a ‘no win, no fee arrangement’.
“If you have household insurance you should check your policy to see whether it covers legal expenses.”
3. Moving out
When you move into a rented property, you should by law sign a tenancy agreement.
This should say how much notice you need to give your landlord before you leave the property.
You can move out early without paying rent for the full tenancy if there is a break clause in your tenancy agreement or your landlord agrees to end the tenancy early.
You can also leave if your tenancy is up after giving your notice – whether it is fixed-term or not.
Ged McPartlin, director of Ascend Properties, said: “Whether you can move out early or not really depends on the landlord.
“As a letting agency, we can always pose the question to them and, if they agree, the tenant is then free to leave before the end of the tenancy.
“However, most landlords will not want to lose a tenant and thus their rental income.
“Standard practice is for the tenant to pay a re-letting fee – this covers the cost of re-marketing the property, and the tenant will be contractually responsible for the rental payments up until a new tenant is found and signs their tenancy agreement.”
Ending a joint tenancy
You’re a joint tenant if there’s more than one tenant named in the tenancy agreement.
You can only end a fixed term tenancy early if all the joint tenants decide to use a break clause and give the required notice or get the landlord’s agreement to surrender the tenancy.
Victoria Green from Citizens Advice said: “It’s usually best to explain the situation to your landlord or housing association and ask them to update the tenancy agreement.
“If you don’t, you’re both still responsible for rent and the person who leaves can still give notice to end the tenancy.
“If you plan to apply for social housing, your application might also be rejected if you’re still named on another tenancy agreement.
“You can apply for a ‘transfer of tenancy’ if your landlord refuses to change your contract – this is a court order that can change your ex-partner’s tenancy to your name, or remove their name from a joint tenancy.”
Rebecca Whitehead, director at Gascoigne Halman estate agents, said: “Sometimes people’s circumstances change.
“Agents and landlords should be understanding of this and as long as there is no cost implication to the landlord we should help facilitate an early surrender of the tenancy.”
4. Rent increase
If your landlord or letting agency has told you your rent is about to increase they may not be legally allowed to charge you more.
According to the local GOV website, during a rolling tenancy your landlord can’t normally increase the rent more than once a year without your agreement. For a fixed-term tenancy they can only increase the rent if you agree.
If you don’t agree, when the fixed term ends your landlord can use a ‘landlord’s notice proposing a new rent’ form to raise the price you pay.
They must give you a minimum of one month’s notice – or six months if you have an annual tenancy agreement.
Some landlords, however, believe a good tenant is worth cutting their losses for.
Janine Robinson, a private landlord from Manchester, said: “I believe if you find a good tenant they’re worth gold.
“If they are no hassle, keep the flat in great condition and it covers the cost of my mortgage, I’m happy.
“However, interest rates went up in December and I did have to put the rent up by an extra £50. My tenant still gets a bargain but I also have peace of mind and no stress.”
5. Rent arrears
A written tenancy agreement will set out the amount of rent payable by the tenant and when it is due.
If a tenant falls behind on their rent it is best to address the issue as early as possible so it doesn’t become worse.
Options include a payment plan or a mutual agreement to end the tenancy early if the problem is likely to persist.
A landlord can’t end a tenancy agreement early due to rent arrears without a court order, unless the tenant wants to leave.
However, pressuring tenants to end a tenancy early could be perceived as harassment or illegal eviction, both of which are criminal offences.
If you are being forced out illegally, contact the police. If your landlord wants you to leave the property, they must notify you in writing, with the right amount of notice – you can only be legally removed from the property if the landlord gets a court order.
A court order for repossession can usually be obtained if a landlord is owed two or more months rent, but this is often a lengthy process and it is much better for landlords to work with the tenant where possible.
Landlords have the option of serving a two-month section 21 notice that will guarantee they get the property back and is often a faster route, providing the tenancy is outside the fixed term.
6. Neglect and damage
Tenants have a level of responsibility to keep their property clean and in a good condition.
There may also be other conditions specified in the tenancy agreement, such as keeping the property smoke-free and pet-free.
Tenants are also expected to carry out basic maintenance such as changing lightbulbs.
Landlords have the right to claim back the cost of repairing any damage caused by the tenant, for example by deducting from their damage deposit.
The exception is for ‘fair wear and tear’ to furniture and carpets, for which the landlord can’t charge the tenant.
However, if the damage goes way beyond what is considered ‘fair wear and tear’ and the tenant will not either repair it themselves or pay the repair costs, a landlord has the right to serve an eviction notice and deduct the cost from the damage deposit.
As a last resort a landlord can go through a legal process to ask the tenant to repair the damage at their own expense, but this can prove a costly and complicated exercise.
7. Antisocial behavior
Private landlords are ultimately responsible for the behavior that takes place in or around the properties they rent out.
So if it is brought to a landlord’s attention that their tenant is causing trouble in their neighbourhood, they must take action to address it, or could risk facing action themselves.
The landlord can start by investigating the complaint and speaking or writing to the tenant asking them to change their behaviour.
If the behaviour continues the landlord has the right to start eviction proceedings.
8. Landlord won’t release your security deposit
Normally, you’ll be asked to pay a security deposit when you move in to your new place. This is usually the equivalent of a month’s rent, but can be more.
The deposit is returned at the end of the tenancy agreement but many tenants have trouble getting the full amount back.
One tenant told the Manchester Evening News: “I had the apartment professionally cleaned and there was no damage whatsoever. I left a bin bag outside the front door as the bins were full – and because of this the agents refused to return my full deposit.
“They deducted £100 for this and another £150 because the apartment ‘wasn’t clean enough’. I was furious. It wasn’t until I left a scathing review on Facebook that they emailed me saying they would give me the money back if I took the review down.”
The Citizens Advice team said: “The action you take against your landlord will depend on whether your deposit is protected in a tenancy deposit scheme – most deposits should be.
“You can use your scheme’s ‘alternative dispute resolution’ service to help you get your deposit back.”
Rebecca Whitehead advises tenants to take photographs as evidence. She said: “When you move into a property you should be given an inventory and schedule of condition – and it’s really important that you read it before you sign.
“At the end of your tenancy, find your inventory and check you are leaving the property as you found it. Any deduction the landlord wishes to make needs to be made clear to you in writing with a clear reason and a copy of any quotes.”