Renting - being a tenant

Front Door Of A Beautiful Georgian Era English Town HouseTenancy agreements

A tenancy agreement will usually state:

  • your name as the tenant and that of the landlord
  • the type of tenancy you have (see below)
  • the address of the property
  • the address for the landlord or agent who will be looking after the property
  • the rent, when you have to pay it and if it includes bills such as council tax and utilities
  • the deposit, what it covers and when you will get it back
  • the duties of the landlord to ensure the home is kept in good repair
  • your obligations, such as keeping the property in good condition and paying bills
  • whether smoking or animals are allowed in the property
  • an inventory of furniture and other goods that the landlord provides and their condition

Your tenancy agreement does not have to be in writing. But it is generally recommended to have a written agreement in case there is a dispute between you and your landlord about what was agreed.

The letting is not a tenancy but a licence to occupy, for example because you have to live there because of your job. A licence to occupy is a legal agreement for non-exclusive occupation of the property. This means that you have the landlord’s permission to stay in the property but the landlord also has access at the same time. Most licenses to occupy are for a short period of time but can last up to a year.

If you pay rent to a private landlord and you do not live with him or her, you are likely to have:

  • an assured shorthold tenancy
  • an assured tenancy
  • a regulated or protected tenancy

Assured shorthold tenancy

If the tenancy was started on or after 15 January 1989, you will most likely have an assured shorthold tenancy. This is the most common type of tenancy for renting private residential properties. The main requirement is that you and your landlord agree on the minimum length and rent. You then have the right to challenge changes to the agreed rent.

An assured shorthold tenancy agreement is normally for six months, but it can be for longer, such as 12 months. You can stay in the property for the length of the agreement. As long as you have not breached the terms of your tenancy, such as not paying rent, the landlord cannot enter the property without your permission or until the agreement is over. To regain possession after the end of the agreement, they have to give you two months’ notice in writing. (This may mean that you receive notice when there is less than two months left of the agreement.)

You will not have an assured shorthold tenancy if:

  • your landlord is a local council
  • it began or was agreed before 15 January 1989
  • the rent is more than £100,000 a year
  • the rent is less than £250 a year (or less than £1,000 in London)
  • it is a business tenancy or tenancy of licensed premises
  • it is a holiday let

Assured tenancy

An assured tenancy is normally used by a housing association or by a housing trust. As a tenant, you can stay in the property as long as you comply with the terms of the agreement. The landlord cannot give you notice to leave unless you breach the terms of the agreement.

Regulated or protected tenancy

If your tenancy began before 15 January 1989, you may have a regulated or protected agreement. This type of tenancy offers you the highest level of protection against eviction and increased rent.

You will not normally have a regulated tenancy if:

  • your tenancy began on or after 15 January 1989, unless the contract was agreed before this date
  • you and your landlord have lived in the same house or flat since the start of the tenancy
  • your landlord is a local authority, a new town development corporation, a registered provider of social housing, a housing trust which is a registered charity, the regulator of social housing, Housing for Wales or the Development Board for Rural Wales
  • your landlord is a government department
  • your landlord is the university or college where you are studying
  • your landlord provides board or attendance, such as cleaning your room and washing linen, which form a large part of the rent
  • the letting is for holiday or business purposes
  • no rent is payable or the rent is a low rent

Making changes to your tenancy agreement

You will not be able to make changes to your tenancy agreement unless both you and your landlord agree to the changes.

Paying deposits and tenancy deposit schemes

You will usually have to pay the letting agent or landlord a deposit to secure your tenancy. This will be roughly equal to four to six weeks’ rent. When the tenancy finishes, if there is any damage to the property or the furniture the landlord provided, the costs of fixing or replacing can be deducted from the deposit. The original condition will be stated in the inventory that is part of the tenancy agreement.

With an assured shorthold tenancy, when your landlord or letting agent receives your deposit, they must by law give it to a deposit scheme so that they cannot unfairly deprive you of it. 

Getting help with rent and council tax

As a tenant, it is your responsibility to pay the rent and not your landlord’s responsibility to collect it. If you do not pay your rent, your landlord can evict you. If you are having difficulties with paying your rent or council tax because you are on a low income, you may be eligible for Housing Benefit or a Council Tax Reduction.

Ending your tenancy

Your right to end a tenancy agreement as well as your right to stay and be protected from eviction will depend on whether you have a fixed term or a periodic agreement. As the name suggests, a fixed term tenancy lasts for a specific period of time, for example six or 12 months, after which the tenancy comes to an end. A periodic tenancy runs from one rent period to another, for example from week to week or month to month, indefinitely until you or the landlord terminates it.

If your fixed term tenancy is finishing and both you and the landlord explicitly agree that you can continue to live there, you will usually negotiate a new fixed term tenancy. The agreement will usually be the same, although sometimes the rent might go up.

If neither you nor your landlord give explicit notice to end the tenancy and you continue to live in the property without the landlord’s objection but without a new agreement, you will have a periodic tenancy. You will still have to pay rent at the same frequency as before.

If you have a fixed term agreement, you can end your tenancy:

  • by surrender, which means you and your landlord agree to the tenancy ending (recommended in writing)
  • by using any break clause in your tenancy agreement, which will allow your tenancy to end early and state how much notice to give

If you do not end a fixed term tenancy properly, you may have to pay the rent for the rest of the time covered by the fixed term even if you are not living there.

Your landlord can end your tenancy at the end of the fixed term if you have been given two months written notice, in the form of a notice to quit. It may be possible for your landlord to end a fixed term tenancy early if you have breached certain terms of the agreement.

If you have a periodic tenancy, you can end your tenancy by giving your landlord a notice to quit.

  • You will normally have to give at least four weeks’ notice or a calendar month if it is a monthly tenancy.
  • The notice must be in writing
  • The notice must end on the first or last day of the rent period, unless the tenancy agreement allows it to be ended on a different day. Once the notice expires, your agreement will have ended.

Your landlord can end your periodic tenancy because he or she has the legal right to get their property back at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy.  But your landlord must serve you with a section 21 notice to quit, which can be issued at any time during the periodic tenancy. A section 21 notice to quit can only be used to regain possession of a property at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy.

Unlawful eviction

An eviction will be unlawful if your landlord makes you leave your home without following the proper legal process. This is also a criminal offence. Some examples of actions that can be taken by your landlord that would amount to an illegal eviction include:

  • changing the locks while you are out
  • threatening you or forcing you to leave
  • physically throwing you out
  • stopping you from getting into certain parts of your home

The proper legal process for eviction will depend on the type of agreement you have with your landlord and the reasons why the landlord wants you to leave. In most cases, this will usually involve the landlord giving you a ‘notice to quit’ or a ‘notice seeking possession’ within a specified time.

Your landlord can only end a tenancy before the fixed term is up if you have breached the tenancy agreement. If this has happened, the landlord must make an application to a court for possession.

In order to apply for possession, your landlord will need to serve you a ‘section 8 notice’. This notice will state that the landlord intends to seek possession of the property and also the ground(s) on which they are seeking possession. Without a valid notice, the landlord will not get possession. The amount of notice your landlord is required to give you will depend on the ground(s) on which he or she is seeking possession.

If you still remain in the property on the day the court says you should leave, your landlord must return to the court and ask for a bailiff's warrant. The only person who is legally allowed to physically remove you from your home is a court bailiff. If your landlord forces you to leave your home at any point in this process before the bailiffs arrive then you have been illegally evicted.

Although you are generally protected from illegal eviction because your landlord has to go through the legal process, you may have to bear the cost of this.If you remain in your home after the end of your notice period, you may be liable for the court costs that your landlord has to pay to get the possession order and bailiff's warrant.

If you have been illegally evicted, you may be classed as legally homeless and your council has a duty to provide help. Your local council’s tenancy relations officer may also be able to help you deal with the landlord.

Your landlord’s repairing responsibilities to you

Your landlord is responsible for repairing and keeping in working order:

  • the structure and exterior of the premises, including drains, gutters and external pipes
  • the water and gas pipes and electric wiring (including, for example, taps and sockets)
  • the basins, sinks, baths and toilets
  • fixed heaters (for example, gas fires) and water heaters (but not gas or electric cookers)

But, your landlord is not required to carry out repairs until you report the defect. You can give a notice of repairs verbally or in writing, but it may be preferable to be in writing so that it is easier to show that the landlord has been made aware of the repairs required. This may depend on the type of relationship you have with the landlord. You must give your landlord sufficient time to carry out the repairs as required.

Gas safety checks

Your landlord must make sure that any gas appliances provided with the property are safe. They must arrange for safety checks on appliances and fittings to be carried out at least once every 12 months. The inspection must be carried out by someone who is ‘Gas Safe’ registered.

Your landlord is not responsible for any gas appliances that are your private property, any flues that are connected only to these appliances and gas appliances that are exclusively used in any non-residential part of the property.

Electrical appliances

All electrical equipment provided by your landlord must be safe and in good working order. Your landlord is responsible for repairing any broken or faulty electrical items. It is important that you are familiar with the terms of your tenancy because it may state that the landlord is responsible for certain appliances only. You will always be responsible for repairing any electrical items in the property that you own.

Disrepair claims

If your landlord fails to carry out repairs which they are responsible for, you may be able to obtain a court order to ensure the work is carried out.

If you are thinking about taking a court action about disrepair in your home, you should first of all check what type of tenancy you have. Some tenancy agreements make it easier for the tenant to be evicted, such as an assured shorthold tenancy. The landlord can evict you after the initial agreed period and provided that you are given at least two months' notice. So, if you want to remain in the property, you will need to consider the possibility of eviction carefully before deciding to go ahead with a court action. In some cases, a landlord may prefer to evict a tenant rather than carry out the necessary repair work. Furthermore, the process also takes time and can be expensive, so you may want to try a number of other options first.

Speak to the landlord

If your home has fallen into a state of disrepair, it is always advisable to first of all speak with your landlord and try to negotiate amicably.

You should notify your landlord in writing of the repairs required and keep copies of your request. You should also allow the landlord access to the property to inspect the problem and to organise a suitable time. You should give the landlord sufficient time to carry out the repairs.

Depending on the nature and urgency of the repairs, you may be able to agree with the landlord to let you arrange for the repairs to be carried out and let the landlord know the costs. This will also depend on your relationship with the landlord.

Use the Ombudsman Service

If you are a social housing tenant, such as a local authority or housing association tenant, you may be able to use the Housing Ombudsman Service. The rules that apply will depend on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

If you are having problems with repairs, do not withhold rent from your landlord.

You do not have the right to withhold your rent to force your landlord to carry out repairs. If you do, your landlord can still take legal action against you for rent arrears and you could be evicted.

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