The fight for tenants to have control of their homes and their heating

In this piece Tilly Smith, our Campaigns and Partnerships Officer, explains how landlords can try to control your heating.

It’s not easy being a renter. You pay your rent every month, you keep the property clean and tidy, and you do your best to stay on good terms with your landlord. It may even be possible for you to find an all-inclusive home, where your bills are included in your rent in a convenient and helpful way.

But, as you settle into your new home, and the cold winter nights creep in, it may become increasingly apparent for many tenants that this is not quite the convenient arrangement you had hoped it would be. Because, despite paying a rent to include your bills, the landlord has taken it upon themselves to restrict your heating as much as they think they can get away with.

In 2019 a Twitter post depicting a “thermostat in a cage” went viral, causing many to offer up their own stories of landlords unreasonably restricting their heating. A quick investigation around Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and the internet generally reveals that this is far from an unusual practice.

The last time I was looking for somewhere to rent, I remember speaking to a potential landlord over the phone, before I had even viewed the property, and casually mentioned that I worked from home. His demeanour immediately changed, and he began muttering about needing to “re-negotiate the rent”. Because, he explained to me, his tenants during the coronavirus had been “working from home more often than they said they would” and kept “pressing their buffers”.

By “buffers” the potential landlord was referring to the buffer settings a person can use on a smart heat system to temporarily heat up the room when the heating is supposed to be off or has a heat limit that is not allowing for the room to warm. I did not ask how he knew his tenants had been working from home more often than anticipated, especially as all tenants are entitled legally entitled to “Quiet Enjoyment” of their home and should not be constantly checked-up on by their landlord. Nor did I make the point that the use of their buffer (during January) probably signified that their homes were not being warmed up enough. I simply decided not to progress with the viewing and have not mentioned that I work from home to any future potential landlords.

And recently I was sent a message by a friend, asking if the landlord of someone they knew was able to completely control their heating.

The short answer is, unfortunately, that this is probably legal. However, there are some important caveats that all renters should be aware of.

What does the law say about landlords controlling tenants’ heating?

There are two instances where a landlord could be breaking the law by controlling their tenant’s heating.

1. Controlling the heating has meant that the property has become excessively cold.

The Housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) guidance states that small risks of adverse health effects arise when indoor temperature drops below 19˚ c, with serious health risks occurring below 16˚ c. The guidance also says that “heating should be controllable by the occupants, and safely and properly installed and maintained. It should be appropriate to the design, layout, and construction, such that the whole of the dwelling can be adequately and efficiently heated.” Read the full HHSRS guidance here.

However, if you live in a property with other people you are not related to, a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO), then the HHSRS guidance does say that a landlord can control the heating in common areas, but that all tenants should still have control over heating in their own rooms.

If you believe your home does not meet with the guidance set out by the HHSRS, then you should contact your local authority, who will carry out an inspection to assess whether the property is dangerously cold. If the local authority finds this to be the case, then they should issue the landlord with an improvement notice, instructing them to ensure that the property is safe for you to live in.

Click here to find out more.

2. The landlord has turned off the heating with the intention of harassing their tenant.

Harassment from a landlord can include any action likely to interfere with your peace and comfort in your home. If it is found that the landlord has persistently cut off gas, water or electricity in an effort to harass their tenant, this is a criminal offence. This includes occasions where the landlord is harassing their tenant in order to evict them or to obtain unpaid rent. It also includes occasions where someone else is harassing a tenant on behalf of the landlord.

If you believe that your landlord is cutting off your heating in order to harass you, or is harassing you another way (find out more on landlord harassment here), then you should keep a record of all interactions with your landlord, contact your local authority for support, and, if your safety is under threat, contact the police. It is also a good idea to get support from a local renters union and legal help from a solicitor if you can afford it. You can find more information on what to do when facing harassment here.

How much can my landlord charge me for energy bills?

Your landlord cannot charge you more than they’ve paid for gas and electricity, meaning that they cannot make a profit out of simply including bills in the rent.

However, in cases where the rent and energy bills are all included together, it is easy for landlords to simply increase the overall rent and call it a rent increase. Read more about rent increases here.

How can we fight for renters to have control of their homes?

Unfortunately, outside of these more extreme examples, there is not much that tenants can do when landlords oppressively control their homes.

It is important to note that, according to the English Housing Survey 2021/22, only 3% of privately rented homes have their bills included in their rent. However, that still accounts for 144,000 homes in England alone.

At Generation Rent we believe that all tenants should be able to feel safe, secure and comfortable in their own home, and we are fighting for renters to have more control over their lives.

Can you join our fight? There are three ways you can support our campaign:

  1. If you are a renter who has experienced a landlord controlling their heating, or who has had other issues with landlords or letting agents in the past, then you can share your story here.
  2. If you are interested in joining our fight as a volunteer, please sign up here.
  3. If you have a little bit of money to give, you can support our organisation by donating here.

Looking for some help and can't find the answer ?

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Individual Advice

Generation Rent can’t offer advice about individual problems. Here are a few organisations that can:

You might also find quick but informal help on ACORN’s Facebook forum, and there are more suggestions on The Renters Guide.