Each year 1.5 million private renter households move home - that's about a third of the renter population. And each year, around 200,000 people move into private renting for the first time.
Whether you're moving out of your childhood home, or this is your fifth move in as many years, make sure you're aware of your rights. We have worked with the TDS Foundation to produce a guide to your rights as a tenant. The position of renters is slowly improving - today protections against revenge evictions come into force and landlords are required to fit smoke alarms - but it is still easy to get ripped off if you aren't prepared.
Printed copies of the guide are available from Generation Rent on request.
Once you've brushed up, test yourself with a quiz we've put together with the Mirror.
Your landlord is legally required to put your deposit in one of the national deposit protection schemes within 30 days of receiving it, and to give you details of the scheme and its dispute resolution service. At the end of the tenancy, the landlord must return it within ten days of you agreeing how much you’ll get back. If there is a dispute, the deposit will remain protected by the scheme until resolved. If your landlord fails to protect your deposit, their ability to evict you is more difficult, and you can apply to the county court to award a penalty for non-protection. The court could order the landlord to pay you up to three times the amount of the deposit.
Your landlord must arrange for a Gas Safe registered engineer to check gas appliances in the property at least once a year. Although landlords letting self-contained accommodation are not legally bound to carry out electrical safety checks, they must take reasonable measures to provide housing that is safe. Provided furniture must meet fire safety standards. In Houses in Multiple Occupation (bedsit houses sharing amenities such as bathrooms), a health and safety risk assessment for the common parts of the house must be done by a competent person and be reviewed at regular intervals, and electrical safety checks must be carried out every five years. All properties built after 1992 must be fitted with smoke detectors.
Your landlord is responsible for structural repairs including gutters, drains and external pipes. They have to maintain installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation, as well as heating and hot water. If you have reported problems to your landlord which you believe to be hazardous and they have not remedied the problems, you can ask your local Council to inspect your home. They may order your landlord to undertake works to put things right.
Letting agents have a duty to clearly display their fees and detail what services those fees are for. It is a criminal offence for a letting agent to charge a registration fee or for showing a tenant a list of properties that are available to rent. Every letting agent must be a member of a government-approved redress scheme, which allows tenants to make complaints about the service they have received and potentially seek compensation.
Your landlord is not legally obliged to provide a written tenancy agreement, but if you ask the landlord to give you the written terms of your tenancy, he must do so within 28 days of the request. Make sure you read the agreement carefully before signing it. Get clarification about concerns from your landlord or agent or get advice from a local advice agency such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. Some rights apply regardless of whether they are in the contract, such as the landlord’s responsibility for repairs. To protect yourself at the end of a tenancy, make sure you take, and keep hold of, a written inventory (a list of everything in the property and its condition) with dated photos. Try to get this agreed with your landlord when you move in.
The landlord or letting agent must provide prospective tenants with a copy of an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). An EPC gives information about the energy efficiency of a home and should give estimates of fuel costs. Using this information, you can compare potential energy bills between properties. An EPC will also give recommendations about how the energy efficiency of a property could be improved, for example through loft insulation or double glazing.
Landlords need to follow legal procedures if they want to evict you, and they must obtain a Possession Order from the court. If your landlord gives you notice to leave and you wish to remain, seek advice from an advice centre such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. If they try to force you to leave without a court order, for example, by deliberately turning off the gas or electricity, this is likely to be a criminal offence. If your landlord serves an eviction notice after you have complained to the local authority, this notice may also be invalid.
Some landlords and letting agents refuse to let properties to renters on housing benefit. If you are having trouble finding a property, the local council may provide a list of those who will accept tenants on housing benefit. However, don’t necessarily be limited by this. Check the Local Housing Allowance for the property size you need in the area you wish to live because this will be the maximum housing benefit you can receive, even if you are entitled to the maximum. If you are interested in renting a property and it is within the LHA amount, be prepared to explain that your benefits will cover the rent, that you are a good tenant and that you have a history of paying the rent on time. Landlords or agents will probably ask you to provide a guarantor (someone who will pay the rent if you get into arrears). They will also want a deposit. Find out if your local Council can help with this.
It is illegal for a landlord or letting agent to discriminate on racial grounds. However, from the end of 2015 the government will require all private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. If you feel you have been a victim of racial discrimination in housing, contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service Helpline. It may be possible to challenge the discrimination or get compensation through a complaint or court action.
If you have a fixed term tenancy, the rent cannot normally be increased during the fixed period. At the end of that time, the landlord may offer you a new fixed term at the same, or an increased rent. If you are not offered or do not wish to sign up for another fixed term, you and your landlord can agree a rent increase. If you don’t reach an agreement, the landlord can serve a Landlord’s Notice proposing a New Rent. If you receive such a notice and you think the proposed rent is too high, make sure that you get independent advice from a local advice agency such as a Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor before the proposed date of the increase. If you don’t challenge the proposed rent, the new rent will be due from the date in the notice.
Tenants often have problems with landlords or agents dropping round unannounced or letting themselves into properties without permission. Unless there is an emergency, a landlord or agent must give the tenant at least 24 hours’ notice if they intend to visit. It must be at normal times of the day and for legitimate reasons, that is, to check the condition of the property or to do repairs, or for inspections required by law, such as gas safety. Apart from genuine emergencies, landlords cannot enter a tenant’s home without their consent unless they have a court order. If they do so, it could be considered harassment, which counts as a criminal offence.
It is common practice for landlords or agents to demand that a third party act as a guarantor (usually a relative) before they will let a property to a student. Invariably, they require the guarantor to live in the UK, as they can then take legal action much more easily when trying to recover rent arrears or money for damages. For international students, this poses a real problem when finding somewhere to live and they are instead often asked to pay large amounts of rent upfront. If you are in this situation, speak to your students’ union as they may be able to help you to find suitable housing.
Students often find they are pressurised into signing leases far too early for properties to live in for the next academic year. This can often start in January for leases that will begin in September. This situation leads to tenants accepting poor quality housing or not thinking through their living arrangements. In these circumstances, tenants should realise that they will be able to find homes later in the year and should have the confidence to resist the advances of persistent and unscrupulous agents.
In a joint tenancy, you are all individually and jointly responsible for paying the rent and for any arrears or damage. If one person wants to leave, they could terminate the tenancy for everyone, so it is best to find a replacement tenant first and then ask the landlord if they agree to accept the replacement.