A guide to tenants' rights

While most landlords should be at least courteous and professional, there are some who earn their less than savoury reputation. This is why it’s important for tenants to understand their rights so they know what to do if things go wrong.

Most tenancies are classed as assured shorthold tenancies. This gives a tenant the legal right to live in a property for a set period such as six months (this is known as a fixed term tenancy) or it might roll on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis (known as a periodic tenancy).

What rights do tenants have?

As a tenant you have the right to…

  • Live in a property that’s safe and in good repair, including the roof, guttering, windows and doors. Your landlord also has to provide relevant safety certificates
  • Have your deposit returned at the end of your tenancy, and even to have it protected
  • Challenge rents which seem unfairly high
  • Be protected from unfair eviction 
  • Have a written agreement if you have a fixed-term tenancy of more than 3 years
  • Live in the property without being harassed or disturbed
  • See an Energy Performance Certificate to assess if what you’re paying for bills is fair
  • Know who your landlord is. To find out, write to the person or company you pay rent to. They are required to provide the information within 21 days
  • Neither you nor the people you live with should be discriminated against on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation etc
  • Should you live with your partner, they have the right to stay in the property if you should die during the tenancy
Tenancy agreement

If you have a tenancy agreement, it must be fair and comply with the law. You can check the terms of your tenancy with your landlord and, if your tenancy started after March 1997, they are legally required to provide the following information within 28 days of receipt of the written request:

  • Tenancy start date
  • Rent amount and due date
  • How and when the rent may be changed
  • A rent book, where rent is paid on a weekly basis
  • The length of any fixed term

Guide to renting

When you start a new assured or short assured tenancy, your landlord should provide you with a guide. This will lay out the rights and responsibilities of both you and your landlord. In England, this will be a How to rent guide.

In Scotland, you’ll receive the Tenant Information Pack.

What responsibilities do tenants have?

Tenants have responsibilities as well as rights. As a tenant you must…

  • Give your landlord access to the property for inspections and repairs. Your landlord has to give you at least 24 hours’ notice, unless it’s an emergency and they need immediate access.
  • Look after the property. If something is damaged or breaks in the property, you should let your landlord know.
  • Repair or pay for any damage caused by you or your visitors to the property
  • Pay the agreed rent, bills and charges on time. This remains the case even if there are outstanding repairs or you’re having an ongoing dispute with your landlord
  • Only sublet a property if the tenancy agreement allows you to or with your landlord’s permission

Your landlord can take legal action to evict you if you don’t meet your responsibilities, so make sure you adhere to them carefully.

When can a tenant be evicted?

Just because the landlord is the property owner, it doesn’t necessarily mean a tenant can be evicted without good reason. This depends whether tenants are on fixed term or periodic contracts. Fixed term tenants Eviction reasons include:

  • The tenant owes rent in arrears
  • The tenant consistently fails to pay the rent on time
  • The tenant has broken the terms of the tenancy
  • The condition of the property has been made worse by the tenant
  • The property is being repossessed
  • The tenant has caused consistent nuisance or annoyance

For the landlord to evict a tenant before their fixed term has expired, they are required to apply to the court for a possession order. The tenant must have first received a correctly written Section 8 Notice specifying the grounds the landlord has for the eviction.

Possession orders will only be granted by the court when they are satisfied that valid reasons have been given. The court might also deliberate on whether it is reasonable for the tenant to be evicted.

In the circumstance where a landlord wants to repossess the property without giving a reason, they must give two months' notice but the notice must not expire before the end of the fixed term.

Periodic tenants

It’s much easier for a landlord to evict their tenant if the tenancy is periodic or if the fixed term has come to an end and no new fixed tenancy has been arranged.

In this instance, the landlord is not required to give a reason to the court but they must be able to establish that the tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy and that the correct Section 21 Notice to Quit has been served.

Notice must be at least two calendar months or the same period for which rent is paid, whichever is longest. The notice should also end on the last day of a rental period, i.e. the day before rent is due. If the tenants are still present in the property after this time, the landlord can apply for a court order.

What protection is there for tenants?

Even with a periodic tenancy, a tenant still has some protections which they should be aware of:

  • A tenant cannot be evicted before the court has agreed that the landlord can regain possession of the property.
  • The court must give permission via a possession order.
  • It is possible for tenants to get the court to agree to a six-week delay on eviction in cases of exceptional hardship. Once the court order takes effect, a landlord can ask bailiffs to physically remove tenants from a property if they’re still present.
What if my landlord lives outside the UK?

If your landlord lives outside the UK and you pay £100 or more per week, contact HM Revenue and Customs. You may have to deduct tax from your rent under HMRC’s ‘non-resident landlord scheme’.

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