A guide to tenants' rights

When you own your own house (even if it is with a sizable mortgage), you have a certain amount of control over what goes on within it.

Equally, the only person responsible for keeping it in good working order is you. As a tenant in a rented property, you can sometimes feel like you don’t have as much control.

A number of rights have been set down in law, however, meaning you should enjoy as much peace of mind as if the place were actually yours.   Most tenants in the UK are on what is called an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, or AST. This is either for a fixed period or, after a short fixed period, rolls on from month to month.

There are exceptions to this, for example if you’re a lodger – so check what sort of lease you have, ideally before you sign it! If you are on an AST, a landlord can’t throw you out for no good reason.

‘Good reasons’ are usually if you are damaging the property or not paying the rent.

However, this also counts if they have given you reasonable notice to leave after your AST fixed period has ended and you’re refusing to go.

Equally, if your landlord hasn’t kept up with their obligations – such as making sure you have the right safety certificates, and putting your deposit in a tenancy deposit scheme – tenancy rights mean they can’t evict you.

You need to check with either your letting agent or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) for the particular details of what the landlord can and can’t do in your individual circumstance.

Tenants’ rights extend further than just being allowed to stay put, though. Your property needs to be kept reasonably well maintained and you can force the landlord to make repairs if needs be.

Your partner also has the right to stay in the property if you should die during the tenancy. Also, neither you nor the people you live with should be discriminated against (e.g. on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation etc.).

Tenants’ rights are only protected as long as you keep up your end of the bargain. This means doing your best to keep the property in good condition (not damaging parts – or using equipment irresponsibly that could cause damage), behaving well (not being noisy or messy) and keeping to the terms of your agreement (e.g. no pets or smoking).

Even though AST is the most common form of tenancy, some alternative agreements remain in force, including protected tenant and occupier with basic protection – both of which are agreements predating 1989. Other tenancies that are non-AST include student accommodation, holiday lets, company lets, or where you have a resident landlord (most usually making you a lodger instead).

Another accommodation type is a House of Multiple Occupation, or HMO. This comprises several rooms being let with a shared bathroom and/or kitchen, when the people you are sharing with are not family.

Many such properties require the landlord to be licensed by the local authority.   You still have some rights in most of these cases, but to know what your individual case is, you should keep a copy of your agreement and speak to your local CAB if you have any concerns.   UK tenants’ rights have recently been extended to include deposit protection, in a bid to stop unscrupulous landlords withholding money for no reason.

A deposit should be returned in full at the end of any tenancy unless there are concrete reasons to keep some or all of it (usually in the case of unpaid rent or property damage).   Unless you are living in a particular type of property that has rent control (e.g. council properties) then you have to pay the rent as set for you by a private landlord.

However, they can’t increase it while you are there – unless you agree to this, or the agreement you signed says they can, or you come to the end of the lease.   Protected tenants – the ones with agreements that started before 1989 – can apply to have their rent fixed by a rent officer. If the rent officer registers the amount as a ‘fair rent’, it can’t be increased.

If you are having problems keeping up with rent payments, this of course can put you at risk of eviction – but there is help available. You can negotiate with your landlord if you think this is going to be a temporary issue. Most will be willing to give a little grace, because it is far more time-consuming and expensive for them to start eviction proceedings and find new tenants than it is to wait a couple of weeks.

However, if it’s likely to be a longer-term problem and the rent you’ve been set is fair (you can apply to tribunals if you feel you are being unfairly charged, but beware – they could also decide it is right, or even too low!) then you can apply for housing benefit or other support if you’re on a low income.

Some private landlords refuse to rent to people on housing benefit and while this may seem to fall under discrimination, it is legal for them to do so – for the same reason they may not want to rent to someone with a poor credit history.   Homelessness charity Shelter advises negotiating with your potential landlord and seeing if someone can either prove or guarantee that you will pay your rent.

A landlord cannot evict someone who has had to resort to housing benefit during their tenancy, provided they’re not behind with the rent.

Tenants’ rights in the UK can be complex, but they are largely based on common sense. If in doubt about where you stand, always seek the advice of independent professionals.

Your letting agent may be able to help on basic queries, but they’re not always impartial since they make their money from the landlord!


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