The days of slum landlords have—in theory at least—ended. As a tenant, you have a right to live in a safe home free from an intrusive or unscrupulous landlord. What you are entitled to, and the procedures for resolving problems, differ according to whether you are renting privately or from a local authority or housing association.
If you rent your home from a private sector landlord, you will probably have what’s known as an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’. This is a tenancy agreement that starts with a fixed period, such as one year or six months.
Regardless of what type of tenancy you have, you have a basic level of protection under the law. Tenancy agreements can only add to these rights—they can not take them away.
You have the right to a certain amount of privacy. Your landlord must visit at a reasonable time and give you 24 hours’ notice if he or she wants to enter your home. Otherwise, their behaviour may be classed as harassment.
If you are unlucky enough to have a landlord who harasses you, then you can ask your local law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau for help. If this doesn’t work, and as a last resort only, you may be able to apply for an injunction against them—this is a court order preventing someone from doing something, in this case, preventing your landlord from harassing you.
If your landlord threatens you with violence, then call the police.
Your landlord has a duty to keep your home in good repair—including the walls, structure, gas and electricity supplies, heating, water, guttering, drains and sanitation facilities. Furniture should be fire resistant, if you rent a property with furniture included. Your landlord must produce a gas safety certificate signed by a Corgi-registered engineer.
Your landlord may have other duties, if these are specified in your tenancy agreement.
If your landlord does not carry out the repairs, then you should write to them, setting out a reasonable deadline by when you want the repairs made. If this doesn’t work, and there is a serious health and safety risk, your local council’s environmental health department has the power to force your landlord to carry out the repairs.
If the repairs are not as serious as this, then you can either: make a claim in the small claims court; or pay for the repairs yourself and take the cost out of your rent (but be aware that there is a specific procedure for doing this which you must follow or else you will not be legally entitled to reclaim the cost. You must write to your landlord twice informing him of the problem, and then of your intention to pay for the repairs yourself out of your rent money, setting reasonable deadlines in both letters. You must keep all receipts.)
Your landlord cannot simply throw you out without warning. You have a right to stay in the property for as long as your fixed period lasts as long as you keep to your side of the bargain by paying your rent and not damaging the property.
Once the fixed term of your tenancy agreement ends, you may be asked to sign a new fixed-term agreement. If not, your tenancy continues on a monthly or weekly basis, depending on how often you pay rent. The terms of what happens will probably be set out in detail in your tenancy agreement.
You can be evicted at any time, however, if you damage the property or fall into arrears with your rent. There is a legal procedure for this, and your landlord will have to apply to a court in order to have the eviction order served. During this procedure, you will be given a chance to put your point of view across to the court. The court will then decide if you have to leave.
If you have difficulties recovering your deposit from your landlord, and you think you are entitled to it, then you may want to apply to the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. This applies to deposits paid on or after 6 April 2007, and helps tenants and landlords to resolve issues concerning deposits. Otherwise, you may be able to make a claim in the small claims appeal court. You should always write to your landlord first, before applying to the Scheme or the small claims court.
Tenancies in Scotland are different. Most tenancies that began after 2 January 1989 are either ‘assured’ tenancies or ‘short assured’ tenancies.
Assured tenants have the right to stay in their homes for as long as they want—so long as they keep to the terms. Rent arrears, damage to the property, or some other breach of the tenancy agreement, however, could lead to eviction.
As an assured tenant, you will have the right to have your home kept in a reasonable state of repair. You also have a right of ‘succession’—that means, should you die, your spouse or civil partner has the right to take over the tenancy.
Short assured tenants have the right to stay on until their fixed period of tenancy ends, unless the landlord has a good reason to evict (rent arrears, property damage or some other breach). You have a right to stay on after your tenancy ends.
Both types of tenants have similar (but slightly different) rights to have their home kept in good repair.
A new law regarding property came into operation in April 2007.
As a tenant, you are entitled to have a statement of tenancy terms and rent book within 28 days of the beginning of the tenancy. A fitness inspection must be carried out on most buildings built before 1 January 1945, and tenants can apply for this to take place if they think their property is unfit to live in.
All of the above offers only a high level guide to your rights as a tenant. For further information, you should contact your solicitor, Citizens Advice Bureau, Shelter or other legal adviser.
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