Gone are the days when landlords were just that – lords of the land who presided over their rented properties and the tenants that live within. Today’s private rental sector is much more renter-friendly, with a number of rules and regulations in place that protect the safety and tenure of tenants.
Property access: landlords can’t turn up unannounced
One of the biggest attitude shifts in the private rental sector is tenants being treated as equals to owner-occupiers, with emphasis on a home they can feel secure in. Tenants actually have a ‘right to quiet enjoyment’, which governs how landlords can gain access to the rented property, and their behaviour when it comes to repairs and maintenance.
The industry terms ‘exclusive possession’ or ‘exclusive occupation’ mean a landlord can’t enter the property without a tenant’s permission. If they do want to gain access, a landlord needs to give the tenant at least 24-hours’ notice, in writing, clearly stating the nature of the visit and who will attend. Even then, a tenant can refuse access if the timing compromises their ‘right to quiet enjoyment’. There are exceptions to the access law if the issue is deemed an emergency, such as a fire or gas leak.
Tenant fees: the things you shouldn’t be charged for
The Tenant Fee Bill took full effect on 1st June 2020 and the law now states that most fees charged to tenants are now banned. A tenant cannot be charged for references, administration, credit and immigration checks, and renewing a tenancy when the fixed term ends. A tenant who sees charges they are unsure about can raise the matter with their letting agent or landlord but if there’s any doubt, the matter can be referred to Trading Standards or the letting agents’ redress scheme for further investigation.
It's worth noting that some fees can still be charged to tenants but there is generally a cap on how much can be billed. Fees that are permitted include those for late rent payments, costs to cover lost keys and fobs, ending a tenancy early and changing or transferring a tenancy (the latter up to £50 in fees, unless the landlord can provide evidence that the alteration has cost them more). Don’t forget, security and holding deposits are not covered by the Tenant Fee Bill and these charges still apply, unless the property is offered via a deposit-free scheme.
Fit for habitation: the right to live safely and securely
All tenants have the right to live in a safe, secure and sanitary property, and there are laws in place to ensure landlords meet minimum requirements. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act gives tenants the power to take legal action against their landlord if they think they are not acting responsibly in terms of living conditions. Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out a landlords’ responsibilities in terms of keeping a dwelling in a good state of repair and working order.
In addition, the Government’s new Levelling Up the United Kingdom white paper contained details of a new, legally binding Decent Homes Standard that should be introduced in the private rented sector later this year.
A landlord should make repairs within a reasonable period of time, depending on the nature of the issue. Major problems that compromise health and safety should be fixed as soon as possible and definitely within two weeks. If a tenant feels their home is unsafe or poses a health/injury hazard and the landlord has not addressed the matter, they have the right to start court proceedings. A note of caution, however. Tenants don’t have the right to withhold rent because of a landlord’s failure to undertake repairs.
The evictions process: set to be strengthened
Landlords must follow a set process to evict tenants and those on assured shorthold tenancies have the right to a legal notice in writing of any eviction activity, even if they don’t have a written tenancy agreement. Tenants also have the right to remain in their property during any fixed term, unless there has been an agreement breach or there is a break clause in the contract.
In most cases, a landlord in England must give their tenant at least 2 months’ legal notice of eviction and they should have met certain criteria at the start of the tenancy to enact a lawful eviction. A tenant has the right to see: a copy of the Government’s How to Rent checklist, copies of gas and electrical safety certificates, details of the deposit protection scheme used, a copy of the Energy Performance Certificate and contact details of the letting agent/landlord. Without a tenant seeing these documents, the eviction process is not valid.
The Levelling Up the United Kingdom white paper will also strengthen a tenant’s right to remain in a property. It reiterated the forthcoming ban on Section 21 evictions, which should take effect in 2022. These ‘no fault’ evictions - when a landlord doesn’t have to give a reason to evict tenants – will be banned, giving tenants extra peace of mind.
Rent rises: a tenant needs to give permission
Many tenants don’t know that landlords can’t simply raise the rent. A tenant needs to give their consent for any rent increase, and any rise must only happen when a fixed-term ends, unless there is a specific clause in the tenancy agreement. Tenants on an assured shorthold tenancy should be served a Section 13 notice if the landlord wants to raise the rent. A tenant has the right to dispute any rent rises, and can take the landlord to a tribunal if they feel their case is strong enough.
Eco improvements: your right to make a request
Tenants actually have rights when it comes to eco improvements in rented properties but they are rarely publicised. Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015 enable tenants in private rentals to request permission from the landlord to carry out their own energy efficiency improvements. While permission needs to be sought and the purchasing/installation costs borne by the tenant, a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to give consent.
Once the landlord has received a request for consent, they have one month to make a reply in writing, although there are some situations where a request can be refused. These include the improvement not being considered relevant to energy efficiency and the tenant’s request not being valid.
Pets: not quite a right but it’s getting easier
Although tenants still don’t have a right to keep pets in a rental property, there have been changes to make lets with pets more feasible. At present, the Government’s Model Tenancy Agreement – which is used by many (but not all) landlords and letting agents - assumes that pets are allowed within the property and as such, landlords must supply a good reason why they don’t accept pets and have this written into the tenancy agreement.