Step 7 - Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant
Even before you start searching for a property to rent, it's important to understand the legal aspects of being a tenant.
When you become a tenant, you take on certain responsibilities in exchange for certain rights. Your tenancy agreement will typically be 4-5 pages long and very detailed. It lists your responsibilities so read it carefully. As a minimum, it will show:.
- The names of the landlord and tenant
- How much the rent and deposit is
- When the rent will be reviewed
- The address for the landlord or agent who will be looking after the property.
The main things you must do are as follows:
- Pay rent on time - normally one month in advance
- Pay other bills. In most long-term lets, you'll be paying council tax, utilities (including water), TV licence and telephone charges
- Respect neighbours - so no making noise, putting rubbish in the wrong place or obstructing common areas
- Look after the property.
The agent's job might be to market the property, arrange signing of agreements and payment of the first month's rent and deposit.
After that, you may find you are dealing directly with a landlord who will look after the management. However, most landlords tend to leave the management up to the letting agent.
The good news is that you are not expected to maintain the building - that's the landlord's job. But you should behave in such a way that the building is properly cared for.
For example, you must:
- Tell your landlord if you are going away for longer than 14 days - because this will affect his/her insurance policy
- Keep the property secure at all times - so lock it when you go out and don't give keys to anyone else
- Tell your landlord when things need fixing to avoid bigger problems later - e.g. a leaking pipe, if not maintained, could make a ceiling collapse
- Do basic maintenance - e.g. change light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries.
Obviously, you must not engage in any illegal activity at the property and nor can you:
- Alter the property in any way, including hanging anything on the walls or re-decorating without written permission from your landlord
- Use the property as a business
- Sub-let....unless, of course, the landlord says you can.
Assured Shorthold tenancy
Most new tenancies today are Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST) which is similar to Short Assured Tenancies in Scotland.
These usually include a 'fixed term' of 6 or 12 months. Where there is no fixed term, the tenancy is called a 'periodic tenancy'.
If annual rent is more than £25,000, the tenancy is in a company's name or the landlord lives in the property, a different form of agreement will be used. Your letting agent will be able to advise you further if this is applicable to your circumstances.
Under an AST, as long as the terms of the tenancy have not been breached, the landlord cannot regain possession until after six months (or longer if the fixed term is longer) - unless you agree he or she can.
However, after the fixed term has ended (or six months if there was no fixed term), he or she can regain possession by giving you two months notice in writing.
So, as you can see, with an assured shorthold tenancy you don't have security of tenure.
If you want, you and the landlord can agree to extend the tenancy so it becomes what's called a periodic tenancy, without needing to issue a new agreement. This can also occur by both landlord and tenant not making any arrangements at the end of the term of tenancy, resulting in the term automatically lapsing in to a periodic tenancy.
On a periodic tenancy, if your landlord wanted the property back, he or she would still need to give you two months' notice. Or if you wanted to leave, you would need to give notice - which would be a month's notice if the rent was paid monthly or four weeks if paid weekly.
Another tenancy type is the Assured Tenancy (AT) - which is like an AST but it can only be ended by the landlord if you seriously breach the terms of the agreement. With an AT, the landlord cannot just give you notice to leave.
Another less common form of tenancy is the Rent Act tenancy - these old types of tenancy give tenants more security of tenure, but they are very rare nowadays.
If you rent a room from a live-in landlord, you have very few rights and your stay can be ended without the landlord having to give two months' notice.
Here are our other tips for a trouble-free time as a tenant:
- Never enter in to a tenancy unless there is a written tenancy agreement
- Get the phone numbers and email of whoever will be looking after the property so you can contact them if something goes wrong
- Keep a date record and a copy of all correspondence, including phone calls, and keep a copy of the agreement and inventory
- Check the tenancy agreement for any unfair terms, e.g. a clause that allowed the landlord to come in at any time without giving notice would be unfair
- If repairs need doing, be flexible and allow workmen to come in to the property - but confirm how long work will take first
- Don't sign up for a long, fixed-term tenancy agreement unless you really are sure you will stay that long - because if you leave early you'll probably have to pay until the end of the term
- If you have a problem, talk to the landlord or agent - most will be pleased to help and keep good tenants
- Where you are 'jointly and severally liable' with others for the rent, you can be pursued for the whole rent. So pick housemates you trust!
Deposits and inventories
In most cases, you'll be asked to pay a deposit. Get a receipt for it and carry out checks to make sure you are fully satisfied that your deposit is protected by a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme.
The deposit will usually be equal to around four to seven weeks' rent. You pay it to the landlord or agent and they can keep some or all of it if you cause damage to the property (beyond fair wear and tear)
If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy in England and Wales, which started on or after 6th April 2007 where a deposit was taken, that deposit must be protected in one of the government approved Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes (TDP).
The deposit is administered by the scheme throughout the tenancy and will be returned in full shortly after the end of the tenancy, providing the property is returned in the same condition as you found it at the start of the tenancy. Usually, no interest is paid on the deposit.
If, at the end of the tenancy you feel that your deposit has been withheld unfairly, the organiser of the TDS can step in and sort out disputes with your landlord.
For the latest information on Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes, visit the Direct Gov website.
Here are our tips to help you get your deposit back and avoid disputes:
- Get a detailed inventory done at the start and end of the tenancy, listing everything in the property and its state and condition
- Be there when the inventory is being done. If that's not possible, then insist on seeing a copy and check it is correct. Tell the landlord or agent in writing if it's wrong
- If the landlord or agent doesn't do an inventory, make one yourself as soon as you move in
- Check and list everything carefully - look under carpets, on both sides of mattresses - and note all damages, marks or scratches, as well as how clean everything is. Take photos where possible
- Sign and date the inventory and send a copy to the landlord or agent
- Return the property and everything in it in the same condition at the end of the tenancy
- Repeat the inventory process when you move out - again, itemise everything, take photos and send it to the agent or landlord
- You may be required, as a condition of the agreement, to have carpets professionally steam cleaned
- At the end of the tenancy, you'll have to repair any damage you've caused and replace items that cannot be made good or you can expect to be charged for them
- If the landlord removes anything from the property during the tenancy, get them to sign for it.
Your rights as a tenant
You have a right to quiet enjoyment of the property and your landlord must give at least 24 hours notice if they want access (except in an emergency). Most lettings agents inspect a property quarterly to check everything is in order.
The landlord must also:
- Insure the property
- Look after and pay for the cost of repairs to the structure and exterior, as well as electrical, heating, hot water and sanitary installations
- Return the deposit at the end of tenancy in full, or set out why deductions have been made from it
- Only evict with a court order
- Ensure all soft furnishings comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) Safety Regulations 1988 and are fire safety compliant. Look for the fire safety label on all furnishings
- Ensure that gas appliances, fittings and flues are safe for your use and that installation, maintenance and annual safety checks are carried out by a Corgi registered gas installer. They must give you a certificate called a CP12 showing everything is safe
- Ensure that electrics are safe, with operating instructions and safety notices supplied, before a letting starts
- 'reasonable adjustments' to accommodate tenants with disabilities.
Your landlord cannot:
- Change locks without telling you or giving you a new set of keys
- Cut off utilities
- Interfere with your mail
- Verbally or physically threaten you
- Neglect the property.
Certain shared houses (called Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) have to be licensed under special rules which also require that the property meets certain extra fire and electrical safety standards.
All places built after June 1992 and all HMOS must have mains wired smoke detectors on each floor and licensable HMOS must have a full electric inspection done every five years.
A good general guide to all the regulations can be found at here.
Before you sign the tenancy agreements, you should:
- Make sure you have visited the property and met the letting agent/landlord
- Before you hand over any money to anyone make sure you have carried out due diligence to protect yourself against fraud
- Carry out checks to make sure you are fully satisfied that your deposit is protected by a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme
- Make sure you have seen the gas safety certificate and instructions for all electrical items
- Be satisfied that all the furniture is safe
- Have keys for all exit doors
- Check the inventory carefully and note anything that has been missed or is incorrect - please re-read our section on 'Deposits and Inventories' carefully.