Renting, Letting and the Law Guide: All You Need To Know
A guide to your rights and responsibilities as a landlord or tenant. Whether you’re a tenant or a landlord, it’s essential to understand your rights and obligations – exactly what can and cannot be done once the tenancy agreement has been signed and the tenant has moved into the property.
In this section, we take a look at the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant, to ensure a happy, secure and successful tenancy.
There’s also a look at some of the problems that might occur during a tenancy, such as property damage and repair needs, rent increases and even calls for eviction.
The Tenancy Agreement
A tenancy agreement is a contract between landlord and tenant, which when signed, will govern the way in which the tenant will live in the property.
Before a tenant moves into a property, they will have to sign a tenancy agreement drawn up by the landlord.
The Contract Details
In general, any tenancy agreement will be made up of the following details:
- The name and address of the landlord.
- The name of the tenant(s).
- The type of tenancy agreement for example, an assured tenancy or an assured shorthold tenancy (although in general, it will be an assured shorthold).
- The amount of rent payable, along with who is responsible for any other charges, such as water rates or council tax.
- The date the tenancy will begin.
- The duration – fixed term or periodic.
- A description of the property.
The Landlord Agrees …
There should be section titled “the landlord agrees”. Here, the landlord is contracting with the tenant to allow quiet enjoyment of the property.
The landlord’s repairing responsibilities are also usually set out.
The Tenant Agrees …
There will be a section beginning “the tenant agrees”. Here the tenant will agree to:
- move into the property
- pay rent
- use the property as an only home
- not sublet the property
- take responsibility for certain internal repairs
- not cause a nuisance to others
- a number of other things, depending on the property
The tenancy agreement should specify clearly the address to which notices on the landlord can be served by the tenant, for example, because of repair problems or notice of leaving the property. The landlord has a legal requirement to indicate this.
If services are provided and a service charge is payable, this should be indicated in the agreement.
There should be a clear indication of when a rent increase can be expected.
Ending the Tenancy
Finally, there should be a section entitled “ending the tenancy” which will set out the ways in which landlord and tenant can end the agreement.
Rights and Responsibilities
The public sector tenancy (local authority or housing association), is usually very clear and very comprehensive about the rights and obligations of landlord and tenant.
Unfortunately, the private landlord often does not take quite as much care when it comes to educating and informing the tenant, and many landlords will try to use only the most basic documentation in order to conceal their legal obligations.
The following statutory rights and responsibilities will apply to both the landlord and the tenant even if they are not included in the tenancy agreement.
However, it is useful if they are included in the tenancy agreement to prevent misunderstandings later.
The landlord is responsible for:
1.Ensuring that the property is fit for habitation.
Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is liable to repairing the structure and exterior of the house, and installations to supplying gas, water, electricity, and for sanitation.
The landlord cannot avoid this responsibility by trying to put the burden on the tenant in the tenancy agreement. If the landlord does not carry out the necessary work speedily, the tenant may have a claim against for substantial damages to compensate them for living in an un-repaired house.
3. Fire safety of furniture and furnishings.
Landlords must ensure that any furniture and furnishings that they supply meet the fire resistance requirements in the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.
All new and second-hand furniture must meet the fire resistance requirements unless it was made before 1950.
Most furniture will have a manufacturer’s label on it saying if it meets the requirements. This includes any loose covers supplied with the furniture.
4. Safety of gas appliances.
Landlords are required by the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 to ensure that all gas appliances are maintained in good order and that an annual safety check is carried out by a tradesman who is registered with CORGI (Council for Registered Gas Installers).
A record of the safety checks must be kept and issued to the tenant within 28 days of each annual check. Gas fires must have adequate ventilation and instructions for use. Gas cookers must have instructions for use, ignite promptly, have markings on the controls such as temperature, and manufacturers name.
The cooker must not be able to be switched on accidentally. It also must not have sharp edges, or a casing that gets hot enough to cause injury. However, landlords are not responsible for maintaining gas appliances which the tenant is entitled to take with him or her at the end of the tenancy.
5. Safety of electrical appliances.
Landlords should ensure that the electrical system and any electrical appliances such as cookers, kettles, toasters, washing machines and immersion heaters are safe to use.
They must comply with an acceptable standard such as a British Standard, and a qualified electrician should assess the safety periodically. Beware of danger signs, such as, frayed cables, loose wires, scorch marks, or old style wiring (red, black and green wiring is illegal).
The tenant has a right to what is termed as “quiet enjoyment” of the property.
This means that they have a legal right to live in the property as their home, so therefore:
- The landlord cannot evict the tenant without a possession order from the court.
- The landlord must ask the tenant’s permission before they enter the premises.
- If the landlord sells the freehold of the property, the tenant will retain any rights they have to remain in the property, and the tenancy will be binding on any purchaser.
- Other issues, such as whether the tenant can keep pets, should be negotiated and included in the terms of the tenancy agreement.
Many landlords do not realise that although they may well still regard the house as ‘their property’, once they have granted a tenancy they have no more right to enter a property than anyone else who doesn’t live there.
However, the landlord does have a legal right to enter the property at reasonable times of day to carry out the repairs for which they are responsible and to inspect the condition and state of repair of the property. They must give 24 hours’ notice in writing of an inspection.
It is helpful to set out the arrangements for access and procedures for getting repairs done in the tenancy agreement. Any provision in the agreement allowing for access by the landlord must still be fair, however, within the meaning of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.
A provision that allows the landlord access at any time, for any reason, and without giving reasonable notice, is likely to be held to be unfair and thus void.
The tenant is responsible for:
- Paying the rent as agreed.
- Paying the council tax, water and sewerage charges.
- Paying any bills for services as agreed with the landlord, such as gas electricity and telephone.
- Taking proper care of the property.
The tenancy agreement should make it clear who is responsible for paying the council tax, phone, water, gas, and electricity bills. Although the law implies that the tenant will normally be responsible, it is best for this to be set out clearly in the tenancy agreement to avoid any disputes.
Repairs and Damage
The Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 places the obligation for repairing the structure and exterior of residential properties on the landlord.
This is so in cases where the tenancy is for a term of less than seven years – which will cover most tenancies – and applies even if there is a provision in the tenancy agreement saying that the tenant must carry out the repairs.
The words ‘structure’ and ‘exterior’ and not defined by the act, but will include the main fabric of the house, such as walls, roof, window frames, gutters, drainpipes, and paths and steps that form the main access to the house. Interior decorations and fittings are not included in the act.
The same Act also provides that the landlord must keep in repair and proper working order installations in the property for the supply of gas, water, electricity, and sanitation.
This includes sinks, baths, toilets, and drains, though if drains are blocked because of the tenants unreasonable behaviour, then the tenant is responsible for unblocking them.
Tenants are entitled to compensation in reduced rent for disruption while major repairs are carried out.
Items not Covered by the Act
The landlord will not be liable to repair damage that was the tenants fault – say the tenant cracked a wash basin by dropping something into it. The landlord will equally not be liable to repair items other than those within the Act, or to redecorate, unless stated in the tenancy agreement.
If the agreement does not deal with the repair of an item that does not feature within the act, then neither landlord nor tenant is under an obligation to repair. However, if the damage was the tenants fault, the tenant is responsible.
Tenants are liable for matters not covered by the Act if they agree to such repairs in the tenancy agreement – another reason for reading it through carefully.
Rent and the Law
Once a tenancy agreement has been signed, it is a binding contract between the parties.
Just as the tenant is bound to pay the rent throughout the length of the tenancy, so the landlord has agreed to accept that amount for the length of the letting.
Setting the Rent
When setting the rent, landlords should make sure that it is realistic, and comparable with similar properties in the area, whilst still giving them a decent return on their investment.
They must also be prepared to be flexible and lower the rent to either secure a long-term tenant, or when tenants are in short supply.
It’s often better to lower the rent than have a property empty for a number of weeks.
The landlord cannot increase the rent without the tenant’s agreement – and why should they agree? In a short-term tenancy (for example, six or twelve months) this will probably not be a problem, but in a longer let the effects of inflation will soon adversely affect the value of the rent agreed.
Therefore, it is essential for the tenancy agreement for a long let to include provision allowing the landlord to increase the rent.
Any provision in the agreement allowing for increase must be fair, within the meaning of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.
A provision that allows the landlord to increase the rent at any time, for any reason, and to any amount they think fit, will probably be held to be unfair and thus void.
The rent cannot be raised more than once for the same tenant in one year, and a minimum of one month’s notice must be given.
Tenants have the right to challenge a rent increase if they think it is unfair by referring the rent to a Rent Assessment Committee. The committee will prevent the landlord from raising the rent above the ordinary market rent for that type of property.
Even if the tenant is not paying the rent regularly, or is in breach of other terms of the tenancy agreement, the only way a landlord can evict them is by going to court and obtain a court order for possession.
Assured shorthold tenants, can be evicted only on certain grounds – some mandatory (where the judge must give the landlord possession), some discretionary (where the judge does not have to give the landlord possession).
Mandatory grounds include:
- Rent arrears. This applies if the rent is at least 8 weeks (or two months) in arrears.
- Where the landlord wishes to recover the property as their principal (first and only) home.
Discretionary grounds include:
- Breaking any conditions of the tenancy agreement.
- Making a wrongful statement, causing the landlord to grant the initial tenancy under false pretences.
- Neglecting the property, furniture or fittings.
- Being a nuisance to neighbours.
In order for the landlord of an assured shorthold tenant to regain possession of the property, a notice of seeking possession must be served, giving 14 days notice of expiry and stating the ground for possession.
Following the 14 days, a court order must be obtained. Although gaining a court order is not complicated, a solicitor will usually be used.
Court costs can be awarded against the tenant.
A landlord is not allowed to use or threaten force, or in any other way harass or try to persuade a tenant to leave. Harassment and unlawful eviction are criminal offences and the tenant would be able to obtain substantial damages.