Tenant Focus – Know Your Rights

It always amazes me that just when I think I’ve run out of ideas to write about lettings for the blog (we’ve been going nearly three years now!), something very basic crops ups which really makes me think there is so much we, in the Lettings Industry, assume tenants and landlords already know. Browsing through Letting Agent Today last week, I came across an article* which suggests 97% of tenants do not know their full rights, 50% don’t know if the landlord can increase their rent without notifying them and 38% are unsure of when a landlord is allowed to enter the rental property. My answer to all those questions would always be to first read your tenancy agreement; most answers to all tenant queries can be found there. However, January will soon be upon us, a time when many renters decide to move, so I thought I’d leave you with a little reading matter to clue yourself up with over the Christmas period, if you’re a tenant who’s floundering over what you can or can’t do in your rental property:

Firstly, under UK legislation, when you are taking on a new rental property, your landlord or lettings agent should give you a copy of the Government’s How to Rent Document. If you are unsure if you have one of these, you can find a copy here: https://bit.ly/2N6s8P7. This will give you basic information and assistance on the renting process and not only tell you about your rights but your responsibilities as a tenant too. The Government also stipulate that your basic tenant rights include:

  • The property is safe and in a good state of repair. For example, there are no leaks coming through the roof or windows, it has fully functioning plumbing and sewers and the electrics are safe with no exposed wires or loose sockets. The Government have introduced a scheme this year called MEES (Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards) which means that properties which fall below these standards cannot be rented out until they have been upgraded, in order to protect tenants and their living conditions.
  • You know who your landlord is. Even if the property is being rented via a lettings agent, you should be given our landlord’s name and address. Any comprehensive tenancy agreement will have this information.
  • You have the right to challenge excessively high charges. For example, what the landlord or letting agent charges you in terms of reference checks and administration fees, in order for you to go through the process of renting out the property.
  • Live in the property undisturbed. This means that whilst the tenancy agreement is in place and you aren’t in breach of it, your landlord must give you notice to access the property and this should be 24 hours or more, unless it is an emergency (in which case, if there was a leak from the bathroom, for example, I am sure you would prefer the access to take place!).
  • See an Energy Performance Certificate. A property cannot be rented out without an EPC and, as I’ve already mentioned, since April a rental property must meet a rating of ‘E’ or above before it can be marketed for rent.
  • Have your deposit returned when the tenancy ends and have the deposit protected. Your landlord is breaking the law if the tenancy deposit isn’t lodged with a Government approved Tenancy Deposit Scheme within 30 days of receiving the deposit, usually on the day the tenancy commences. Equally, they must follow the procedures and protocols set out by the deposit scheme, to return your deposit to you when your tenancy ends.
  • Be protected from unfair eviction and unfair rent. Essentially, your landlord must follow certain procedures depending on whether there is a tenancy agreement in place, whether the deposit was correctly lodged at the beginning of the tenancy and serve notice accordingly. For example, if the tenancy deposit wasn’t lodged correctly, then your landlord cannot give notice without handing the full tenancy deposit back at the time they give you notice. With regards to rent, if the landlord increased your rent and you felt it was excessive, you have the right to challenge it based upon influencing factors such as average rents in your area and the rate of inflation. Your landlord cannot increase your rent above the previously agreed amount without your written consent.
  • Have a written agreement if you have a fixed-term tenancy of more than three years. This last point is, in my opinion, out of date. Always seek to have a tenancy agreement in place which you are given time to read, prior to signing and taking occupancy. If you are concerned about any points in the tenancy agreement then take the contract to the Citizens Advice Bureau for their opinion. Legislation in the lettings sector is constantly changing and evolving and I would imagine this last point will become obsolete in the next twelve months.

So, those are your basic tenant rights, which all tenants have. For anything else you are concerned about, as I’ve already said, you should refer to your tenancy agreement. If you haven’t got a tenancy agreement in place, perhaps now is the time to address this. Most tenancy agreements are Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreements with a fixed term period of six months and then a rolling, periodic contract from thereon in. Most tenants are honoured to give four weeks’ notice from the rent due date and landlords must give eight weeks. Of course, these basic rights don’t answer every tenant query, so here are the most frequent questions we get asked by our tenants:

  • Can we extend our fixed term period? You don’t have a right to extend the fixed term period, but you have a right to request it. The landlord may refuse, or they may prefer to have peace of mind that they have tenants in place for the next year. Most agents charge an administration fee to facilitate this and issue new contracts but a private landlord, most likely, won’t.
  • We’d like to get a pet. Do we have a right to do this? Again, a bit of a grey area, especially if the original tenancy agreement doesn’t stipulate anything about pets, but thankfully most standard tenancy agreements do. Generally speaking, you must seek your landlord’s permission to get a pet, by which I’m talking cats and dogs; gold fish don’t generally wreak havoc on the carpets. Most letting agents and some landlords will request an extra tenancy deposit in the form of a ‘pet bond’, usually around £250, to cover any extra damage a pet might cause, which will be refunded with your normal deposit if the property is returned in good condition.
  • I’m confused; my tenancy agreement states I have to give four weeks’ notice but my letting agent has just told me I’m going to have to serve six weeks. Why is this? Again, it all comes down to the tenancy agreement. In UK law, notice is given from the rent due date, however, (just to confuse matters), some agents and landlords stipulate four weeks’ notice in their tenancy agreements, so it’s worth taking time to read the small print. If you pay your rent on the 1st of each month, but you gave notice on the 14th of the month, you would effectively be giving notice from the 1st of the following month, hence you would be giving six weeks’ notice.
  • Can I get out of my Tenancy Agreement earlier than the fixed term period? By law, you have agreed to pay rent in that fixed term period and therefore you are obliged to keep paying the rent. However, people’s situations change, and landlords do understand this. You could negotiate to get out of your fixed term period if the landlord can find another tenant to take over the tenancy. Your landlord or letting agent will most probably ask you to pay the re-referencing and marketing costs to find new tenants but it will release you from your contract early.
  • I need my tenancy deposit back to put down on another property. Can I have it back early? The simple answer to this is, no. It’s locked in the deposit scheme until the tenancy has ended. This may change in the future as the Government have identified that deposits are a considerable amount of money for tenants to find in the first place. What you can do, however, is be punctual, organised and request your deposit at the earliest convenience from the day you vacate the property. The better condition you leave the property in, the more likelihood of receiving the deposit back in full and as soon as possible.

For specific renting queries, I would recommend visiting the Government ‘Private Renting’ website https://www.gov.uk/private-renting and Shelter have some great advice too https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting. And, as I have said a couple of times already, it’s really worth taking the time to read your tenancy agreement. It might be a long document and feel like a laborious task, but it does contain all the facts over what your rights are and what your landlord’s responsibilities are too, not to mention what you are responsible for too.

Finally, if you are a tenant currently looking to rent in Gloucester, please don’t hesitate to contact us 01452 310999, email us at gloucester@surepropertygroup.com or call into our offices in Worcester Street, Gloucester, to discuss your needs further.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Jemma Wilkinson

Director

Sure Sales & Lettings

*https://www.lettingagenttoday.co.uk/breaking-news/2018/12/tenants-know-too-little-about-the-rental-sector-suggests-report