With rent hikes happening countrywide following a series of increases in the Bank of England base rate, it’s more important than ever to know what your rights are when renting privately.
According to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), private property rental prices across the country rose 4.8% in the 12 months to April, the biggest increase since the ONS started collecting this data in 2016.
This guide will take you through all of your basic rights as a tenant and explain how to challenge your landlord if you think they’re treating you unfairly. Bear in mind that some of these only apply to those renting in England. You should also be aware that renting rules were recently overhauled in Wales, so some aspects of the English system now no longer apply there.
What kind of tenancy do you have?
Your rights if you rent your home will depend partially on the kind of tenancy you have. In England these are as follows:
Assured shorthold tenancies are the most common kind of tenancy in the UK – a new tenancy is considered to be assured shorthold automatically unless specifically stated otherwise. This type of tenancy is usually either on a fixed term contract, which set out the period of time you rent the property for, or a periodic or “rolling” contract, which does not have a set end date and runs from period to period (usually weeks or months) until you decide to move or the landlord asks you to leave. Sometimes, a fixed term contract will include a clause to continue as a rolling tenancy after the fixed term is over.
Assured tenancies are almost exactly the same as assured shorthold tenancies, with some key differences that we explore later.
Regulated or protected tenancies are less common, as they only apply to tenancies started before 15 January 1989. This arrangement usually means you have the right to stay in the property for life, and pay much less in rent than the current market value.
If you are a licensee then you have obtained personal permission to occupy the property. This is normally a spoken agreement, such as a young person living with their parents, though there are licenses where a contract exists and money is paid to the property owner, but the conditions are not met for it to be considered a tenancy.
New tenancy rules in Wales
As of December 2022, assured shorthold tenancies in Wales are known as standard occupation contracts. Any new tenancy exists under these new rules, and existing tenancy agreements automatically converted to occupation contracts as well – if you have an assured shorthold tenancy from before December 2022, your landlord should by now have sent you a written statement of the converted occupation contract, either by paper or electronically.
You can read more about how Welsh renting rules have changed at Citizens Advice.
Safety and repairs
No matter what kind of tenancy you have, your landlord will be legally required to make sure your home is safe and habitable, and that you won’t be injured due to the conditions of the property.
Your landlord will also be responsible for major repairs under almost any kind of tenancy. This means they are responsible for:
- The structure of the property (walls, windows, doors, roof, etc)
- Sinks, baths and toilets
- The boiler, and making sure heating and hot water are provided
- Making sure gas and electrical appliances are safe
- Pipes and wiring
If there are problems with any of these then you should contact your landlord or letting agent so they can send someone to do repairs or see what the problem is. You will usually not be charged for this, though you might be if the problem was caused by you, another tenant or a friend. On some occasions, you can call someone to repair the issue yourself and have them charge the landlord directly, though any work will usually need to have been pre-approved by the landlord first.
Responsibility for some maintenance tasks will depend on what is specified in the contract – for example, if the property has a garden, the landlord might pay a gardener to tend to it regularly, or it might fall on you to maintain it. If you were to leave the garden overgrown and in need of service at the end of the tenancy, the landlord could deduct the cost from your deposit.
Common parts of the building such as stairways and entrance halls, or certain parts of the plumbing and electricity may or may not be the landlord’s responsibility, depending on how the building is owned. For example, if multiple landlords own different flats in the same building, then common areas may be the responsibility of the local council.
If you’re a licensee then responsibility for repairs will depend on the arrangement between you and the property owner. You can find out more about your landlord’s obligations to you as a tenant in our article What are my responsibilities as a landlord?
Rents are rising at a record rate due to steeper borrowing costs. However, there are rules around how much your landlord can charge you, and they cannot increase your rent whenever they want, or by any amount they like.
In England, any increase in your rent must be “fair and realistic”, meaning it is in line with average local rents. Landlords will usually cite rising property values in your area as the reason for a rent increase, but this means it is worth looking at the rent on similar properties to make sure they’re not increasing it by too much.
Under a fixed term assured tenancy or assured shorthold tenancy, your landlord has to wait until the end of the term to increase your rent. If you choose to renew your tenancy at this point, they need to tell you what your new rent will be first and include it in the new contract.
The amount of notice your landlord needs to give you before increasing your rent depends on how often you pay rent. If you pay rent yearly, they must give you at least six months’ notice of any increase. If you pay on a weekly or monthly basis, they must give you at least one month’s notice.
Your landlord cannot raise your rent during the term itself, unless you have a “rent review clause” in your contract, which has to specify when and how the increase will happen.
If you are on a periodic contract, your landlord cannot increase your rent more than once per year without your permission.
If you are a protected tenant, your landlord cannot increase your rent without your permission unless there is a rent review clause in the contract, or if your rent is registered as a “fair rent” by the Valuation Office Agency and your landlord applies to have it increased.
What if I can’t pay my rent?
If you cannot pay your rent, or think you will not be able to, contact your landlord to let them know what is happening – you may be able to arrange a payment plan with them. You can also contact your local Citizen’s Advice for specific guidance for your situation.
Our article What can you do if you can’t afford your rent? contains more advice and outlines the steps you should take in this situation.
Your level of protection from eviction depends on the type of tenancy you have.
In England, under an assured shorthold tenancy, your landlord must give you a section 21 or section 8 notice in order to start the eviction process.
A section 8 notice can be used if you or another tenant have broken the terms of the tenancy, thus giving the landlord a reason to evict you. The amount of notice you get – that is, the period between receiving the notice and your eviction date – will depend on their reasons for evicting you.
A section 21 notice can be used even if there is no specific reason for ending the tenancy, and the landlord just wants the property back. Under a periodic contract, this can be issued at any time after four months, but under a fixed term contract, it cannot be issued until the end of the term. It must also give you at least 2 months’ notice to leave the property.
Therefore, if you have agreed in writing that you can live in the property for a year and haven’t broken any terms of the tenancy, your landlord cannot evict you before the end of the fixed term.
Your landlord also usually cannot serve you a section 21 notice if they have broken the terms of the tenancy.
If you are renting under an assured tenancy or regulated tenancy, you cannot be evicted unless you break the terms of the tenancy.
Your landlord is responsible for your home’s energy efficiency under assured, assured shorthold and regulated tenancies. They must make sure your home has an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of at least E – if it falls below this (to an F or G rating), they must take steps to make the property more energy efficient or they can’t continue to rent the property.
Your landlord will have had to obtain an up-to-date EPC before renting out the property, and should have given a copy to you before you began renting. If you don’t know your home’s efficiency rating or want to see its EPC, ask your letting agent or landlord – they must show you it.
In Scotland, landlords are required to display an EPC somewhere within the building itself, such as next to the boiler or meter.
Your landlord must put your deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme. These schemes are backed by the government and designed to ensure you get your deposit back provided you follow all the rules of the tenancy.
You may need to contact your landlord or letting agent to ask for your deposit back once the tenancy is over.
Your landlord can only keep some of your deposit if they have good reason to, such as you not having paid all of your rent or having caused damage to the property. It’s best to always leave the property in good condition when you move out, in order to make sure you get all your money back.
If your landlord decides to keep some of your deposit then they need to tell you why, as certain reasons are not considered sufficient. For example, everyday use resulting in reasonable wear and tear, such as scuffed skirting boards or lightly scratched kitchen surfaces, are not considered valid reasons for keeping your money.
Reasonable adjustments for disabilities and protection from discrimination
It is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, gender, disability, sexuality or religion. This means they cannot rent to you on worse terms than other tenants, treat you differently or evict you for any of these reasons.
Landlords are also required to incorporate “reasonable adjustments” for disabled tenants, such as altering a “no pets” policy if you have a guide dog or changing taps or door handles to be easier to use. Whether an adjustment is considered reasonable will depend on the extent of your disability, the nature of your request, and whether the landlord has the resources or capability to accommodate it.
Contact your nearest Citizen’s Advice if you believe you are being discriminated against, or are having trouble getting your landlord to accommodate your disability.
Knowing who your landlord is
Many landlords do not deal with tenants directly and offload this task to a letting agent, who acts as an intermediary and deals with property management themselves.
However, even if you never talk to or meet your landlord, it is still your legal right to know who they are, their address, and how to contact them.
Challenging your landlord
If you are having problems with your rental property, get in touch with your landlord and ask if they can put things right.
Start by speaking to them directly if you can, and try to keep things amicable, explaining the impact that the issues with the property are having on you.
If this does not trigger them into action, write them a formal letter or email of complaint, explaining the problem in as much detail as possible, outlining your rights as a tenant, and stating what you think should be done to fix the problem. Try to include evidence if you can – these could include photos or video of the issue, relevant dates and times, previous correspondence that backs up your claims, receipts or a doctor’s note.
If this doesn’t work, you may be able to complain to your local council. The council will only be able to intervene if the matter involves illegal eviction, harassment, dishonest or unfair trading, or repairs that pose a health and safety risk by not being completed. The council can then investigate the issue and make the landlord fix it, and potentially fine them. When contacting your local council, include a copy of the letter or email that you sent to your landlord.
If none of this fixes the problem and the council can’t help, you might be able to take the matter to court. This might be due to a harassment or eviction issue, or because your deposit has not been returned. You may also be able to start a claim in the small claims court if the property has fallen into a poor state of repair due to neglect from the landlord. Bear in mind that taking court action can be expensive, and should only be done as a last resort, and if the problem calls for it.
You can contact your nearest Citizen’s Advice for help with any steps in this process.
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