"Do I have any?" and other questions about your rights as a renter

Image: kaboompics.com.

Around a fifth of people living in the UK rent their homes. And increasingly, they're a bit cheesed off.  

In the run up to May's London mayoral election, the #VentYourRent hashtag and blog collated renters' grisly stories of astronomica prices and lack of basic amenities. Meanwhile, the Debrief's Make Renting Fair campaign is pushing for an end to letting agency fees across England and Wales.

But a basic part of fighting back against the rather rubbish lot renters have in much of the UK is to know exactly what your rights are, because dodgy landlords are usually relying on the fact that you don't. We've collated the answers to some common questions, based on laws, information from the Citizen's Advice Bureau, and The Tenant's Rights Manuala helpful ebook summarising the law by solicitor Naomi Moore. 

It's worth noting that these guidelines are specific to England and Wales, as the law differs in Scotland and Northern Ireland. (You can find out information on your renters' rights in those jurisdictions at the Citizens' Advice Bureau.)

We've broken down the questions into sections; click on the titles below to jump to the one you need. 

Finding your property  handing over money, making sure you have furniture, and tenancy agreements 

Living there  pests, repairs, and resisting eviction

Moving out  your deposit back, and whether you need to shell out for that professional cleaner. 

Finding your flat 

Or: don’t be so grateful they’re putting a roof over your head that you forget to check the following

Do landlords have to be accredited?  

A big no, sadly. There are a few landlord accreditation schemes, plus something called the National Landlord Association, but landlords don’t have to be a member of any of them. Same goes for estate agents.

Ask from the outset if they are, though, because then you can look up the standards or code of practice they’ve signed up to and report them to the scheme if they break the rules. 

Are holding fees and letting agency fees legal?

Yes, at least for now  though every major party but the Conservatives proposed banning them in their 2015 election manifesto.  Ask early on what these will be, as extortionately high ones aren’t illegal, either.

What should my tenancy agreement have in it?

Under the Housing Act 1988, it must include: the date the tenancy began, the rent payable and its due date, the length of the term, any information about when rent will be reviewed, and any cases where the landlord wants you to take responsibility for things (e.g. specific repairs) which they would usually be liable for.

The landlord also needs to give you a copy of the latest gas safety check, which should be carried out once a year; plus an Energy Performance Certificate. 

Do I have to have one of those fiddly inventory things?

Yes. Either your agent or landlord must write out a list of the objects in the property, which you then check (with a fine-toothed comb, ideally) and sign. It's worth quibbling anything that isn't exactly as it says on the inventory if something's broken, say so that you can't be charged for it at the end of your tenancy. 

Is it illegal for my landlord to hold my deposit themselves?

Big time. Under the Housing Act 2004 deposits must be paid into a tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days, and you must be given information about where it’s being held. One exception: if your deposit is just rent paid in advance, it doesn’t need to be paid into one of these schemes. 

What furniture does the landlord have to provide?

This is a tricky one. In an unfurnished flat, nothing – you’ll need to discuss whether white goods, for example, are included, before signing your contract. 

If it’s let furnished, any furniture must be of safe, usable standard. It’s generally accepted that this should include table and chairs, sofa, bed and storage in each bedroom, heating appliances, curtains and floor coverings, a cooker, and a fridge. However, make sure you are happy with what they're providing before you sign anything. 

Living there 

Or: when the fun really begins.

What general standards must my house meet? Do I just have to put up with leaks/holes in the floor/giant roaches? 

The law is a bit mealy-mouthed on this one – basically, the property must meet health and safety standards but not much more. (There was recently a move to enshrine the fact that homes should be “fit for human habitation” in law, but this was recently rejected by the Lords.)

If something directly affects your health and safety, your landlord is obliged under law to sort it out. This can include mould or damp, asbestos, gas leaks, unsecured entrances, a lack of lighting, excessive noise due to poor sound insulation, pests, poor drainage, lack of water supply. If your landlord isn’t acting on any of these problems you have a right to take legal action

But should my landlord fix things even if they're not affecting my health?

No matter what your tenancy agreement says, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 stipulates that landlords are always responsible for repairs to:

  • The property’s structure and exterior;
  • Anything that comes into contact with water – basins, sinks, baths, pipes, drains;
  • Heating and hot water;
  • Anything to do with the gas;
  • Electrical wiring;
  • Any damage they inflict while fixing the above.

For other things, like broken beds, fridges, washing machines, or sofas, your landlord is generally expected to repair them unless you were directly responsible for the damage or it says otherwise in your tenancy agreement. 

Are they allowed to take ages to do it?

Depends what it is. Under law, they must carry out fixes within the helpfully vague definition of a "reasonable period of time".

Lawyer Naomi Moore rekons that for emergencies such as an electrical or gas failure, this would be around 24 hours. For leaks and roof repairs, around a week. For aesthetic problems, like plaster disrepair, broken kitchen units or problems with window or door frames, a reasonable period would be about 28 days.  

What do I do if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem within a "reasonable period"? 

Sue them! Well, not exactly. You can take legal action through your local council's Tenants Relations Officer (TRO) to seek the repairs and compensation for your inconvenience. You can also pay for the repairs yourself and then bill the landlord, though proceed with this with caution (see "Can I withold rent?", below).

In this situation it's very important that you have a paper trail. Report disrepair to your landlord by text or email so you can prove when you first told them about it, and do the same with any followup. 

Can I hang pictures/install cabinets or shelves/paint the walls?

Changes of this kind can be seen as “damage”, since they change the state of the property. As a result, it’s best to check with your landlord first, as they could deduct money from your deposit in order to return the property to its original state when you leave. And it can be a mistake to assume you'll be staying for a while, and therefore it's worth risking it: landlords have no duty to let you stay longer than the time set out in your tenancy agreement. 

Who is responsible for rats/mice/spider/zombie infestations that occur after you move in?

Almost always the landlord, unless a) it says they aren’t on the tenancy agreement, or b) the pest infestation is your fault, and they can prove it. 

Can they raise my rent?

If you have a fixed term tenancy, not within the length of time set out in your tenancy agreement. At the end of that agreement, they can, as you’d be signing a new agreement if you decided to stay. Currently, there are no legal limits on how much rent can be raised at the end of a tenancy for new or returning tneants.

If you have a periodic, or rolling tenancy, your landlord can generally only increase the rent once a year, depending on the terms in your tenancy agreement. They must give you one month’s notice if you pay rent weekly or monthly.

Can I withhold rent if I'm unhappy with my landlord?

Yes, but it’s very risky. You don’t have a right to withhold rent because repairs haven’t been carried out, for example, and your landlord can start repossession proceedings and put you at risk of eviction if you do. 

A better route can be to use your own money for repairs, then recuperate the cost from future rent. You do have a right to do this. However, it’s important to follow the right procedure, including writing letters to your landlord, keeping copies, and sending your landlord quotes from contractors (more specific advice on that here). It’s best to get advice first so you’re protected legally  the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good place to start.

Can my landlord evict me?

Only if they follow a very specific legal procedure and have grounds to do so. The landlord also cannot harass you in order to convince you to leave the property, under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and could be forced to pay you damages. If you experience any verbal threats or physical violence, go to the police.

If you’ve experienced illegal eviction or think you're at risk of it, go to your local council’s Tenancy Relations Officer, who can take your landlord to court.

Can the landlord turn up whenever they want?

No. It’s against the law for a landlord to enter the property without notice or permission. Under the Housing Act 1988 they must give you 24 hours’ notice in writing before coming round, and should only come at reasonable times so you can be present.

A few exceptions: if there is a fire, a smell of gas, urgent structural damage, or evidence of a criminal incident, they can enter without your permission. 

If they do turn up unannounced, you are under no obligation to allow them in, but if you do you’re not revoking your right to expect 24 hours’ notice in future.

During the last 28 days of your tenancy, the landlord can show round new tenants, but again, they must give you 24 hours’ notice in writing before doing so. .

Is subletting illegal?

Moving in a tenant who hasn’t signed your tenancy agreement is illegal if the landlord did not agree with it first. A landlord can evict you if they find out. Subletting social housing is even more serious, and is actually a criminal offence – you can go to prison for up to two years. 

Moving out 

Or: oh god am I getting my deposit back??

When can they keep my deposit?

The landlord can deduct money for any damage or mess which isn’t due to “fair wear and tear”. This is a tricky definition to apply sometimes, but as a rule, the landlord should not end up in a better position financially or materially than they were when you moved in.

Adjudicators at your deposit protection scheme can investigate any dispute between you and your landlord on this – it’s a good idea to have evidence, including damage noted on an original inventory or photos, to back up your claims if you decide to dispute the landlord's decision. 


Do I have to pay for a professional cleaner?

Yes, if it says so in your tenancy agreement. Otherwise no, though you should leave your property in roughly the same condition that you found it, allowing for fair wear and tear.   

What next? 

Maybe you're buying. Maybe you're moving home for a bit. Otherwise it's back to the beginning

More questions? Tweet them to us at @CityMetric or email Barbara.speed@citymetric.com.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.