“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.

 
 
 
 

Just like teenagers, self-driving cars need practice to really learn to drive

A self-driving car, of unknown level of education. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

What do self-driving cars and teenage drivers have in common?

Experience. Or, more accurately, a lack of experience.

Teenage drivers – novice drivers of any age, actually – begin with little knowledge of how to actually operate a car’s controls, and how to handle various quirks of the rules of the road. In North America, their first step in learning typically consists of fundamental instruction conveyed by a teacher. With classroom education, novice drivers are, in effect, programmed with knowledge of traffic laws and other basics. They then learn to operate a motor vehicle by applying that programming and progressively encountering a vast range of possibilities on actual roadways. Along the way, feedback they receive – from others in the vehicle as well as the actual experience of driving – helps them determine how best to react and function safely.

The same is true for autonomous vehicles. They are first programmed with basic knowledge. Red means stop; green means go, and so on. Then, through a form of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, self-driving autos draw from both accumulated experiences and continual feedback to detect patterns, adapt to circumstances, make decisions and improve performance.

For both humans and machines, more driving will ideally lead to better driving. And in each case, establishing mastery takes a long time. Especially as each learns to address the unique situations that are hard to anticipate without experience – a falling tree, a flash flood, a ball bouncing into the street, or some other sudden event. Testing, in both controlled and actual environments, is critical to building know-how. The more miles that driverless cars travel, the more quickly their safety improves. And improved safety performance will influence public acceptance of self-driving car deployment – an area in which I specialise.

Starting with basic skills

Experience, of course, must be built upon a foundation of rudimentary abilities – starting with vision. Meeting that essential requirement is straightforward for most humans, even those who may require the aid of glasses or contact lenses. For driverless cars, however, the ability to see is an immensely complex process involving multiple sensors and other technological elements:

  • radar, which uses radio waves to measure distances between the car and obstacles around it;
  • LIDAR, which uses laser sensors to build a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings;
  • cameras, to detect people, lights, signs and other objects;
  • satellites, to enable GPS, global positioning systems that can pinpoint locations;
  • digital maps, which help to determine and modify routes the car will take;
  • a computer, which processes all the information, recognising objects, analysing the driving situation and determining actions based on what the car sees.

How a driverless car ‘sees’ the road.

All of these elements work together to help the car know where it is at all times, and where everything else is in relation to it. Despite the precision of these systems, however, they’re not perfect. The computer can know which pictures and sensory inputs deserve its attention, and how to correctly respond, but experience only comes from traveling a lot of miles.

The learning that is occurring by autonomous cars currently being tested on public roads feeds back into central systems that make all of a company’s cars better drivers. But even adding up all the on-road miles currently being driven by all autonomous vehicles in the U.S. doesn’t get close to the number of miles driven by humans every single day.

Dangerous after dark

Seeing at night is more challenging than during the daytime – for self-driving cars as well as for human drivers. Contrast is reduced in dark conditions, and objects – whether animate or inanimate – are more difficult to distinguish from their surroundings. In that regard, a human’s eyes and a driverless car’s cameras suffer the same impairment – unlike radar and LIDAR, which don’t need sunlight, streetlights or other lighting.

This was a factor in March in Arizona, when a pedestrian pushing her bicycle across the street at night was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle. Emergency braking, disabled at the time of the crash, was one issue. The car’s sensors were another issue, having identified the pedestrian as a vehicle first, and then as a bicycle. That’s an important distinction, because a self-driving car’s judgments and actions rely upon accurate identifications. For instance, it would expect another vehicle to move more quickly out of its path than a person walking.


Try and try again

To become better drivers, self-driving cars need not only more and better technological tools, but also something far more fundamental: practice. Just like human drivers, robot drivers won’t get better at dealing with darkness, fog and slippery road conditions without experience.

Testing on controlled roads is a first step to broad deployment of driverless vehicles on public streets. The Texas Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Partnership, involving the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, University of Texas at Austin, and Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, operates a group of closed-course test sites.

Self-driving cars also need to experience real-world conditions, so the Partnership includes seven urban regions in Texas where equipment can be tested on public roads. And, in a separate venture in July, self-driving startup Drive.ai began testing its own vehicles on limited routes in Frisco, north of Dallas.

These testing efforts are essential to ensuring that self-driving technologies are as foolproof as possible before their widespread introduction on public roadways. In other words, the technology needs time to learn. Think of it as driver education for driverless cars.

People learn by doing, and they learn best by doing repeatedly. Whether the pursuit involves a musical instrument, an athletic activity or operating a motor vehicle, individuals build proficiency through practice.

The ConversationSelf-driving cars, as researchers are finding, are no different from teens who need to build up experience before becoming reliably safe drivers. But at least the cars won’t have to learn every single thing for themselves – instead, they’ll talk to each other and share a pool of experience.

Johanna Zmud, Senior Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Texas A&M University .

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.