“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.

 
 
 
 

What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.