Private Renting Guide
Table of Contents
Landlord Safety Responsibilities
Landlords have a legal requirement to keep properties that they are renting out safe and free from certain kinds of health hazards.
If you are a tenant living in a privately rented property, your landlord must:
- Ensure that all fixed electrical installations are safe and in good working order (e.g. light fittings, electrical sockets).
- Make sure that any appliances supplied to the tenant as part of the rental agreement are safe (e.g. cooker, fridge, kettle).
Note: Another section explains why landlords and tenants need to be aware of the new electrical safety rules to avoid a potential fine of £30,000 (from April 2021).
Landlords must ensure any gas equipment supplied to their tenants is installed in a safe manner and maintained by an engineer listed on the Gas Safe register.
Furthermore, your landlord must also:
- Have a registered engineer conduct an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue (e.g. enclosed passageway).
- Give a copy of the gas safety check record to the tenant before they move in (or no later than 28 days of the safety check).
Note: The Gas Safe Register replaced CORGI registration in April 2009. The website contains an official list of Gas Safe registered businesses in the United Kingdom.
Another section lists 10 fire safety rules and tips as part of the official campaign for preventing fires. Even so, all landlords need to follow safety regulations, and:
- Ensure tenants can access all escape routes without having to deal with any restrictions (at all times).
- Have a smoke alarm installed on each storey along with a carbon monoxide alarm in any room that has a solid fuel burning appliance (e.g. coal fire, wood burning stove).
- Make sure that any furniture and furnishings supplied as part of the rental agreement are fire safe (e.g. bed, sofa).
- Provide tenants with fire alarms and fire extinguishers if the property is a large house in multiple occupation (HMO).
Important: The rules for private renting have not changed during the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). Follow the current NHS guidelines if a visit is required to carry out safety checks in the home.
Rights and Responsibilities for Tenants
Tenants in privately rented property are protected by certain statutory rights and they have a number of legal responsibilities to comply with.
According to the housing regulations in the United Kingdom, the tenant has the right to know who their landlord is, and:
- Have a written tenancy agreement that is fair and complies with the law (for fixed-term tenancies more than 3 years).
- Live ‘undisturbed’ in a safe property and in a building that is in a good state of repair.
- Have the deposit returned to them by the landlord when the tenancy agreement ends (including tenancy deposit protection in certain circumstances).
- Make a formal challenge to excessively high service charges or ‘unfair’ rental fees.
- Have some protection from being evicted unfairly.
- View the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property they are living in.
Note: Landlords can receive a fine for failing to give their contact information to tenants within twenty one (21) days. You can write to whoever you are paying rent to if you are unaware of your landlord’s details.
Starting a New Tenancy
Anytime tenants start a new assured or a short assured tenancy their landlord must provide them with (either):
- A current copy of the government guide titled ‘How to rent: the checklist for renting in England‘.
- A Tenant Information Pack in Scotland (for tenancies created before the 1st of December 2017).
The government has produced non-statutory guidance about COVID-19 and renting, meant for landlords, tenants, and local authorities in the private and social rented sectors.
When private renting as a tenant, you should provide access to your landlord for inspecting the property or for carrying out repairs.
Even so, landlords must give a minimum of twenty four (24) hours of advance notice. Other than in an emergency situation, the visit must take place at a reasonable time of day.
As a tenant, you also need to:
- Make regular payments for the agreed amount of rent. This also applies even if you are trying to solve a residential property dispute with your landlord.
- Pay for any other services or charges that you agreed with your landlord (e.g. Council Tax, utility bills).
- Treat the property with good care (e.g. close the mains water supply during cold weather if you will be spending time away from home).
- Pay to have any damage caused by you, your family, or any of your friends who visit the property, either repaired or replaced.
- Refrain from subletting the property unless either the tenancy agreement allows it or your landlord has agreed to it.
Even though landlords need to follow the correct procedures when evicting tenants, they have the right to start legal action if a tenant fails to meet their responsibilities.
Does Your Landlord Live Outside the UK?
If your landlord is living outside the United Kingdom you should contact HM Revenue and Customs if you are paying £100 (or more) directly to them per week in rent.
Note: HMRC produces further guidance about paying tax on rent on behalf of landlords who are abroad (e.g. the non-resident landlord scheme).
How to Prove Your Right to Rent
As a tenant, you will need to prove to your landlord or letting agent that you have the right to rent a property in England, if:
- You are renting the property as your main home.
- Your tenancy started since the 1st of February 2016.
Either your landlord (or the letting agent) will be required to perform the checks. It will include:
- Checking your documents (and those of any other adults who will be living in the property) to confirm that you have the right to rent a property in England.
- Taking copies of the documentation and keeping them until you vacate the property.
- Returning the originals back to you once they have conducted the right to rent check.
It is against the law in the United Kingdom to discriminate against anyone because of their nationality, including potential rental tenants.
Nonetheless, if you are unable to provide acceptable documentation you will not qualify for renting a property in England.
Your landlord can check if someone can rent a residential property with the Home Office if they have your documents (e.g. due to an appeal or an outstanding case).
Document Check Exemptions
In some cases, there will be no need to prove your right to rent, such as when living in:
- A care home or a hospice (including a hospital).
- Accommodation that the local council provides for you.
- Accommodation that your employer provides to you as part of the job or training.
- Any accommodation that has a lease of at least seven (7) years.
- Hostels and refuges.
- Social housing accommodation.
- Student accommodation (e.g. halls of residence).
Certain circumstances would mean you can still rent a property even if you are not allowed to stay in the United Kingdom. Typical examples include:
- Being a victim of slavery.
- Using the Home Office voluntary departure scheme.
When are Repeat Checks Not Necessary?
There is no need for tenants to have a further document checks if they stay in the same property and the tenant (any):
- Has British citizenship
- Is an EU, EEA, or a Swiss citizen
- Has no time limit on their right to stay in the United Kingdom
Tenants with a time limit on their right to stay would need to have a repeat check. Hence, your landlord would ask to see your documents before the permission to stay runs out (or after 12 months).
Private Renting Rules about Repairs
The Landlord’s Responsibilities
Landlords will always be responsible for carrying certain types of repairs (along with any damage they cause by attempting the repairs), such as for:
- Basins, baths, and sinks (including other sanitary fittings such as the drains and pipes).
- Electrical wiring.
- Gas appliances, the pipes, flues, and any related ventilation system.
- Heating and the hot water supply.
- The exterior and the structure of the property.
In most cases, the landlord would also be responsible for repairing any common areas in and around the property. Typical examples include:
The Tenant’s Responsibilities
As a tenant, you should only be carrying out repairs for things stated as your responsibility in the tenancy agreement. Hence, your landlord cannot force you to do, or pay for, any damage or repairs that are their responsibility.
So, what happens if you damage another tenant’s flat? An example would be when water leaks from your room into a flat below.
As a rule, you would be responsible for paying for their repairs. The same applies for any damage caused to other flats by your family or your friends.
Process when Properties Need Repairs
The first step is to contact the landlord if your property needs something repairing. Moreover, you should never delay reporting a fault that may be harmful to health (e.g. faulty electrics).
Tenants should not stop paying rent while waiting for workers to carry out repairs. But, landlords should inform their tenant about when they should expect them to be done.
In case you were wondering:
What should tenants do if their landlord fails to get the repairs done (e.g. if it’s causing a nuisance)? You should contact your local council and ask for help from the environmental health department.
Note: Tenants should make an application to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) to get a decision about whether a landlord complied with their duty.
What if the Property is Not Fit to Live In?
Your local council will conduct a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment on any home they think is unsafe. Furthermore, they would be required to take action if they find any severe health and safety hazards.
Dealing with Rent Increases, Disputes, and Arrears
Some general rules exist for any landlord who wants to increase the rent for any type of tenancy, such as:
- The increase has to be fair and ‘realistic’, meaning it falls in line with the cost of the average rents in the local area.
- All landlords would need to get permission from their tenants if they plan on increasing the rent to an amount more than what was previously agreed.
When Can Landlords Increase Rents?
Periodic tenancies are those which roll over on either a week-by-week or a month-by-month basis. As a general rule, landlords cannot increase rents on these types of tenancy agreements more than one time per year.
A fixed-term tenancy agreement would run for a set period of time. Landlords can only increase the rent on these tenancies if the tenant agrees to it.
So, what happens if the tenant does not agree to the increase? If this is the case, landlords can only put the rent up when the fixed term ends.
There are specific rules for landlords to follow when proposing a rent increase. In general, they should follow the procedure stated in the tenancy agreement.
But, in some cases, your landlord would be able to:
- Renew the tenancy agreement after the fixed term ends with an increased rent.
- Have the tenant accept the increase and create a written record of the agreement signed by both parties.
- Use a form titled ‘Landlord’s notice proposing a new rent‘ (e.g. increase the rent once the fixed term ends).
Your landlord must give you a minimum of one month’s notice (if you pay rent weekly or monthly). If you have a yearly tenancy, they must give you 6 months’ notice.
Note: Another section explains more about private renting tenancy agreements (e.g. how and when to review rents). See below for special rules that apply when making changes to a regulated tenancy.
In England, a housing tribunal will determine the outcomes of certain types of rental disputes. But, the process for solving residential rent disputes differs in Wales, Scotland, and in Northern Ireland.
Disputing a Rent Increase
Before you apply to the housing tribunal, the dispute you are having about a rent increase must have been before any new rental rates start, and:
- Be about an assured or assured shorthold tenancy.
- Relate to an increase as part of a ‘section 13 procedure’ (e.g. check the letter you get from your landlord).
Note: In some cases, the tribunal will make a decision on the new rental terms before you renew your tenancy.
Rent Rates Set by a Rent Officer
The Valuation Office Agency deals with regulated (protected) tenancies. Thus, once set by a rent officer, it only increases if the rent officer sets a new rent.
Likewise, they can set a new rent limit if it hasn’t been set beforehand. Even so, the landlord would not be able to charge a higher rate.
The Valuation Office may pass the case over to a tribunal if a tenant makes an appeal against a decision set by a rent officer.
Note: The Citizens Advice has more information about cases where rents are higher that when a tenant started a tenancy. You would need to apply no later than six (6) weeks of moving into the property.
One of the common grounds for evicting tenants is for falling behind with the rent. Simply put, you might lose the place you call home.
Tenants should discuss the situation with their landlord without delay if they are unable to pay rent (e.g. due to the coronavirus outbreak).
Note: The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government have produced detailed guidance about COVID-19 and renting with useful information for landlords, tenants, and local authorities.
Tenancy Deposit Protection and Disputes
As a rule, tenants need to pay a deposit before they can move into a rented property. In some cases, the local council can provide some financial support for tenants who are having difficulty paying a deposit.
Government-Approved Deposit Protection
Are you a tenant in England or Wales with an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) that started after the 6th of April 2007?
If so, your landlord will be responsible for putting the down payment into some form of tenancy deposit protection (TDP).
Deposit Disputes and Problems
As a tenant, you would be able to ‘raise a dispute‘ with the tenancy deposit protection scheme that your landlord used (e.g. in situations where you are unable to get your deposit returned).
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)
Some of the homes rented out to tenants will be classed as a house in multiple occupation (HMO), such as when (both):
- Three (3) or more tenants are living in the same home (e.g. forming at least two households).
- The tenants share some of the facilities in the property, such as the bathroom, kitchen facilities, or the toilet.
Furthermore, a home will be classed as a large house in multiple occupation (HMO), when (both):
- Five (5) or more tenants are living in the same home (e.g. forming at least two households).
- The tenants share some of the facilities in the property, such as the bathroom, kitchen facilities, or the toilet.
For private renting purposes, there is a difference between a household and a family. A single person, or members of the same family living together, is classed as a household.
Whereas, a family will be people who are:
- Married or living together (includes people in same-sex relationships)
- Relatives or half-relatives (e.g. aunts, uncles, grandparents, and siblings)
- Step-children and step-parents
HMO Standards and Obligations
Landlords need to meet certain standards, and they have extra responsibilities and obligations, if they have many tenants living in shared accommodation (e.g. a large HMO).
Tenants should report hazards in houses in multiple occupation to the local council authority. They have the responsibility for enforcing standards and local councils have the power to make landlords fix any hazardous problems.
How to Reclaim Your Rent
Landlords who are renting out a large house in multiple occupation (HMO) will need to have a licence to do so from the local council.
The council will prosecute any landlord who is running an unlicensed HMO. In this case, tenants may be able to apply to a housing tribunal to reclaim some of the rent paid.
HMO and COVID-19 (coronavirus)
During the coronavirus pandemic, all residents who are living in a house in multiple occupation (HMO), should follow the current general guidance about staying at home, and:
- Behave as if you were in a single household if someone has coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms.
- Ensure all shared areas and facilities get cleaned on a regular basis and kept well ventilated.
Note: Try to spend as little time as possible in any shared areas if you are someone with a high risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus (e.g. shielding).
How to Report Anti-Social Behaviour
If you are private renting as a tenant, you can report any incidents of anti-social behaviour to the local council. In some cases, they can take over the general management of a property to reduce or stop the anti-social activities.
The council can also create a ‘selective licensing scheme’ for privately rented housing. This usually takes place where people in several properties are behaving antisocially in a zone.
If this happens, all landlords with properties in that particular area would need to have a licence to show they meet some minimum standards.
Making Changes to a Regulated Tenancy
Are you a tenant with a private tenancy agreement in place before the 15th of January 1989? If so, it is likely to be a ‘regulated tenancy’ (also called Rent Act tenancies or a protected tenancy).
As a result, landlords can only increase rents for regulated tenancies up to the ‘fair rent’. A rent officer from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) sets the legal amount – sometimes called the registered rent.
The tenant or the landlord can ask for a VOA rent review every two (2) years. In some cases, for example after making some home improvements or major repairs, you ask the VOA to review it sooner.
What if the Rent Increases?
Your landlord would need to serve you a ‘notice of increase of rent form’ (e.g. from a legal stationer) to raise the amount you are paying (in writing).
Furthermore, the notice would need to include specific details about the changes (e.g. how much it will increase by and the start date).
Landlords can backdate an increase in rent to the date of the notice. But, they must not backdate it by more than four (4) weeks (or to a date earlier than the registration date).
Note: Another section explains how to check the register of fair rents (e.g. to determine whether the rent is registered and the amount).
How to Appeal Against a VOA Decision
You should write to the rent officer within twenty eight days if you want to appeal a VOA decision. They will accept later appeals if there is a valid reason behind the delay (e.g. you were hospitalised).
In some cases, a tribunal will reconsider the registered rent before making a final decision on whether to amend the rent limit for the property.
Cancelling a Registered Rent
There are specific forms used for cancelling a rent (e.g. RR103 and RR104). Fill in the appropriate form and send it to the address written on the application. You should allow up to six (6) weeks for the process to complete.
Note: The main section contains more information explaining how landlords must follow strict codes of conduct regarding tenancy agreements, deposits, complaints, and eviction.