New guidance has been released for people renting property from a landlord, which attempts to give clarity to such tenants. This guidance must be provided to tenants who are in a shorthold tenancy which started any time after 1 October 2015.
The information is helpful to both the renter and the landlord, so it is well worth reading and being aware of the rights and responsibilities for each person. This article will focus mainly on the tenants’ perspective, but landlords can find plenty of information in our recent article here.
Tenancy and agreements
It is important to remember that when you enter into a tenancy with a landlord, you are essentially both entering into an agreement with each other. You will both have to keep up your own ends of the deal. The tenancy is there to protect you both and make sure you are getting what you agreed to when the arrangements were initially made.
The most important advice we can give is also the simplest: read through the contracts carefully before signing anything! If you are unsure about parts of the tenancy agreement, you can always ask us to check it over for you. Never feel pressured to sign anything you are not completely certain of.
Also, the landlord is obliged to give you a copy of the latest guidance for renters, so it is important that you read through it and understand it.
Initial things to consider
Before jumping right in to renting a property, there are some key things to have at the front of your mind.
Firstly, you should be thinking about the deposit situation. Since June 2019, the amount a deposit can legally be has been capped. If the total annual rent is less than £50,000, the maximum deposit is 5 weeks’ rent. If the annual rent is £50,000 or above, the maximum deposit is 6 weeks’ rent. If the property is left in a good condition and there has been no major issues, once the tenant leaves, this deposit must be refunded.
You should also be aware of any unnecessary charges being asked of you. There is no legal cost for a landlord allowing you to view the property, or setting up a tenancy agreement. A charge to reserve a property is permitted but it must be refundable and it cannot equate to more than 1 weeks’ rent.
You must have the correct documentation ready, as landlords will need to check your identity, immigration status, credit history and in some cases your employment status. They will also check if you have the right to rent in the UK. More information on this can be found in our article: Right to Rent Checks – What Landlords and Tenants Need to Know
Is everything above board?
You need to be sure that the landlord you plan to rent belongs to an accreditation scheme. Accreditation schemes provide training and support to landlords in fulfilling their legal and ethical responsibilities. Your local authority can advise you about accreditation schemes operating in your area.
You must have the name of your landlord and an address in England or Wales where the landlord will accept service of notices, in writing. Landlords are obliged to provide you with this information and the rent is not ‘lawfully due’ until they do so.
You should also ask, if the property is a flat, if the landlord is the owner or leaseholder of the flat. Following this, ask whether the freeholder, for example the owner of the block, has agreed to the flat being let out. If the landlord has a mortgage ask whether the mortgage company has agreed to the letting. This is of great importance. The landlord may not need the freeholder’s consent but, if there is a mortgage, the lender’s consent certainly be needed. You must be aware that you may have to leave the property if the landlord does not keep up the mortgage payments, in this situation. Do not be caught out!
Alternatively, you can rent from a letting agent, so long as they are a member of a redress scheme. You should check which independent redress scheme the agent is a member of in case you have an unresolved dispute.
It is vital, in this day and age, to be aware of potential scams. Never rush into making a decision and always consult legal advice if you feel unsure about anything.
Length of tenancy
The usual length of a tenancy agreement is either 6 or 12 months, however a longer contract can be arranged with the landlord if they are willing. Alternatively, you may be offered a weekly or monthly assured shorthold tenancy which does not last for a fixed period. Even with those tenancies, however, the landlord must allow you to stay in the property for a minimum of 6 months.
Who pays for what?
When it comes to bills such as electricity, gas, water and council tax it is usual for the tenant to pay. However, this is not always the case. This must be specified within the agreement to avoid any confusion.
An inventory should be taken and agreed upon before you move in, so that when it is time to leave the property it is clear what belongs to the tenant and what was already there when they moved in. Photos should be taken, the inventory should be agreed upon by both landlord and tenant, and then it should be signed by both parties. Both should keep a copy for future reference.
The following is a list of the permitted fees that landlords and agency can legally charge tenants. If it is not on the list, you do not have to legally pay it. This is taken directly from the Government guidance:
Legally chargeable fees include:
- a refundable tenancy deposit capped at no more than 5 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is less than £50,000, or 6 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above
- a refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than 1 week’s rent
- payments associated with early termination of the tenancy, when requested by the tenant
- payments capped at £50 (or reasonably incurred costs, if higher) for the variation, assignment or novation of a tenancy
- payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV licence and Council Tax
- a default fee for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key/security device giving access to the housing, where required under a tenancy agreement
All other fees, including the following, are banned:
- viewing fees, any charge for viewing the property
- tenancy set up fees, any charge for setting up the tenancy or contracts
- check out fees, any charge for leaving the property
- third party fees, any charge for anything that is done by someone other than the landlord or tenant but that the landlord must pay for
Once you have moved in…
This is the time to keep up your end of the deal. Rent should be paid on time and without any hassling from the landlord. You should be considerate of neighbours and the surrounding area of the flat. You cannot take in a lodger or sublet without first getting the landlords permission to do so.
It goes without saying, it is your responsibility to look after the property. If you want to make repairs or do any decorating you must first ask the landlord. If there are repairs that need doing, you must always inform the landlord. In most cases, it will be their responsibility to get it fixed. Failure to report the need for repairs could be a breach of your tenancy agreement. In extreme circumstances there may be a risk to your deposit if a minor repair turns into a major problem because you did not report it.
If you or the landlord want to end the tenancy
As a starting point, it should be noted that if your tenancy has a fixed term, neither the landlord nor you will be able to end the tenancy, unless the term has run out or the other party agrees. What we talk about below is where the fixed term of the tenancy has expired.
If the landlord wants to end the tenancy:
You must be given notice before you are asked to leave the property. In most cases, currently, this notice period is 6 months. However, it can vary from case to case. More information on this can be found here.
If you want to end the tenancy:
Your tenancy agreement should say how much notice you must give the landlord if you want to leave the property. One month’s notice is typical. If you want to leave the property, you must give notice to your landlord in writing – make sure you keep a copy of the document and a record of when it was sent.
The full guidance for renters can be found here.
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