Renting: Know your rights

Renting: Know your rights

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 06/11/14

In England 9.3 million people are living in private rentals. And not always happily. So we found out what to do when your landlord takes the proverbial...

Some landlords are great.

My best, Jackie, had damn good chat, didn’t mind when my housemate painted the front room EasyJet orange, adored Genghis, our semi-feral cat, and gave us our deposit back in full. But the next place was nightmare – freezing, mouldy, leaky, bed bug-ridden – and the landlord, also a nightmare, blamed us and kept our deposit.  

I asked you lot to tell me your own bad renting experiences and then I put them to some experts to find out the rights (and wrongs) of each situation...

 

I was off college with flu and woke up to find my landlord in my bedroom going through my drawers. It wasn't like I was renting a room in his house. He was a professional lettings agent and owned blocks of flats. I pretended to be asleep and then changed the locks.

“The landlord can come in to do repairs but normally they have to give 24 hours notice,” says Emma Collins, solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors. “They certainly can’t turn up and go through your stuff. If there was an ongoing issue of the landlord being inappropriate, that would constitute harassment.”

So what should you do? “It’s always best to talk to them yourself first but if you feel intimidated you could get a solicitor to write a strongly-worded letter pointing out that it’s unlawful. If you’re really concerned, you could even contact the police.” If you change the locks, Shelter advise on their website that you “keep the old ones and put them back in, undamaged, when you leave the tenancy.”

 

My old flat was growing mould on 75% of the walls. I suffered from chronic asthma, lost about £3,000 worth of personal items and had to sleep in my housemates' beds as I couldn't breathe in my room.

Mould – like bed bugs – can be tricky as it’s not always clear what the cause is.There are two types of mould,” Emma points out. “Some mould is caused by water penetrating as a result of disrepair, which the landlord is liable to remedy. But there’s also mould that is condensation-induced. The problem with that is that it’s not strictly caused by disrepair so trying to get them to sort it out isn’t straightforward.”

The landlord might say that the mould is your fault because you didn’t ventilate the building properly or left clothes drying on radiators. But, says Emma, “whatever the case, by the time the walls are covered in mould the property is going to be prejudicial to health.” Get in touch with the environmental health team at your local authority, who can serve a notice on the landlord asking them to sort the problem out.

 

Our boiler kept packing up in the winter. We had to survive on electric heaters that the landlord gave us and by boiling water for cleaning. Winter ended so the problem went away but I don't think the boiler was ever replaced I feel bad for the tenants there now.

“Sometimes people do makeshift repairs but if things are routinely breaking, then arguably their repairs are not adequate,” says Emma. “If it came to the courts, they’d say, you are in breach of your responsibility to ensure that heating installations are in good working order. Supplying people with electric heaters is a way of mitigating their fault – but they can cost the tenant lot of money. If I was dealing with that case, we’d be trying to claim compensation for the extra money being paid on the heating.” You can source a solicitor using this online tool.

 

I spent the night in A&E after getting an electric shock from a light fitting. The landlord didn't do anything about it, as he said he’s not legally obliged to! We didn't move as the cost of moving, even just down the road, would be over £1k with the fees letting agents charge in our area.

According to Shelter’s website, landlords are “responsible for ensuring that electrical equipment provided is safe”.  A good one, says Generation Rent policy manager Seb Klier, will “inspect the fittings and installations on a change of tenancy, and certainly if a problem has been reported!”

But they aren’t obliged to carry out regular safety checks on electrics. “This is an anomaly in the law, as gas safety checks are a legal requirement,” says Seb. “Generation Rent has been working with other groups, like Shelter and Electrical Safety First, to call for mandatory inspections of electrical installation and appliances in privately rented homes, at least every five years or on a change of tenancy.” You can find out more and sign the petition here.

 

I went to view a property with some friends. They were keen but I thought the landlord seemed really dodgy. His letting agency didn’t take deposits but charged a move-in fee, contract and reference fees. He said he’d charge us for contents insurance but that if anything broke, we’d pay. You also had to pay to renew the tenancy and a “leaving fee” when you left.  

“Although it’s normal for landlords to demand large cash deposits, references, and a credit check from their tenants, those about to move into a rental property frequently do so based on nothing more than a cursory look around the property and a gut instinct,” says Hannah Williams, founder of rentalraters.com, dubbed “Trip Advisor for tenants”. Hannah explains: “There are some fantastic landlords out there, but there are also some rogues. Rental Raters empowers tenants to make better decisions over their choice of rental properties with fair and accurate reviews from other tenants.” 

It’s a criminal offence for letting agents to charge you to register with them or to show you their available properties. However, there are lots of things they can charge you for, including credit checks, admin costs, renewing the tenancy and – yes – check out fees when you leave. Visit Shelter’s section on letting agent fees and charges for more information. 

 

The inventory when we moved in was really vague and the flat was in a disgusting condition – filthy and the carpet was covered in burns. It was much cleaner when we left but the landlord said we'd caused all the damage and they were going to take our £2,500 deposit.

“Tenants should only be expected to leave the property in the same condition and level of cleanliness as they found it, allowing for ‘fair wear and tear’,” says Michael Morgan, Director of Dispute Resolution at the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, who provide tenancy deposit protection and dispute resolution in England and Wales. All deposits on shorthold assured tenancies must be placed by the landlord in a deposit protection scheme like the TDS. Not sure which scheme your landlord used to protect your deposit? Use this Shelter tool.

“If the tenant disputes the deductions using the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, the burden of proof will be on the landlord,” says Michael. “This would normally require a detailed check in and check out report, including inventories, along with quotes or receipts showing costs incurred.”

How can you avoid this in the first place? “Confirm you’re happy with content of the check in report as soon as you move in and write to the landlord with amendments, especially if dirt or damage has not been recorded,” says Michael. "If you do not sign or make no changes within a certain period, usually seven days, you will normally be taken as having agreed that its contents are correct. Keeping dated photographs to support what is written in the report can be useful.”

 

Got more questions about renting? Check out these useful resources:

Housing charity Shelter's website – especially the section on private renting 

Citizens Advice Bureau – free independent, confidential advice 

Rental Raters – online community where users rate properties they've rented

Generation Rent – group campaigning for professionally managed, secure, decent and affordable private rented homes

How to rent – a Government guide

Civil Legal Advice – you can get free advice if you’re eligible for legal aid

 

 

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