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4 Renting and Letting
2. Private tenancies
On the following pages, there are explanations of the law, and how to deal with particular problems that can arise for tenants and landlords. First, you must establish what sort of agreement you are dealing with.
If you have a tenancy, the type you have depends in part on when it began.
Assured and assured shorthold tenancies
If the tenancy started between 15 January 1989 and 27 February 1997, it will be an assured shorthold tenancy if:
Otherwise, it will be an assured tenancy.
Tenancies with basic protection
Instead of a tenancy with basic protection, you may have a ‘licence with basic protection’, which has similar rights. See ‘What is a licence?’ below for more details.
Instead of an excluded tenancy, you may have an ‘excluded licence’, which has similar rights. See ‘What is a licence?’ below, for more details.
There are some other situations when you might have a tenancy with basic protection or an excluded tenancy. If you are not sure what type of tenancy you have, get advice.
The difference between a licence and a tenancy
Licensees have similar rights to people who have a tenancy with basic protection or an excluded tenancy.
If you are unsure what type of agreement you have
If a tenant wants to end the tenancy
You will need to get advice if you think either of these applies to you. Tenants can leave on the last day of a fixed-term tenancy without having to give notice.
Some fixed-term tenancies have a 'break clause', which allows a tenant to leave before the fixed term expires. If there is a joint tenancy, and one tenant wants to leave, the legal situation can be complicated, and the remaining tenants should get advice.
If a landlord wants to end the tenancy
The tenant does not have to leave just because a fixed term has come to an end. The landlord usually still has to serve notice and, if the tenant still does not leave, must apply to the court for a possession order.
If the landlord wants possession because the tenant has not paid their rent, the court may, in some cases, grant:
Depending on the reasons ('grounds') for possession, the landlord must give the tenant either two weeks' or two months' notice that they intend to apply for a possession order. But if they are seeking possession because of the tenant's anti-social behaviour, they can start possession proceedings immediately after giving notice of seeking possession.
The tenant may either:
The landlord must first prove to the court they have a reason for possession. If the landlord shows the court they have certain reasons (known as 'mandatory grounds'), it will automatically grant possession. These include where:
Other grounds are 'discretionary'. This means the court will decide whether it is reasonable to grant possession or not. The most common discretionary grounds are that:
If the tenant has missed rent payments, the court may suspend the order so that the tenant can pay off the rent they owe without losing their home. If the landlord offers another place to live, the court must be satisfied that it is suitable for the tenant's needs. This means taking account of:
The tenant can dispute the landlord's offer in court if they think it is not suitable. The court would consider that an alternative place to live was not suitable if it had a tenancy that gave the tenant fewer rights than they currently had.
Assured shorthold tenancies
If the landlord wants the tenant to leave within the first six months of the tenancy, they have to show they have a reason to evict the tenant, in the same way they do for an assured tenancy. This also applies if the agreement allows the tenant to stay for a fixed period. During that period the landlord can evict only for the reasons that apply to assured tenancies.
If the tenant has had the tenancy for six months or more and the tenancy is not for a fixed term of more than six months, the landlord can get a court order without having to prove they have a reason and without having to attend a hearing. This is called the 'accelerated possession' procedure. But to do this, the landlord must give the tenant at least two months' notice in writing that they want possession, and they cannot go to court to get possession until that notice period ends.
As long as the landlord has followed the procedures properly, the court will automatically grant them possession. But the tenant can still ask for a possession order to be delayed for a short time if it would cause them 'exceptional hardship', for example, if someone in their household is ill or pregnant.
As with assured tenancies, there are certain 'mandatory' grounds for which the court will automatically grant possession, as well as 'discretionary' grounds for which the court must decide whether it is reasonable to evict the tenant (see 'Assured tenancies'). Many of the grounds that can be used are similar to those for assured tenancies, but there are some differences.
Tenants and licensees with basic protection
If your home is provided as part of your job, your right to live there will probably end when your job does. However, you cannot be evicted without receiving at least four weeks' notice and a court order.
Excluded tenancies and licences
If there is no agreement, an excluded licensee will be entitled only to notice that is reasonable in the circumstances. This could be as little as a few days.
If the tenant or licensee does not leave after the notice period, the landlord does not have to get a possession order from the court, as they normally do with other types of tenancy.
If the landlord gets a possession order
If you are a tenant and you receive that bailiffs are going to evict you, you should get advice immediately. You may still be able to stop the eviction by getting the court to 'suspend' the warrant. But you must have a good reason and show you have a realistic plan to pay off any rent you owe.
Harassment and illegal eviction by a landlord
If you are a tenant who is being harassed, or you are facing illegal eviction by a private landlord, contact the tenancy relations officer at your local council (or the council officers who deal with harassment and illegal eviction). The council officer should try to stop the harassment and persuade the landlord to let you back into your home. If this fails, they can prosecute the landlord, although this happens only in extreme cases.
Tenants can also take action in court themselves, though they would need expert legal help to do this. You can apply for an injunction to stop the landlord harassing you or to let you return to your home. You should also be able to claim compensation. If the case is urgent, you can get an emergency injunction before there is a fuller court hearing.
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 also offers protection against harassment by any person including a landlord, even where they are not necessarily trying to evict a tenant.
If, when the tenant leaves, they don't get their deposit back, and there is not a good reason for this, they can claim against the landlord through the courts as a 'small claim'. This is a simpler, quicker and less expensive way of using the courts than a full hearing, but can be used only for claims up to £5,000. You can get forms and more details from your local county court, Citizens Advice Bureau or legal advice centre, or from the court service website (see 'Further help').
A new tenancy deposit scheme to safeguard deposits and provide independant arbitration for disputes over deposits is being set up, and is due to begin in Ocotober 2016.
With a periodic tenancy (one that runs from week to week or from month to month, depending on when the rent is paid), the rent can go up in the first year only if the tenancy agreement allows for this.
After a year, the landlord can increase the rent by giving at least one month's notice on a special form. If the tenant thinks the new rent is too high, they can contact their local Rent Assessment Committee (RAC). RACs are independent bodies that deal with rent issues. Your local RAC will be listed in the phone book. RACs can set the rent according to what is charged elsewhere in the area. They can uphold the landlord's rent demand (or even increase it) as well as reduce it. The rent fixed by the RAC is the maximum the landlord can charge for one year.
However, if the tenancy agreement sets out how the rent is to be increased, this procedure does not apply and then tenant cannot ask the RAC to asses the rent.
Assured shorthold tenancies
If your tenancy started between 15 January 1989 and 28 February 1997, you can challenge the rent any time during the initial fixed term. If your tenancy started after 28 February 1997, you can challenge the rent within six months of the start of the tenancy. But it may be risky to do this, as the landlord can legally evict you at the end of the tenancy period. If you have an assured shorthold tenancy, you need to get advice before you challenge any rent increase.
At the end of the fixed term, the landlord may offer another fixed term at a higher rent. If the tenant signs a new agreement, they cannot then apply to the RAC to set the rent.
A fair rent is set for two years, but the tenant or the landlord can appeal to the RAC. It may either increase or decrease the rent set by the Rent Service. After two years, or if there has been a significant change in the property's condition, the landlord or the tenant can apply for a new fair rent.
Other private renting arrangements
Responsibility for repairs
Landlords must also maintain gas flues and appliances belonging to them, and get them tested every year by a Corgi registered gas fitter (one who is registered with the Council for Registered Gas Installers). They must also give the tenant a copy of the safety certificate.
In furnished flats and houses, upholstery and soft furnishings must meet fire regulations.
For tenancies that started on or after 15 January 1989, the landlord must also keep the common areas (shared stairways, hallways and lifts, for example) in good repair. In a block of flats, they must do necessary work on any empty flats they own (for example, to prevent leaking pipes affecting flats below).
If your tenancy started before 15 January 1989, the situation is more complicated. Your landlord's responsibilities will depend on whether your contract says you are responsible for common areas. If your tenancy started before this date you should get advice.
'Keep in repair' includes doing repairs that were already needed when the tenancy started, and not just problems that have arisen since. The landlord must also 'make good' or redecorate when a repair is finished. As long as the landlord gives notice, they normally have the right to come into the tenant's home to check its condition and do any repairs that are needed. They should give notice of at least 24 hours in writing, except in an emergency.
Legally, repair is not the same as renewal or improvement of a property. If you're not sure whether something counts as a repair, a housing aid centre or other advice centre should be able to help you.
Getting repairs done
If the repairs aren't done, the tenant should get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau or housing advice centre. This is because, depending on the type of tenancy, the landlord could try to:
In many situations, though, it is still worth taking action. If the tenant has told the landlord about repairs and they are not done in a reasonable time, or not done properly, the tenant can make a claim in the county court. You should get expert advice before doing this (see 'Further help' for where to find help). The court can order the landlord to do the repairs. It can also award the tenant compensation for distress and inconvenience.
A quicker option may be to get an injunction from the courts, which forces a landlord to do the repairs (again, you will need advice before doing this). This may be combined with a claim for compensation. Whatever happens, you should never stop paying rent, as this could give the landlord a reason to evict you.
If a tenant has to move out while major repair work is done, they may be able to claim the cost of somewhere else to stay. But you should get advice before doing this, because even a temporary move could mean losing some rights as a tenant.
If you stay while the work is done, you may be able to claim compensation from the landlord for discomfort and inconvenience.
Licensees are normally in a much weaker position than tenants if they want toget repairs done. A landlord normally doesn't have to carry out any work that is not set out in the licence agreement.
If the house or flat is unsafe
If the condition of the house or flat is affecting a tenant's health the local council can also take action against the landlord. If the local council won't do anything, the tenant can get the magistrates' court to force the landlord to fix the property (under the Environmental Protection Act 1990). You will need expert advice to do this.
If the tenant arranges their own repairs
1. Write to the landlord explaining that you are going to do the work yourself if the landlord doesn't do it within a reasonable time (two weeks, for example).
4.If the work is not done in this time, arrange for the work to be done by the company or tradesperson who provided the cheapest quote.
5. Pay for the work and send a copy of the receipt to the landlord.
6. Ask the landlord to refund the money.
7. If the landlord does not refund the money, write to them explaining that you are going to take the money from future rent payments.
If you don't follow this procedure, you may still be liable to pay all the rent. And people with assured shorthold tenancies can still be evicted for not paying all their rent even if they have followed the procedure.
Making improvements to the house or flat
This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Shelter.
The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.
Leaflet version: November 2016
CLS Legal Info Leaflets
29 I am in arrears with my rent. What are my rights?
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