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Tenants rights: What you need to know

From tenants rights with damp and mould to your landlord selling your house, we explain your legal position when you’re renting your home. 

Are you wondering who should maintain the garden or what you should do if your boiler breaks down?

Getting your head around tenants rights is all part of learning how to rent.

We shed some light on the finer points of tenants rights in the UK and explain where your responsibilities lie.

Couple at looking at tenancy


What are my tenant rights? 

As a tenant you have a number of important rights, enshrined in law.

These include the right to:

  • A property that’s safe and in a good state of repair
  • Have your deposit returned at the end of the tenancy and in some cases have it protected by a tenant deposit scheme
  • Challenge excessive charges
  • Know who your landlord is
  • Live undisturbed
  • Understand your home’s energy efficiency by seeing its energy performance certificate
  • Not be charged an unfair rent or be evicted unfairly
  • A written agreement if you have a fixed-term tenancy longer than 3 years

What are tenants’ rights for mould and damp?

If damp and mould are affecting your health or safety then it’s your landlord’s job to fix the problem. These tenants’ rights for damp and mould also apply if the problem has been caused by repair work in your home.

However, as a tenant you also have some responsibilities for keeping the home free of damp and mould too. This includes keeping it properly ventilated and heated. 

Avoid drying clothes indoors if at all possible and keep all rooms heated to a minimum of 15 degrees. This reduces the risk of condensation in the home, which could lead to mould.


What are my tenants’ rights if there’s no hot water or heating?

If your boiler breaks down and you are stuck without heating or hot water, it’s your landlord’s responsibility to fix the problem.

Repairs should be carried out within a ‘reasonable time’. For emergency repairs, which might include no hot water or heating, that’s considered to be within 24 hours.


What are my tenants’ rights if my landlord is selling the house?

During your tenancy it is possible that your landlord decides to sell their property. 

It’s often easier to sell a rental property with a sitting tenant, so the decision might not have a major impact on you.

However, your landlord could ask you to move out. They should do this by issuing you with a Section 21 notice. 

If you get a Section 21 notice, it’s important to understand your tenants’ rights and be aware of the rules your landlord must abide by.

For example, your landlord must:

  • Not ask you to move out before the end of fixed term tenancy
  • Give you 2 months’ notice and a fixed departure date
  • Give you a departure date that’s no less than 6 months after your move in date

Tenants’ rights after 10 years: do they change?

No. Under current law you don’t get any additional tenancy rights, the longer you rent a property from a private landlord. This is a popular misconception.

There are some exceptions to the rule, though. For example, if you moved into the property before 15 January 1989, when the Housing Act 1988 came into force. This means that the Rent Act 1977, still applies.


What are my tenants’ rights for decorating?

With most tenancies, landlords are pretty fair when it comes to decorating.

They want you to feel at home and put your own cosmetic stamp on it. What they don’t want to do is have to pay lots of money to have it repainted back to neutral when you leave.

  • Painting - always get permission from the landlord if you want to redecorate. You might need to sign an addendum to the contract agreeing to paint it back to neutral before you leave.
  • Furniture – if it’s a furnished property and you want to change some of it you need permission from the landlord. If they have nowhere to store their furniture, they may say no, or ask you to cover the cost of storage.

The golden rule when you’re a tenant is don’t change anything without discussing it with the landlord. And, ideally, get written permission.

In a similar vein, it’s a good idea on the day you move into your property to take photos of every room. If it’s furnished, take a picture of every item. Note down every scuff, chip in the paintwork, dent and so on.

Give your landlord a copy of this evidence. It creates a baseline for the state of the property when you move in, and if you contribute anything to that during your tenancy.

It could help you if your landlord isn’t forthcoming in giving you your full deposit back.


What damage are tenants responsible for?

There are a few things you’re responsible for as a tenant when it comes to looking after the property:

  • If you accidentally break something or damage it, you need to let your landlord know.
  • You need to keep the property in a good state of repair, not leaving it in a worse state of repair than when you moved in. Normal wear and tear is expected, though
  • You need to check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. If the batteries run out, let your landlord know.
  • If the boiler breaks down, you need to tell your landlord straightaway (although it’s their responsibility to fix it).

Are bills included as part of my tenants’ rights?

Generally, bills aren’t included in your rental payment. Sometimes, and more often with student tenants, the landlord might include water rates unless it’s a metered supply.

If you’ve any doubt, check your contract or speak to your landlord.

If you’re in a house of multiple occupation (HMO) you need to discuss as a household how you want to split the bills. You might need to have a schedule for when you all agree to have the heating on, for example.


What are my tenants’ rights if a landlord doesn’t fix an issue? 

Landlords have a legal responsibility to fix issues that they’re responsible for within a ‘reasonable time’.

If your landlord is lagging, try the following steps:

  • Take photos of what’s broken and send them to your landlord for a paper trail.
  • No response? Chase your landlord, remind them of your tenant’s rights and their responsibility to fix broken items. Give a reasonable deadline.
  • Next, contact your council’s private renting team. Environmental health has the power to order your landlord to fix the problem.
  • In extreme cases you could take your landlord to court, but this could be costly. Shelter explains the process in more detail.

If something needs fixing quickly, you could appoint someone yourself to do the work and claim the money back, but there’s no guarantee the landlord will pay. However, if they’re busy they might be grateful you’ve sorted it.

Ideally, get their written permission to do this before parting with your own cash.

And whatever you do, be sure to keep paying your rent. If you stop, your landlord could start eviction proceedings.


What are my rights as a tenant if my landlord turns up unannounced? 

Landlords can’t just turn up unannounced, just because they own the property. Your landlord needs to give you 24 hours written notice of any visit and make sure that it’s at a reasonable time of day.

The only exceptions are if there is a health and safety issue and the landlord needs urgent access to the property.

This could include:

  • Fire
  • The smell of gas
  • Structural damage that requires urgent inspection
  • If a criminal or violent incident is suspected

If your landlord repeatedly turns up at the property unannounced it is considered harassment and you’re able to take action against them.


Who’s responsible for the garden?

The general maintenance of the garden, like cutting the grass, is down to you to take care of. The bigger things, such as trees, fences and outbuildings, are the responsibility of your landlord.

As a tenant you should be aiming for the garden to be free from litter and not overgrown. It should be tidy, so you need to mow the lawn and keep weeds under control. If you have a hedge, you need to keep that trimmed, too.

If there are any issues with any of the bigger things in the garden as mentioned above, speak to your landlord to get issues fixed.


Do I have the right to end my tenancy early?

Whatever your reason for wanting to move on, it all starts with your contract. Dig it out and see what the notice period is. Most of the time it’s a calendar month or 4 weeks. Your contract should confirm this, though.

If you can’t find your contract, speak to your landlord to clarify.

If you’re in a fixed-term contract, it might be a little different. But, again, discuss it with your landlord.

You should also expect to have your deposit returned to you when you leave – unless you leave the property in disrepair or owing rent.


What happens if I’m struggling to pay my rent?

If you’ve fallen on hard times and are struggling to pay your rent, the first thing you should do is speak to your landlord.

It’s time-consuming and costly to search for a new tenant, so the landlord might be motivated to help you, if they can.

It’s in their interest to keep the property tenanted. They want your money, and they could be relying on it to cover any mortgage payments they might be making on the property.

Keep paying your rent for as long as you can. This should help you keep the level of any arrears down, and it also shows good faith to your landlord. In the meantime, your landlord might be able to put a repayment plan in place to help.

The worst thing to do is ignore it, so be honest and contact your landlord as soon as you have problems.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has a helpful guide on what to do if you fall behind on your rent.

If you’re thinking of sub-letting in a bid to share the costs, you need to check your tenancy agreement first to see if you’re allowed to.


Do I need tenants’ insurance?

Don’t overlook the need to take out home insurance. While you won’t need buildings insurance if you’re renting, it’s a good idea to consider protecting your possessions.

Moving house is the perfect time to take stock of what you have, and work out its value.

Tenants’ insurance is basically contents insurance for people that rent their home. It  replaces your possessions if they’re stolen or damaged in your home.

If you opt for accidental damage cover, too, your belongings are covered if you accidentally fall into the TV or drop your laptop.

Tenants’ insurance isn’t compulsory. But it could be a sensible purchase, especially if you have any items of value in your home. You’d be surprised how quickly the value of your possessions tots up.

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Council and commercial tenants rights

Commercial tenancy is different from private or council tenancy. The onus is on the tenant here, and not the landlord.

What is on your side as a tenant is the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. It protects you in that your tenancy doesn’t automatically end when the fixed-term tenancy is up.

It keeps going until the landlord terminates the contract under one of the methods the act demands.

Secondly, when the tenancy expires you are, by law, allowed to apply to have it extended. Commercial tenancy is much more complex than private tenancy.

The government’s website covers what your responsibilities are as a tenant.