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01 Nov 2020
Georgina Kent Georgina Kent

Tenants rights

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A young couple sitting on the floor in front of their sofa surrounded by boxes

Learning what your responsibilities are as a tenant can be a bit of a minefield. We explain your tenant rights in the UK.

Wondering who’s responsible for maintaining the garden? Or if your boiler breaks down, what do you do? We shed some light on the finer points of tenancy and where your responsibilities lie. 

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As a tenant, what are your rights? 

Private tenant rights

First and foremost, you have the right to live in a home that’s safe, and that’s in a good state of repair. You have a right to know who your landlord is, and to remain undisturbed by them. 

Should they need to come to the property for any reason, they need to give you 24 hours’ written notice. And they must make sure that it’s at a reasonable time of day. 

Pro tip: The day you move into your property, take photos of every room and, if it’s furnished, of every item. Note down every scuff, chip in the paintwork, dent etc. 

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

This can help you if your landlord isn’t forthcoming in giving you your full deposit back. 

Commercial tenant rights 

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

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

It’ll keep 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.

GOV.UK has covered what your responsibilities are as a tenant. And sites like Seatons have covered how the law protects you. 

READ MORE: How to rent guide

Decorating/interiors 

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 may 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’ll 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. 


Repairs 

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’ll need to let your landlord know 

  • If the boiler has broken down, you’ll need to tell your landlord straight away 

  • 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 

  • You need to check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. If the batteries run out, let your landlord know. 


Are bills included? 

Generally, no, bills aren’t included. Sometimes, and more often with student tenants, the landlord might include water rates unless it’s metered. 

If you’re in an HMO (house of multiple occupations) you’ll 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 etc. 

If you have any doubt check your contract, or failing that, speak to your landlord. 


You’ve told the landlord something needs fixing but they haven’t fixed it, what next? 

An evidence-based approach is always a good starting point. 

  • Take photos of what’s broken, send them to your landlord for a paper trail. 

  • No response? Chase your landlord, remind them of their responsibility to fix broken items. Give a reasonable deadline. 

  • Need it fixing quick? You can appoint someone yourself to fix it 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 cash. 

  • Next step, contact your council’s private renting team. Environmental health has the power to order your landlord to fix the problem. 

  • In extreme cases you can take your landlord to court, but this could be costly. Shelter has an excellent article to explain the process in more detail. 

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


Can the landlord just drop by unannounced? 

Absolutely not. They need to give you 24 hours’ written notice first. The time agreed must be of a reasonable time of day, not too early or late. 


Who’s responsible for the garden? 

The general maintenance of the garden, like cutting the grass, that’s down to you to take care of. The bigger things like trees and fences, any out buildings, that’s 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 regularly weed in growing season, and cut the grass. If you have a hedge, you’ll 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. 

READ MORE: Home maintenance checks


What if you want to leave? 

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 four weeks. Your contract will confirm this though. 

If you can’t find your contract, message or call your landlord to clarify. 

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

And you should also expect to have your deposit returned to you when you leave. Unless you leave the property in disrepair or owing rent, that is. 


Struggling to pay your 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 in their interest to keep the property tenanted as your rent is likely paying the loan off.

It’s timely and costly to search for a new tenant, so the landlord will be motivated to help you, if they can. 

Keep paying your rent for as long as you can. Your landlord might be able to put a repayment plan in place to help. The worst thing to do is ignore it, be honest and reach out straight away.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has a really helpful guide on the implications of not being able to pay rent and what your rights are. 


Have you set up tenants’ insurance yet? 

While you won’t need buildings insurance if you’re renting, it’s a good idea to consider protecting your possessions. When you’re moving in is the perfect time to take stock of what you have, and work out its value.

Tenant insurance is basically contents insurance. It’s there to replace your possessions if they’re stolen or damaged in your home.

If you opt for accidental damage cover too, your belongings will be 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 things tot up. 

READ MORE: Contents insurance calculator

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