The fight back starts here!

Generation Rent has had a rough ride. With house prices soaring out or reach, young people are renting for longer than ever before.

But is it a sign of financial failure? Or can it be a valid – even wise – choice in certain circumstances? And is there anything you can do to make the rental experience better?

We look at what your rights are and how to exercise them so you can finally ‘own’ renting…

We don’t blame you. For many (if not most) young people, renting is a necessary stop gap. The average age of a first-time buyer in the UK is now 31. That means the majority of 20 somethings live in either shared accommodation or studio and one-bedroom flats – if they don’t move back to B’n’B of Mum and Dad, that is.

Renting well into your twenties or thirties is still seen in some quarters as a sign of failure. But many homeowners need to rent while waiting to buy as they try to amass a deposit. Others are reluctant to give up renting altogether, seeing it more and more as a valid lifestyle choice. For those who can’t (or won’t) put down roots, renting offers much more freedom and flexibility than homeownership.

Choose the right property and agent, moreover, and suddenly renting is no longer a dreadful knockout for your finances. You can keep your rent on an even keel, stay put if you need to and ensure your basic rights are respected. 

In recent times, there has been a profound adjustment in the power dynamic between renters and landlords. For instance, tenants no longer have the shadow of “no-fault” evictions hanging over their head, while health and safety has been tightened up to ensure fewer tenants are housed in dangerous, uncomfortable or downright uninhabitable accommodation. 

So join the rental revolution – know your rights and make the best out of your rental experience, whether it lasts months, years or decades.

👓 Always spend plenty of time investigating the area you are thinking of moving to. No, you won’t be there forever, but don’t think too short-term – make sure this is an area and a neighbourhood you will actually want to live in. Don’t rely on Google Street View – go IRL and pound those pavements. 

📓 When viewing, don’t rush it. Have a checklist of questions, or you are bound to forget something, possibly important. Is the washing machine actually plumbed in (if there is one)? Are the windows double-glazed and lockable? What about the council tax band?  

🕵️ Do some homework of your own. Is there likely to be local noise or disturbance?  Any issues with safety at night? Any tell-tale signs of bad neighbours? Take a walk around the neighbourhood on a weekend evening to see how rowdy it gets.

🧮Your rent is not the only cost. Remember to factor in the deposit, council tax, utility bills, agent fees and moving costs. Then you can work out whether you can afford what you think you can.

 Fees for agent services such as references and credit checks are no longer allowed - so don’t pay them! Here's what to put into your rental calculator...

The Tenant Fees Act now (from June 1) limits the upfront deposit to five weeks rent, in properties where monthly rent is under £4,167.

Landlords at present can charge what they like and it’s typically six weeks rent. So that means in London, the average tenant will still have to pay a whacking £2,415 deposit per property (£4,065 in Kensington), according to Rightmove. 

But in the North East it’s only £630. Agents and landlords caught charging more than the cap can be slapped with a £5,000 fine, which could rise to £30,000 if the case goes to court.

*Your deposit should be registered with an approved Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme and held safely in a protected account covered by a Client Money Protection (CMP) scheme. Ask the agent if they belong to a CMP scheme or look out for the SAFEAGENT logo which symbolises your money will be protected. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme has launched a calculator to help you pay the right amount. It can be found on its website here.

The Act also bans letting fees, but this is no way eliminates all the possible charges that you’ll have to pay. Indeed, the housing charity Shelter says tenants on average have to shell out £272 in upfront fees to letting agents every time they move. 

But agents and landlords are still allowed to charge fees for:

  • a change or early termination of tenancy requested by the tenant – but this will be capped at £50 unless they can demonstrate that greater costs were incurred.
  • payments arising from a mistake by the tenant, such as replacing a lost key.

Be timely with the deposit and initial rent, and set up regular rental payments. That will mean that you are immediately onside with the people you need to call if you need a repair call-out. 

You should be given a detailed and accurate inventory and schedule of condition at the start of a tenancy which documents the precise condition of the property and its contents. This protects your interests as it means that if you leave the property in the same condition – with the exception of fair wear and tear – you must get your deposit back in full. It is up to YOU to check the inventory is accurate and to alert the landlord or agent if any corrections are needed at the start of your tenancy.

In the first few days of moving in, take a note of all the problems you spot and let the agent or landlord know. Make sure you do this in email, as you then you have a copy should things go wrong.  A good landlord will appreciate the heads-up – after all, it is their investment you live in! 

Safety comes first. If there are gas appliances, you should be given a gas safety record at the start of your tenancy. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted as appropriate. Electrical appliances must be properly maintained. Furnishings should comply with fire safety rules. A good agent will also carry out additional health and safety checks.

The landlord is responsible for most maintenance and repairs, and certainly to the exterior. The landlord or agent cannot enter your home without prior notice and permission unless in an emergency – typically 24 hours for repairs. *You need to know how much notice you or your landlord must give to end the tenancy, who is responsible for repairs, and whether or not you are allowed to decorate.

All this and more should be clearly stated in the tenancy agreement which you should make sure you have read and understood before signing.

If you’ve reported a potential health and safety hazard and your landlord or agent hasn’t resolved it in a reasonable time, contact your local council. You can also ask the council to inspect a neighbouring property if issues with it could affect your own health and safety.

If you believe your landlord or letting agent is harassing you, keep a note or diary of all incidents and copies of all communications – they may be useful as evidence.  Your local authority has a number of enforcement powers that it can use to tackle harassment by a landlord. 

Harassment can be anything a landlord does, or fails to do, that makes you feel unsafe in your property or forces you to leave. That could mean cutting off services such as electricity, withholding keys, refusing to carry out repairs, anti-social behaviour by a landlord’s agent, repeatedly entering the property without notice or your permission, and (of course) threats or physical violence. Harassment is a criminal offence, so your council can use enforcement powers such as repaying rent, a fine, or up to six months in the clink. 

 Good landlords - and there are plenty of them - deserve good tenants. So play fair by fulfilling the 3 big rental responsibilities...

CLING TO YOUR DEPOSIT! Some landlords and agents try to cash in on departing tenant’s deposits. By law, they must prove the exact cost of every deduction.  

Under the new Act, landlords and estate agents are only able to recover “reasonable costs”. That should put an end to rogue landlords charging tens or hundreds of pounds for replacing a light bulb or a cushion, and exaggerating claims for damage. Or in the case of one of my former landlords, charging me £50 for *forgetting to hoover under one bed*.

A note on evictions…2019 update!

For many landlords and tenants, a longer-term tenancy suits –  it provides greater security for the tenant and a regular income stream for the landlord. However sometimes a landlord wishes to take possession of their property, for example if they decide they want to sell it or move into it themselves. But whatever the reason, landlords must follow strict procedures if they want their tenant to leave their property.

Landlords can still (as of May 2019) issue a ‘Section 21 notice’ to tenants giving them just eight weeks notice to find a new home, without having to give a reason. Around half of all landlords admitted issuing a Section 21 notice in the past year, in a recent survey by the Residential Landlords Association. But the government plans to end so-called ‘no fault evictions’.   

Instead, landlords will be able to use a ‘Section 8 notice’ if they want to sell the property or move into it. Currently Section 8 notices are used against tenants who have broken the terms of the tenancy, but landlords dislike them as being hard to push through the courts. 

Your landlord can’t make you leave your home unless they’ve gone to court to get a possession order and a warrant for eviction. Your landlord or agent may be guilty of evicting you illegally if you:

• are not given eight weeks notice or are served a section 21 when a landlord has breached the tenancy agreement

• find the locks have been changed

• are evicted without a court order

• are given notice to leave the property within six months of an improvement notice being issued by the council.

You should always contact your local housing department if you feel you are at risk of homelessness due to eviction.

TAKING ON A LANDLORD - THE LEEDS FOUR!

In March 2019, a tweet from Ben Leonard went viral in rent-world when he pictured himself and three flatmates – now the ‘Leeds Four’ – punching the air outside Leeds Town Hall, with the caption: “Just took our ex-landlord to court and won all our rent back”.

Under the Housing Act 2004, larger houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) that are of three or more storeys and occupied by five or more people forming at least two separate households must be licensed.

In October 2018, mandatory licensing of HMOs was extended to include smaller properties used as HMOs in England. New mandatory conditions to be included in HMO licences have also been introduced, setting minimum sizes for rooms used as sleeping accommodation and requiring landlords to comply with local council refuse schemes.

So your landlord should get a licence for the property if it meets the relevant criteria. The Leeds Four’s landlord had failed to do so. Advised by the council, the tenants took the landlord to court at low cost with a Rent Repayment Order. The Leeds Four were awarded a year’s rent, and (after a partial rebate to the landlord because of his financial circumstances) the tenants walked away with £9,000.

Check with your local council to find out if your landlord needs an HMO licence and has obtained it. HMOs don’t need to be licensed if they are managed or owned by a housing association or co-operative, a council, a health service or a police or fire authority.

Know your rights! ​

CONGRATS!

Hopefully you’re feeling a *bit* more powerful now. 

Still hoping to get out of the rental rut? Check out our beginner’s guide to getting on the housing ladder and brush up on the best government-backed Isas to supercharge your savings.

Our last two chapters in Home Truths – Match Up and Beware the Builders – are coming very soon. Watch this space!

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