How to handle disputes with your landlord
We reveal your rights if you're embroiled in a dispute with your landlord.
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As the demand for rented accommodation continues to soar, this week's Channel 4 Dispatches programme exposing the shocking treatment of tenants at the hands of their landlords will sound all too familiar to many.
A recent YouGov survey carried out for homeless charity Shelter found that one in six tenants have had issues with their landlord in the last 10 years.
Of these, more than four in ten (41%) said they tried to talk to their landlord but they did nothing. Worryingly, 7% admitted they did nothing for fear of the consequences in an entirely unregulated market.
We're not just talking about leaking taps or a temperamental washing machine either. The Channel 4 programme reveals underhand tactics from intimidation and theft to renting out dangerous and squalid properties.
"We have been continually shocked at the treatment tenants receive at the hands of some unscrupulous operators," says Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter. "What is more worrying is just how many people are being affected by rogue landlord practice.
"The government has to recognise its responsibility to protect the vast and growing private tenant population and it is absolutely essential that we are sending a clear signal to tenants, landlords and local authorities that enforcing the law against rogue landlords is a priority."
There are things you can do as a tenant to protect yourself, and you do have rights under laws, including The Family Law Act 1996, The Housing Act 1988, The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and The Protection From Eviction Act 1977.
Most private renters, whether a student sharing a house with six other people or a family with kids in a leafy suburb, will sign an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement.
This is a legally binding document that assures your right to live in a property for a period of time, usually 12 months. An assured tenancy means that the landlord can't kick you out unless they can prove they have grounds to repossess the property - usually if you've broken the terms of the contract such as not paying your rent.
However, they can terminate the contract after the first six months provided they give you two months' notice. Once the tenancy ends, unless your landlord takes action the tenancy will run on the same terms until it is terminated, so they'll still have to give you two months' notice if they want you to leave.
A landlord isn't actually required by law to give you a written contract, but you should certainly request one, particularly because any terms of the contract that are found to be unfair, such as making you pay for structural repairs or giving the landlord the right to enter your property without asking, aren't supported or enforced by the law.
The Office of Fair Trading offers guidance on what is and what is not considered fair and if you think the terms of your contract are unfair contact your local council's Trading Standards Department.
When you move in, you'll probably have to pay a deposit, usually no more than two months' worth of rent, as well as the rent for your first month up front.
Get your landlord to include any reasons why the deposit would be withheld, including an inventory of all furniture or kitchen equipment, in the tenancy agreement.
There have been so many problems with landlords keeping deposits that your landlord is now legally obliged to place your deposit in one of three authorised tenancy deposit schemes which will help sort out any problems and look after the money until it is sorted out - via the small claims court if necessary.
Your landlord has to give you details of how your deposit is protected within 14 days of receiving the money, including contact information for the scheme they've chosen, information about the deposit and its purpose, how to apply to get the deposit back and what to do if there is a dispute about the deposit.
Enjoying your home
Under the law your landlord can't just turn up uninvited. They need to give you 24 hours' written notice. They can't threaten you or offer you money to make you leave, let other tenants threaten you, stop your mates from visiting or turn off the gas, electricity or water supply.
They can't put the rent up until the end of the assured tenancy period and they certainly can't evict you without a court order.
But, above all, they can't neglect the place you live. They have to make sure any gas or electrical appliances are safe and arrange an annual check by a certified professional - be sure to get a copy of the safety certificate.
They also have to prove that any furniture they provide is fire resistant.
What you can do
You have an obligation to look after the property while you live there and provide appropriate access for repairs and improvements to be made. But, unless you cause the damage, they are responsible for making or paying for all repairs to the structure and exterior of the property, all the baths, toilets, sinks, heating and hot water installations.
Inform your landlord of any problems that need attention immediately, especially if there is any other threat to your safety or security such as damp or mould, broken windows or a dodgy staircase.
If they fail to take action to fix any problems within a reasonable amount of time, particularly in the case of the examples listed above, you can sue them in court, which can then order them to make those repairs.
Important rights are protected
So although many tenants and landlords don't always realise it, tenants do have at least some protection under the law.
Bit with renting increasing dramatically, Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents, is concerned that it just doesn't go far enough.
"It is critical that that the private rented sector is treated with greater seriousness by the government," he says.
"The first step in this approach should be enforcement of existing requirements to protect tenants with action being taken by local authorities to ensure a landlord provides a safe home."
Until then, you can find further support and information on your rights as a tenant from your local Citizens Advice Bureau and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The Horror stories I've heard from friends who rented their home out;
Suddenly realising that they'd got a Council-'Ouse DOG on their hands,
Who also knows all the tricks in the book-even phoning the police, claiming Harassment when a Builder was hired to undertake essential repairs.
(That said Council were only too glad to hive-off onto You, while cleverly 'Pruning' the Rent)
Followed by a year or more in litigation (and expensive legal fees) to evict the problem.
Followed by further expenses in redecoration and damage repairs.
Even needing to get a Locksmith to regain access. The Bailiffs were Useless.
MOST LANDLORDS ARE ROGUE LANDLORDS
I rented out my house while I was away abroad for 4 years. For 2 years I rented it to friends who eventually moved on and it was kept in pristine condition while they were there.
I put it in the hands of agents when they had to leave and the tenants they got left it in such a poor condition that I have had to put in a new kitchen and bathroom. Some of the carpets, all of which were new, were covered in motor oil and there was evidence that they had stripped down a motorbike in the dining room. most of the furniture has been chipped or broken. It had to be seen to be believed. The agency gave me £123 from their bond money but it in no way compensates for the thousands of pounds damage they did to my beautiful cottage. Incidentally I authorised any repairs that needed to be done and the agents took the cost from the rent and did them immediately.
I would never again get an agency to look after the house as they did not have my interests at heart. It does make you understand how some landlords don't do repairs because if you start out with an above standard property, which the tenants trash within a year: it makes you wonder if it is worthwhile spending on it. My home was in perfect condition when I rented it out as I am an interior designer decorator and am disgusted at the lack of respect the tenants had for it.
I watched the Dispatches programme with great interest as a good friend of mine is renting a property privately with the council supplying Housing Benefit and paying his Council Tax. His rent is £675 a month with council tax another £125. My friend is on DLA of about £196 per fortnight to live on and pay bills and the Jobcentre were even cutting into that for crisis loans he took out when he was homeless and not getting benefits.
The main points i wish to make are: 1. Other similar properties close to his are renting for about £450 per month 2. His windows need re-doing and are only single-glazed which means in winter he is freezing even wearing a coat. 3. The storage heaters he does have take ages to heat up and cost a fortune to have on as his electric key seems to eat electric twice the speed mine does per usage. 4 Why don't the council check up on these landlords if the council is the one paying for these outrageous rents and set a limit like the council taxes depending on the houses worth/income of tenants?
Got rid of one tenant last year who tried to accuse me of being a poor landlord because It was three days before i could fix the patio door (stiff sliding action) Once I got her out the baliffs started to arrive in droves best of all was the one collecting unpaid council tax that was being paid through benefits system by the council to be taken from the taxpayer!! Be under no illusions there are more bad tenants than landlords!
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