How to have a trauma-free tenancy

terraced houses
  • | by Rachel England

Thanks to seemingly endless economic misery, getting on the property ladder is harder than ever, and rented properties in the UK now account for nearly one in six homes. It’s not a surprise then, that almost a third of landlords have increased their rent in the last year. Of course, this crafty move has done nothing to improve ancient landlord/tenant tensions – indeed, nearly everyone can boast some kind of tenancy horror story.

But why? Are tenants simply expecting too much from their landlords? Or are landlords consistently failing their tenants? What does the law say? Here we look at some of the most common tenancy concerns, complaints and queries.

What’s the deal with my deposit?

Once upon a time, if a landlord didn’t really feel like returning a deposit to a tenant at the end of the contract, they could choose to withhold it with some vague allusions to damage or repairs, and the tenant was pretty much powerless. Someone in government eventually decided that this wasn’t playing cricket, though, and now all tenancy deposits must go into a tenancy deposit scheme (TDP).

These schemes are third-party, meaning that your landlord has no default-access to your deposit. At the end of your contract, you make a claim for your deposit, and the landlord will either give you the thumbs up or the thumbs down, depending on whether they feel there should be any deductions or not. The schemes also offer a free dispute-resolution service, allowing both parties to thrash out any disagreements without the risk of the landlord doing a runner with your cash. TDPs are a legal requirement and you should have been given the relevant details and paperwork no later than four weeks after moving into your new place. If your deposit has not been put into a scheme, then your landlord or agency is breaking the law.

Who is accountable for repairs?

The landlord is responsible for the gas and electrical safety of appliances provided under the tenancy, as well as the fire safety of furniture and furnishings. Therefore, it’s absolutely vital that an inventory is carried out thoroughly at the start of the tenancy, to ensure ownership of such items is legally documented.

The landlord is also responsible for repairs to the structure and exterior of the property, heating and hot water systems and the electrics of the property. Breakdowns and damage to these items must be addressed in a timely fashion, although proceed with caution should you consider withholding rent in a bid to ‘jolly things along’, as this can create more complicated legal issues. If the landlord appears to be neglecting the problem, it is far more sensible to undertake the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from the rent, rather than withholding payment altogether.

There is the ‘expectation of reasonable wear and tear’ on a property, which includes things like paint fading over time, or carpets in high-traffic areas becoming worn. However, if you smash a window with a Frisbee or explode a microwave with tinfoil, that’s your responsibility.

I’ve been burgled, is the landlord liable?

Probably not. Most contracts dictate that tenants must take out their own contents cover, which often covers damage to property in the event of a break-in, too. Certainly, sorting out insurance should be at the top of your tenancy to-do list.

However, landlords do have the legal obligation to ensure that the property is secure. If the burglars entered the property through a shoddy window that you have previously pointed out to the landlord, for example, then you may have a case for negligence on their part.

I think my landlord is harassing me...

As a tenant, you have the right to quiet enjoyment of the property for the duration of the tenancy. Landlords found to be in breach of this by causing undue disturbance may be subject to a fine or even imprisonment. Harassment can take the form of:

- Entering the property without permission

- Tampering with mail or possessions

- Repeated contact without fair reason

- Cutting off utilities with no warning

- Changing the locks without warning

- Neglecting the property

- Preventing the tenant from receiving guests and visitors

- Verbal or physical abuse or threats

Bear in mind that your landlord or agency is legally allowed to conduct visual reports of the property (every three to four months) and to show the property to prospective tenants if you are planning on leaving. However, at least 24 hours notice is required in both cases.

I’m worried my landlord is going to chuck me out

Surprisingly, evicting tenants is a much lengthier process than you would think. Firstly, if you’re on a fixed-term contract, the landlord can only evict you if a) they can convince a court that you’ve misbehaved badly enough to warrant eviction, or b) by seeking a court order to repossess the property, which can take around five months. Even if you’re not under a fixed-term contract, your landlord has to give you at least two months notice – not just one, as many people commonly assume.

Where can I go for legal advice?

If you do find yourself embroiled in a dispute, contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for advice and guidance. It’s also helpful to keep a log of the dispute activities and developments, as you might need it at a later date.