Know your rights at home

There are different types of renting and the most common, assured tenancies, often have rights written in the contract. Some rights always apply as long as you can prove you’ve paid the landlord — no matter what the landlord or contract says.

Basic rights and landlord's obligations
  • Your landlord must carry out basic repairs
  • Your landlord must keep the equipment which supplies hot and cold running water, gas, electricity, sanitation and heating in good working order.
  • You have the right to live without nuisance from your landlord (e.g. they must give you 24 hours’ notice before any visit unless it’s a clear emergency)
  • In most cases, your landlord must not discriminate against you. There may be some exceptions (e.g. if you live in their home).
  • Landlords have to formally apply to raise rents, and if your contract has a procedure for increasing rent then they must follow it. Otherwise they can’t do it more than once a year, or a month’s notice for rolling month-on-month/week-on-week tenancies. They can’t touch the rates on fixed-term contracts until the agreed term runs out.
Harassment is illegal
If your landlord is harassing you it’s potentially a criminal offence. Examples of harrassment include:

  • Removing or restricting services like gas, electricity or water, or failing to pay bills so these services are cut off
  • Visiting your home regularly without warning, especially late at night
  • Interfering with your post
  • Threatening you
  • Sending builders round without notice
  • Entering your home when you are not there without your permission
  • Letting your home get into such a bad state that it’s dangerous to stay there
  • Starting disruptive repair works and not finishing them
  • Harassing you because of your gender, race or sexuality
Expensive clauses
Tenancy agreements often include expensive clauses for things such as the inventory of the property, having the property professionally cleaned when you leave, and for various ‘administration’ tasks such as setting up your tenancy, renewing your contract, and ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’ of your tenancy. They don’t, but letting agents should clearly display all of their fees on their website and in their offices, so it’s worth asking for a breakdown of them early in the process. To varying degrees, all of these fees can be disputed before you sign the contract.

You can challenge these fees at whatever stage of the process you feel comfortable to; in our experience, it can sometimes be best to challenge them after you have paid your up front rent and deposit, and relatively close to, if not on, the moving in date, as the letting agent or landlord are then committed to you moving into the property, too. It’s not a great bargaining position, but it’s something.

Having to pay for a professional inventory on exit of the property at the end of a tenancy

Although such a clause is entirely legal, letting agents / landlords often don’t draw the contents of this clause to the attention of tenants before they sign and, therefore, tenants can find themselves subject to paying for an inventory check from a company that are often aligned with the letting agent themselves. It is worth establishing what the likely costs are and asking for the clause to be removed if you are not provided with a formal inventory on entry to the flat (why should you pay for an inventory check on exit if you are not provided with one when you enter the flat?)

Having to pay for a professional clean (often by a cleaning company recommended by the letting agent / landlord) on exit of the property at the end of a tenancy

You can ask for this to be removed from the tenancy agreement. There is no legal requirement for tenants to pay for a professional clean (however, landlords may insist upon it – it is yet another example of the weak bargaining position that tenants often find themselves in). If you can’t get it removed from the agreement, you can request that you facilitate it, rather than just having to pay a sum of money at the end of the tenancy for it, and that you will provide an invoice as proof of the work. You can then just fake an invoice from a convincing sounding cleaning company.

Administration fees (such as for setting up your tenancy, renewing your contract, ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’)

Ask the letting agent what the fee for setting up your tenancy covers. For example, if they suggest that it covers the cost of protecting your deposit, then this contravenes relevant guidance from the government. You can also challenge these other admin fees on the same basis – by asking what they cover and requesting that they are removed from the contract if (when) the agent cannot, for example, offer a justification for an £80 contract renewal fee.

Your deposit is not their funny money
When you move to a new place you pay a deposit in case you damage anything or fall behind on the rent. Getting it back is a common problem, so remember to get a receipt when you pay and take photos when you move in and email them to someone, this will be a dated proof in case of a dispute.

Legally the landlord has to put your deposit into a government “tenancy deposit scheme” which holds on to the cash in case of a dispute until it’s sorted out. Details of the scheme can be found here. If your landlord wants to hang on to some or all of the deposit they have to provide an itemised invoice of what they paid for, including receipts. They can be fined for refusing to give your deposit back without good reason.

Evictions have rules
Your landlord has to give you formal written notice with a legal reason for your eviction (Housing Act 1988). These are usually if you are in arrears, they want to move back into the property or you have broken the terms of the lease. You don’t have to leave at this point, they will first need a court order saying when you should go. You can explain your situation to the court in writing and by going to the hearing in person.

You can stay in your home until court officials (bailiffs) come to your house. You don’t have to let bailiffs in unless it’s to do with criminal fines or tax. They are banned from breaking in, but if you let them in they can take your things. Police officers are not allowed to break in for them unless they have a warrant.

If anyone tries to evict you without following the right procedure, they’re committing the criminal offence of illegal eviction. Police often wrongly think unlawful eviction is a civil matter, in fact it’s a criminal one and they have a duty to protect you. You are legally allowed to change the locks to protect yourself from harassment, as long as you keep the original lock and put it back on when you leave.

Direct action and mutual aid
Knowing the law is useful because landlords often don’t follow it. But the law isn’t on our side most of the time. We can’t rely on it to make sure we’re treated fairly.

If you’ve rented, you’ve probably talked with other tenants about how to deal with a dodg y landlord and survive a market stacked in their favour. Maybe you’ve even gone with a fellow tenant to speak to your landlord about a problem. These conversations and actions are the basis of solidarity.

What next?

Courtroom disputes can be expensive, long, stressful and often need specialised skills. Direct action doesn’t. Anyone can do it and win. Rather than relying on judges and lawyers, direct action is based on us organising ourselves and confronting landlords collectively. It could be something straightforward, like lots of us going down as a group to demand our landlord finsh repair jobs.

It could mean setting up a tenants’ union — and even all deciding to withhold rent until demands are met (a “rent strike”). And defending our rights is just the beginning — when we’re strong we can take the initiative. Examples of direct action include:

  • Taking a demand letter to a landlord’s home or work.
  • Publicly “outing” their bad behaviour to neighbours.
  • Bombarding their telephone or email inbox.
  • Occupying your local housing office.

These are just examples, anything that gives you leverage over your landlord works, particularly by challenging their reputation or hitting them in the pocket. Friends, family and other tenants can give us the support we need to change things.