10 Things Every Tenant Needs To Know

10 Things Every Tenant Needs To Know

For many of us rent is our biggest single monthly bill. It is the roof over our head & sadly, for a lot of us, a cause of a great deal of stress, anxiety & uncertainty. Sometimes it can feel as though landlords have all of the power & it’s easy to feel overwhelmed online with a seemingly endless supply of sometimes contradictory advice.

At Tenant Angels we have been helping tenants for around 5 years now. We are not solicitors but tenants, just like you, who got fed up & decided to do something about it. We are fortunate to work with some of the best solicitors in the UK & have used that knowledge & experience to come up with a list of ten basic things you need to know if you are renting your home.

This is by no means exhaustive but a lot of times we speak to someone who has been caught out by one of the following:

1. If you have paid a deposit, it needs to be protectedDeposit claims are what we specialise in, however many tenants we speak to simply did not know they could have a case, despite the fact, the law has been around for well over ten years now.  Put simply, in most cases when you move into a property you will be expected to hand over a security deposit/bond, the money is supposed to act as security in case you damage the property or leave owing rent.

That money cannot, in most cases, be held by the landlord. Instead, they must protect it with an authorised scheme. Once the money is registered with that scheme it will be protected & you will find it much easier to get back when you leave.

Most of the time you will be provided with information directly from the scheme to say your money has been protected, however, if you haven’t it is essential that you check. You can do this by calling the 3 schemes directly or if you prefer you can contact our friendly team & we will happily do it for you. Don’t forget if the money hasn’t been protected you can bring your deposit claim with us on a no-win-no-fee basis.

2. Section 21 notices & what they really mean – Evictions notices are probably the single most misunderstood aspect of tenancies & also the cause of the biggest stress. We could easily write an entire blog on the subject, but for this article, we will stick to the single biggest misunderstanding… section 21 does not end the tenancy, when it expires, it does not mean your tenancy has expired or ended.

To clarify it might be better to think of a section 21 notice as a request to vacate the property rather than an eviction note. You are perfectly entitled to stay in the property after the notice has expired however remember at this point the landlord can now apply to the court in order to evict. Section 21 is essentially a precursor to eviction proceedings – only a court can end the tenancy.

There are also a number of different things your landlord has to have done in order for the section 21 notice to count as valid, so if you are planning to try & stay it’s worth having your notice checked over. If the notice is not valid, a fresh one would have to be served & expire before any eviction could take place.

3. Understanding what your fixed term means – You move into a new property & sign a tenancy for six months. The common mistake is thinking that when those six months are over your tenancy has ended. This causes a lot of anxiety for some who do not get a new written tenancy & worse for others causes them to sign another fixed term that commits them to another six months rent when in reality in most cases they do not need to.

During a fixed term the landlord cannot serve you notice (with a few exceptions) however, you also cannot leave the property, meaning if your circumstances change you will be liable for the full remaining rent under the fixed term. When the 6 months pass it is simply this fixed term that ends the tenancy just continues. The difference is now a landlord can serve you notice (currently six months in most cases due to the pandemic) & you may also end the tenancy by providing one month’s written notice, offering you much greater flexibility.

4. When you sign a joint tenancy all parties are fully liable for all aspects – Joint tenancies used to be primarily signed by couples however increasingly due to rising housing costs we are seeing friends moving in together & running into issues with joint tenancy agreements.

What you need to know is that in most cases a joint tenancy will contain a clause stating that you are both jointly and severally liable. What does that mean? Well, in simple terms you, as an individual, are liable for 100% of the costs associated with that tenancy. The same applies to all other parties. A common example would be when one person runs into arrears the landlord could choose to chase the money from another party named on the contract, the same applies to damage.

It’s important you consider very carefully if a joint tenancy really is the right move for you, be that with friends or with a new partner. If the relationship breaks down you can be left holding a very large bill regardless of any private arrangement you have with the other individuals in the house.

5. If your deposit is protected, you have 90 days – OK so we have already covered the fact that your deposit needs to be protected & talked about the fact you can make a deposit claim if it isn’t but the other thing that catches many people out is the 90-day deadline. So what is it & why do you need to make sure you don’t miss it?

Assuming your deposit is protected, when you move out the scheme will be notified that your tenancy has ended, from that date the clock starts to tick, a dispute can only be started up to 90 days after that date. Once that time passes the scheme will no longer adjudicate any disputes over the deposit.

Sadly, we have seen a lot of landlords & agents try to take advantage of this. When you move out they will stall saying they are waiting on quotes, not reply to emails, anything to make time tick away. It’s crucial you don’t let this happen. When you move out, call the scheme, make sure they have updated contact details for you & find out the latest date you can start a dispute; then if you get stuck dealing with your landlord make sure you contact the scheme to start the process. I mean come on, does it really take 3 months to get a quote?

6. Write it down/take pictures & keep documents – OK this seems like a simple one but it catches so many out. Remember when you are entering into a tenancy you are entering a legal contract worth thousands of pounds, in most cases, so it’s important you have evidence of everything. If things go sour, a court or the deposit scheme can only go off what you can show them.

What that means is phone calls are the enemy! If at all possible do not report repairs or other issues on the phone as you have no way of being able to prove what was said or even if it was said at all. Similarly, take photos of the condition you left the property in, the condition it was in when you moved out.

It’s the same with handing over money, handing over cash in our view is a bad idea. Keep everything to bank transfers so you have a record, make sure your tenancy agreement clearly lists the amount of deposit you paid & lists it as a deposit. We would also suggest taking photos of your tenancy agreement & storing it digitally.

It’s better to have it & not need it than to need it & not have it!

7.  Housing law allows up to six years for claims to be brought – This follows on the last point, evidence is crucial if things end up in a legal battle, the only thing worse than having never gathered the evidence you need is having thrown it all away! Remember while most landlords will start legal action against you soon after you leave the law allows up to six years for them to do so. While it is rare we have seen cases of landlords waiting a while in the hopes tenants have thrown away the evidence. Don’t do it. Keep all your documents safe, better yet take photos & upload them.

The six-year period also goes the other way for most things including tenancy deposit claims meaning you have up to six years to bring your case.

8. Do I have to let my landlord round for inspections or that workmen in when I am not there – The internet is full of confusing answers to these questions, actually, the answer is simple & straightforward NO. If you have exclusive possession of the property (usually an assured shorthold tenancy)  it means you have the right to exclude all others from the property including the agent, landlord, or any workmen.

All of that is not to say you shouldn’t let them into the property. If repairs need doing, of course, it’s important to let the workmen in & you could be held responsible for any damages caused due to lack of repair if you are being obstructive. Equally, you cannot claim the landlord isn’t fixing things if you never let them in.

However, so many people contact us worried that they have to let the landlord in at times that don’t suit them, at the drop of the hat, or currently when they are shielding or self-isolating, the simple fact is you don’t.

It is also worth noting that a landlord or agent must provide 24 hours written notice of any requested visit.

9. Withholding rent – The short answer is, do not do this without legal advice. Much like the final point on this blog (moving out without the correct notice) this can land you with a very large bill & make it very difficult for you to bring legal action yourself. Sometimes withholding the rent can seem like the only option especially when major repairs are not being done.

If you are struggling with these issues get in touch & we can put you in touch with a fully qualified solicitor who will be able to guide you through the process. If you absolutely are going to withhold rent or already have you must keep the money in a separate account, so as to be able to show you have actually withheld the rent. If you simply spend the money or do not move it to a separate account the money will likely simply be classed as arrears.

10. In almost all cases you cannot simply move out without correct notice – It’s important to understand that tenancies can only be ended two ways either by agreement or by a court. We speak to a lot of clients who frustrated at disrepair or harassment simply pick up & leave. While we understand the frustration, it is essential to understand that you can be held liable for rent at the property until new a tenant is found.

If you are experiencing issues & need to get out of the property it’s important you follow the legal process to ensure you don’t end up being hit with a big bill.

As well as deposit claims our expert panel of housing solicitors deal with almost all aspects of tenancy law so if you are having a problem & need to get out make sure you get in touch so we can advise you on the correct path.

This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. Tenant Angels does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.