Tenants vs. Landlords: Where do you stand legally?

When arranging to rent a property, many tenants would probably admit to not reading their tenancy agreements carefully, assuming that in the event of problems their rights will be protected under law. However, it is well worth both parties understanding their rights so that any problems or disputes can be quickly and amicably resolved.

Deposit protection

Historically, tenants often complained that their cash deposits were not returned in full at the end of their tenancies, even though landlords had little justifiable reason for withholding them. Under Assured Shorthold Tenancies, deposits are now protected to prevent unscrupulous landlords from retaining them without good reason.

Deposits should be held securely in an account operated by a tenancy deposit scheme for the entire duration of the rental. It must be proven that any deductions are made legitimately, for example to repair damage caused by the tenants, and the deposit – full or partial – must be returned within 30 days of the end of the AST. If the tenant wishes to challenge deductions, an independent adjudicator will decide on the outcome.

For landlords, this means that reasons for not returning a deposit in full must be evidenced but it also increases their reliance on eviction if tenants are not keeping to the terms of the tenancy agreement.


The rights of tenants

Tenants should be given a copy of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy at the outset and any significant changes should be agreed by both parties. Under ASTs, tenants are entitled to some common rights which largely affect their quality of life:

  • Living conditions should be suitable with access to working appliances, such as hot water, cooking facilities and phone connections.
  • Repairs should be carried out promptly by the landlord (or his agent) once the tenant has reported a problem.
  • Tenants have the right to privacy from the landlord; scheduled visits, for example to inspect the condition of the property, should be made with 24 hours’ notice. The right of privacy does not apply if emergency repairs necessitate immediate access to a property or if the tenant fails to pay rent, in which case the landlord can visit at any time to request payment.
  • Tenants should be provided with the contact details for the landlord, even if the property is let through a third party such as an estate agent. This is so problems can be reported directly to the landlord and remedial action can be promptly completed.


The rights of landlords

Understandably, most of the rights which apply to landlords exist to protect their financial interest in a property. Typical rights under an AST include the following:

  • In the event that the tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord has the right to repossess the property, so long as he adheres to the appropriate legal procedures and gives the tenant correct notice of legal action.
  • Landlords who have good reason to suspect that a property is being badly treated can access it with 24 hours’ notice for the purpose of carrying out an inspection. If the tenant fails to pay rent on time, he can also visit without warning to demand payment.
  • Landlords may also retain any possessions left behind at the end of the tenancy agreement, although hopefully most landlords would be happy to allow tenants to return to collect items they failed to take with them.

Therefore it is imperative that tenants read their ASTs carefully before signing a tenancy agreement and ask for it to be explained, if necessary; the landlord has a legal duty to provide more information, if asked. If a property is fully or partially furnished, the inventory should be completed jointly by the tenant and landlord to avoid confusion. If any disputes arise during the course of the tenancy, professional advice should be obtained from an organisation such as The Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

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