Laws Your Landlord Could Be Breaking That You Might Not Know About

Before you move into your new student house, here are the important things you need to know about renting and landlords.

As a student, it’s most likely going to be your first time renting and dealing with a landlord. Renting can sometimes be stressful and landlords can be difficult to deal with when it comes to repairs or disputes, but there are laws in place to protect tenants.

If it’s your first time renting you might not be aware of some of the basics when it comes to your rights as a tenant. This is because landlords and letting agencies are known to lie or push the boundaries on what they can and can’t do, banking on the fact you won’t know any better.

Well, we’re going to break down some of the common myths regarding renting and cover some of the basics when it comes to tenancy laws to help you out before the new year starts. It’s all too common for landlords to break the law and in many cases, you may not even realise that they’re doing it, and they’re hoping you won’t realise.

So, if you’re renting for the first time this year, here’s what you need to know.

Renting and landlord myths debunked

“Your landlord can enter the property at any time”

Fact: No!

When you’re renting a property it is your home for the duration of your tenancy which means your landlord will need to get permission from you before popping over to check in. The law states that landlords and letting agencies need to give you at least 24 hours’ notice if they want to come over for whatever reason, so if they knock on the door out of the blue you are well within your rights to turn them away, you don’t have to let them in!

Remember that both landlords and letting agencies will be aware of this law and that coming over unannounced is breaking it. The only time they can enter the property without giving notice is in a genuine emergency, for example, a fire, a flood, a gas leak etc. So, if they turn up at the door citing an emergency and there isn’t one or they want to check on something, you can tell them to come back tomorrow when they’ve given you the appropriate notice.

“Your landlord can keep your deposit once you’ve moved out”

Fact: yes, but only to a certain extent.

A deposit is there to cover any damage that’s caused once you’ve moved out. Before you move in an inventory should be taken, where extensive photos are taken of the property with the condition recorded in writing. You should ask to see this before you move in, so you can check that any existing damage is already on record.

When you move out, the property should be checked again referencing the original inventory to take note of any new damage. If there is damage that doesn’t count as fair wear and tear (wear and tear could be scuffs on the walls, faded carpets and chipped paint) your landlord can deduct some of your deposit in order to fix the damage.

If there’s damage you’ve caused, for example, if there are torn curtains or a broken toilet seat (and evidence of it) this is something the landlord can use your deposit for. A landlord can also use your deposit to undertake cleaning, however, this is subjective and depends on the state of the property. If you leave the property in the same state you found it in and you can prove it, then a landlord should not be charging you for cleaning using your deposit. If you leave the house in a poor condition and there’s evidence of this, then landlords can take from your deposit.

However, it is highly unlikely that a landlord would ever need to use your full deposit to undertake cleaning or repairs and if they attempt to or if you disagree with any deposit deductions you are well within your rights to dispute the claims.

Landlords can also deduct deposit money in the case of unpaid rent or utilities at the end of the tenancy as well.

“Your landlord can charge you cleaning fees once you move out”

Fact: No!

While your landlord can use your deposit money to undertake cleaning, they cannot ask you to pay any extra money towards cleaning or damages at the end of the tenancy. In fact, it has been illegal since the tenant fees act in 2019 for your landlord to try and charge you any extra fees for anything.

If you’ve moved out of your student house and your landlord is asking you for money for cleaning, they have no leg to stand on here. Remember, no matter how intimidating your landlord might be, it’s illegal to ask you to pay for anything extra other than what’s originally outlined in your tenancy agreement (which is usually the original deposit + scheduled rent payments for the duration of the tenancy) and if they want to make any improvements to the property based on damage you may have caused, they can take it from your deposit.

“Your landlord can use your deposit to undertake repairs during your tenancy”

Fact: No!

In fact, your landlord shouldn’t be able to access your deposit money at all until you’ve moved out. The deposit is not to be used for any repairs that may need doing while you’re actually living there. Your landlord legally has to protect your deposit, which means putting it into a tenancy deposit scheme which will hold the money until the end of your tenancy. This is something else that you should ask for proof of when you move in. A landlord has to provide proof of protecting your deposit within 30 days of moving in, and if they don’t you could be entitled to compensation.

“Your landlord can ask you to pay council tax”

Fact: No!

Full-time students do not have to pay council tax, so if a landlord is asking you to or requesting any type of money from you for “council tax” they are hoping you don’t know the law. The landlord or letting agency should let the council know that students are occupying the property so you won’t receive a council tax bill, but you can do it yourself on your local council’s website as well to avoid any confusion.

If you do receive a council tax bill in the post, you can ask your uni for a council tax exemption certificate which you can show to the council who should cancel the bill for you.

The exception is that part-time students do have to pay, and if you are living with someone who isn’t a student they will also have to pay. You can find out more about council tax and exemptions on the government website.

“Your landlord can charge you fees to undertake referencing”

Fact: No!

If you’re looking at a student house and the letting agency or landlord starts asking you to pay money to undertake referencing, this is illegal since the tenant fees act was enforced in 2019. You will have to undertake referencing before you rent a property, however, this should be free.

Letting agencies and landlords often use an external company to undertake their referencing for them, however, this is a charge that they will need to cover themselves.

“You have to let your landlord in for viewings”

Fact: No!

When you’re moving out, your landlord or letting agency will probably want to find a new tenant asap and will want to organise viewings. Now, while your tenancy agreement will probably state that you do have to let them in for viewings, it will also state that you have a right to quiet enjoyment which normally trumps this and means if viewings are inconvenient for you, or too frequent you have every right to refuse.

If a landlord or letting agent wants to undertake viewings they must give you the correct 24 hours’ notice for every single viewing they intend to do. If the viewings are too frequent or at times that are disruptive for you, you are well within your rights to refuse them.

If a landlord or letting agent attempts to let themselves into the property with a key and they haven’t given you notice, this is illegal.

As annoying as it is, it’s often in your best interest to allow viewings as otherwise landlords can use this as fuel to deduct from your deposit, however, you do not need to accept every single one. Remember it’s your home until you move out and if you don’t want prospective tenants coming over when you’re busy or early in the morning this is a reasonable request!

“Your landlord can increase your rent at any time”

Fact: No!

Student lettings typically run for a year, or sometimes from September-June. In most cases, students will sign a fixed-term tenancy agreement which will bind you to live there for a fixed period of time.

Your landlord cannot increase your rent at any time during a fixed-term tenancy agreement. This is because you have signed a contract saying that you will be living there for 12 months paying X amount of rent every month. The tenancy agreement is legally binding, and the only way the rent can be increased is if the landlord asks you to sign a new fixed-term which of course, you do not have to agree to as your existing tenancy agreement is still valid until the end date.

It’s uncommon for students to live in the same house for longer than a year, but if you do you will probably sign another fixed-term tenancy agreement for the next year. Alternatively, you may switch to a periodic tenancy, where you don’t sign a new tenancy agreement and your original contract continues month to month until either you or your landlord serve notice to leave.

There are two ways a landlord can increase your rent after your initial fixed-term agreement is up:

Option 1: You’ve lived in your house for a year and you want to sign on for another year.

Your landlord can ask you to sign a new fixed-term tenancy agreement for the next year and can increase the rent for that year. This should be clearly outlined in the tenancy agreement so you’re well aware before you sign it.

Option 2: You originally signed to live in your house for 12 months but haven’t moved out past the end date and are now on a periodic tenancy

Your landlord can increase the rent, but they will need to give you 2 months’ notice of this, so you can find somewhere new to live if you choose to move out instead.

What should I do if I’m having an issue with my landlord?

You can read the advice on Shelter and Citizens Advice for some practical advice on different housing situations.

Renting is definitely complicated and not without its problems, but hopefully, with this advice, you can fact-check your landlord if they are being difficult or if you ever run into any problems during the course of your tenancy.