UK tenancy law: what landlords need to know

Landlords Nov 25, 2021

Landlords and tenants in the UK have certain statutory rights and responsibilities, regardless of what’s written in the tenancy agreement (and even if there isn’t one).

The law is there to protect all parties and means that any contractual clauses that are not consistent with the relevant legislation are unenforceable.

Tenancy law is set out in various different pieces of legislation, which can make it difficult to understand. This article will dive into some of the key pieces of legislation that landlords should be aware of so that you can make sure you’re letting your property in accordance with UK tenancy law.

Landlord and Tenant Act 1985

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants where the tenancy agreement is for a period of seven years or less (Assured Shorthold Tenancies or ASTs).

The landlord’s obligations

Under Section 11 of the act, landlords are responsible for repairs to:

  • The structure and exterior of the property, including drains, gutters and external pipes
  • Installations for sanitation or for the supply of water, gas or electricity, such as basins, sinks, baths and toilets
  • Installations for heating and heating water, such as boilers

A landlord may access their property to assess the state of repair, as long as they make their visit at a ‘reasonable time of day’ and give the tenants at least 24-hours written notice.

The tenant’s obligations

The act also states that the tenant has a ‘duty to use the property in a tenant-like manner’, which essentially means that they should take care of the property and perform the regular tasks related to its general maintenance. Specifically, they should:

  • Properly use gas and electrical appliances
  • Keep the property clean
  • Follow the landlord’s rules on pets and smoking
  • Heat and ventilate the property appropriately
  • Try to avoid drains becoming blocked
  • Not undertake any hazardous activities that could damage the property

If the property is damaged due to the tenant’s actions (or inaction), they could be held responsible for paying for the repairs. Tenants also have a duty to report any damages to the property as soon as they notice them so that the landlord can undertake repairs.

Housing Act 1988

Prior to the introduction of the Housing Act 1988, tenants had the right to stay in a property as long as they wanted and could often even pass on the rental to children or other relatives.

This made many landlords reluctant to enter the rental market and, alongside the Thatcher government’s Right-To-Buy scheme, which allowed council tenants to buy their homes, had led to a shortage of rental properties and a need to develop the private rental market.

This act aimed to redress some of the imbalance between tenants and landlords, allow landlords to regain vacant possession of their property more easily, and therefore encourage more private landlords to enter the market.

The act brought in several important changes:

The introduction of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)

The Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement is the most common type of tenancy in the UK today. An AST can either have a fixed term (often 6 or 12 months) or can be a rolling contract that automatically renews from one month (or week) to the next. There is no right to succession under an AST, so tenancies cannot be passed on to children upon the tenant’s death.

Section 21 notices

Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 helps landlords to regain possession of their properties. Under Section 21, landlords do not need to give a reason for ending the agreement, and the tenant does not need to have committed a fault.

However, landlords do need to follow certain rules in order to legally end tenancy agreements under Section 21. Specifically, tenants with a fixed-term contract cannot be asked to leave the property until the end of the term mentioned in the agreement. Landlords also need to provide sufficient notice to their tenants — the required notice period is usually two months.

Section 8 notices

In certain situations, landlords can end tenancy agreements before the end of the lease by issuing a Section 8 notice. This could be because the tenant has broken the terms of their contract, for example by being in rent arrears or by causing damage to the property.

Section 8 lays out 17 grounds for issuing a notice to evict tenants. Grounds 1 through 8 are ‘mandatory grounds for possession’, which means that the court must order the tenants’ eviction. These grounds may mean that the tenant has done something wrong such as being in serious rent arrears, or that there is another reason they should be urgently evicted, such as when a property is being repossessed by the mortgage provider.

Grounds 9 through 17 are called ‘discretionary grounds’, which means the court is called to decide if the tenant should be evicted in these cases. These are generally more subjective grounds, such as when a landlord claims a tenant has damaged their property.

There is some overlap between mandatory and discretionary grounds. For example, rent arrears can fall into either category depending on how far in arrears the tenant is. To qualify as mandatory grounds for eviction, the tenant must be in arrears of:

  • Two months if the rent is paid monthly
  • Eight weeks if the rent is paid weekly
  • Three months if the rent is paid quarterly or annually

Landlords can cite several grounds for possession if more than one applies.

Changes introduced by the Deregulation Act 2015

The Deregulation Act 2015 was passed with a view to removing the burden of previous legislation where it was no longer useful or applicable. For landlords, it introduced three key changes:

Deposit protection schemes

Under this act, deposits must now be held in one of three deposit protection schemes approved by the government. This is to prevent landlords from unfairly withholding deposits at the end of a tenancy agreement.

Changes to Section 21

This act also prohibits landlords from issuing Section 21 notices if they are in breach of their responsibilities. This rule is designed to prevent so-called ‘retaliation evictions’, where a landlord serves tenants with a Section 21 notice in response to a legitimate complaint.

Under this act, tenants must put any complaints in writing, and the landlord has 14 days to respond. If the tenant is not satisfied after 14 days or the landlord does not complete the repairs, the tenant can make a complaint to their local housing authority, who can then serve the landlord with an enforcement notice. Section 21 notices cannot be served within six months of a landlord receiving an enforcement notice from the local housing authority. The act also prohibits landlords from serving Section 21 notices in the first four months of the tenancy.

Energy performance and gas safety requirements of the property fall under the landlord’s responsibilities. This means that if a landlord wants to issue a Section 21 notice, they must prove that they provided their tenants with both a Gas Safety Certificate and an Energy Performance Certificate at the beginning of the tenancy.

Tenant Fees Act 2019

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 was put in place to regulate the fees landlords are allowed to charge tenants at the beginning of and throughout their tenancy.

Permitted payments

According to the act, the landlord is only allowed to charge tenants the following fees:

  • Rent
  • A refundable deposit equal to no more than five weeks’ rent if the total annual rent is less than £50,000
  • A refundable holding deposit equal to no more than one week’s rent
  • A charge of £50 for changing the tenancy agreement, such as when introducing a pet
  • Utilities and other bills including council tax, TV licenses, internet or telephone bills
  • Fees for early termination, when a landlord can prove such an expense was incurred (for example, advertising costs for finding a new tenant)
  • Default fees for late payment of rent (capped at 3% of the base rate) or for replacing locks, keys and fobs (at rates set out by the act)

Prohibited payments

Landlords are not allowed to charge tenants for:

  • Viewings
  • Reference checks or right to rent checks
  • Administration charges
  • The use of guarantors
  • Inventory checks
  • Pet fees or deposits
  • Renewal or exit fees at the end of a lease
  • Interest on any permitted fees
  • End of tenancy cleaning (unless the tenant has breached a clause of the contract)
  • Third-party services such as gardening or maintenance, unless this is included in the rent or the tenant requests it themselves

There are severe penalties for landlords who don’t comply with this rule, so it’s important to be sure that you’re only charging your tenant legitimate fees.

Home (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018

Under the Home (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 landlords must ensure their property is legally fit for habitation. The act doesn’t introduce any new standards, but rather empowers tenants to take legal action against their landlords if they are not compliant with the standards laid out in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

To determine whether a property is fit for habitation, landlords must consider whether:

  • The property is in a good state of repair
  • The structure is stable
  • The property has extreme damp problems
  • The internal arrangement of the property is safe
  • There is enough natural light in the property
  • The property is adequately ventilated
  • The property is equipped with a safe water supply (both hot and cold)
  • There is sufficient drainage and adequate sanitary conveniences (e.g. toilets)
  • There are adequate facilities for cooking and preparing food and disposing of wastewater

Landlords must also consider whether the property presents any of the 29 hazards outlined in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Rating System (HHSRS).

There are many other acts covering specific elements of tenancy law that landlords should be aware of. This article covers some of the key legislation, but isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list — and you should always consult a legal advisor if you’re not sure about tenancy law.

For more on legal information landlords should be aware of, plus tips on letting your property and getting the most out of your letting, head to our landlords’ blog page.

Article by Annie Caley-Renn

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