There are a number of laws in place to protect you if you rent your home in the private sector and it can really pay to know your rights as a renter.
Here we explain your legal rights from the moment you first find a property you'd like to rent, to when your tenancy ends.
What you should pay upfront
The good news for anyone looking to rent a home is that agency fees have been banned.
The only upfront cost you should be asked for when you find a rental home is a holding deposit. This is capped at one week’s rent and is refundable after 14 days.
Once you’ve signed a contract, you will be asked for a tenancy deposit. This deposit will be capped at five weeks’ rent, unless your rent is over £50,000 a year, in which case you may be asked for six weeks’ rent.
Tenancy deposits are refunded at the end of the tenancy, minus any reductions for repairs.
It is illegal for landlords or letting agents to charge you fees for administration, drawing up contracts, or carrying out reference or credit checks in England, Wales and Scotland.
Your money is protected
Your deposit must be held in a government-backed tenancy deposit protection scheme and your landlord must provide proof that it has been put into one of these schemes within 30 days of your paying it.
All letting agents in England must also belong to a client money protection scheme, to ensure that any money you pay to them, such as monthly rental payments, are protected if they go bankrupt.
Letting agents should also display the information on which scheme they belong to in both their office and on their website.
A safe, properly maintained property
The law requires rental properties to be safe and in good repair.
If any maintenance issues arise during your tenancy, repairs must be carried out within a reasonable amount of time.
From April this year, landlords must have an Electrical Installation Condition Report showing that all electrical installations, such as wiring and electrical sockets, have been tested by a qualified electrician.
These inspections must be repeated at least every five years and, as a tenant, you should be given a copy of the electrician’s report within 28 days of it being issued.
You should also be shown copies of the property’s gas safety certificate, which must be renewed annually.
If you rent a home in Scotland, landlords have until February 2022 to comply with a raft of new safety standards, such as installing heat alarms in kitchens, smoke alarms in living rooms, halls and landings (which must all be interlinked) and carbon monoxide alarms near any carbon-fuelled boilers, fires or heaters.
Rental properties are also required to meet minimum energy efficiency standards.
You can ask to see the Energy Performance Certificate for your property, which should be rated E or above, meaning it has proper insulation and effective heating.
Fair and reasonable terms
Your tenancy agreement must be fair and comply with the law. You must also be supplied with a written copy.
You have the right to challenge excessively high charges or rent increases, which must be ‘fair and realistic’, meaning in line with local average rents.
Your rent can also only be increased at certain times. If you are on a rolling tenancy, your landlord cannot increase it more than once a year.
If you are on a fixed term tenancy, your rent can only be increased if you agree or when the fixed term ends. You must also be given at least one month’s notice of any increase.
Other rights include knowing who your landlord is. If you request this information and it is not given to you within 21 days, your landlord can be fined.
Your right to live in the property undisturbed is also protected, and, unless it is an emergency, you must be given 24 hours’ notice of a property visit or inspection. Any such visits must also take place at a reasonable time of day.
If you ask to make changes to your contract mid-way through your tenancy, the charges for doing so are capped at £50.
Finally, you have the right not to be discriminated against according to race, gender or disability, for example.
Living with a pet
While you are not legally entitled to have a pet, the government has taken steps to make it easier for people to rent a home with one.
It has amended the model tenancy agreement, which is the standard tenancy agreement used in England, to make consent for pets the default position.
As a result, landlords that use this contract cannot issue a blanket ban on ‘responsible tenants with well-behaved pets’ from renting a property.
The return of your deposit
When you want to leave your rented home, you must give your landlord the required amount of notice according to your tenancy agreement.
Providing you have done this, they should then return your deposit to you, minus any deductions for damage to the property or furnishings, unpaid rent or cleaning that is required. There should be no deductions made for general wear and tear.
Any charges for repairs must be at a reasonable cost and you should be provided with evidence of these costs.
If you are unhappy about the amount being returned to you, you can refer the dispute to your tenancy deposit protection scheme.
Protection from eviction
The ban on tenant evictions that was put in place when England was in lockdown has now been lifted but landlords are still required to give you extra notice until at least October.
It is illegal for a landlord to evict you without giving you written notice or obtaining a court order.
If you are in an assured shorthold tenancy, the most common type of tenancy, they can start the eviction procedure through giving you either a section 21 or section 8 notice.
Your landlord does not need to give a reason to evict you under a section 21 notice, but they must give you a warning period. This period was previously two months, but it has been extended to four months because of the pandemic.
If you do not leave the property at the end of this period, your landlord must go to court to evict you legally.
You cannot be issued with a section 21 notice during the first four months of your original contract.
Landlords can only issue a section 8 notice if they have legal grounds to end your tenancy, for example if you are in rent arrears. They must apply to a court for a possession order to evict you.
The notice period varies, depending on the grounds for possession.
While landlords are waiting to evict you, they are not allowed to harass you or lock you out of your home, even temporarily.
It is also worth noting that a free mediation servicehas been set up to help tenants and landlords resolve disputes without having to go to court.