Almost 40% of the annual £25bn housing benefit bill is paid to private landlords, who often get away with charging extortionate rents for poor quality housing. Tenants asking for repairs or furniture have been threatened with eviction or harassed, so it is important to know your rights.
Groups that support tenants and also campaign, are:
Councils are increasingly placing people in private rented accommodation. The Focus E15 mums and many others are campaigning to keep social housing, so people are not forced into private rented with fewer rights. Sometimes the council still manages the property, sometimes they “discharge their duty” and you have a private landlord.
If you are made homeless and apply to the council for housing, you may be put in temporary accommodation while they decide if you are “in priority need”, for example, you have children, are fleeing domestic violence, are sick/disabled, including mental health. See:http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/homelessness/help_from_the
Despite Legal Aid cuts, you can get Legal Aid for homelessness problems. People and families are challenging being sent far away to cheaper areas (i.e. social cleansing). Reasons can include: distance from home borough, family, friends, support network; disruption to medical treatment, children’s education or contact with separated parent, caring commitments, waged work, or volunteering. See: Homelessness Schedule 2012www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/2601/made
If you are homeless and vulnerable, you can apply to be housed and supported by the council under community care law, regardless of your immigration status. You are likely to need a community care solicitor to represent you. The law is complicated but generally people are considered vulnerable if because of age, illness, disability or any other circumstances they need care and attention which they can’t get unless the council takes responsibility.
Deposits. If you are placed in private rented accommodation by the council, they may pay your deposit. Otherwise private tenants generally need to pay four to six weeks’ rent as deposit, plus the first month’s rent. All deposits paid since April 2007 must be registered with a deposit protection scheme – you can check if yours is registered here:https://www.depositprotection.com/is-my-deposit-protected
These have disputes services where landlords have to justify why they want to withhold some of your deposit. Wear and tear on the property is not a valid reason, and the condition only has to be as good as at the start of the tenancy – it helps to take pictures when you move in.
Your landlord has to register the deposit within 30 days and send you information about it. If they don’t, you can take them to county court and win up to three times the deposit amount back in damages.
Rent increases. Your landlord can’t increase your rent during the fixed term of your contract without your agreement or a legal process. Usually, landlords increase the rent between contracts. There is no legal limit to how high the rent can be raised.
To challenge this, you can go to tribunal (Property Chamber). Their decision is binding and they can lower or raise the rent. You should pay the old rent level while you challenge the increase, as paying the new rent counts as agreeing. Tribunals should only be used if you have gathered lots of evidence that show your rent is higher than others for similar properties in the area, otherwise it’s quite likely they will agree with the landlord, as they have a reputation for not being very tenant-friendly.
If you are a regulated tenant (mainly pensioners with a longstanding tenancy) the landlord can only apply to the rent officer once every two years.
If either party is not happy with the rent officer’s decision they can apply to the rent assessment committee. See:http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/private_renting/private_renting_agreements/regulated
Disrepair in private rented homes is a major problem. Your home should be free of what are called “category 1 hazards” including excessive cold and damp, unsafe gas and electrics. You can report disrepair to the council (copy your letter to local councillors/MP). You may also want to negotiate directly with your landlord, especially if you can read up on their duties – see here:http://hackneyrenters.org/deposits-fees-repairs/repairs/
Evictions. If your landlord has not registered your deposit, the common no-fault eviction notice, called an S21, is not valid. They may not know this, and if they serve you a notice, it is better not to tell them – this way when it comes to court, it will be thrown out, and they will have to give you another two months’ notice with a new S21. Unless you have broken the terms of your contract, you can’t be evicted during the time written on your contract. But landlords do not need a reason to evict you after this. They have to give you two months’ notice. Then it will go to court, where they can apply for a warrant of possession, then bailiffs – this can take up to five months. You do not have to leave your home until a bailiff is at your door. See:http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/eviction/eviction_of_private_tenants/eviction_of
People in the community are defending each other against evictions. Get support if you can from your local advice centre, neighbourhood centre, campaigning group, neighbours, etc.
If you live in the same building as your landlord, sharing some facilities, you may not have tenant’s rights. Your deposit is not protected, and you have no legal protection against eviction. See: http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/sharing_and_subletting/excluded_occupiers