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Renting Guide for Tenants & Landlords - England & Wales

Welcome to Unlock the Law's full property guide for tenants & landlords in England & Wales. This guide will explain the main rights and responsibilities that both tenants & landlords should consider before entering into an agreement. 

An increasing number of people find the prospect of renting a home far more attractive than making the significant investment, in time and money, to purchase a home. It is important to understand that by deciding to rent, you are entering into a particular kind of legal relationship with your landlord. This relationship requires both parties to observe the responsibilities that they owe to one another for the duration of the tenancy.


At Unlock the Law we have poured over the law and how it applies to renting a property in England and Wales. In this guide we tell you everything that you need to know about renting a property.



What needs to be considered before renting a property?

Contrary to what many people may believe, there is a lot to be considered when thinking about renting a property. Chief among these is the fact that by renting, you will never own the property in question. By extension your rights in terms of what you are able to do with the property e.g. make cosmetic changes, have guests etc. are limited according to what you agree with the landlord. By making the decision to rent, people will forgo a degree of the freedom that they would otherwise have if they had bought a property. However they also are not burdened by the significant mortgage repayments that tend to be associated by buying a property.

What are the differences among landlords ?

It may sound surprising but there are different kinds of landlords, and being a tenant of a particular landlord can have an impact on your legal rights. The distinction is between two specific kinds of landlord:

Social housing landlord

If your landlord is a Social housing landlord, they will either be a local authority – a district or borough council – or a housing association. By extension as a tenant with a social housing landlord, provided that your tenancy started on or after 15 January 1989, you will be a secure tenant or an introductory tenant.

Private landlord

A private individual that allows you to take up residence in a property they own in exchange for rent will be your landlord. Depending on when your tenancy began, you will fall into one or another category of tenant.

Where a tenancy began on or after January 1989, a tenant will most likely either be an assured tenant; or an assured shorthand tenant.

What can I expect of my landlord?

Social housing tenant

As a social housing tenant, you will be entitled to live in the property in question. The only reason that your entitlement to live in the property will become the subject of debate is either (i) where you violate the terms of your tenancy agreement; or (ii) your landlord seeks to evict you from the premises. It should be noted that if there are severe breaches of the tenancy agreement, a landlord may take steps to have you evicted from the property anyway.

The law also grants social housing tenants a number of other rights, including:

  • To have repairs to the property carried out by your landlord
    • Certain things will almost always be the responsibility of your landlord to repair including the structure and exterior of the building, toilets and all pipe work.
  • To organise repairs themselves and be compensated for the cost, where the landlord fails to organise repairs in a timely manner.
    • This right falls within the 'right to repair' scheme available to social housing tenants. The scheme covers a variety of repairs including leaking roofs and insecure doors. If landlords do not arrange for repairs within a fixed timeframe, tenants can request a different contractor to complete the work within a fixed time frame. If the timescale is not honoured, tenants can claim compensation.
  • To make improvements to the property e.g. loft insulation, new toilets or security measures, and be compensated for it when you leave;
    • The cost of these improvements can be sought from landlords after they have been completed.
  • To take in lodgers or sublet part of the property, with the landlord's permission; and
  • To buy your home
    • Where an individual has been a secure tenant for a period of three years, they can take steps to purchase the property from their landlord. It is likely that they will be able to enjoy a substantial discount on the price of the property, depending on the length of time they have been living in the property.

Private housing tenant

As a private housing tenant, the rights that you have will depend on the type of tenant that you are. However there are a few responsibilities that all private housing landlords owe to their tenants, including:

  • To keep their accommodation in a reasonable state of repair;
  • To have their spouse, partner or civil partner to take up the tenancy when they die; and
  • Not to be treated unfairly because of their sex, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs.

There will also be additional requirements that landlords must observe in terms of their properties, where they are let as furnished properties to tenants. If this is the case, tenants are entitled to expect certain things to be provided, including:

  • A bed and storage facilities in the bedroom(s);
  • A cooker, fridge and cooking utensils;
  • A sofa or armchair(s) in the living room;
  • A table with chairs in the kitchen or dining room.

It is also not uncommon the private properties often has a television set. Unless a landlord installed the set in question, it is the responsibility of the tenant to secure a license for it.

What can my landlord expect of me?

Your tenancy agreement – whether written or verbal – will lay down what you can expect from your landlord. The agreement will also include what your landlord can expect of you. Notwithstanding the terms of the tenancy agreement, it is important to be conscious of the rights that landlords (public or private) have in respect of their property.

Landlords are entitled to access to the property in question in order to carry out necessary repairs. It should be noted that in the case of emergency repairs, landlords are entitled to immediate access in order to make the property safe for their tenants. Furthermore they are also entitled to enter the property to inspect the state that it is in. However in practice landlords should seek the permission of their tenants to enter the property, and should give at least 24 hour's notice.

It should also be borne in mind, as will often be stipulated in the tenancy agreement, that landlords have the right to the rent they are owed in exchange for granting people tenancy in their property.

How is rent decided?

The amount of money to be paid in rent will depend on whether or not you are a social housing or private housing tenant.
The rent for tenants in social housing is determined according to the local authorities' policy for housing, as well as the money that is allocated by central government. It is not possible for tenants to control the amount of rent that is due for a property.

In the case of private tenants, a landlord will normally have investigated what they can expect to let a property for in terms of rental payments. It is open to landlords to increase the rent that they expect from tenants, however, this must be made clear within a tenancy agreement or otherwise brought to your attention.

What happens if I don't pay my rent?

If you are unable to pay your rent and find yourself in, or at risk of being in arrears, it is important that you speak with your landlord. It must be noted that a failure to pay rent is a basis for landlord to take legal action in order to evict you from their property. If you are able to engage with them, and come up with a practical, workable solution that will allow you to clear your arrears and make all future rental payments, this will avoid the need to involve the courts.

If you are not able to clear your arrears, and there is no reasonable likelihood of this changing, then your landlord can begin the process to have you evicted from the property. The process involved will depend on whether or not your landlord is a social housing, or private landlord.

Social housing landlords are obliged, when attempting to evict a tenant for rent arrears, to follow a set of rules known as the rent arrears protocol. This requires that they write to you and seek further information as to why you cannot pay your rent, and provide assistance in terms of seeking housing benefit. If there is no likelihood of the situation changing, the next step is for the landlord to formalise matters:

  1. It must first provide you with written notice as to why it wants you to leave the property, and outline when the notice period ends – in practice tenants tend to have four weeks' notice.
  2. If the situation has not been resolved within the notice period, the landlord can then approach the court for a possession order in order to evict you. You will be issued with a summons and a defence form for when you are to attend court, and defend your position.
  3. Where you attend the court hearing, and are unable to convince the court not to grant a possession order, the landlord can ask that bailiffs be instructed to eject you from the property along with all of your personal affects. It is possible, in some circumstances, for the courts to stop bailiff's attending at the property, if it is convinced that there is some prospect of your clearing your rental arrears.

Private landlords are also obliged to follow a relatively similar procedure to that of social landlords in order to evict tenants for rental arrears:

  1. They must first issue you with two months' notice that they want you to leave their property. This is known as a Section 21 notice, which must be given to you in writing.
  2. The next step is that, after the two months have expired, and you have not left the property, your landlord can approach the courts for a possession order. If granted, this document will require that you vacate the property by the date it stipulates – this is normally 14 days after the date on which the court grants the order. It should be noted that the courts have the option of granting a full order, or grant a suspended or postponed possession order.
  3. If you fail to leave by the date mentioned in the possession order, your landlord can request that the court send bailiffs to remove you and your possessions from their property. It is rare that bailiffs will be able to be prevented from acting where a landlord has issued a valid Section 21 notice, and has been granted a possession order. You will however be given notice of when you should expect bailiffs to attend at the property.

Key points

  • The rights and responsibilities that are held by tenants and landlords vary according to their type;
  • Most if not all of the terms of the tenant-landlord relationship will be set out in the tenancy agreement; and
  • There are important procedures that need to be observed where landlords hope to evict tenants who have not paid their rent.

Nothing in this guide is intended to constitute legal advice and you are strongly advised to seek independent legal advice on matters that affect you.

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England & Wales

Last Updated

Thursday, 06 August 2015


Property Law