Private tenant rights: everything you need to know about deposits, price hikes and rent arrears
Factors including high property costs have resulted in more Londoners renting their homes, and for longer.
If you’ve ever struggled with an errant landlord or letting agent, you’re not alone, which is why it is vital that you know your rights.
Here is the essential up-to-date advice to help you stay informed and covered for all eventualities as a private tenant.
Deposit protection explained
If you rent your home on an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) that started after April 6, 2007, your landlord must keep your security deposit in a deposit protection scheme.
An AST is the most common form of tenancy and most new tenancies fall into this category.
The Government introduced deposit protection schemes in 2007 in an effort to protect tenants and ensure they get what they are rightfully owed when moving out of a rental property. However, this is dependent on tenants meeting the terms of the tenancy agreement; not damaging the property (beyond reasonable wear and tear), and paying the rent and bills.
A tenancy cannot be an AST if:
- It began or was agreed before January 15, 1989
- The rent is more than £100,000 per year
- The rent is less than £250 per year (or less than £1,000 in London)
- The landlord is a local council
- It’s a holiday let
There are three main deposit schemes in England and Wales — Deposit Protection Service; MyDeposits, and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Scotland and Ireland have separate schemes.
Tenancy deposit schemes fall into two categories:
- The scheme hold the deposit for free – this is known as a ‘custodial’ scheme
- The tenant or agency hold the deposit and pay the scheme to insure it – this is known as an ‘insured’ scheme
Landlords or their agents are responsible for putting your deposit into a scheme within 30 days of a tenant signing a rental agreement. They are also required to provide the tenant with details of the scheme, such as which one they have used.
When it’s time to leave, tenants are responsible for asking their landlord or agency for their deposit back. You can contact the scheme directly and ask for this money to be released if you fail to get a response within 10 days.
In the event of a dispute regarding this final figure – regarding damage to the property or rent arrears, for example – the deposit remains protected in the scheme until the matter is resolved.
How much can my landlord increase my rent by?
Your tenancy agreement should detail how and when your rent will be reviewed. When a landlord can propose a rent increase depends on the type of tenancy you have. For a fixed-term tenancy, a rent increase usually occurs at the end of the fixed term, while a periodic tenancy (rolling on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis) can usually only see your rent increased once a year without your agreement.
According to Shelter, rent increases must be “fair and realistic”, i.e. in line with similar local rents.
If you feel your rental increase has been unreasonably inflated, you can apply to a Housing Tribunal. This is an independent, non-governmental organisation that will consider your plea – and that of your landlord – in the context of fair or market rates.
It’s worth seeking legal advice before proceeding with this. Citizen’s Advice and Shelter both offer free advice and support.
Do private tenants have a right to housing benefit?
Private tenants are unlikely to get all their rent covered by housing benefit, although this will depend on your personal circumstances (Flickr/HowardLake)
Private tenants eligible for housing benefit won’t usually get their full rent covered. The maximum funding available is the local housing allowance (LHA) rate that applies to your household. This is based on the number of bedrooms you can claim for. There are five bands available and the rates differ depending on where in the country you live.
You can find out your LHA rate here.
If you’re under 35 and single with no dependent children, you can usually only get the shared accommodation rate. This applies whether you share your home with other people or live alone.
How much you’re eligible for is also dependent on whether you are working, how much you earn, whether you are affected by the benefit cap and who else is living with you and whether they contribute to housing costs.
If you’re unsure what benefits you’re eligible for, you can find out more here.
I’m struggling to pay my rent – what can I do?
Struggling to pay your rent? Help is available (pixabay)
If you can’t pay your rent, your landlord could begin legal proceedings to evict you.
If you’re experiencing financial difficulties and have fallen behind on your rent payments, speak with your landlord or agency. It might seem daunting, but you might be able to come to a repayment agreement with your landlord to pay back any outstanding money over time. Ignoring calls or letters won’t make the problem go away.
It’s worth contacting a specialist organisation who can offer support and advice to anyone struggling with housing costs or debt:
Depending on your financial circumstances, you might be eligible for financial assistance from the government.
If you’re on a low income, you might be able to claim housing benefit or Universal Credit housing costs.
If you’re in receipt of state benefits but still struggling to pay the rent, a discretionary housing payment (DHP) could help. This additional payment can only be awarded by your local council, so that should be your first port of call.