New research from housing charity Shelter suggests that private renters in England are continually having their legal rights ignored by their landlord or letting agency.
Alarming new research from housing charity Shelter has revealed that over 45% of England’s private renting adults – equivalent to 3.7 million people – have been the victim of illegal behaviour from a landlord or letting agent.
A YouGov study carried out between August and September 2021 found that the most common illegal behaviour faced by renters is a landlord or letting agent entering their home without giving notice or a chance to give permission – which over 2.1 million people have experienced.
Safety and standards of properties were also a major concern, as a shocking 22% of private renters said essential safety or household appliances like smoke alarms, central heating or water supplies were not working when they moved into a property.
“It was so stressful not knowing if our home was dangerous or not”
Louise*, a self-employed mother of two, was threatened with eviction when she tried to report an unregistered gas boiler in her property that her landlord had illegally installed before she moved in.
“When I discovered the truth, it was really frightening because my daughter was suffering from headaches and the boiler was in her bedroom,” she said. “We stopped using the room altogether until an engineer could check the boiler and make sure it was safe. It was so stressful not knowing if our home was dangerous or not.”
“I reported my landlord to the council, but they didn’t even reply. My landlord then served us with a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice, because I complained. Fortunately, it was invalid. But he’s still getting away scot-free with illegal behaviour and putting us through so much stress. I know how he behaved was not right, but I feel powerless. When you’re paying to rent a home, people should have more rights.”
Worryingly, the research also indicated that nearly one in ten private renters reported being assaulted, threatened or harassed by their landlord or letting agent.
And despite tenancy deposits often costing people thousands of pounds, 1.5 million people said their landlord or letting agent had broken the law by failing to secure their deposit in an approved Government Protection Scheme.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, commented: “Home is everything. Yet millions of private renters across the country don’t feel safe or secure in theirs because of landlords and agents who flout the law. People should not have to put up with broken safety alarms, strangers bursting into their homes unannounced or the threat of harassment and violence.”
Shelter is calling on the government to keep its promise to provide greater protections for renters. It warns that the upcoming, landmark Renters’ Reform Bill must include a National Landlord Register to ensure landlords fulfil their legal obligations, help regulate the private rental sector, and give renters the power to enforce their rights against law-breaking behaviour.
“Enough is enough. Nobody is above the law and renters are tired of being powerless to enforce their rights. The government has promised voters a fairer private renting system that punishes illegal behaviour by landlords and letting agents,” added Neate.
“To deliver on this promise, its Renters’ Reform Bill must include a National Landlord Register that makes landlords fully accountable and helps drive up standards across private renting.”
What are your key legal rights as a private renter?
Shelter shares the key information you are legally entitled to when renting in England:
1. Knowing your landlord’s name and address – Private tenants have a legal right to know the name and address of their landlord. You can simply request this by sending a written letter to the landlord’s agent. Tenants also have a right to obtain the names and addresses of directors if the landlord is a company, and must be informed of any sale or transfer to a new landlord
2. Harassment and illegal eviction – If your landlord throws you out, changes the locks while you are out, pressures you to leave without serving the correct notice or going through the proper legal procedure, this is an illegal eviction. Harassment and illegal eviction are both criminal offences. Anyone in this situation should contact the tenancy relations officer at their local council, who can take action on your behalf or help you take action yourself.
3. Repairs and safety – Landlords are legally responsible for keeping the structure and exterior of the property free from disrepair, along with ensuring that all the amenities and energy supplies in the property (e.g. water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating, heating water) are working properly. Private landlords must ensure that:
- All gas appliances and flues in the property are in a safe condition
- A Gas Safe registered engineer carries out an annual gas safety check
- They have a valid gas safety certificate
- Furniture provided in private rented accommodation, that has been let since 1 March 1993, must comply with fire safety requirements
4. Banned tenant fees – Private landlords and letting agents are banned from charging tenants, a licensee or other ‘relevant person’ a fee, other than a ‘permitted payment’ , when setting up a tenancy agreement. The only permitted payments landlords or agents can charge for, are:
- tenancy deposit (up to maximum of five or six-weeks’ rent)
- holding deposit (up to maximum of one week’s rent)
- a fee in the event of a ‘relevant default’ (such as the costs of replacing a lost key)
- damages for breach of agreement
- in connection with tenant’s request for a variation, assignment, or surrender of a tenancy
- in respect of council tax, utilities, communication services and TV license
Any private renters worried about their housing situation can contact Shelter for free, expert advice by visiting their website.