Nine million people caught in a pincer grip of soaring house prices and stagnant wages are locked out of home ownership and face a lifetime of renting.
Even with a leg up on to the housing ladder from Government schemes such as Help to Buy, a generation of young professionals and families look set to stay renting long term.
Meanwhile, landlords may be benefiting from a booming market for tenants but they are stuck in a revolving door of new rules and regulations.
Achieving harmony between landlords and renters is no easy task, but here The Mail on Sunday offers a guide to the key rights and responsibilities so landlords and their tenants can both help the relationship work.
Make it legal
One of the first decisions for a landlord to make is the type of contract to use. Assured shorthold tenancies are most common and give landlords the right to take back their property with two months’ notice, but only after an initial six months, during which time a tenant has the right to remain in the property.
A tenant’s deposit, which is usually four to six weeks’ rent, must also be sheltered in one of three Government-backed deposit protection schemes within 30 days of the landlord receiving it – otherwise penalties worth up to three times the original deposit could apply.
Schemes are available from the Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits and The Dispute Service. Once tenants are settled in, repairs to the structure of the building are still the landlord’s responsibility.
Richard Lambert, chief executive officer of the National Landlords Association, says: ‘It’s important that landlords maintain their properties to avoid small issues escalating into larger problems. Ask tenants to report maintenance requests and provide swift solutions.’
It is also a landlord’s legal duty to keep gas and electrical appliances in safe working order and to hold a gas safety certificate for every appliance in the property. And if a tenant asks for a copy of an energy performance certificate showing how energy- efficient their new home is, you need to be able to provide one.
The going rate for rent changes according to the mood of the market but if you plan to nudge rent higher it cannot be done on a whim. For fixed-term contracts it is likely that you can apply an increase only once the term is up for renewal, unless the residents agree or if there is a clause in the contract allowing it.
For contracts rolling on a weekly or monthly basis, it might only be possible to increase the rent once in the year unless you have permission from the tenants. New rules affecting tenants on housing benefit are gradually being introduced from this month through to 2017.
If you previously received a tenant’s housing allowance directly from the Government, this could change as Universal Credit is brought in, as this is a single benefit payment paid directly to the claimant.
So landlords will need to keep up communication with their tenants and be on their toes about rent being paid each month. But there will be some exceptions for the most financially vulnerable tenants, with payments still sent direct to the landlord. More information can be found from the National Housing Federation at housing.org.uk.
Know your rights
Will Palmer-Reeves, an assistant manager at a photography studio in East London, only learned of his rights after they were violated by his landlord. During the summer last year he and three other friends moved into a house in Archway, North London, where average rents for a room in a four-bedroom property are in excess of £600 a month.
But in October, when temperatures dropped, the housemates discovered the heating would not come on. Calls to their landlord went unanswered and at their own expense the tenants called in a professional, who condemned the boiler and warned the group they would be putting themselves in danger if they tried to use it.
Will, 26, says when they finally reached their landlord and demanded help, she told them she didn’t want to replace the boiler until spring, when special offers were more likely and she could save money.
The friends threatened court action unless the boiler was fixed but in the end both parties agreed to separate in December before the end of the contract term – by which time they had been without central heating for three months. Will and his friends are now living in South London and are happier tenants.
‘Our new landlord is totally the opposite. She is great and it makes all the difference,’ says Will. Sadly, experiences like Will’s are all too common. The Tenants Voice, an online community of tenants, landlords and letting agents, recently reported that more than 70 per cent of renters have paid for repairs themselves rather than ask their landlord.
Six in ten of the tenants polled said they had asked their landlord to make repairs but were met with difficult behaviour or blunt refusals. Ensure you are matched with the right landlord from the start by checking the terms of the contract, asking for an energy performance certificate and proof of gas safety inspections.
When satisfied and ready to move in, ask your landlord which deposit protection scheme they will use. This ensures your money is repaid at the end of your tenancy agreement unless you owe rent or have to pay for damage.
Housing charity Shelter offers detailed information about tenants’ rights and what your landlord is responsible for, along with a tenancy checker tool so you can be sure what type of agreement you have. Go to shelter.org.uk or call 0808 800 4444. There is also separate information for renters living in Scotland.