Legislation guide: Everything tenants need to know

June 22, 2021
Guide

Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know

Private rented sector legislation is constantly evolving. It can be a headache keeping up with the frequently changing rules and regulations, but failure to comply may result in lack of adequate protection for tenants and hefty fines for landlords.

The 2020 mydeposits and Ome sentiment survey revealed that almost one in three tenants were unaware of any government support and one in five tenants stated that they didn’t believe that there was enough legislation or protection for tenants.

However, our sentiment survey with mydeposits also revealed that 41 percent of tenants surveyed felt supported by the Government. This was due to legislation such as the Tenant Fees Act, Fitness for Human Habitation Act and deposit protection legislation.

After collating these results, we decided to put together a handy guide to explain the rights and responsibilities associated with being a tenant, and highlight the legislation landlords need to comply with, which tenants should be mindful of.

But what are your responsibilities as a tenant? And what legislation should tenants be aware of?

In this guide we will cover:

What are my rights and responsibilities as a tenant?

Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know

If you have a tenancy agreement, it should be fair and comply with the law. You are legally bound by clauses agreed to in your tenancy agreement, so it’s essential to thoroughly read through the agreement before signing. Check out our advice on what to look for in a tenancy agreement here.

There is often confusion about who is responsible for certain areas of a property such as garden maintenance. It is important to check the tenancy agreement to identify what your responsibilities are when it comes to maintaining the property.

When you start a new assured or shorthold assured tenancy, your landlord must give you:

Your landlord must put your deposit in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme such as mydeposits if you rent your home on an assured shorthold tenancy that started after 6 April 2007, and let you know where it is protected.

Your rights and responsibilities as a tenant are documented on the GOV.UK website: As a tenant, you should give your landlord access to the property to inspect it or carry out repairs. But your landlord has to give you at least 24 hours’ notice and visit at a reasonable time of day, unless it’s an emergency.

You also have the right to live in a safe property, to live undisturbed, be protected from unfair eviction and unfair rent.

Gas, fire, and electrical safety requirements

Gas safety

Out of all a landlord’s legal obligations, gas safety is one of the most important. Legally, all landlords must keep gas appliances in safe condition, and this includes arranging an annual gas safety inspection by a registered Gas Safe engineer and providing their tenants with a gas safety certificate.

A gas safety certificate is a legal requirement which proves that all gas appliances within the property are working properly and conform to safety standards.

Check out the Government’s advice on gas safety here: Gas safety – landlords and letting agents

Fire safety

As a tenant, it is important to be aware of the fire safety regulations which landlords must adhere to. These regulations include:

  • Carrying out a fire risk assessment – according to The Local Government Association (LGA) fire safety guidance, for low-rise blocks built in the last 20 years, fire risk assessments should be carried out every two years and higher risk buildings should be reviewed every year. According to the London Fire Brigade, fire risk assessments are conducted in five steps:
Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know
  1. Identify the fire hazards
  2. Identify people at risk
  3. Evaluate, remove or reduce the risks
  4. Record the findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training
  5. Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly
  • Providing access to escape routes
  • Fire safe furnishings
  • Installing at least one smoke alarm on every floor of a rental property and a carbon monoxide alarm in all rooms with a solid fuel source. Fire and carbon monoxide alarms should be tested by the landlord at the start of each tenancy, but it is the tenants’ responsibility to test alarms regularly to ensure they are in working order. Fire extinguishers are only mandatory in HMOs, where one should be provided on each floor, HMOs also require a fire blanket in shared kitchens.

Fire safety in HMOs

There are more stringent rules around fire safety in HMOs. Fire-resistant self-closing doors known as fire doors are a legal requirement in HMOs. There are different rules for what constitutes a HMO in different parts of the country, so check with your local council.

Fire doors must be fitted to all avenues leading to an escape route and can be effective in improving fire safety.

Landlords who rent HMO properties without installing fire doors can be penalised with unlimited fines, and tenants can recoup rent. Here are a list of steps to take to check the fire doors in your property are working correctly.

Download Hamilton Fraser’s free advice sheet on how to reduce the risk of fire in your home, the advice sheet contains tips on how to prevent electrical fires and safety issues to spot in the kitchen.

Electrical safety

Landlords need an electrical safety certificate and as of 1 April 2021 must carry out mandatory five year electrical safety checks for rental homes.

For more advice on electrical safety checks and what they include, read the Government’s guide for landlords: electrical safety standards in the private rented sector.

Tenancy deposit protection

Tenancy deposit protection remains the only form of security for the tenant that is backed by law.

If you opt for a traditional deposit when starting your tenancy, it is a legal requirement for landlords to protect tenants’ deposits in a government-approved deposit protection scheme, like our partner, mydeposits. Tenants can check if their deposit is protected in one of the three government authorised deposit schemes.

Schemes like mydeposits protect the tenancy deposit and oversee disputes between the tenant and landlord at the end of the tenancy.

It is important to check that your landlord has protected your deposit in a registered scheme within 30 calendar days of receiving it. Your landlord should provide you with evidence of the deposit protection, the correct prescribed information and the latest government ‘How to rent guide’.

Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know

Alternatively, tenants can opt for a deposit replacement option, like Ome’s Deposit Replacement Membership. Deposit replacements remove the tenant’s need to provide a one-off upfront cash deposit and instead pay smaller, more affordable monthly instalments.

Read our guide ‘Deposit replacement options: Everything you need to know’ to learn more about deposit replacements and decide if it is right for you.

What are the laws surrounding pets in rental properties?

Our recent survey found that almost half (43.6 percent) of pet owners have had trouble finding a rental property.

Issues with finding pet-friendly properties have been well-documented and, in January 2021 the Government published a new standard tenancy agreement which helps tenants with pets find private rented accommodation.

Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know

This new legislation means that allowing pets will be the default position for responsible tenants with well-behaved pets. Landlords will be allowed to reject pets if they are ‘demonstrably poorly behaved’ however; read more about the legislation in this LandlordZONE article.

If you are securing a new rental property and you have a pet, your landlord will need to object in writing within 28 days of a written pet request, and a good reason must be provided, such as in smaller properties where owning pets would be inappropriate.

Read the model agreement for a shorthold assured tenancy for more information.

Should my landlord have a licence?

You can check whether a house requires a licence by using the Government tool for houses in multiple occupation (HMO) licences.

Generally, rental properties in England require a licence when they are let as an HMO. HMOs are classed as rental properties that have over three tenants with shared facilities. If your landlord is not appropriately licensed, they could be subject to a hefty fine.

Different UK councils have different licensing rules, so it is worth checking the Government website for advice that is specific to the area in which you live.

If you are signing a tenancy agreement for your new HMO property, take a look at this handy Hamilton Fraser guide which covers what should be included in the agreement, ‘HMO tenancy agreements: what do you need to include?’.

Is my agent complying with client money protection?

Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know

There has been a mandatory client money protection (CMP) scheme in place since April 2019. The final deadline for agents to comply with the requirements to have segregated accounts was 1 April 2021. Read more about segregated client accounts on the Client Money Protect website.

All letting agents and property managers in England must belong to an approved CMP scheme as of April 2021. Client money protection is an additional layer of protection for money that the agent holds on behalf of their tenants and landlords.

Should the agent go out of business, the landlord will be able to be reimbursed if the agent belongs to a CMP scheme.

Learn more about client money protection and how to know if your agent is compliant.

Tenant fee ban

What is the Tenant Fees Act and how does it affect me?

The Tenant Fees Act came into effect in June 2019; the act prevents landlords and agents from charging their tenants extra fees during the rental process, for example for carrying out their own referencing. This means that tenants are only legally allowed to pay permitted fees such as rent and tenancy deposits.

From June 2020, the act was extended to cover all existing tenancies, meaning all fees have now been banned unless they are ‘permitted’, for example fees to replace keys.

The only fees that landlords and letting agents can charge are:

  • Rent
  • Refundable tenancy deposit capped at no more than five weeks rent if the annual rent is less than £50,000
  • A refundable holding deposit capped at no more than one weeks rent
  • Costs associated with changing the tenancy if requested by the tenant, capped at £50
  • Costs associated with early termination of the tenancy when requested by the tenant
  • Late payment fees
  • Any additional fees outlined in the tenancy agreement relating to bills/utilities

Hamilton Fraser have put together a guide explaining the Tenant Fees Act 2019 and everything you should know.

Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard Regulations (MEES)

Since 2018, there has been legislation in place to improve the energy efficiency of rented properties in England and Wales. This legislation was introduced to reduce energy costs for tenants whilst helping meet environmental targets.

Domestic Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard Regulations state that privately let properties must achieve an E rating or above in their Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

By 2030 the Government is looking to see as many rental properties upgraded to a rating of C as possible. Some industry players have raised concerns however, surrounding the targeted approach which does not take into account the age or financial situation of rental properties.

Between September 2020 and January 2021, the Government undertook a consultation where it analysed views on the proposals around raising energy performance standards, read more here.

These regulations apply to all domestic private rental properties that are let on specific types of tenancy agreement.

Read more on the MEES regulation and what landlords need to do to comply.

Fitness for Human Habitation Act

Legislation guide Everything tenants need to know

Since March 2020, the Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018 applies to all private and social periodic tenancies that existed before 20 March 2019, including both new tenancies and renewals.

As more and more people turn to renting due to the changing landscape of the housing market, this legislation has been introduced to ensure tenants are adequately protected and all rental properties are ‘fit for purpose’.

Read the full Housing Health and Safety Rating System operating guidance to determine what constitutes fitness for human habitation.

Conclusion

It can be challenging to keep up with the ever-changing regulations and legislation when it comes to rental properties. As a tenant you can keep up to date by following property related news and liaising frequently with your landlord or agent to discuss any concerns or issues you may have.

For a more in-depth look at landlord legislation, check out Hamilton Fraser’s guide, ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know’.