THOUSANDS of renters are seeking free advice over issues with private landlords, reports Citizens Advice.
The charity said on average it is helping one person every minute with their tenants’ rights in England and Wales.
It recorded a 40% increased in the number of people seeking one-to-one advice on issues relating to the private rented sector compared with the same period in 2020.
The trouble for renters has continued despite a ban on evictions being in place for almost a year.
Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “The Government’s eviction ban helped private tenants feel more secure during the pandemic. But it’s been a case of papering over the cracks.”
It comes as debt charity StepChange warns that around 150,000 tenants are at risk of being kicked out of their homes when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Here we take you through your rights as a renter and how to claim compensation:
1. You can’t be charged admin costs or renewal fees
Estate agents and landlords are banned from charging tenants extra fees to cover administration costs, such as renewing a tenancy.
Other charges they cannot pass onto tenants include to view a property, carry out reference checks and guarantor request.
The Tenant Fees Act was introduced to stop tenants getting ripped off with the extortionate fees which could amount to hundreds of pounds on top of the cost of moving.
What fees CAN my landlord or letting agent charge?
MANY fees for renters were banned under the Tenants Fees Act but you can still be charged for the following:
- A tenancy deposit
- A holding deposit
- Replacing lost keys
- Any changes you request to your contract
- Bills such as water, broadband, TV licence and council tax
- Terminating your contract early
- Late rent payments (after 14 days)
- Cleaning fees in extreme circumstances
The ban has been in place for new rental agreements since June 2019 and for existing agreements from June 2020.
Agents risk being fined £5,000 for breaking the rules, and could be taken to court if they offend again where the penalty could be extended to up to £30,000.
Tenants who think they have been wrongly charged, can complain to their local council which has the power to fine a landlord or agent, according to Shelter.
If the landlord or agent refuses to give you the fee back, tenants can apply through the First Tier Tribunal, as long as they agree the fee was unfairly requested.
Your council will be able to advise you on how to complain through the tribunal.
2. Landlords can’t evict you until June
An eviction ban has been extended until the end of May protecting thousands of renters from losing their homes.
The ban, which applies to renters in England, was due to end on March 31 but the deadline has been pushed back.
How to claim compensation from your landlord
YOU can claim compensation from your landlord if disrepair or poor conditions damage your health or cause you inconvenience, according to Shelter.
You can take legal action against your landlord under the Fitness for Human Habitation Act.
Courts can grant an injunction forcing the landlord to carry out works or award compensation to the renter.
But you will have to stump up for court fees unless you’re entitled to free legal aid.
If you win your case, you might also get some of your costs back.
Alternatively, you may get a payout by complaining to the Housing Ombudsman.
Renters can also complain to a redress scheme if you rent privately through a letting agent, but only if the agent contributed to the dispute.
The change in law means that landlords cannot serve eviction notices to tenants except in extreme circumstances, such as anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse.
Landlords that want to evict tenants are required to give at least a six-month notice period to tenants until May 31.
3. Deposits are capped a five weeks worth of rent
Under the Tenants Fees Act, landlords and estate agents are limited to charging renters up to five weeks worth of rent for deposit.
If you paid more than this for your deposit, for example you paid six weeks, you now have the right to request that any funds exceeding five weeks’ worth be refunded.
For example, if your rent is set at £150 a week then the a deposit worth six week’s rent is £900. But you can ask for £150 of that back.
You’ll need to speak to your landlord directly to ask them to refund the cash.
4. You may be entitled to a payout if your landlord refuses to carry out repairs
Your landlord is responsible for most of the repairs that need to be carried out on your home.
According to housing charity Shelter, these include, fixing issues with the electrical wiring, gas pipes and boilers, heating and hot water, sinks, baths and toilets.
Tenants are responsible for repairing their own furnishings, such as a fridge or freezer if the property is let unfurnished.
You may be entitled to compensation from your landlord if they fail to carry out repair work within a reasonable time, or if your house is unfit to live in due to poor conditions.
This may be in the form of a rent reduction or a payout. If your landlord agrees to this, Shelter advises you get it in writing.
If your landlord won’t agree, renters can take legal action to claim compensation either during the tenancy or after it ends.
What to do if your landlord won’t carry out repairs
IF a landlord is taking unreasonably long to carry out repairs then tenants can take them to court.
Of course, most tenants would rather not take this action and work things out between themselves.
If a tenant does need to do this then they apply to the local county court.
The court can force a landlord to carry out a fix and pay compensation.
If the court finds in favour of the the tenant then the landlord could be liable for some or all of the legal costs.
Tenants are also able to complain to Environmental Health or a relevant landlord association, but only if their landlord is a member.
For more advice, visit the Citizens Advice website.
You must have reported the problem to your landlord during your tenancy, and you have up to six years to make a claim.
5. Landlords can’t automatically stop you from having pets
New rules introduced this year mean that landlords can no longer automatically stop renters from having pets, unless they have a good reason to.
Currently, just 7% of private landlords advertise pet-friendly properties, the government said, meaning many people struggle to find suitable homes.
In some cases, this has meant tenants have had to give up their pets all together.
But the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) unveiled a new standard tenancy agreement template, which is the recommended contract that landlords should use.
It stops landlords issuing blanket bans on their tenants having pets.
Instead, landlords will have to object in writing within 28 days of a written pet request from a tenant and provide a good reason such as in smaller properties or flats where owning a pet could be impractical.
Landlords will also be able to charge higher deposits for tenants with pets as long as it is within the cap of five weeks’ rent. It may also cost more to rent a property if you have a pet.
Research by Generation Rent in 2019 found tenants were being charged up to £600 a year more in rent if they’ve got pets.
6. Landlords could be fined for dangerous electrics in rented homes
Landlords who fail to carry out electrical safety tests on properties they rent out could be fined up to £30,000, as part of a government crackdown.
Homeowners in the private rented sector will have to make sure a qualified electrician checks all wires and sockets in their properties before a tenancy begins.
They must also make sure electrics continue to be inspected at least once every five years.
The rules came into force for new tenancies from July 1, 2020 and will apply to for existing rental agreements from April 1, 2021.
7. Renters can sue landlords over damp and mould
Renters in England and Wales can take their landlords to court over problems including cold and damp homes.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into force in 2019 and amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
It means landlords must make sure their properties meet certain standards at the beginning and throughout a tenancy.
The rules apply to new tenancies of under seven years, new secure, assured and introductory tenancies, and to tenancies renewed for a fixed term.
Since March 20 2020, the rules also apply to all periodic tenancies – ones that roll from month to month or week to week.
Shelter says the rules see issues such as damp caused by design defects – from a lack of ventilation, for example, rather than disrepair, and infestations of rodents, insects, and bed bugs fall under the landlord’s responsibility.