What is the Housing Act 1988?
As a tenant who currently rents a property, it’s worth having an idea of the laws that protect you and your landlord. The big one to be aware of is the Housing Act 1988.
This Act continues to be the piece of legislation that oversees the majority of private sector tenancies today. Understanding it can help you get to grips with what powers your landlord has and what this means for you.
The Act itself is very detailed, so to help you find out more we’ve created this overview of the key things that could apply to you.
Why Have I Heard of the Housing Act Before?
You might have noticed the Housing Act 1988 when you received your tenancy agreement. It’s usually mentioned in the documents you’ll have read through and signed.
The Housing Act isn’t the same as your tenancy agreement, though. The tenancy agreement sets out the specifics of your agreement with your landlord, such as how much rent you’ll pay and how long your tenancy will run for. The Housing Act sets out the rights, remedies and rules in relation to the letting of residential property, which is why you see it mentioned in the tenancy agreement documents.
Where Did the Housing Act Come From?
Before we get into what the Housing Act means for you, it’s good to know why it was introduced. It came about because in the years before the Act was passed, the law was, some say ‘too much’, in favour of tenants.
Technically, if you were renting before the Act came into effect in early 1989, you could have stayed in the property for as long as you wanted. You could have even passed it on to your children and there wouldn’t have been much the landlord could do about it.
This meant that there were hardly any properties to rent anymore because no one wanted to risk letting to someone who wouldn’t ever leave. Plus, the Government had just given those living in council properties the right to buy their homes, so there was a shortage of housing.
To tackle this, the Housing Act was passed into legislation to give landlords some protection and encourage people to start renting their properties out again. The key to this new Act was that landlords could regain control of their property if they needed to, and that both landlords and tenants would be treated fairly.
What Did the New Housing Act Change?
There were three main areas that were directly affected when the Housing Act came in. These were:
Security of Tenure
Assured shorthold tenancy agreements (or ASTs) were introduced. These meant that tenants could, by law, be given notice to leave the rented property after six months. If the landlord wanted to serve notice after the six months are up, they only have to give two months’ notice. 
Assured tenancies were also created under the Act. This was similar to the protected tenancy that preceded the Housing Act, but landlords were now able to take control of their property again if rent wasn’t being paid.
Both ASTs and assured tenancies are still in place today. However, private landlords hardly ever use assured tenancies today and you’re only really likely to come across this if you live in social housing
This was so important for landlords. The issue of succession saw families of tenants passing down properties that weren’t theirs. The Housing Act dictates that under an AST, there are no rights of succession if the tenant dies. So, the wife or husband of the tenant has no right to stay in the property after their partner passes away.
This is the one that’s most likely to have an impact on you and the property you rent right now. Rent used to be regulated based on the age and condition of the property, as well as its location. After the 1988 Act, rent controls were taken away, meaning that private landlords weren’t legally limited by set amounts that they could charge for rent anymore.
Why is it Important to Understand Rent Regulation?
That Act means that, as a tenant, you can only challenge the amount of rent in two sets of circumstances. Firstly, if you’re in an assured shorthold tenancy, you can query the amount you pay within the first six months of your fixed tenancy. 
Also, you can challenge the rental amount if you’ve been served a notice that how much you pay will increase. Landlords can serve this notice annually after your fixed term has ended, so it’s worth making sure you know when and how to challenge it if you need to. 
In What Other Ways Does the Housing Act Affect Me?
Your landlord needs to make sure that they’re not breaching your statutory rights. The Housing Act implies that the clauses included in your tenancy agreement need to adhere to what you’re entitled to as their tenant. If any of your rights are breached, this part of the agreement could be invalid.
What Are my Statutory Rights?
Knowing your rights as a tenant is essential. It means that you know your landlord is renting their property to you within the law. So, combined with the provisions of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985, as a tenant you have the right to:
- live in a safe property that’s in a good state and doesn’t need any repairs
- get your deposit back when your tenancy ends, if you have not breached your tenancy. More often than not, it also needs to be protected;
- know who your landlord is
- challenge excessive rental amounts
- be protected from unlawful eviction
- see an Energy Performance Certificate for the house or flat you’re renting
- be given a written agreement if you have a fixed-term tenancy for over three years
What's my Landlord Entitled to?
Your landlord’s allowed the following under the Housing Act while you’re their tenant:
‘Reasonable’ is open to interpretation, but they can’t just come in to check on you whenever they like! If there’s an emergency, though, such as a leak or you can smell gas, they’re allowed to come into the property immediately and without giving you any notice.
Your landlord should inspect the property now and then to make sure it’s safe and nothing needs fixing. This is in keeping with your statutory rights. If they’re planning an inspection, they need to let you know at least 24 hours before.
You might want to move out or your contract might have come to an end and it’s time to move on. If you’ve given your notice to leave and the property is put up for rent again, your landlord may ask to come in and visit the property and carry out viewings within the last 28 days of the tenancy. They have to give you 24 hours’ notice and seek your permission to have the right of access.
What’s a Section 21?
This gives landlords an automatic right of possession once the fixed term has expired, without having to give any reason. Your landlord has to give you a minimum of two months’ notice first.
Changes to Section 21
The Deregulation Act 2015 brought in some changes to stop ‘retaliatory evictions’. This meant that all new tenancies starting on or after 01 October 2015 had to meet new guidelines as to when and how a Section 21 notice can be served by a landlord.
From October 1 2018, this applies to all ASTs, no matter when the tenancy started.
If your landlord is going to serve you a Section 21, often referred to as a ‘no-fault eviction notice’, they need to:
- In some cases have a license from the local authority allowing them to partake in rental activities;
- Provide you with Prescribed Information about the protection of your deposit
- Make available to you the property’s Energy Performance Certificate
- Provide you with an up-to-date Gas Safety Certificate
- Ensuring that the most recent version, at the time of the tenancy commencing, of the “How to Rent” guide– has been given to you.
For the Section 21 notice to be valid, all the above documents need to be up-to-date. If you’re renting a single room on an AST in a house of multiple occupation, the landlord may need a licence from the local authority for this too.
Plus, if your landlord wants to use the Section 21 notice – which they might be using to regain possession of the property because they want to extend, refurbish or sell it – they have to use Form 6a. If they give you an old form, it’s not likely to be valid.
Why the Housing Act 1988 is Important Today
As well as giving landlords some control over their property, the introduction of this Act meant that tenants have the right to live in the rented properties but only for a set amount of time.
There have been some amendments and updates over the years, such as the Housing Act 1996 and 2004, which changed the way properties are inspected to incorporate the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
However, the nuts and bolts are the same. There will always be more amendments and updates in the years to come, but it’s worth knowing the fundamentals of this hugely important Housing Act.
Authored by: Will Eastman, Head of Legal & Claims
Published Date: 3 April 2019
Review Date: 3 April 2020
 S20(1) Housing Act 1988
 S21 (1)(b) and S21 (4)(a) Housing Act 1988 as amended
 Part 1 Chapter 1 Housing Act 1988
 S22 Housing Act 1988
 S13 Housing Act 1988
 Ss27-33 Housing Act 1988
 S21B Housing Act 1988 as amended by Deregulation Act 2015