As a tenant renting a property, it's worth knowing 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 your landlord's powers and what this means for you.
The Act is very detailed, so to help you find out more, we've created this overview of the critical aspects 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 specific details of your agreement with your landlord, such as how much rent you'll pay and how long your tenancy will run. The Housing Act sets out the rights, remedies and rules concerning letting residential property, which is why you see it mentioned in the tenancy agreement documents.
Where did the housing act come from?
Before getting into what the Housing Act means for you, it's good to know the reason for its introduction. In the years before the Act was passed, some argued that the law was too 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 housing shortage.
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 needed and that both landlords and tenants would be treated fairly.
There were three main areas directly affected when the Housing Act came in. These were:
Security of tenure
The Act introduced Assured shorthold tenancy agreements (ASTs). Landlords could, by law, give their tenants notice to leave the rented property after six months. If the landlord wants 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 could now retake control of their property 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 very important for landlords. The succession issue saw tenants' families passing down properties that weren't theirs. The Housing Act dictates there are no succession rights under an AST 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 most likely to impact you and the property you rent right now. Rent used to be regulated based on the age and condition of the property and 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?
The 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 AST, 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 your rental payments will increase. Landlords can serve this notice annually after your fixed term has ended, so it's worth knowing when and how to challenge it if you need to.
In what other ways does the housing act affect me?
Your landlord needs to ensure that they're not breaching your statutory rights. The Housing Act implies that the clauses 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 also has rights under the Housing Act while you're their tenant.
They have the right to reasonable access to the property. Although this is open to interpretation, your landlord isn’t allowed to check in on you unannounced whenever they like. If there's an emergency, such as a leak, or you can smell gas, they're allowed to enter the property immediately without any notice.
Your landlord also has the right to inspect the property; this is important to ensure that it is safe for you to live in. If they're planning an inspection, they need to inform you at least 24 hours before.
You might want to move out, or your contract might have ended, and it's time to move on. If you've given your notice to leave and your landlord wants to relist the property for rent, they may ask to come in and visit the property to 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 provide any reason. Your landlord must first provide you with a minimum of two months' notice.
The Deregulation Act 2015 brought some changes to stop 'retaliatory evictions'. All new tenancies starting on or after October 1 2015, had to meet new guidelines regarding when and how a landlord can serve a Section 21 notice.
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 provide you with Prescribed Information about your deposit's protection, an up-to-date Gas Safety Certificate and the property's Energy Performance Certificate.
Also, the most recent version of the "How to Rent" guide must have been given to you when the tenancy commenced.
In some cases, they must also have a license from the local authority, allowing them to partake in rental activities.
All the above documents need to be up-to-date for the Section 21 notice to be valid. If you're renting a single room on an AST in a house of multiple occupation (HMO), the landlord may also need a licence from the local authority.
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 likely to be invalid.
What is the Housing Act 1988 | Tips for tenants
As well as giving landlords some control over their property, this Act means 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 how 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.