Both landlords and tenants have legal obligations to each other. These are contractual rights which can be enforced through the courts. In addition to these, certain rights are provided by legislation. The Disability Discrimination Act, Sex Discrimination Act and Race Relations Act will all apply to anyone letting, selling or managing premises. In addition, the various Housing Acts regulate the relationship and give additional rights to a tenant.
A landlord is responsible for:
- Repairs to the structure and exterior of the property, heating and hot water installations, basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary installations;
- The safety of gas and electrical appliances;
- The fire safety of furniture and furnishings provided under the tenancy;
- Ensuring that the property is fit for habitation;
- Repairing and keeping in working order the room and water heating equipment;
- The common areas in multi-occupancy dwellings.
A tenant is responsible for:
- Paying the rent as agreed and taking proper care of the property;
- Bills for gas electricity, telephone, etc if this was agreed with their landlord;
- In most cases, paying the council tax, water and sewerage charges.
In addition, the law gives local authorities certain powers to deal with private sector properties in disrepair. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a local authority may take action to require the owner of a property which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance to remedy the defects. A landlord who is convicted of failing to comply with an abatement notice may be liable to fines, which increase daily. Also, under the Housing Act 1988, local authorities are under a statutory duty to take action where a property is in such a state that it is unfit for human habitation.
If the council accepts that a property is unfit, it may choose from a range of remedial measures. The local authority may serve a repair notice and, if necessary, prosecute the landlord for non-compliance and carry out the works in default. In extreme cases they can order a house to be closed down or demolished, in which case they may re house the tenants. If the property is subject to closure while the repairs are carried out or a demolition order, the tenant will be entitled to alternative accommodation (though it may not be permanent housing) and compensation.
Most tenants may only carry out certain improvements if they get written permission from the landlord, who can impose conditions or refuse permission, but must not do either unreasonably. If the tenant does not satisfy reasonable conditions imposed by the landlord, they could be breaking their agreement and the landlord might be able to regain possession.
Withholding rent to pay for repairs
If a tenant does not pay their rent, the landlord can take them to court for arrears, and may seek possession on arrears grounds. In some circumstances, if the right procedure is followed, the tenant could do the work and take the cost out of the rental payments.
Assured short-hold tenancies
A letting of residential property is automatically an assured short-hold tenancy, unless agreed otherwise in writing. A short-hold tenancy means that:
- The landlord has a guaranteed right to get the property back after six months, if they wish to;
- The landlord may charge a ‘market rate’ for rent, that is, the going rate for similar property in the area;
- The landlord can seek possession if the tenant owes at least two months or eight weeks rent;
- The landlord can evict tenants who are causing a nuisance to local people. See also the section on assured short-hold tenancies.
A resident landlord letting is one where the landlord and the tenant live in the same building. This includes conversions where they live in different parts of the same property but excludes purpose built flats, with landlord and tenant living in different flats.
There are two main issues where the rights of landlord and tenant differ for resident landlord lettings. Broadly, someone who lets from a resident landlord:
- Does not have a right to challenge the level of rent that he or she has agreed to pay;
- Can be given less notice to leave if the landlord wants to end the letting.