Renting privately

If you are looking for somewhere to live, you should consider private rented accommodation. It could be a practical and flexible solution to your housing problems.

Private rented accommodation can include lodgings, renting your own flat or house or shared accommodation. Your landlord will be a private individual or company and you will have either a tenancy or licence agreement. They tend to offer properties on six monthly tenancies initially, which can be renewed if they are happy with the way you have managed your tenancy.

The advantages of renting from a private landlord include:

  • more choice about the area and the type of property you want to live in
  • finding a home quickly instead of waiting on the council's housing register
  • not having to be in a 'priority group' - you just have to be able to pay the rent and keep to the terms of the tenancy agreement
  • being able to move in immediately
  • being able to find a house or a ground floor property with a garden.

Finding private rented accommodation

There are a number of ways you can search for privately rented properties:

You could also advertise for what you are looking for in the local press, shop windows and notice boards. You should say what size property you need and how much rent you can afford.

Different types of tenancy

There are different laws for different types of private tenancies. These depend on the date you moved in and the type of accommodation you live in. Most new private tenants have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST). This sets out the duties of the landlord and tenant. Despite the name, this type of tenancy does not have to be short term, there is no minimum term for this type of tenancy. The tenancy can continue as long as both parties are happy for it to do so.

The tenant has the right to remain in the property for at least six months providing there is no breach of the tenancy agreement. Many private tenants stay in the same property for several years.

A number of housing association tenancies are now ASTs. This includes starter tenancies and fixed term affordable rent tenancies.

You may not be an assured shorthold tenant if:

  • your landlord shares your accommodation
  • you moved into the accommodation before 15 January 1989
  • you are living in halls of residence, bed and breakfast accommodation or holiday accommodation
  • your landlord is your employer.

You should be asked to sign a tenancy agreement before you move into a property. This is a contract between you and the landlord setting out both parties rights under the agreement. If you do not have a written tenancy agreement, this does not necessarily mean that you do not have an AST. The circumstances of how you are living can create an AST and gives you rights that the landlord and courts must take into account.

It is important to read the agreement before signing and ask questions about anything you do not understand.

Before moving into private rented accommodation

Once you have found a property to rent, you will usually be asked to pay a deposit and rent in advance. If you are renting through an agency, there may also be agency fees, which will vary between agents.

The terms of the tenancy

Before moving into private rented accommodation you should make sure that you understand the terms of the tenancy. Your agreement should set out the following:

  • the length of the tenancy
  • the amount of rent due and when it should be paid
  • whether you will be able to leave before the tenancy has ended
  • if the property is furnished and what furniture will be provided
  • your responsibilities with regards to internal decoration (your landlord will be responsible for structural and external repairs)
  • whether you are able to keep pets at the property
  • whether you are able to have lodgers or sublet.

Many landlords use standard tenancy agreements where these terms are already set out.

If you are not clear about the information in your agreement, ask your landlord to confirm.

Inventory

Before you move in to a property, your landlord or agent should complete an inventory. This is a list of the inside of the property. It includes the condition of walls, ceilings, floors/carpets, paintwork, windows, curtains, blinds, light & electrical fittings, radiators and any furniture. This will be checked at the end of the tenancy and is used to prevent or resolve any dispute between landlord and tenant.

Deposits

Most landlords will ask for a deposit as security against any damage to property and/or non-payment of rent during the tenancy. If you have an AST which started after 6 April 2007, legislation requires your landlord to protect your deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme. This needs to be done within 30 days of the deposit being made by the tenant.

If your landlord fails to protect your deposit, they cannot evict you unless you have broken the terms of the tenancy agreement. You may also be entitled to compensation through the court. To do this successfully you must have proof that monies paid prior to you moving in were for a deposit and not anything else. You can get advice on deposits form your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

How will my tenancy end?

An AST can end in one of three ways:

  • By mutual agreement
  • You may hand in your notice. This usually needs to be one month, in-line with the rental payments and not expiring before the end of a fixed term.
  • Your landlord serves a valid notice. The form of the notice will depend on the reason the landlord is asking you to leave.

If you are an assured tenant or a housing association or council tenant, your landlord can only evict you if you have broken a term of the tenancy.

What is a valid notice to quit?

There are a number of grounds when a landlord can serve a notice. The most common are:

Section 8:

Ground 8: Arrears of least two months or eight weeks rent. If rent is unpaid when the Section 8 notice is served and remains unpaid at the time of the hearing for a possession order, the judge has no option other than to grant an order for possession. If the arrears fall below the two months or eight weeks, the possession action will fail.

  • Ground 10: Covers any amount of arrears of rent outstanding.
  • Ground 11: Persistently late payment of rent.

Grounds 10 and 11 are discretionary. The judge may find in favour of the landlord or the tenant, depending on the arguments raised. Landlords may serve these grounds alongside Ground 8.

Section 21:

A landlord can serve a section 21 notice without having to give a reason to the tenant. The notice cannot end prior to the end of a fixed term and cannot take effect until at least six months after you move in. A valid notice requires that the landlord gives you at least two months’ notice to leave.

There are strict rules regarding what constitutes a correct section 21 notice. If you have been served one, you should contact the Housing Services team for advice immediately. An order for possession must be granted if the court is satisfied that:

  • the tenancy is a valid assured shorthold
  • the correct notice has been given
  • the fixed term has expired
  • no further assured tenancy is in existence.

You do not have to leave the property once a notice has expired. You have the right to remain in the property until the landlord applies to the court for a possession order and a bailiffs’ warrant. You need to be aware that there are costs involved with this and if the issues with the tenancy cannot be resolved, you should look to find alternative accommodation.

Your landlord may try to reclaim the court costs for this action from you.

What about other types of tenancies?

If you have a resident landlord and share living accommodation, you are a licensee and you have very few rights against eviction. You would still be entitled to reasonable notice, usually 28 days but your landlord does not need to get a court order.

If you moved into the property before 15 January 1989 you may be a regulated tenant and you have strong rights against eviction and rent increases.

What if my landlord harasses me or tries to illegally evict me?

If your landlord tries to evict you without applying to court, or makes it difficult for you to remain there, such as harasses you to leave, or withdraws essential services such as gas, water or electricity, they may be breaking the law. The council has a power to prosecute landlords who harass tenants. It is important that you contact us if your landlord harasses you or threatens to illegally evict you.

For further information on privately renting please take a look at the GOV.UK website.

Can I get help with my rent?

If you are on a low income or you are claiming any other benefits, you may be able to get help to pay the rent through housing benefit. Find out about claiming housing benefit and/or council tax support. This will show how much rent would be covered by housing benefit before you commit yourself to any tenancy agreement.

What if I think the rent is too high?

If you are an assured shorthold tenant and you think you are being charged a higher rent than other tenants in similar rented properties, you can request a rent assessment. You will need to contact the Valuation Office Agency at:

Valuation Office Agency Rent Officer
Network Support Office
Wycliffe House
Green Lane
Co Durham
DH1 3UW

Email NSOhelpdesk@voa.gsi.gov.uk

Telephone 08450 264696

Further information

Please see below a guide for current and prospective private residential landlords in England letting to tenants on an assured shorthold tenancy.

PDF document How to let (PDF) [756 kb]

The link below takes you to a model tenancy agreement for use in the private rented sector where a shorthold tenancy is being entered into.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/model-agreement-for-a-shorthold-assured-tenancy

PDF document Private rented accommodation (PDF) [113 kb]

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