Once the initial problems related to moving to the UK (finding a job, a flat, etc.) are taken care of, you need to know which rights you have here, the way you know back home. This is why I would like to talk about a topic that will greatly influence you when assessing your quality of life in the UK: housing.
I’m assuming that 99% of the expats who will read this post are (or will be) renting in the UK. What I’m going to explain applies both to those who rent a room and those who have a contract for the whole house or apartment; their rights and obligations are the same in both cases.
First of all, let’s talk about the most common problems…
I suppose that people who have been here for a long time will agree with me (and if not, please leave a comment at the end!) that the situations in which many of us have found ourselves – or will have to face in the near future when moving house or apartment (the constant moving is another issue to be addressed separately) – can be easily enumerated:
1. HOME REPAIRS. If you arrive in a new house and there is something pending to be repaired and you have a contract of, say six months, assume that it is not going to be fixed before you leave. It is very common for landlords to give you excuses and take a long time to fix things around the house. Although sometimes it’s not the landlords – agencies are also to blame. In my opinion, what happens is that there is so much demand and movement of people passing through houses and apartments that many of them think “if they don’t like it, someone else will come and rent the room/house”. And so, in many houses, months and or years pass without improvement. It’s not always the case but it can be quite common. Don’t rent the first thing you find.
2. GETTING YOUR DEPOSIT BACK. Another controversial topic, a constant and daily battle. I don’t want to say that it’s always going to happen (I’ve never had problems so far), but there are many cases where, if the relationship with your landlord hasn’t been entirely smooth, they might end up not wanting to give you your deposit back. They might tell you that in 30 days they’ll make the transfer, or that they haven’t had time to go see how you left the room or house, etc. Lots of different things, but don’t trust them – this has happened to a lot of people.
3. MORE MONEY. Not very common, I think. But it has happened, and you should be careful (in London it can happen more often). There are cases where, after you have been in the flat or house for a month, out of a six-month contract, the landlord asks you to leave because they have found someone who is willing to pay more… In a house of four, you want to add or change one of the tenants, and they ask for £100, £300 or even more money for a very simple procedure.
4. THE ILLEGAL ONES. Not proving you with a contract, having rooms for rent that aren’t set up for it, coming to your place without prior notice, doing work on your home without your consent (for their own interest and not for the current tenants)… A variety of situations fall into this category.
5. SIMPLY WEIRD. In forums about housing in the UK I’ve seen people who explain their weird cases with some landlords, like finding them in the house at 3 AM when they don’t live there. Or being accused that their dog has destroyed the carpet when they don’t have a dog. Or the landlord with whom they share the house suddenly and without notice adds several people in another room, and what used to be a house with four rooms for four people becomes a house of ten people for four rooms. Or you might be lucky, with a landlord who comes once a week to bring toilet paper and dish soap.
So far this has just been a summary of what you might find. Let’s see what we can do to solve these problems.
Rights when renting in the UK…
According to the laws in the UK, this is how you should proceed.
The answer is very easy: if your contract is after 6 April 2007, which it will be, the landlord is obliged to keep or secure your deposit with a formula called “Tenancy Deposit Scheme” (TDP). There are three ways backed by the Government: Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. The landlords cannot spend your money or ask you to “trust them”. After having signed the contract having formalized the payment of the deposit, they must tell you, within 30 days, how they have secured it. If they fail to do so, you can claim or report it to the local court, which can be profitable because the judges have the power to make them pay three times what they owe you.
You can check which your nearest court on this website is: courttribunalfinder.service.gov.uk
More information about the Government’s TDP: www.gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection/overview
Information about when and in which cases they can take money from your deposit:
This should also be simple and easy to understand. The landlords should be proactive when it comes to keeping the house in good condition: if a faucet is dripping, if there’s a risk of fire in part of the house, if something could make you ill, or if you’re freezing to death because the heater is not working.
The government, again, is quite clear about the obligations of the landlords: gov.uk/private-renting/repairs
- The structure and exterior (e.g. roof, walls, windows, etc.)
- Bathtubs, sinks, toilets, pipes and drains
- Heating and hot water (e.g. boiler)
- Gas appliances, pipes and ventilation
- Electrical system and wiring
- Damage caused by repairs approved by the landlord. If a repair is attempted without their explicit consent, you will be responsible for the expenses.
These are the main points that must be met. There might be other things in the contract that the owner must keep in good condition or be in charge of. In case of emergency, tenants also have the right to call, for example, the water or the gas company in case of emergency, also notifying the landlord of what happened.
More information about how to notify the landlord about possible repairs:
And about what to do if the landlord refuses to pay the necessary repairs, as well as sample letters that show how to notify him officially:
If have suffered any health problems because of these potential problems repairing the house, you can report it to your council and the landlord will be fined up to £5,000.
Ultimately, you can also make the repairs yourself (or hire a professional) and subtract the cost from the monthly rent. But this practice is not supported by law, so Shelter has a guide on how to proceed, as well as different sample letters, so you can formally notify your landlord and be protected in the future.
More information and guides on how to proceed with problems with repairs at home and with your landlord:
Harassment and incidents by the landlord
There is a law of protection from eviction in the UK (1977) for which the owner is committing harassment when “he does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household”. Although legally it’s a grey area that is always hard to prove, the things that a landlord cannot do are:
- They cannot enter the house without a prior 24 hour notice (regardless of you being there or not).
- They cannot get tenants into the house who make your life impossible.
- They cannot harass you about your race, gender or behave in an otherwise discriminatory fashion.
- They cannot ask you to give up your legal rights.
- They cannot forbid houseguests.
- They cannot intervene your correspondence.
Common sense stuff, but you need to remember it. If you have a problem, the first thing you need to do is to report everything or get a record or evidence of the facts, so that in the future you can make a claim if necessary.
More information from the government about housing harassment:
Sooner or later you will have to leave the house or apartment and here is where real problems start. If there have been incidents during the period of the contract, mentioned above, like reparation claims, complaints or anything else, the landlord has the right to an “Eviction Revenge” (unofficial name). What is this? It’s when, after a turbulent relationship between parties, the owner simply doesn’t renew the contract or raises the price to more than what you can afford. This has another consequence in the long run: he screws up your housing references, which can make it harder to find another good house or apartment because you cannot use the previous one as a reference. And we know how important references are here – they’re required for everything.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do for the moment. The rent is a contract between two parties and you are not required to renew a contract for a house where you’re not happy, but nor are they if they are not happy with you. In 2013 the number of homeless people increased by a 3% in London due to this issue (news on Channel4).
If you think you’re going to see some kind of problem that will affect you negatively, seek advice from a nearby office, or read the Shelter’s guide for short-stay contracts.
Rights of the landlords
As I mentioned, this is a two way street. If the tenants don’t pay or spoil the house, the landlord will make them leave. But I don’t want to end up on a negative note: in my case, I have lived in three different houses and I haven’t had any problem. So remember that people best understand each other by talking things through – and this especially applies to you and your landlord.
Have you had any bad experiences? Please leave a comment!