There is no shortage of headlines about the struggle to get on to the housing ladder, the increase in rents, and how each of these fuels the other. As a result, many people have no option but to remain in rented accommodation, and the government is legislating to protect their vulnerable position.
Below is our guide to some of the important and recent matters that prospective tenants in England should be aware of.
Assured shorthold tenancies (AST)
The majority of new tenants will have these. They are a type of tenancy that allows a landlord to let their property with the right to repossess it at the end of the term. An AST can be granted for a fixed term or on a rolling basis.
Ending an AST
As it stands, a landlord may terminate an AST with two different procedures:
- “Section 8” procedure: This allows a landlord to give notice to bring an AST to an end during the term if it can demonstrate one of several grounds, e.g. non-payment of rent, intended redevelopment, or the tenant allowing the property to deteriorate, each of which has specific criteria. Some grounds oblige the court to order possession but others give the court discretion;
- “Section 21” procedure: This ‘no-fault’ based procedure is a speedier and less expensive process and the court is obliged to make a possession order without the landlord needing to establish grounds. However, it cannot be used to bring an AST to an end during the term or to obtain possession in the first six months of the tenancy.
Legislation in 2015 prevents a landlord from serving a Section 21 notice unless it has given the tenant an energy performance certificate and gas safety certificate.
Interestingly, there is a consultation planned by the government to abolish the Section 21 procedure, to ensure that a landlord must have a good reason to evict a tenant. If implemented, this will give far greater security to tenants.
Landlords will usually require a deposit as protection for a tenant failing to comply with its obligations. The Tenant Fees Act 2019 restricts the amount that a landlord or letting agent can require from a tenant to five weeks’ rent where the annual rent is less than £50,000. This limit applies to tenancies granted on or after 1 June 2019, and existing tenancies will have a grace period of one year from that date.
A tenancy deposit must be protected by a government-approved scheme, and the landlord must provide the tenant with “prescribed information” in relation to the scheme. A non-compliant landlord may, amongst other things, be required to pay a fine to the tenant, or be prevented from ending the AST using the Section 21 procedure.
For tenancies of less than seven years, landlords are obliged by statute, at their own cost, to keep let property in good order and the following in repair:
- the structure and exterior of the property;
- the installations in the property for the supply of water, gas and electricity, for sanitation and for space heating and heating water.
Since 20 March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 also implies a covenant on the landlord (for tenancies of less than seven years) that the property must “fit for human habitation” at the beginning, and for the duration, of the tenancy.
A landlord must comply with fire regulations. For example, a landlord must install a smoke alarm on each storey of its property used as living accommodation and test that it is in working order on the day the tenancy begins.
Energy performance certificates (EPCs)
A landlord must give a tenant an EPC for the property. Since 1 April 2018, a landlord cannot lawfully grant tenancy of property which has an energy efficiency rating of ‘F’ or ‘G’ unless it has made sufficient energy efficiency improvements or provided a legitimate reason not to do so. If the landlord breaches this requirement, it could be fined, have details published and be forced to take remedial action.