Tenants' rights and where to go for help

Updated on 08 July 2013

A quick guide to how the law looks after you as a tenant and what your rights are.

What kind of tenant are you?

Housing law has been built up over decades, and it is complex. You may have thought that one set of rules applied to all tenants. But if it was that simple, whole armies of lawyers would be out of a job. (And what a tragedy that would be.)

There are different types of tenancies for students in halls, sub-letters, agricultural workers, and a whole host of other options – all with slightly different sets of rights and responsibilities.

The good news is that if you didn’t begin renting from your landlord before March 1997, don’t share a house with them, and don’t have an unusual accommodation situation, then you are almost certainly have an assured shorthold tenancy, the most common kind.

The bad news is that as an assured shorthold tenant, you’re relatively easy to evict, making it harder to stand up for your rights.

(The assured shorthold tenancy was brought in under the Thatcher government. It gives landlords much stronger rights than previously, helping to create the buy-to-let market of the last decade.)

Use Shelter’s interactive guide to check which kind of tenant you are, and the rights that apply to you.

Peace and quiet

Even as an assured shorthold tenant, there’s still a massive stack of legal acts out there designed to protect you.

Firstly, if you’re on a fixed-term contract, your landlord can’t boot you out before your contract ends, unless they can convince a court that you’ve misbehaved enough to evict you.

(Reasons for eviction might include being persistently late with the rent, annoying the neighbours by playing, for example, Now That’s What I Call Music at 3am, or trashing the place – but the onus is on them to prove that you are the problem.)

In addition, you have the right to live undisturbed in your own home, so the landlord must give you adequate notice before turning up.

Dodgy landlords also aren’t allowed to switch off essentials like gas, water and electricity, threaten you to leave or allow other tenants to bully you, or stop your friends from visiting.

If they do any of these things, complain in writing so you have a record. If the problem doesn’t stop, you may be able to withhold rent – but get advice first (see below).

Fixtures and fittings

As some of you may be all too aware, many privately rented flats and houses are in very poor condition.

But as a tenant, your landlord is responsible for keeping the place safe and salubrious for you to live in.

This includes:

  • Gas: landlords must make sure that the boiler isn’t about to blow you sky-high – a Corgi-registered engineer should do an annual gas check, and you should get a copy of their report
  • Electricity: wiring and electrical appliances should be safe
  • Furniture: must be fire-proof
  • Exterior: the landlord is responsible for the outside of the property, including drains, gutters, roof tiles and so on

While you may well be responsible for keeping the interior in good nick, your landlord has these duties by law. It doesn’t matter if your tenancy agreement says that they are your responsibility – they aren’t.

If any of these fittings need minor repairs, you have the right to hire someone to get busy with the Black and Decker yourself, and take the cost out of the rent.

There are many more rights for tenants. Check out some of the advice available online – either at the official Directgov site for landlords and tenants, or Shelter.


If you paid a deposit before 7th April 2007, and your landlord refuses to return it at the end of your contract, you may have to go to the small claims court to get it back.

But if you paid your deposit after then, your landlord must use a tenancy deposit protection scheme.

If they don’t, you can appeal to the county court. And if the court finds that the landlord has failed to protect your deposit, they will repay three times the amount of the original deposit to you.

Getting help

Your local council should have an advisor especially for private tenants, and in the worst cases, they can actually take landlords to court. So if you’re having real trouble, call up the council and ask for advice.

You can also ask the nearest Citizens’ Advice Bureau – some of whom can give advice via email.

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

More on renting

How to deal with with letting agents

Lodgers vs tenants: how your rights and responsibilities change

What to do if you're struggling to pay the rent

Is buying a home cheaper than renting?


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