It’s been two years since the Tenant Fees Act came into force in England, giving renters tougher rights against landlords that break the rules.
However in the past 48 months, figures show just 16 tenants across the UK have raised a landlord dispute to a tribunal – suggesting many people are still unaware of their rights.
That means falling victim to missing deposits, ghost tenancies and eye-watering administrative fees that are now illegal.
“It's clear that many renters are largely unaware of the rights the act has given them,” Dan Wilson Craw at Generation Rent told The Mirror.
Under the terms of the Tenant Fees Act, reference and administrative fees are banned, tenants cannot be charged for cleaning costs and deposits have been capped at 5 weeks’ rent.
We've teamed up with Generation Rent to make sure tenants know their rights ahead of Renters' Rights Awareness week.
Here are 16 ways your landlord could be breaking the law.
1. 'Getting started' fees
Fees for administration, referencing and inventory have been banned on all tenancies since 1 June 2020
(Image: Getty Images/Westend61)
Your agent or landlord could be breaking the rules if they ask for any payments at the start of a tenancy that are not rent or a refundable holding or tenancy deposit.
Fees for administration, referencing, inventory (plus renewal and check out) have been banned for all tenancies since 1 June 2020.
2. 6 weeks' rent deposit
Landlords and letting agents can charge a maximum of one week’s rent to reserve a property (which is refundable) and a maximum of five weeks’ rent as a refundable deposit for the duration of the tenancy.
3. Holding your deposit without prior warning
If the tenant and landlord do not enter into an agreement after 15 days, the landlord may keep the holding deposit if the tenant provided false or misleading information which reasonably affects the decision to let the property to them, fails a right to rent check, withdraws from the proposed agreement or fails to take all reasonable steps to enter an agreement when the landlord and/or agent has done so.
But the landlord must write to the tenant within seven days with the reasons for withholding the deposit, otherwise the tenant should get it back.
4. Claiming your deposit without good reason
It is illegal for a landlord or agent to keep your holding deposit if they acted so unreasonably that you pulled out of the tenancy.
That includes if you are moving out because of a fee that is banned under the Tenant Fees Act.
5. Not using the DPS
Not putting your tenancy deposit in a deposit protection scheme.
If the deposit is not protected with a government-approved scheme, the tenant is protected from a no-fault eviction, and can take the landlord to court and receive compensation of up to three times the value of the deposit.
6. Non-refundable deposits
Requiring you to use a “deposit-free option” instead of paying a refundable deposit.
This involves paying a lower amount which is not refundable, and the schemes are not regulated by the government. Tenants must always be given a choice to pay a refundable deposit.
7. Turning up unannounced
Visiting your home without giving 24 hours’ notice and getting your permission.
They can only do this without notice or consent in an emergency – otherwise it could be classed as harassment. The council and police have powers to help you with this.
8. Proof of costs
To change one of the tenants, landlords and agents are allowed to charge £50 or more – but only if they can prove that their reasonable costs were higher than this.
9. Cleaning costs for a clean property
As long as you return your home to the condition you found it in, the landlord should not charge you for cleaning costs
The company cannot charge cleaning costs when you’ve already cleaned the property to the same standard it was when you moved in.
The tenancy agreement cannot require the tenant to pay for cleaning costs at the end of the tenancy, though the landlord can still claim a deduction from your deposit if they can show that the property was in a worse condition at the end of the tenancy than at the start (allowing for fair wear and tear).
10. Kicking you out early
Putting pressure on you to move out before your tenancy ends legally.
Landlords must serve a formal notice and make a claim for possession through the courts if you don’t move out. Only court-appointed bailiffs can legally evict you. Harassment and unlawful eviction of tenants are criminal offences.
11. Missing documents
Serving a Section 21 eviction notice without having provided you with an energy performance certificate, gas safety certificate from the past year, details about your deposit protection, and the Government How to Rent guide, are all illegal.
12. Sudden rent increases
Raising the rent without your agreement or a formal notice.
Their ability to raise the rent may be in the original tenancy you signed, but if they want you to sign a new agreement it may be possible to negotiate on the level of rent, particularly if what they’re asking for is higher than similar homes being advertised locally.
If they serve a formal notice to raise the rent, it is possible to challenge this at a tribunal, which will normally award the landlord a rent based on the local market.
13. Not registering for the right licence
You may be protected from a no-fault eviction and be able to claim back up to one year’s rent if the landlord or agent has not applied for the right licence.
This includes if your home has five or more unrelated people living in it – a factor that requires a council licence.
Failing to keep the home fit for human habitation and free of dangerous hazards like mould, vermin or excessive cold is against the law.
The council can require the agent or landlord to make improvements and it may be possible to take them to court directly.
15. F or G energy rating
Your home is not fit for living in if it is rated F or G on its Energy Performance Certificate.
Inefficient properties are more expensive to heat and also more vulnerable to problems with damp and mould.
It has been illegal to let the least energy efficient homes since 1 April 2020, unless they have an exemption, and councils can force landlords to comply with the law.
16. Missing electrical checks
Your home has not had an electrical installation certificate or electrical installation condition report in the past five years.
All private rented homes should have had one of these since 1 April 2021.
Know your rights
Your money should be safeguarded in a protection scheme
Make sure you get the landlord’s address, or check the letting agent is registered with a redress scheme, and be clear about your requirements and the agreed rent, before handing over your holding deposit.
If the tenancy falls through and you did everything that was asked of you, you should be entitled to all your money back.
If you don’t and the landlord doesn’t have a good reason, apply to the tribunal or contact your council to try to recover it.
Also consider complaining to the agent as you could be awarded compensation for them wasting your time – the redress scheme would make the final decision.
Get everything in writing and keep correspondence with your landlord or letting agent in one place in case you ever need to raise a dispute.
There are different places that deal with different types of dispute: deposit protection schemes deal with unfair deductions, the tribunal deals with illegal fees, and county courts deal with unprotected deposits.
“While it is welcome that tenants won their money back in most cases, these scams shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” explains Dan Wilson Claw at Generation Rent.
“If you’re in dispute, the letting agent redress system could help, but when most of the offenders are landlords, it is clear they need to be subject to this system too.
“The case for a national register of landlords is clear – and the government must do more to raise awareness of tenants’ rights.