Navigating the complex landscape of rental regulations can be a daunting task for both landlords and tenants. However, it’s crucial to stay informed.
Here, we shed light on seven of the most prevalent legal misconceptions in the world of lettings.
There are hundreds of separate rules and regulations that govern the lettings industry, and every year there seem to be updates and new laws for landlords to get to grips with.
If you use an agent to take care of your rental, you might rely on them to keep you up to date. And if they’re a member of a professional organisation such as Propertymark, you can be confident they’re properly trained and have legal support. Even so, as a landlord, you should still understand (at least) the basics of tenancy agreements and both you and your tenants’ rights and responsibilities.
While some letting laws are straightforward, and others are more complex – there are a number of letting laws that are simply misunderstood. This means that there are landlords out there who are getting things wrong and possibly even breaking the law without even realising it.
How confident are you that your legal knowledge is up to scratch?
Here we’ve demystified 7 of the most common letting law misconceptions – things that both landlords and tenants sometimes get wrong – and what the law* actually says.
(*Note: these laws relate to England only and there may be significant differences in other parts of the UK.)
Misconception 1: Assured shorthold tenancies (AST) are for a minimum term of 6 months
Legally: An AST can be for any length of time
This is a very common misconception, which has probably come about because of the rules around evictions that prevent landlords from evicting a tenant within the first 6 months of a tenancy.
However, in the eyes of the law, any let is considered an assured tenancy. Provided the following four conditions are met:
- The tenant is an individual (not a company or organisation)
- The property is the tenant’s only or main residence
- You, as the landlord, don’t live in the property yourself
- The rent is below £100,000 a year.
If all these are true, then the terms of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) apply. And you should use that document for the contract between you and the tenant, even if they’re only there for a few weeks.
Misconception 2: Unless agreed otherwise, the tenant has to leave at the end of the fixed term
Legally: The tenant has the right to continue living in the property. If you want them to leave, you’ll have to serve a section 21 notice.
Some landlords believe that if the original tenancy hasn’t been renewed, then the tenant automatically has to move out. For example, if a 12-month agreement was signed, then unless there has been a specific conversation about the tenant staying on for another 6 or 12 months, the tenancy ends.
In fact, if neither party has given notice and a new tenancy agreement hasn’t been signed, then the original tenancy simply continues as a ‘periodic’ tenancy. Assuming rent is paid monthly, the periodic tenancy runs month to month until either party gives notice – that’s commonly one month for the tenant and must be two months for the landlord, via a section 21 notice.
Misconception 3: Landlords have to allow pets
Legally: If you use the government’s model tenancy agreement, you must consider your tenant’s request. However, you can still refuse a pet if you have a good reason.
In January 2021, the government’s model tenancy agreement was updated to make it easier for tenants with pets to find a rented home. Tenants have to make a written request to the landlord if they want to keep a pet, but consent is now the default position. If landlords object, they have 28 days to respond to the tenant, giving a good reason. For example, the property isn’t suitable for the type of pet.
If you use any other version of an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, you can currently still state that you won’t accept pets – but we’re expecting that to change. In June 2022, the Government published its White Paper on rental reform, and one of the proposals is to give all tenants the right to request a pet in their home. However, you can still refuse if you have a reasonable objection.
With more and more tenants looking for longer-term homes and pets becoming increasingly popular, it’s worth allowing well-behaved animals in your property. Assuming it’s a suitable environment for them. We recommend meeting the pet first, as you would a tenant, and ask for a pet reference from any previous landlords.
Note: Under the tenant fee ban, you can’t charge an extra fee or deposit in relation to the pet.
Misconception 4: You can amend a tenancy agreement to add your own conditions
Legally: You can amend a tenancy agreement, but every clause must be fair and comply with the law, otherwise it’s not legally enforceable.
Simply including a clause in a tenancy agreement and having it signed by the tenant doesn’t guarantee its enforceability. Courts or arbitration services will dismiss clauses that are deemed unfair, unreasonable, or illegal, irrespective of the tenant’s understanding when signing.
For example, you can include a clause prohibiting smoking inside the property. However, you cannot introduce a clause such as, “If the boiler breaks down, the tenant is responsible for the cost of repairs.” As a landlord, you have a legal obligation to maintain the heating services, and you cannot transfer this responsibility to the tenant.
If you wish to make amendments to an AST, consult your letting agent to determine whether it’s feasible. Or if you’re managing the let yourself, it’s a good idea to take advice from a legal letting specialist.
Misconception 5: You can enter the property as long as you’ve given the tenant at least 24 hours notice
Legally: During a tenancy, you cannot enter the property without the tenant’s permission. Except in cases of emergency.
A standard AST typically stipulates that the tenant must grant the landlord access, provided the landlord has given 24 hours notice in writing. However, if the tenant denies entry, you cannot simply enter without their consent unless there is an emergency, such as a fire, a gas odour, or suspected criminal activity.
If the tenant is preventing necessary repairs from being carried out or stopping you from carrying out scheduled inspections. You should write to them explaining the implications for their own health and safety. Additionally, point out that their actions constitute a breach of the tenancy agreement by denying reasonable access. However, the only legal means to enter without the tenant’s consent is by obtaining a court order, and it is often quicker and more straightforward to pursue eviction through a Section 21 notice.
Misconception 6: If the tenant stops paying their rent, you can change the locks
Legally: The sole recourse available is to initiate their eviction through the proper legal procedures.
Regardless of the amount of rent owed or whether the tenant has stopped communicating with you, you must not breach the terms of the tenancy agreement. This means that you can’t cut off any utilities, no matter who pays the bill. Changing the locks and harassing the tenant for payment is also prohibited by law.
Your only legal recourse is to initiate eviction proceedings, which can be done through either a Section 8 or a Section 21 notice. If you opt for a Section 21 notice, you are not required to provide a specific reason for the eviction, and the tenant is given a two-month notice period to vacate the premises. Alternatively, with a Section 8 notice, you must specify that the grounds for eviction are rent arrears, and in some cases, you may be able to give just a two-week notice period.
The drawback of pursuing a Section 8 eviction is that if the tenant refuses to leave, you’ll be compelled to initiate court proceedings to regain possession. A process that can extend over several months. In contrast, a Section 21 eviction enables you to request a possession order through the ‘accelerated procedure’. This is just a matter of the court processing the paperwork. As a result, it is generally a faster and more cost-effective procedure compared to a full court hearing.
For more information and advice about getting your property back, read our blog, ‘How to end a tenancy – the right way’.
Misconception 7: If you don’t carry out necessary repairs on the property, you are unable to evict tenants via a section 21
Legally: A Section 21 notice is only considered invalid if the local authority has issued a notice to you.
When the Deregulation Act 2015 came into force, it was widely reported that this prevented landlords from evicting tenants who were complaining about the condition of their property – known as ‘retaliatory evictions’. As a result, many tenants believe that if they’ve asked for repairs to be carried out and their landlord has ignored them, they’re ‘immune’ from eviction.
In fact, a section 21 notice is only invalid if the local authority has been made aware of the complaint, inspected the property and served either an improvement notice or a notice of emergency remedial action. If this is the case, you can’t evict the tenant for six months using the ‘no fault’ section 21. However, if the tenant has breached their tenancy agreement, you may still be able to evict them via a section 8 notice.
Get In Touch
Understanding letting laws can be complicated, and these are just a few examples of things that landlords and tenants sometimes get wrong. If you’d like further guidance about any of the regulations we’ve mentioned. Or if you’d like to discuss how we can help you and your rental property stay on the right side of the law. Please get in touch via our contact form, a member of our expert team will get back to you as soon as possible.