Do as I say, not as I did: How I learnt my rights as a tenant the hard way

Written by Lucy Welsh |

It’s January, the time where everyone is scrambling to find the best accommodation for the next year. I’ve been there, it’s tough. It feels like a constant three-way tug-of-war between getting the nicest house, getting the cheapest house, and getting a house as close to your campus as possible.

This time last year, my three housemates and I were looking for a new place. We’d just been let down by a potential landlord and were desperate to snatch a place as soon as we could. When we found a cute house that was:

  1. mould-free;
  2. close to the campus we all studied on;
  3. had mercifully cheap-ish rent with bills included;

we jumped at the chance to put our deposit down and raise the proverbial flag on top of our little, rented mountain. But this was our downfall.

Our lettings agency, we shall call them Cows as their real name rhymes with a similar farmyard animal, was one we thought we could trust: they were professional in taking our details and deposit and were thoroughly helpful in organising our tenancy.

We took the idea that they were professional for granted and didn’t thoroughly look into our rights as tenants: this was a mistake.

And, seeing as I’m wonderfully generous, I’ll let you know exactly what we should have been aware of, and how it affected us.

1. Your landlord/lettings agency MUST provide you with the most up-to-date copy of the UK Government’s How to Rent guide when you begin renting.

This document details everything you need to know as someone who’s renting: what you need to do, what your agency needs to do etc. At the time of writing this (January 20th) I had never seen a copy of this guide before. Cows, despite being a professional business, had never provided my housemates and me with a copy.

This, of course, was only the beginning of our problems.

2. Landlords and agencies can’t just turn up and let themselves in.

On more than one occasion, staff from Cows entered our property for inspections and non-urgent repairs both with and without our landlady without giving us any notice.

Despite the fact that we’re all rigorous with our cleaning schedule, they chose the one day that we hadn’t cleaned properly to come in when we were all at lectures and inspect the place. We failed, and we kicked up a fuss. We were pretty sure that the staff hated us for arguing, but it was easy to see why we did.

This hadn’t been the first time they’d entered the property without telling us, and each time they claimed to have “sent an email” and were accusing us of deleting them to get them into trouble (like they weren’t doing that all by themselves), only to realise that they had “forgotten” to send the email to us.

I, like the argumentative Taurus I am, consulted the Citizen’s Advice Bureau – I would thoroughly recommend this to every prospective tenant as they are absolutely incredible – who told me that‘unless it’s an emergency, they [landlords and letting agencies] must give you at least 24 hours’ notice in writing.’

I would urge you to remember this:

You are well within your rights to turn someone away at the door if they haven’t informed you first; they legally cannot enter without permission.

3. You have a right to know that your deposit is in safe hands.

According to the Government, all landlords letting on assured shorthold tenancies must protect tenants’ deposits in a government-approved scheme and give the tenant proof within 30 days of taking the deposit. This is according to legislation in the Housing Act 2004.

Once again, I’d never heard of this rule before writing this. As far as I knew, Cows kept my money in a safe which was guarded by sharks and flying monkeys, never to see the light of day again if so much as a speck of dust was left when we moved out.

I spent a lot of last year panicking about my deposit: was it safe? Where was it kept? Would I get it back?

A lot of the mould-free surfaces we’d viewed were disgusting when we moved in. The bathroom was riddled with damp and mould, and my housemate’s room looked like something from Stranger Things. We didn’t know our deposit was protected, especially from being dipped into whenever someone from Cows needed a little… Moolah.

When our landlady took over the property and decided to private let, she immediately sent us proof that our full deposits were in a secure place. I feel confident that we won’t be charged for issues that aren’t our fault and I know that she won’t get sticky fingers. Make sure that you’re as confident as I am.

So, long story short, there are a lot of things I should have known that would have made my life a whole lot easier. I would definitely recommend looking at the checklist provided in the How to Rent guide, just so you don’t miss anything that we did in our eagerness to get a roof over our heads. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; interrogate whoever is giving you the viewing if you have to. If they’re anything like my landlady, they’ll be able to answer everything right down to the amount of moisture a person loses through their feet every night.

Spoiler alert: It’s roughly an eggcup full of sweat.