Housing

Affordable housing is crucial for everyone. Whether you are renting or buying your home there is an array of rights and responsibilities that come with all types of accommodation. Understanding those rights and responsibilities will help you to choose and sustain your accommodation and deal with any problems that might arise. The housing advice given in this section gives you information about finding accommodation, different types of housing, your rights and responsibilities, and much more. Remember, all problems can be solved. Here at NESCAB we have a team of Advisers on hand to help you.

Finding Accommodation

There are lots to think about when looking for accommodation. Funding your accommodation is likely to be the most expensive item on your budget so it pays to get it right. You may want to consider:

  • Renting privately.
  • Renting from a Local Council or Housing Association.
  • Other options including shared ownership and buying your own home.

Renting Privately

Renting privately can be expensive, especially when you take on a new property. At the start of the tenancy it is likely that you will have to pay rent in advance (generally two months’ rent) as well as a security deposit. You may also have to pay a holding deposit, agency fees and/or a ‘Premium’ (see ‘Deposits, Premiums & Agencies’ fees and Charges’ in the Tenancy Agreements section below).

When you sign a tenancy agreement you are entering into a binding contract so it’s important to understand what is involved and how to protect yourself (see Tenancy Agreements below). It is also important to know your rights at the end of the tenancy (see Eviction / Notice to Quit section below). If you are on benefits or have a low income you may be able to get help with your rent (see Housing Benefits section in Benefits & Tax Credits advice).

Tenancy Agreements

Tenancy agreements may be written or verbal, and both are equally valid in law. A verbal agreement will give you the same legal rights as a written agreement but the problem with verbal agreements is that they are more difficult to enforce as you cannot prove what has been agreed between you and the landlord. For example, are fuel bills and council tax included in the rent? If you are having problems with a verbal agreement, you can get advice. Ensure that you read any tenancy agreement before you sign it. If there is anything in the agreement that you don’t understand, then get advice.

Types of Tenancies

Most tenancies in the private sector are Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST), unless there is a resident landlord. Although usually in writing, any unwritten tenancy for residential accommodation created after 28th February 1997 is assumed to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Thus, in most circumstances, if you pay rent for the place where you live and you moved in after 28th February 1997 (England & Wales), you have an assured shorthold tenancy. If you do not have a written tenancy you can ask your landlord to provide a written statement of the terms of the tenancy which s/he must provide within 28 days of your request. The statement must include:

  • The date the tenancy began.
  • The rent due and the dates on which it should be paid.
  • Any term which deals with reviewing the rent.
  • If the tenancy is a fixed term, the length of the fixed term.

Note – the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland may be different. The rules governing hostels, accommodation shared with a landlord, accommodation tied to your work and  student accommodation provided by an institution are different.  If you are living in this type of accommodation or started renting your home before February 1997 you can find useful information here or you can request advice. If you are renting from a housing association or local authority, see the Social Housing section below.

Tenants’ Responsibilities

Your responsibilities as a tenant are:

  • To pay the rent.
  • To notify your landlord of any disrepair promptly.
  • To behave in a tenant-like manner.
  • To abide by the terms of the contract.
  • To give your landlord or their agent reasonable access to the property to view the state of it or to carry out repairs. You should be given at least 24 hours notice of any such visit in writing unless there is an emergency.

For more information about your responsibilities, see here.

Joint Tenants

If two or more people are named as tenants on the agreement, then each person is jointly and severally liable for the rent and the responsibilities outlined above. This means that the landlord can hold each individual liable for the whole rent, so for example, if one person fails to pay their rent or causes damage to the property the landlord can recover the loss from each or all of the remaining tenants. Get more information on Joint Tenancies.

Landlords’ Responsibilities

In law, your landlord is responsible for:

  • Keeping in repair the structure and exterior of your home, this includes external  windows and doors, partition walls between properties, drains and gutters and internal plaster on walls and ceilings.
  • Keeping in repair and proper working order the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation, and for space and water heating.
  • Gas Safety – your landlord must ensure that any gas appliances in your home are safe and that gas safety checks on appliances and fittings are carried out at least once every twelve months by a Gas Safe Registered plumber. For more information on gas safety visit Gas Safer Register.
  • Fire, electrical and other health and safety matters.

For more information on your landlord’s responsibilities, see here.

Deposits, Premiums and Agency Fees and Charges

Deposits

There are two types of deposit that you may have to pay to secure a property:

  1. A security deposit, often equal to one month’s rent or more, as security for your landlord against, for example, rent arrears, damage to property, or removal of furniture.  Since April 2007 most damage deposits must be put in a Deposit Scheme (see Tenancy Deposit Schemes section below).
  2. A holding deposit, money that you may be asked to pay when you agree to rent a property, but before you sign the contract. You should check whether this deposit is refundable.

If you have difficulty find the money to pay for your deposit you may be able to get help from a rent deposit or guarantee scheme. Find out if you are eligible for a scheme in your area.

Premiums

A Premium (or key money) is money a landlord can charge you for granting or renewing a tenancy. Premiums are not refundable. If you think any Premium you are being asked to pay is unreasonable then you only option is to walk away (i.e. not take up the tenancy).

Agency Fees & Charges

Accommodation or letting agencies may charge you for finding accommodation. They cannot charge you for simply providing you with details of accommodation or for registering you as someone looking for accommodation. The agency may also charge you an administration fee for example for drawing up the tenancy agreement. For more information about letting through agencies, see here (pdf).

Tenancy Deposit Schemes

Tenancy deposit schemes were introduced for all new assured shorthold tenancies, created from 6th April 2007. The schemes safeguard your deposit, ensuring that it is returned to you at the end of the tenancy (less any amounts for agree for damage or money owed). The schemes provide an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service to sort out disagreements about the deposit without going to court. The ADR service will decide how much of the deposit you should get back and the scheme will pay that money back to you.

Your landlord or their agent must provide you with full details of the scheme that they will use to safeguard your deposit within 30 days of you paying the deposit. More information on Tenancy Deposit schemes (pdf).

Inventories

When you rent a property you should agree, in writing, with your landlord – the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy and a list of any furniture and fittings (and the condition they are in) that are included in the letting. It is worth taking photographs of the internal condition of the property, furniture and fittings and keeping these in case there is a dispute in the future.

Insurance

Your landlord is responsible for insuring the building and you are responsible for your own belongings. You should get yourself contents insurance which includes third party insurance. This type of insurance is not expensive and could save you thousands of pounds if, for example, you or any visitor of yours cause accidental damage to the property or adjoining property.

Social Housing

Social Housing is housing owned and managed by local councils, housing associations and other not-for-profit organisations such as housing co-operatives. Rents in social housing are usually cheaper than in the privately rented sector. In some areas of the country local councils have transferred their housing stock to housing associations.

To find out the range of social housing that may be able available to you contact your local council.

Local Council Tenants

Local council housing is generally allocated to people in priority need such as families with children, vulnerable adults and older people. Many local councils offer a choice-based letting scheme but these schemes vary from place to place. See more information on choice-based lettings.

If your landlord is a local council you are likely to be a secure tenant or an introductory tenant. Since 1st April 2012, local councils can also grant flexible tenancies. More information about local council tenancies.

Housing Associations usually offer a range of tenancies. The type of tenancy you have may depend on when you moved into the property. Housing Associations tenancy include:

You may be offered a starter tenancy for the first 12 months.

Find out more about your rights and responsibilities and your landlord’s responsibilities when you rent from a housing association or local authority.

If you are on benefits or have a low income you may be able to get help with your rent – see the Housing Costs section in Benefits & Tax Credits.

Home Ownership

Buying your own home is often seen as attractive, since you have greater rights and more security. Most people need to take out a mortgage (loan) to buy a house. The mortgage is secured against the property and if you fall behind on your payments you can loose your home. The maximum amount of money you can borrow is based on your household income.  You also need a deposit which will be a percentage of the full purchase price. Mortgages that cover the whole purchase price are very rare. You will also need to pay for surveys and solicitors fees when buying a house.

There are risks attached to owing your own home. The value of your property can go up or down. The amount you pay each month can also vary according to interest rates and the type of mortgage you have. There are a number of government backed schemes available to help people get a foot on the home ownership ladder. More information on buying, selling or improving your home, mortgages and planning permission.

Shared Ownership Schemes

As the name implies, shared ownership schemes mean that you buy a percentage (usually between 25% and 50%) of a property with the help of a mortgage, and the other part is owned, typically, by a housing association and you pay rent on that part. If funds become available you can increase your share of the property. If you decide to sell the property you share any increase in value with the housing association. More information on shared ownership schemes.

Shared Equity Schemes

Shared Equity schemes allow you to buy the whole of a property using savings and a mortgage and you get an equity loan provided jointly by the government and the builder for up to 30% of the value of the property. These schemes are only available for newly-built properties on specific housing developments in England. More information on shared equity schemes.

Schemes for Armed Services Personnel

If you are serving member of the Armed Services, with between 4 and 6 years service, you may be able to get help from the Armed Forces Home Ownership Scheme (AFHOS). This is an equity loan based scheme. More information.

Repossession

If you get behind on your mortgage payments your lender may decide to repossess your home. The lender must apply to the court to repossess your home and, if you do not leave, must apply to the Court to have you evicted by bailiffs. Once the lender has vacant possession of the property they will sell it to recover the money they are owed. If there is insufficient equity in the property, you owe the lender the difference. If you are having difficulties paying your mortgage, get advice. You may be able to get help with your mortgage costs if you receive certain benefits – see Housing Costs in Benefits & Tax Credits section.

Eviction / Notice To Quit

Eviction

Your landlord can evict you for:

  • Rent arrears;
  • Anti-social behaviour;
  • Breaking the rules of your tenancy agreement;
  • Ceasing to occupy the property;
  • Or sometimes without having to give you any reason.

The procedure that your landlord must go through to evict you depends on the type of tenancy you have and whether you are the tenant of a private landlord, a housing association, a local authority, an agricultural tenancy or a tenancy linked to your employment. In almost every circumstance the landlord needs to follow a specific procedure and get a Court order to evict you. Check out your rights.

If you are threatened with eviction get advice immediately. There may be ways that the eviction can be prevented.

A landlord, or someone acting on his behalf, who threatens you to try and force you to leave your home may be guilty of harassment, which is a criminal offence.

If you are struggling to pay your rent, you may be entitled to housing benefit and/or to get help with your rent in the short term through a Discretionary Housing Payment.

Remember – paying your rent is more important than paying other bills such as credit cards, unsecured bank loans, store cards and doorstep lenders. So if you are struggling to pay your debts, visit our Debt & Money section or get advice. You can also request advice about eviction.

Notice to Quit

The steps you need to take if you want to give up your tenancy are very similar, whether you are renting privately, from a local authority or a housing association.

If you have a fixed-term tenancy you are liable for the rent until the end of the fixed term, unless your agreement includes a break clause or you can negotiate with you landlord to end the tenancy early. Your landlord has a duty to try to re-let the property as quickly as possible and once it is re-let, your liability will end so you should give your landlord as much notice as possible.

If you have a periodic tenancy i.e. there is no end date on the tenancy, or the tenancy started as fixed term tenancy but at the end of the fixed term you continued to pay rent, then you will need to give the landlord notice of at least the same length as your rental period. So if you pay rent monthly then one month’s notice ending either on the day the rent is due on the day before.

For example if you pay rent on the 3rd of each month – your month’s notice should expire either on the 3rd or the 2nd of the month. There is nothing to prevent you giving a longer notice period – see more information.

You should give notice in writing (and keep a copy). Your letter should be dated and include:

  • Your name.
  • The address of the property.
  • The date on which you’ll be leaving the property.
  • A contact address where the landlord can contact you after you have left – for example to return your damage deposit.
  • Your signature.

The letter should be sent Recorded Delivery or you should deliver it by hand and get a receipt. Landlords do not generally accept notice by e-mail.

Note: if you are joint tenants (i.e. your tenancy agreement includes 2 or more named tenants), notice by one tenant is deemed to be notice by all the tenants. If only one of the joint tenants wishes to leave – it is usually better to negotiate with the landlord to allow a substitute tenant to move in. See more information or get advice about giving up a tenancy.

Disrepair

If your home is in a poor state of repair it can affect both your health and your safety and that of your family. Disrepair is more than just something not working very well – in law disrepair is actual damage. For example a leaking roof would be disrepair, a roof that wasn’t adequately insulated would not be disrepair.

If you live in privately rented accommodation, by law your home should be in reasonably good repair, free from health and safety hazards, safe, secure and warm. If you live in a Local Authority or Housing Association property, your home should meet the Decent Homes Standard i.e. it should:

  • Meet the current legal minimum for housing (the Housing Health and Safety Rating System).
  • Be in a reasonable state of repair.
  • Have efficient heating and effective insulation.
  • Have reasonably modern facilities and services.

Your Landlord’s Responsibilities

Whatever your tenancy agreement says, your landlord is responsible for:

  • Keeping in repair the structure and exterior of your home, this includes external  windows and doors, partition walls between properties, drains and gutters  and internal plaster on walls and ceilings.
  • Keeping in repair and proper working order the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation, and for space and water heating.
  • Gas Safety – your landlord must ensure that any gas appliances in your home are safe and that gas safety checks on appliances and fittings are carried to be carried out at least once every twelve months by a Gas Safe Registered plumber. For more information on gas safety visit, www.gassaferegister.co.uk.
  • Safe electrical wiring.
  • Fire, and other health and safety matters.
  • Appliances included as part of the tenancy agreement (for example, washing machines).

Tenants’ Responsibilities

You are responsible for:

  • Using the property in a reasonable way e.g. taking care not to block sinks, ventilation bricks or heating flues;
  • Minor repairs e.g. replacing smoke alarm batteries;
  • Maintenance and repair responsibilities included in your contract, other than those which, by law, are the landlord’s responsibility – see above.
  • Not damaging the property or allowing guests to damage the property;
  • Keeping the property reasonably clean;
  • Notifying the landlord promptly of any disrepair.

Note: damp is a common problem and may be caused by structural problems with the property – which would be the landlord’s responsibility or by the way you live in the property (condensation).

Getting Repairs Done

You must tell your landlord immediately if repairs are needed. Remember – what starts as a small problem could quickly escalate into a major problem. You should write to your landlord, keeping a copy, and send your letter recorded delivery.  You should take photographs of the disrepair, and photographs of any of your property that has been damage as a result and if possible keep the damaged items. Find a template letter you can use to write to your landlord. If your landlord fails to do the repairs within a reasonable time, get advice. NEVER WITHHOLD YOUR RENT TO FORCE THE LANDLORD TO DO REPAIRS. See this comprehensive guide on getting repairs done.

Homelessness

Having a home is critical to your health and well being, to being able to hold down a job and to being able to fulfill your potential. Homelessness is more than not having a roof over your head, it can include:

  • Temporarily staying with friends or family.
  • Staying in a hostel or nightshelter.
  • Living in very overcrowded conditions.
  • Being at risk of violence or abuse in your home
  • Living in poor conditions that affect your health.
  • Living somewhere where you have no legal right to stay, such as a squat.
  • Living somewhere that you can’t afford to pay for without depriving yourself of basic essentials.
  • Forced to live apart from your family or someone you would normally live with because your accommodation isn’t suitable.

If you are homeless or likely to lose your accommodation within 28 days, your local council is legally obliged to give advice and help you to find somewhere to live. Your Council may have a duty to provide you with accommodation if you are deemed to be in priority need. These include:

  • Pregnant women.
  • People responsible for dependent children.
  • Certain 16 and 17 year olds.
  • Care leavers.
  • People made homeless by flood, fire or other disaster.
  • Other vulnerable people – for example people older people, people with disabilities, people who have fled violence.

Before providing you with settled accommodation your council will determine whether you:

Be Aware: you may be deemed to be intentionally homeless if you do or fail to do something that causes you to leave your accommodation which you could otherwise have stayed in, and it would have been reasonable for you to stay there. This means that, if for example, your landlord gives you notice to quit – you should stay in the property until there is a Court Order to evict you. If you have been given notice to quit you should contact your local authority within the last 28 days of your notice period.


If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness get advice quickly. Call Shelter’s free, national telephone advice line on 0808 800 4444 8am-8pm Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm Saturday-Sunday.

Calls are free from UK landlines and main mobile networks (Vodafone, O2, EE and  Virgin Mobile). Typetalk calls to the helpline are welcome. Or, you can request advice.

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