There is no doubt that buying a property in the UK is becoming increasingly unaffordable, driving up demand and prices for those wanting to rent. There is a significant supply/demand imbalance in the Private Rented sector as evidenced by EasyRoommate's most recent statistics showing that Brits have a one in six chance of securing a rented room in Britain. Unfortunately, these conditions can be exploited by a minority of rogue landlords, who take advantage of tenants by renting out unsafe, overcrowded and substandard accommodation.
Karim Goudiaby, CEO of EasyRoommate.co.uk said "We believe that flatsharing can be a wonderful experience, given the right conditions. Because we don't want to leave to chance, we have a dedicated moderation team working around the clock to ensure the advertised flats are in decent living conditions. Rogue landlords are far from being the majority but, once in a while we see landlords trying to fit 20 tenants in a 4 bedroom flat, or advertising packed rooms looking more like a fire hazard than a home. That's why no listing is published on the site before it has been reviewed by the moderating team. We look at the description, pictures, rent price… anything that can give us an indication of the living conditions".
A recent survey with British tenants conducted by EasyRoommate indicates that both landlords and tenants may be unclear on what landlords should be doing before and during a tenancy agreement with 25% of tenants saying that their landlord did not provide them with a written rental agreement. Signed tenancy agreements are crucial for tenant's protection and are created to avoid misinterpretation. Tenants should be wary off landlords that do not provide written agreements. EasyRoommate compiled a simple to-use flatshare and house share tenancy agreement, downloadable here.
To further highlight the importance of a written tenancy agreement we met with Matthew Strain a solicitor from Strain Keville who explained the potential problems tenants and landlords could get themselves into from a legal stand point.
EasyRoommate: "What are the common legal problems landlords could face if they don't provide a written rental agreement?"
Matthew: "The main, and most obvious issue, will be proving the terms on which the tenant is staying in the flat. There are some key differences between one type of contract and another, where one contract can guarantee a tenant that they can stay in a flat, another will entitle the landlord to evict on notice. Just knowing, and not having to argue about it is both stress and cost saving. If a contract is not in place outlining a tenant's responsibilities, they might inadvertently overstep restrictions, which should be in place, such as not drilling in to walls and not repainting without permission.
"The landlord will also have strict obligations to the freeholder (if it is a flat), which should be passed on to any incoming tenant. Please note that for a short tenancy, under the Section 21 Notice, tenants should be given at least two month notice to leave the flat. Throughout my career, I have seen tenants treated unfairly including some that given six days to evacuate the flat"
EasyRoommate: "What are the common legal problems tenants could face if they are not provided with a written rental agreement?"
EasyRoommate: "Out of the 416 respondents, 25% said their landlord did not provide a written rental agreement. What would you advise them?"
Matthew: "The first thing they should do is raise the issue to their landlord or their agent. It is very important tenants know their rights and that landlords know their responsibilities. I would advise these tenants to set up a written rental agreement ASAP! It is better to be safe than sorry."
Matthew: "The same argument works the other way around. A tenant may not know how much notice they are entitled to, or what the landlord is required to do. It is more of a practical issue for a tenant so things like, does the landlord have to keep the dishwasher in working order, or provide curtains or two sets of keys? Obviously the deposit is key to a tenant, and knowing if it is protected or not and where it is held or how it will be released helps make the whole relationship much easier."
Another concerning finding was that 25% of tenants said that their landlord does not always provide urgent repairs on problems such as: plumbing leaks, central heating faults, electrical faults, roof leaks. Tenants and landlords should know that landlords have a legal repair obligation and once they have been told about a problem, it is their duty to start repairs and maintenance within a reasonable time.
For Landlords who do not uphold their responsibilities the time for change is now. The government is determined to crack down on rogue landlords and drive them out of business. Among the measures that have been introduced by the government such as protecting tenants against "retaliation eviction" serving under section 21, rogue landlords will be heavily fined for housing offences such as:
• Providing a local authority with false or misleading information following a statutory enquiry
• Permitting or causing overcrowding
• Illegally evicting or harassing a residential occupier
• Continuing to let to an illegal immigrant
• Any offence under the Housing Act 2004
From the 1st of October 2015, landlords will be required to fit a smoke alarm on every storey and a carbon monoxide alarm in every room with a solid fuel burning appliance. They will have to ensure that such alarms are in proper working order at the start of each new tenancy. Local authorities will enforce the Regulations and will be able to issue penalties of up to £5,000 for non-compliance.
Unknown to many landlords, for tenancies starting after 1st of October 2015 a valid Section 21 can only be given when the tenant has been provided with the following at the start of the tenancy:
• A copy of a valid EPC
• Gas Safety Certificate
• and the most recent version of How to rent: The checklist for renting in England.
If these documents are not provided, landlords will find it very complicated to evict a tenant should they ever need to.