Private Rented Housing

Renting from a private landlord is usually more flexible than other forms of housing. It can be possible to find and move into a place quickly and to rent a place for a short period of time.

Private rented accommodation covers a number of situations, the main types being:

  • Renting from a resident landlord, or lodging;
  • Living in a shared house;
  • Renting a self contained property.

The thing each has in common is that there is a contract between you and the landlord giving you both rights and responsibilities.

The rights you have to occupy the property are your 'security of tenure'.

The type of tenure you will have will affect a number of things including how your occupation can be brought to an end, how the rent can be increased, whether you can sublet and whether you can assign the tenancy to someone else.

The two main types of tenure in private renting are:

  • Tenancies, and
  • Licences.

Within these two types of tenure there are also a number of types of tenancy and licenses that determine your rights and responsibilities.

It is important that if you are unsure of what the rights and responsibilities you and the landlord have that you seek advice to avoid any misunderstanding or disputes.

Lodging
Lodgers are licensees who live with a resident landlord in the landlord's home.

If you share the living space with the landlord you can be evicted without the landlord having to go to Court. The landlord is still required to give you reasonable notice, which can be spoken or in writing. What is 'reasonable' depends on how long you have lived there and how often the rent is paid.

Although this form of tenure is not very secure it also is the most flexible, and could offer a good stop gap measure while you are looking for more secure accommodation. It is generally cheaper than renting self contained accommodation and there are less start up costs.

Before moving in it is important that you agree how you are charged for heating, lighting and any other services (i.e. are they included in your rent).

Assured Shorthold Tenancies
If you rent a self-contained property or rent a room in a house with other tenants rather than the landlord then it is likely that you will have an assured shorthold tenancy. Most new lettings entered into after February 28, 1997 will be automatically assured shorthold.

The assured shorthold tenancy is now the most common form of tenancy used in the private rented sector. It only provides you security of tenure for the duration of the agreed term which can not be less than 6 months, and after that the landlord may ask for the property back.

At the end of the fixed term the landlord can grant you another assured shorthold for a fixed term or a periodic tenancy may be agreed (i.e. it runs on a month to month basis) or, if he wants the property vacated he can give you at least two months written notice to leave.

The landlord can also serve notice if you breach any of the terms of the tenancy for example by not paying the rent or damaging the property.

If you do not leave when a notice expires the landlord most go to Court to evict you. Some grounds to evict you are mandatory which means that the Court must order you to leave. Others are discretionary and the Court will consider whether to give possession to the landlord or to allow you to stay. It is important that you seek advice on your rights if you are served with a notice.

Paying for Private Rented Accommodation
You should always be clear how much your rent is, what it includes, what bills you will be responsible for and how much you have to pay in advance for rent and a deposit at the beginning of your tenancy. If you have found somewhere to live through a letting agent they will also be making charges and you should be always check what these are.

When you pay a deposit the landlord must tell you how they will look after your deposit.

If you are on a low income or claiming benefits you can apply for help with your rent through Local Housing Allowance. You should apply to the Housing Benefit department at the Council in the area where the property is.

Advice on Local Housing Allowance Benefit in Surrey Heath can be found under the Benefits pages on this site including a calculator that will give you an indication of the help you can receive.

If you need help with advance rent or a deposit the Council may be able to assist you with these through its Rent Choice Scheme.

Rent Choice Scheme

What is the Rent Choice Scheme?
This is a scheme to help people secure private rented accommodation by providing a loan for the first month's rent in advance, or a deposit bond. In some cases the Council can consider applicants for both the advance rent loan and a deposit bond.

Is the scheme available to anyone?
No, to qualify you must meet certain criteria. These are:

  • be homeless or likely to become homeless.
  • have a "local connection" with Surrey Heath;
  • not be known to have previously caused damage to a property, left a property with avoidable rent arrears or mortgage arrears, etc.
  • be prepared to sign an undertaking to repay the rent advance or any paid out deposit money.

The Council also check whether the scheme is affordable for you. This will involve looking at your finances (e.g. wage details, housing benefit entitlement, etc.). The Council will not consider you if you are unable to afford the on-going rent and the repayment of the rent advance loan. In this case, however, a deposit bond may still be available.

How does the scheme work?

1. Rent in Advance
A months rent in advance will be made available to you if you are accepted for the scheme in the form of a direct payment into the Landlord or Letting Agents Bank Account. The loan will only be made once the Council has:

  • assessed that the rent and repayments are affordable (The Council will not consider that a property is suitable if it is not affordable);
  • seen a copy of the tenancy agreement and confirmed the details with the landlord or letting agent.

2. Deposit Bond
No money is paid out for a deposit. The deposit is 'guaranteed' by bond to the landlord. The amount guaranteed can not exceed the equivalent of a month's rent (e.g. if the rent is £600 a month, the deposit guaranteed can not be more than £600).

Landlords or letting agents can claim up to the full value of the deposit in the event of any damage caused to the property just as they would do if they held the deposit and also for any rent arrears that you leave. Any money paid out will be recovered from you. The deposit bond lasts for six months from the start of the tenancy, which gives you that time to save your own deposit.

The Council carries out comprehensive property inspections at both the beginning and end of tenancies to protect your interests as well as those of the landlord or agent.

Depending on your circumstances the Council may ask you to provide part of the deposit directly to the landlord, with the Council providing a guarantee for the rest of the deposit.

If you do not repay the loan or any money paid out then the Council will initiate proceedings to recover this money. Any debt will also prevent you from being housed into a housing association home from the Housing Register.

What happens if I am accepted onto the Scheme?
You will be given a letter with a provisional figure for the rent and deposit the Council can help you with. This can be shown to prospective landlords and letting agents. If a landlord or letting agent wants further information then a Housing Options Officer will be happy to discuss the scheme in more detail with them.

Ultimately it is up to you to find a suitable property with a landlord or letting agent willing to accept the terms of the Rent Choice Scheme.

What happens when I have found a property to rent?
Contact the Council and make an appointment to see the Housing Options Officer. You will need to provide details of the property including the landlord or agent's name and address, rent, start date of tenancy, bank account details etc. You will also need to provide wage slips/proof of income, details of benefits and a recent bank statement covering a full calendar month to enable us to confirm the amount of the loan we can assist you with.

Once all the details are confirmed, and the Council is satisfied that the property is suitable you will be asked to complete paperwork in respect of the loan or deposit. You will be asked to sign an agreement to repay to the Council any rent in advance loan and/or any deposit bond sum paid out as a result of damage to the property or rent arrears.

Before issuing a bond to the landlord or agent the Council will arrange a time to carry out a property inspection.

The rent advance will be paid into the bank account of the landlord/agent on receipt of a signed tenancy agreement.

Repairs
Many written tenancy agreements say which repairs that you must carry out and which ones the landlord must do. There are certain things that all landlords must keep in good repair whatever it is in the tenancy agreement or not. These are the structure and outside of the property; gas, water, electric and drainage installations, and heating and hot water systems.

Landlords must also maintain gas flues and appliances belonging to them and get then tested every year by a registered gas engineer. They must also give a copy of the safety certificate to the tenant.

You should report repairs to your landlord as soon as possible. It is also best to confirm this in writing to your landlord and keep a copy.

If your landlord does not fulfil his repair obligations you can seek advice from the Council's Environmental Health Team.

Harassment and Illegal Eviction
All tenants are entitled to live safely and peacefully in their homes and harassment by your landlord or a person instructed by your landlord is an offence.

Harassment can be in several different forms some of which are listed below:

  • Entering your home without prior notification.
  • Changing the locks.
  • Cutting off your utilities, such as gas, water and electricity.
  • Tampering with your mail or possessions.
  • Threatening you verbally or physically.

Keep a record of any instances where harassment has occurred, names of witnesses or anyone who may have become involved, doctors, police, etc. Also get advice from the Housing Needs Team at Surrey Heath Borough Council. We can help to try and stop the harassment and resolve disputes. If we are not successful for we have powers to prosecute landlords.

Landlords must follow the correct legal procedure to evict a tenant. In most cases this involves serving a notice requiring possession. If you have been illegally evicted you should seek advice from the Council. You have the right to apply for a court injunction to be allowed back into your home and your landlord can be liable for an unlimited fine and/or two years imprisonment.