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Disagreements between tenants and landlords can be long and sometimes bitter. Yet most can be avoided with the right legal advice at the start.
Solicitors can deal with all areas of landlord and tenant law and are skilled in settling disputes. But prevention is better than cure. The key to a happy tenancy is to understand your rights and duties as a tenant and to make sure your tenancy agreement reflects them. This is why it's vital to visit a solicitor before you agree to your landlord's terms.
A tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord. This contract can be written or verbal. In England and Wales there is no law to say that landlords have to provide a written tenancy agreement, but it is always a good idea to ask for one - even if your landlord is a friend or family member. Otherwise, if you have a dispute with your landlord about the terms of your tenancy, it is your word against theirs as to what has been agreed.
There are several types of tenancy agreement. Of these, the two most common types are the 'assured shorthold' tenancy and 'assured' tenancy.
This is normally for six months. You have no right to stay at the end of the tenancy period agreed if your landlord has given you valid notice to leave.
This is often used by public-sector landlords. It gives you far greater rights to stay at the end of the tenancy period agreed. Ideally, you should contact your solicitor before you agree the terms of a tenancy with your landlord. This will give you the chance to check whether the terms are fair and legal before you commit to them.
If you don't already have a solicitor, you can find a list of solicitors in your area by visiting the Law Society's Find a solicitor website and searching under 'Houses, property and neighbours'. Or you can call 020 7320 5650.
If the tenancy agreement you are considering is relatively straightforward, you will probably only need one meeting with your solicitor to check the agreement through. Your solicitor will then send you a letter to summarise the advice they have given you.
If your landlord has given you a written agreement to sign, bring it with you. Your solicitor will go through it point by point to:
When does the tenancy start and finish? What notice does the landlord have to give you to end the tenancy? Under what circumstances can you be evicted? What do you have to do if you want to end the tenancy?
What restrictions has your landlord placed on you keeping pets, hanging out washing or playing loud music after hours? Are these restrictions reasonable? What happens if you ignore them?
When do you have to pay the rent? What might happen if you don't pay on time? Will you have to pay interest? How often and when can the landlord increase your rent? What help can you get with paying your rent if you are on a low income or receiving welfare benefits? What is local housing allowance? What is a registered fair rent?
How much do you pay and when do you get it back? Is there a list of fixtures and fittings which your landlord has left in the property?
Since 6 April 2012 all deposits taken by landlords and letting agents must be held in one of three government approved tenancy deposit schemes. These schemes make it easier to resolve disputes over deposits. They protect tenants by preventing landlords and letting agents from unfairly withholding a deposit.
The landlord or agent must give you details about how your deposit is protected within 30 days of receiving it.
Will the landlord provide any services, such as laundry, maintenance or meals? Are there separate service charges for these? What are the landlord's duties to carry out repairs? Can you withhold rent if the property is in disrepair?
What are the landlord's rights to enter your home? Are other people allowed to use the property? If so, which rooms can they use?
If any of your landlord's terms seem unreasonable or inconvenient, your solicitor can tell you how best to go about raising these concerns.
Sadly, most tenants don't take advice until matters have reached crisis point and they find themselves evicted or their rights abused. Although it is rarely as easy to solve a problem at this stage, your solicitor has the knowledge and experience to see the matter through.
Charges can vary between solicitors. They depend on:
Before you decide who to use, check with a few different local solicitors' firms to compare their charges. Remember that you may have to pay more for a more experienced solicitor.
If you have a low income or are claiming state benefits, you may be entitled to free legal help and advice to help you with rented housing problems. These may include disrepair in your home which poses a serious health and safety risk, or if you are being evicted from your home or threatened with homelessness. If you have to go to court this help may include paying some or all of your legal costs. Your solicitor will tell you whether you qualify for this help.
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While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.