13th November 2020

Living in

Having a safe, affordable and happy place to live is really important to your sense of wellbeing and it can have a massive impact on your University experience.

Most students will have a great time living with friends and have no major issues with their landlord or property. However, if the dream house turns out to be a nightmare or you have the housemates, neighbours or landlord from hell, you may need advice on what your rights are and what you can do to resolve the issue.

The following information covers the most common problems and issues that students may encounter when living in a rented property. If the information does not cover your issue, remember that housing advice is always available from your Student Advice Centre.

Chapters
  1. Repairs
  2. Rent
  3. Problems with neighbours
  4. Living in the community
  5. Harassment and illegal eviction
  6. Landlord issues

Repairs

This chapter is about repairs in private accommodation, for repairs in University and partnership accommodation please take a look at the University Accommodation section.

This is the starting point for dealing with many repair problems. It makes the landlord responsible for repairs to the structure and exterior of the building. It also makes the landlord responsible for maintaining things like the water and gas pipes; fixed electrical wiring; heating and hot water systems; and bathroom fittings such as baths and toilets.

Section 11 is mentioned in most housing contracts. If it is not mentioned in your contract, or you don’t have a written contract, you are still covered by it.

Your tenancy agreement may give your landlord additional responsibility for repairs. For example, there could be a term stating that the landlord is responsible for repairing faulty appliances such as a fridge or washing machine.

Although most housing contracts allow landlords to carry out routine inspections during which repair problems can be identified and discussed, under Section 11 you have to tell your landlord when a repair is needed, you cannot assume that they will just know or that previous tenants will have already reported the problem.

  • Your landlord should make sure that your home is safe and free from any hazards.
  • Your landlord must deal with damp and mould that is caused by disrepair or make the property unfit to live in.
  • Your landlord must carry out any repairs needed to stop pests getting into your home.
  • Your landlord must carry out gas safety checks every year, and provide you with a copy of the certificate.
  • Your landlord must make sure that wiring, plug sockets and any electrical appliances they provide are safe.
  • Your landlord must instal smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms where they are needed.

As a tenant you have certain responsibilities regarding repairs and conditions in your home.

You must use your home in a ‘tenant like manner’. This means; keeping your home reasonably clean, carrying out safety checks on electrical appliances you own, keeping gardens or outside areas in a reasonable state and minor maintenance such as replacing light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries.

You only need to maintain your home to a reasonable level. You don’t have to leave it in a better condition than when you moved in.

As a tenant you are also responsible for some repairs, such as; fixing appliances or furniture you own, damage caused by you, your family or guests and any minor repairs set out in your tenancy agreement. You might have to pay for a repair problem you caused, even where your landlord would normally be responsible. For example, your landlord could ask you to pay for repairs to blocked drains, pipes and toilets if you didn’t take reasonable care to keep them free from blockages.

Disputes between landlords and tenants, about condensation in rented properties, are common and something we see a lot of in the Student Advice Centre.

As a tenant you are responsible for taking care to minimise condensation in the property by keeping it adequately heated and ventilated. If condensation is allowed to build up it will cause mould inside the property and if the mould is extensive or causes damage to the property your landlord may charge you to repair the damage. Condensation is not the same as damp caused by structural issues with the property.

My Deposits have produced a guide to help tenants understand what causes damp and mould in properties: Understanding Damp and Mould there is also advice and information about how to prevent condensation in properties on the Sheffield City Council website.

You are not responsible for normal wear and tear in your home.

Most people who rent from private landlords have fixed term Assured Shorthold contracts. Someone with this type of contract cannot be forced to leave while the contract is still running unless he or she breaks the contract and the landlord gets a court order. Asking the landlord to carry out repairs does not count as breaking the contract.

Unfortunately, not everyone has this level of protection from eviction. Some contracts allow the landlord to get a court order without the tenant breaking the contract first, while people who live with resident landlords can often be evicted without a court order.

While worries about housing status should not prevent anyone from exercising their rights, it is an important consideration. If you are unsure about your status contact the Student Advice Centre. Alternatively you can use Shelter England's Tenancy Checker.

You can report a problem in person, by phone, text (including WhatsApp), email or in writing. If you do report a problem in person or by phone you should follow up by email or in writing so you have a record of what the repair problem is, when you reported it to your landlord and what your landlord said they would do about it. Shelter England has a template letter, which you can use to help you write to your landlord to ask for repairs.

Your landlord must carry out repairs within a reasonable period of time, but that begins once you have told them about the problem. If a repair problem gets worse because you did not report it, your landlord might say that you are responsible for the damage caused.

You may need to contact your landlord again if they don’t take action after you have reported a repair problem. Write or email them to remind them of their responsibilities and suggest dates and times the work could be done. Remember you need to give your landlord time to respond to you and it’s a good idea to be flexible about when repairs can be carried out.

If you usually deal with a letting agent and they haven’t responded to your report you could try contacting the landlord directly. Delays sometimes happen where a landlord will only allow the agent to do small repairs without getting their permission. Speaking to the landlord may help get the work done quicker.

If you cannot get your landlord to deal with the repair problems there are lots of places you can go for help:

Smart Move Sheffield: you can get help dealing with repair problems in University registered accommodation from the Smart Move Sheffield team, for more information take a look at the Smartmove Sheffield website.

Shelter England: the UK’s largest housing charity provides free expert advice on all housing issues. They have a national emergency helpline open 365 days a year, online chat facilities and local offices where you can get advice, information and support. Details about how to access their services are available on the Shelter England website.

Sheffield City Council Private Housing Standards team: the local authority has extensive, statutory powers to force landlords to deal with repair problems and can take legal action against landlords who fail to comply. Before you contact the team, they expect you to have reported the repair issues and allowed your landlord time to respond. They will likely ask for evidence of this. Information about what the team can do and how to contact them is available on the Sheffield City Council website.

The Student Advice Centre: the Advice Centre has experienced housing advisers who can provide you with additional advice and support. Information about how to contact the Student Advice Centre is at the top of this webpage.

Unless you have a fixed term tenancy which began before 20 March 2019, your landlord must make sure that your home is fit to live in throughout your tenancy.

A rented home is ‘unfit for habitation’ when conditions or safety issues are so bad that it is not reasonable for you to live there. This could be because the poor conditions affect your health seriously, put you at risk of physical harm or injury or mean you cannot make full use of your home.

Examples of things that could make a home unfit include; gas safety risks; unsafe electrics; fire safety issues; damp or lack of heating; rats, mice or other pests; structural or internal disrepair; unsanitary bathrooms, toilets or kitchens. Your home is only unfit if the problems in the property make it unsuitable to live there while in that condition.

The rule that a rented home is fit to live in applies to most tenancies no matter when they started. This includes if you rent from the council, a housing association or a private landlord or letting agency. If you have a fixed term private or housing association tenancy which began before 20 March 2019, you will only be covered if you either sign a new tenancy or stay on after the end of the fixed term ends.

If you live with a resident landlord you won’t be covered by the fitness rules.

If you believe your home is not fit to live in you should seek specialist advice (see above).

Many students contact the Student Advice Centre to ask if they can refuse to pay their rent (withhold rent) as a way to make their landlord take the repair problems seriously, or in protest at their failure to do so. We never advise or recommend that a student withholds rent from their landlord. Although this may seem like an attractive option, withholding rent means you are breaching your contract and you could be putting yourself at risk of being made to leave because of rent arrears.

Rent

Your housing contract will normally set out how much rent you have to pay, the date the rent is due and the payment method. It may also include details of any charges, such as interest on late payments. If you have a joint tenancy (i.e. all the tenants signed the same contract) you are normally jointly liable for the whole rent on the property. This means that if one joint tenant doesn’t pay their share of the rent, the other joint tenants could be asked to pay more to cover the shortfall.

Whether or not your landlord can increase the rent will depend on your contract, most student housing contracts in Sheffield are fixed term Assured Shorthold. These contracts last for a fixed term period, usually 12 months, and the rent is normally fixed for the length of the contract so it cannot usually be increased while the contract is running.

Three exceptions to this are where the contract contains a rent review clause, you agree to the increase or your landlord gives you a section 13 notice of a rent increase.

A rent review clause is a term in your contract which sets out how the rent can be increased. These clauses are very rare in the Sheffield student housing market. It will usually say when the rent can go up, how much notice you’ll get and how much it can go up by. A rent review clause won’t usually apply after a fixed term contract ends. It will apply if the contract says the tenancy will continue as a contractual periodic tenancy after the fixed term ends.

If your landlord asks you to agree to a new rent, they may tell you that the rent is going up without giving you formal, legal notice. For example they may call, text or email you. The rent will only go up in this situation if you agree to it. This includes if you start paying the higher rent even if you’re not happy about it.

A section 13 notice is a formal notice of a rent increase, which your landlord cannot use more than once a year. This notice will only apply if you have a periodic or month to month Assured or Assured Shorthold contract and there is no rent review clause (or the clause no longer applied).

There is excellent advice about how to challenge a section 13 notice available on the Shelter England website.

If you sign a new contract at the end of the fixed term your landlord can increase the rent. Your landlord doesn’t need to give you notice of the rent increase if they’re offering you a new contract. If you don’t agree to sign a new contract at the end of the fixed term your tenancy will continue as a periodic agreement and your rent will remain the same. However, your landlord might try to increase the rent by another method or take steps to end your tenancy.

It is sometimes possible to negotiate a rent refund, for example at the beginning of the contract the house is so bad you can’t move in, but in nearly every case there is no legal right to a refund unless this is set out in the contract. One exception to this is where a landlord is convicted of operating an unlicensed House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). In this situation, tenants can apply for a Rent Repayment Order and, if successful get a refund of up to 12 months rent. For further advice and information about unlicensed HMOs and Rent Repayment Orders contact Sheffield City Council Private Housing Standards team.

Not paying your rent on time and in full is a breach of contract so your landlord could ask you to leave the property. To do this legally they would need to serve notice and then, if you don’t move out, go to court to get an order for possession against you. If you have a joint tenancy the legal action would involve everyone in the group, not just you. In practice, very few landlords in Sheffield take possession action against students.

Other possibilities include; your guarantor being asked to pay, you and your housemates losing your deposits, the outstanding balance being referred to a debt collection agency and, in some cases, the landlord filing a money claim against you through small claims court.

If you’re struggling to pay your rent or other essential living costs, contact the Student Advice Centre for advice from one of our specialist student money advisers.

Problems with neighbours

Most students get on fine with their neighbours but sometimes problems do occur. These can include disputes over noise, car parking and refuse collection. What can you do?

Your neighbour might not be aware that they’re particularly noisy or causing a disturbance. Approaching your neighbour to politely explain how the disturbance affects you, and asking that they stop the disturbance, may resolve the problem.

If this approach doesn’t work, then make a note of the fact that you have approached your neighbour, the date and their response. Then put your complaint, politely, in writing, to your neighbour again asking that they stop the disturbance.

You should allow two weeks for your neighbour to consider your request and take action. Copies of any letters should be kept for future reference.

Most housing contracts state that tenants must not cause a nuisance or annoyance to neighbours. Many private landlords are willing to try to help by talking to tenants who cause problems for others but they are often reluctant to become involved in legal action, such as eviction proceedings.

Landlords such as the local authority and housing associations have their policies on how to tackle antisocial behaviour. If you are in University accommodation and are having problems with housemates or neighbours you can contact Accommodation and Commercial Services.

Your local authority has a duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Noise Protection Act 1996 to take action to deal with complaints about nuisance behaviour.

Noise caused by neighbours is the most common complaint but threats to your safety (by someone you do not live with) can also be covered. You cannot complain to local authorities about a housemate only neighbours and those who live nearby.

For students who live in Sheffield, you can get further information about how to report nuisance behaviour and what Sheffield City Council can do to resolve your complaint on their ‘Report a noise nuisance’ section of their website.

If you live outside of Sheffield you will be able to find information about how to make a nuisance report on your own local authority’s website. You can find out who your local authority is using ‘Find your local council’ on the gov.uk website.

Remember to keep a record and/or diary of the incidents, including dates/times and the nature of the nuisance. If you receive abusive emails, letters or texts keep them as evidence.

Living in the community

Remember that you live in a local community alongside families, professionals and older people, who will not always share the same lifestyle as you. This sometimes leads to problems and complaints to both the University and the local authority about the behaviour of students, especially late night noise nuisance.

It is important, wherever possible, to get on with your neighbours and understand the needs of the local community. You are still allowed to have fun but there are things you can do to promote good relations with your neighbours and steps you can take to really get the most out of living in the community.

Introduce yourself to your neighbours as soon as you move in, and be friendly. Neighbours can be a good source of information about the local area and they may even offer to keep an eye on your house while you are away.

You could also consider getting involved with a local residents association or volunteering on local projects. Sheffield Volunteering is a great place for more information about volunteering opportunities in your local community.

Remember that noise disturbance is an offence and in serious cases you can be prosecuted. The University can also take action under the University disciplinary procedures against students who are causing nuisance, anti-social behaviour or bringing the University into disrepute. The following tips will help;

  • Try to keep the noise down and try to make sure that you are not making noise which can be heard outside your property after 23:00 and before 08:00.
  • Tell your neighbours in advance if you’re having a party and discuss your plans with them. Try to minimise noise disturbance by keeping windows and doors shut during a party and not inviting too many guests.
  • If you do get a complaint about noise, apologise and turn down the music/stop the behaviour which led to the complaint. It will cause fewer problems and less bad feelings in the long run. You may also avoid getting an unwanted visit from the police or University security staff.
  • Move stereo equipment/speakers away from adjoining walls and lift them off the floor to reduce the transmission of noise. If you want to listen to loud music, wear earphones!
  • Noise from slamming doors, running up and down stairs and returning home later after a night out, perhaps after a drink or two, are common complaints. Be considerate.

Remember

Your neighbours may have had problems with students in the past and sometimes they will be quick to complain or appear unreasonable. They are probably assuming you will behave in the same way. Being considerate will go a long way to building a positive relationship with your neighbours.

If you are ever threatened or feel intimidated by a neighbour please seek advice from the Student Advice Centre. If you are at immediate risk of violence or are threatened with violence ring 999 immediately.

Harassment and illegal eviction

Being harassed by your landlord can be very distressing and their behaviour can make you feel unsafe and want to leave your home. There are options available to you.

Harassment can be any action your landlord takes to deliberately disrupt your life or make you leave your property. Landlord harassment is a criminal offence and can include: cutting off your gas, electricity or water supply; opening your post or removing your belongings; abusing you because of your gender, race or sexuality; being abusive or violent. It can also be harassment if your landlord enters your home without your permission or sends builders in without notice or at antisocial hours. Harassment can also be committed by someone else, for example a letting agent or the landlord’s friends and family.

It is an illegal eviction if your landlord physically throws you out, changes the locks while you’re out or forces you to leave your home because the harassment is so bad.

Protection from Eviction Act 1977

Most people who rent from private landlords are protected under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This Act creates three main offences;

Unlawfully depriving a residential occupier of access to all or part of their accommodation.

  • This offence can be committed by anyone, not just a landlord or agent.
  • Someone charged with this offence may have a defence if they can prove that they reasonably believed the occupier was no longer living in the property.

Acts likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of those living in the property.

  • This offence can be committed by anyone, not just a landlord or agent.
  • It must be shown that the landlord or agent knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, that their actions were likely to cause the occupier to give up or refrain from exercising their rights.

Persistent withdrawal of services that are reasonably required for the occupation of the premises.

  • This offence can only be committed by a landlord or agent.
  • It must be shown that the landlord or agent knew, or had reasonable cause to believe, that their actions were likely to cause the occupier to give up or refrain from exercising their rights.

Who has protection from eviction

A residential occupier has protection from eviction. A residential occupier is someone who has the legal right to occupy a property, this includes most tenants and licensees, including people without a written contract. A residential occupier cannot be evicted from a property without a court order, even if their accommodation contract has expired.

Some people can be legally evicted without a court order. This will apply if you live in the same property as, and share the living accommodation with, your landlord and members of your landlord’s family. Living accommodation means rooms such as the kitchen, living room and bathroom. A resident landlord in this situation does not have to apply for a court order but they can still be found to have committed an offence if they fail to give reasonable notice. Reasonable notice is usually the same as your rent payment period, for example if you pay rent monthly, your landlord should give you one month’s notice.

If you do not have a resident landlord you will usually have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement, if you’re unsure you can check using the Shelter England's Tenancy Checker.

You should write to your landlord, by email is fine, and ask them to stop harassing you, for example if they are accessing the property without giving you notice and disturbing or disrupting you. Keep a copy of your email and their response. If the harassment continues you can seek specialist advice and support.

Sheffield City Council Private Housing Standards team: the local authority has statutory powers, as the prosecuting authority, to enforce housing law within the private rented sector. If you believe you are being harassed or your landlord has or is attempting to illegally evict you, information about what the team can do and how to contact them is available on the Sheffield City Council website.

Shelter England: the UK’s largest housing charity provides free expert advice on all housing issues. They have a national emergency helpline open 365 days a year, online chat facilities and local offices where you can get advice, information and support. Shelter have specialist housing solicitors, if you need to apply for an injunction against your landlord to stop the harassment, and will check to see whether you’re entitled to legal aid. Details about how to access their services are available on the Shelter England website.

The Student Advice Centre: the Advice Centre has experienced housing advisers who can provide you with additional advice and support. Information about how to contact the Student Advice Centre is at the top of this webpage.

If you feel unsafe, believe you are at risk of violence or have been threatened with violence, whether by your landlord or someone else acting on their behalf, call 999 immediately.

Landlord issues

Sometimes students will experience difficulties with their landlord or letting agent and the way they are managing the property. A lot of these issues can be resolved with negotiation and effective communication between the tenant and the landlord.

It’s a good idea to keep records of any contact with your landlord and to follow up any verbal agreements with an email to confirm what was said. You should remain calm and polite when dealing with your landlord, even if they’re not, and give your landlord time to respond to requests.

Whilst some landlords are reasonable and fair, we know that some do not comply with housing law or manage their properties properly. The information in this chapter will help you to understand your rights and responsibilities as well as what your landlord should be doing.

If you have a private landlord, in almost all cases, they will need to get an order from the court before they can evict you from the property. Before your landlord can apply to the court for an order to evict you, they must serve the correct notice and wait for this notice to expire.

If you have an Assured Tenancy agreement the correct notice is under section 8 of The Housing Act 1988. This type of notice is called a ‘notice seeking possession’. The length of notice will either be two weeks or two months, depending on the grounds for possession.

If, as with most private rent agreements, you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement, the correct notice can be a notice seeking possession under section 8 or a notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, depending on the circumstances.

If you’re unsure what type of tenancy agreement you have, you can check using the Shelter England's Tenancy Checker.

If you have an Assured or Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement you do not have to leave the property if your landlord serves you with notice, even if the notice has expired. You only have to leave the property when a court issues an order telling you that you must leave.

The grounds for possession are set out in the Housing Act 1988 (as amended). There are two different types; mandatory grounds and discretionary grounds.

If your landlord goes to court on a mandatory ground and wins, the court must grant your landlord an order for possession. If the case against you is on a discretionary ground, the court will only grant an order for possession if it is reasonable for it to do so.

There are three separate grounds for possession connected to rent;

  • Ground 8 (mandatory) can be used if you pay rent monthly and owe at least two months rent.
  • Ground 10 (discretionary) can be used if you owe some rent but it is less than two months.
  • Ground 11 (discretionary) can be used if you have a history of persistently paying rent late.

Other grounds for possession cover things like damage to the property and other breaches of contract, such as subletting without consent when consent is required. Your landlord can seek possession on more than one ground at the same time and can use a combination of mandatory and discretionary grounds.

Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is a special way to end Assured Shorthold tenancy agreements. All a landlord has to do is to serve a valid notice to obtain a court order. There is no requirement to prove a ground for possession and there are slightly different rules for fixed term and periodic contracts.

A section 21 notice must be served on a specific form and within certain dates to be valid. There are also other requirements the landlord must have met for a section 21 notice to be valid. You can check to see whether the section 21 notice you have been served is valid on the Shelter England website.

If the section 21 notice is invalid you can challenge the eviction in court.

If you live in the same property as your landlord and share living accommodation, such as a living room, kitchen and/or bathroom, you will be an excluded occupier, sometimes known as a lodger. An excluded occupier can be evicted without a court order.

If you live in the same building as your landlord but don’t share living accommodation you will have basic protection. Occupiers with basic protection cannot be evicted without a court order. A building converted into flats will count as the same building. Purpose built blocks of flats do not.

If you have been served notice by your landlord that they intend to seek possession of the property you can get further information, advice and support from;

Shelter England: the UK’s largest housing charity provides free expert advice on all housing issues. They have a national emergency helpline open 365 days a year, online chat facilities and local offices where you can get advice, information and support.Details about how to access their services are available on the Shelter England website.

The Student Advice Centre: the Advice Centre has experienced housing advisers who can provide you with additional advice and support. Information about how to contact the Student Advice Centre is at the top of this webpage.

Sheffield City Council Private Housing Standards team: the local authority has statutory powers, as the prosecuting authority, to enforce housing law within the private rented sector. Information about what the team can do and how to contact them is available on the Sheffield City Council website.

There is nothing to stop your landlord from selling the property with tenants living in it. When this happens the person who buys the house takes over as the landlord and must stick to the existing contract. Apart from paying rent to a different person, everything else stays the same, including the length of your current contract and the amount of rent you pay.

If you have a resident landlord the rules about what happens when the landlord sells the property are much more complex. If you find yourself in this situation you should seek advice.

If your landlord has a mortgage on the property and they have fallen behind with the payments, the mortgage lender could take legal action to possess the property. If this happens, and the mortgage lender is granted possession by the court, you will have no right to stay. This is because most contracts are not binding on the landlord’s mortgage lender.

There are a few exceptions to this, which may mean your contract becomes binding on your landlord’s mortgage lender once they are granted possession of the property. These are;

  • Your contract started before your landlord took out the mortgage.
  • Your landlord has a buy-to-let mortgage.
  • The mortgage lender gave your landlord permission to give you a contract.
  • The mortgage lender recognises the contract, for example by asking you to pay rent to them.

If your contract is binding on the mortgage lender, they will become your landlord and can only make you leave by following the normal eviction rules.

If your contract is not binding on your landlord’s mortgage lender you could;

  • Ask the mortgage lender to take over as landlord. Some mortgage lenders are willing to do this, especially if you are an assured shorthold tenant with no intention of staying in the property long-term.
  • Ask the court to give you more time to find somewhere else to live. The court can postpone the eviction date by up to two months. Before you can apply for this you have to ask the mortgage lender first and have your request refused.
  • Claim compensation from your landlord.

If you find yourself in this position please seek advice.

The circumstances in which your landlord can enter the property will usually be set out in the contract.

Most Assured and Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements will say the landlord can enter the property to carry out inspections, repairs and viewings with prospective tenants. These types of visits will normally require the landlord to provide you with 24 hours notice and should take place at a reasonable time of day. Notice is not required when a landlord needs to enter the property in an emergency situation such as a suspected gas leak.

If you don’t have a written contract or your contract doesn’t mention this type of visit, please don’t worry, your landlord must still obey these rules.

If you live with your landlord, as a lodger for example, your contract might say your landlord can enter your room without notice. In some circumstances, where your landlord provides your meals or cleans your room, this can be lawful. In other circumstances, where you and your landlord live completely separate lives, this may not be lawful. Unfortunately, because living with a resident landlord means you can be evicted more easily, it can be difficult to balance your right to privacy and the need to stay in your home. You should seek advice if you want to discuss this further.