Page last updated at 05:39 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 06:39 UK

Problem with your landlord: your questions answered

Comedy landlord Alexi Sayle in The Young Ones
Dealing with a difficult landlord is no joke

More than three million people now rent their homes privately in England alone and problems are common.

Last week a poll suggested that a third of tenants are renting properties that have out-of-date gas safety certificates.

Complaints about letting agents now make up nearly half the problems dealt with by the Property Ombudsman.

This week Ruth Bamford of Citizens Advice answers questions from tenants in England about how to deal with problems with landlords or letting agents.

In two week's time we will publish her answers to questions from landlords who have been having problems with their tenants.

Q1. Does the landlord have the right to insist that the premises be kept spotless during the tenancy, so that they can show prospective buyers around? Surely the premises only need to be returned in the same condition as they were taken at the end of the tenancy? Christopher, Bury, Suffolk.

Martin Clunes as George White in Fungus the Bogeyman
How clean do you have to keep the flat?

You are not required to keep the premises spotless unless you had agreed to do so when you entered into the tenancy agreement. You are required to maintain the normal standards of tidiness and cleanliness for premises of the type you are renting.

For example, if you are renting a house with a large number of students it would be reasonable for the house to be untidier than if you were renting a luxury home with only yourself living in it. You do not have to return the premises in better condition that they were at the start of the tenancy.

Q2. Earlier this year the combination boiler in our rented house stopped working, so we had no hot water or central heating. The only heating in the house was the electric fire in the front room. We rang our landlord and he said it had happened before and said we needed to top up the water pressure in the boil via small tap on the boiler. We could not find this tap anywhere and called him back. He then said he was not prepared to pay a plumber to come out for such a small task and said he would come over the following day. Five days later he turned up saying he had got something in his eye and had to go to hospital and could not drive. Meanwhile we had had no heating and no hot water for almost a week during one of the coldest parts of the year. Can I refuse to pay rent for those five days or reduce my rent, or even end my contract early?Greg, Reading.

It is the landlord's responsibility to ensure that the boiler is working correctly for the provision of hot water and heating - under the statute of section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985. The landlord is expected to attend to the problem within a reasonable amount of time, once he is notified of the problem.

In this case, it appears that the boiler cut out due to a drop in water pressure. The landlord should have attended to the problem by showing you how to bring the water pressure up to the required level, and then you would have then known how to rectify the problem in the future.

If the boiler keeps cutting out, there may be a fault and that will require the landlord to repair the problem under section 11. If the landlord does not attend to the repair for which he is liable under section 11, then the tenant's best option is to contact the local authority housing standards team or the environmental health team. They can inspect the property and contact the landlord about the repair.

The landlord has now resolved this problem but you were without water and heating for five days. You could try and negotiate with the landlord about paying a lower rent for that period but I would not advise you to stop paying rent for that period as it would lead to rent arrears.

If you are in a fixed term of the tenancy, and you leave early without the agreement of the landlord, you could be pursued, though court action, for any rent outstanding up until the end of the fixed term.

Q3. Is there any minimum standards relevant to private rented houses? My house has no central heating, only two double glazed windows, no more than two inches of loft insulation and an uninsulated hot water tank. To keep any warmth in the house I had to leave two gas convector fires and an open gas fire running 24/7. At the coldest point of our winter that was not enough. Can I demand better insulation, double glazing etc?Martin Sharp, Ellesmere Port.

There are no defined minimum standard requirements, such as there must be central heating or double glazed windows, but there is a housing health and safety rating system under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004.

There is an element of "buyer beware" for the tenant who chooses to take on a tenancy at such accommodation.

Under these regulations, houses can be defined as being a health hazard if there is excessive cold.

You could get the local authority housing standards team or the environmental health team to come and inspect the property when it is excessively cold. They can serve notices on the landlord to rectify the problem.

If the gas convectors and gas fire make the house warmer but are expensive to run, it might be the case that you consider moving to accommodation with better heating. If the heating is expensive but not classified as inadequate and not producing a health hazard, then there is an element of "buyer beware" for the tenant who chooses to take on a tenancy at such accommodation.

Q4. My flat has mould and mildew all through the bathroom! The floor is carpeted in the bathroom, and this bit of daftness was done to cover the fact that there is a broken floorboard in there. It has also soaked up all the moisture and grown quite nasty. It was that way when I moved in, but I was assured it would be tended to. That was two months ago. Environmental health came out a few weeks ago, and I still have seen no improvements. The mould is making me sick! Katie, Richmond, North Yorkshire.

It is likely this mould is caused by condensation. In many cases landlords are not responsible for condensation, however your landlord promised at the beginning of your tenancy to sort out the mould and so it is likely this is a term of the tenancy which your landlord is bound by.

There is no easy solution to getting a reluctant landlord to take action. Sometimes tenants withhold rent to try to force a landlord to take action but it is always risky to do this as you will then have rent arrears.

It is worth persisting with the council's environmental health department as they have statutory responsibilities to investigate matters of this nature, and to require landlords to take action where necessary. If you feel that environmental health are not dealing with this matter properly you can make a formal complaint to the council.

You could also write to the landlord and tell him that if he does not resolve the problem within, say 14 days, you will arrange for someone to sort out the bathroom and you will bill him for the costs. Your letter will need to be very specific about the works you propose to do and the costs you intend to incur.

This is not an ideal solution as you may not get the money back, but it will mean the bathroom is sorted. You then have the choice of pursuing the landlord through the courts to try to get your money back.

If you do not want to risk spending money you may not get back, or simply do not have the money, you are entitled to take reasonable steps to resolve the matter yourself. You can remove the mouldy carpet from the bathroom. Condensation mould can usually be washed off with a mould remover. Ensuring good ventilation to the bathroom will reduce the risk of mould recurring.

You might feel these are steps you should not have to take, but sometimes this is the most realistic solution to get a quick resolution in condensation damp cases. You would still be entitled to bill the landlord for your time and any costs in doing this work, subject to the same difficulties with getting reimbursed, as mentioned above.

Q5. Is it legal for landlords and estate agents to put the stipulation of "no DSS" into their advertisements for properties to let? I am currently in receipt of incapacity benefit and so also receive housing benefit. In the past, when I have tried to find a place to rent, I have found that at least none out of 10 landlords would not even consider me as a tenant because I was in receipt of benefits. This is blatant discrimination which you can see in the newspaper advertisements on a daily basis. Christopher, Bristol.

Unfortunately, at present, there are no statutes or regulations that prevent a landlord from putting a stipulation of "no benefit claimants" on an advert.

Ruth Bamford
New laws help tenants in repossessed properties, says Ruth Bamford

There are clear statutes that prevent race, sex or disability discrimination - the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

However, there is no Benefits Discrimination Act in statute law at present. If it can be shown that the private landlord is directly or indirectly discriminating against persons on the ground of race, sex or disability, then action can be taken under the appropriate act.

Q6. I currently have digital Freeview but it constantly cuts out which makes many channels unwatchable. Who is responsible for erecting a digital aerial? Alan, Wolverhampton.

Your landlord will not be responsible for putting up the aerial unless there was something specific in your tenancy agreement about your landlord agreeing to ensure you had good reception. This is unlikely.

Q7. Can you make alterations such as putting up shelves on a wall in rented accommodation? Claire Richards, Cardiff.

To do so would cause damage to the walls so you do not have the right to do this, however a landlord may agree to you doing so, so it is worth asking. You should ensure you get any permission in writing.

A landlord may also agree to small alterations on the condition that the tenant puts the property to right at the end of the tenancy, for example filling in screw holes and repainting where necessary.

Q8. Our agent has failed to provide signed copies of the assured shorthold tenancy agreement and also evidence that our deposit is in a government backed deposit protection scheme. We therefore have little evidence except our bank statements to suggest we are paying tenants. We have been in the property for 18 months. What are our rights and what should we do?Richard, Camberley, Surrey.

There is no public body required to carry out checks on whether or not a landlord is complying with the law on tenancy deposit protection.

If the landlord fails to provide the statement within 28 days and does not have a reasonable excuse, she or he can be prosecuted and fined

When the deposit money is paid into a scheme the landlord should receive a certificate which they should pass onto you - only one of the three schemes send out written confirmation directly to the tenant.

Although the Housing Act 2004 and scheme rules state that it is the landlord's responsibility to provide this information within 14 days, should you not have received anything then you should contact all three schemes to establish if the monies have been protected.

If not proceed with a claim in the county court against the landlord for statutory compensation.

Assured shorthold tenants whose tenancies were created on or after 28th February 1997 have a right to a statement from the landlord of the main terms of the tenancy. To obtain the statement, you must ask the landlord in writing to provide a written statement of the terms of the tenancy. The landlord must, within 28 days of getting your request, provide a written statement of the basic terms of the tenancy.

If the landlord fails to provide the statement within 28 days and does not have a reasonable excuse, she or he can be prosecuted and fined. The local authority tenancy relations officer is responsible for pursuing a prosecution.

Q9. Is there any interest accumulated on the deposit provided by the tenant and is the tenant entitled to the interest? I understand that fair wear and tear is allowed but most of the time the property agents deduct money from the deposit pointing to wear and tear. How can wear and tear be agreed upon and what are the tenants' rights regarding details of any deduction made? Sanjay Kumar, Poole.

The Housing Act 2004 provisions do not entitle tenants to interest accumulated on monies paid as tenancy deposits, so you will not receive interest on a deposit paid in relation to a tenancy.

Over a period of time, most household furniture and contents deteriorate as a result of normal use, this is known as wear and tear, and you, as the tenant, would not be responsible for replacing such affected items. As a general rule, wear and tear takes place over a long period of time through normal usage, whereas damage is the consequence of specific accidental or unreasonable actions.

It is reasonable for the landlord to take money off the deposit to cover damage to the property, furniture, or missing items that were listed on the inventory or any outstanding rent that you may owe. However, the landlord should not deduct money from the deposit to cover damage that could be regarded as fair wear and tear.

Q10. We have been renting for two years, and during that period we have had loads of issues with maintenance of property. The oven has stopped working, a truck has reversed and knocked over our front wall, the house has been plagued with damp patches. Every time we have brought up these issues with our agents they have said it will be sent forward to our landlord but nothing is ever done, and the estate agents are claiming there is nothing they can do. We are now leaving the house at the end of the month but we are terrified we will not get our deposit back even though none of these issues are our fault. Rachel Nicholls, Southampton.

It is important that you, as the tenant, and the landlord or their representative agree what the contents and condition of the property are at the start of the tenancy.

To Let sign
Letting homes has become more common since sales slumped

This should preferably be in the form of a written inventory, signed by both, and should include a list of the furniture and fittings.

If the landlord provides an inventory, you should check this carefully before signing it, as you may otherwise be held responsible for any discrepancies or damage and could lose part or all of your deposit when the tenancy ends.

If the landlord does not provide an inventory, you should compile one yourself and ask the landlord to sign it, or have it signed by an independent witness. It may also be helpful to take photographs of the property, furniture and fittings.

At the end of the tenancy, the landlord is likely to inspect the property before deciding how much of the deposit should be repaid to you and how much the landlord is entitled to.

If there is a dispute about how much of the deposit you believe should be repaid, the tenancy deposit scheme (not the landlord) will hold the disputed amount until the dispute is resolved. You can then use an alternative dispute resolution service, which is provided by the tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Q11. We moved out of a privately rented house in March 2010. We spent three days cleaning the house from top to bottom and left the house in a cleaner state than when we moved in. Two days later the letting agents arranged for an independent check-out report to be completed. They wrote to us a few days after, saying the house had had a cursory clean and that they now had to arrange for a professional cleaner to be brought in, quoting £250 plus VAT. We received the report on Saturday 3 April 2010 which was also the day that the new tenants moved into the property. We wrote back disputing the need for the professional cleaner and pointing out that if the house was a dirty as claimed, why were the new tenants allowed to move in before the professional cleaning had taken place? We believe that this is just a method to deduct £250 plus VAT from our deposit and we do not believe such a professional clean will take place. Where do we stand regarding this issue?Mrs J Arnold, Wallington, Surrey.

Again, provided that your deposit was protected, at the end of the tenancy should there be a dispute with your landlord or representative regarding deductions made from your deposit paid, all three schemes offer an alternative dispute resolution service to resolve deposit dispute. Each scheme has it's own criteria to follow, so you would need to contact the scheme concerned for further information.

Q12. My two housemates and I moved into a property in north London last August. We paid our deposits to the letting agency that originally advertised the flat and they, in turn, forwarded the money to the landlord. Soon after the landlord declared himself bankrupt and the property went into receivership. The letting agency and landlord have thus far failed to tell me where our deposit money went. The landlord is ignoring all correspondence and the letting agents say that they are not responsible for the funds. Are the letting agents in anyway liable for the money that they handled - as they did not transfer it into a deposit safety scheme but instead into the landlord's personal bank account - and what action can I now take to retrieve our money? Charlie Dwyer, London.

You should contact all three schemes to establish if your deposit has, in fact, been placed in a scheme. However, if your money has not been placed in a scheme then you may be in difficulty.

The law does not expressly say whether an agent is entitled to simply pass the deposit to the landlord for the landlord to protect

You have the option of taking out a county court claim to ask for the return of your deposit and to claim for the statutory compensation of three times the deposit if your deposit was not placed in a scheme. However, there is little point in taking court action against someone who is bankrupt as you may have little chance of getting your money even if you win your case.

This means that for you to have any good prospect of getting your deposit back you will have to show that the agent is liable, and for this you will have to show that the agent was required to place the money directly in a scheme and not pass it on to the landlord to do so.

The law does not expressly say whether an agent is entitled to simply pass the deposit to the landlord for the landlord to protect. There have been few binding court cases on tenancy deposit and so the law in this area remains largely uncertain.

If you were to take court action against the agent you may win your case if you were able to show that the law, or possibly the contract between the landlord and the agent, required the agent to place the money directly in a scheme. However, there is a risk that you could lose due to the uncertainty of the law at present.

Should you take action for damages against the agent and you lose then you could be ordered to pay the agent's legal costs.

Q13. I am about to renew a tenancy agreement and would prefer to have a one month notice period to leave the property which I am entitled to give in law. However all agreements ask tenants to give two months, which the landlord would need to give me should he ask me to leave. The new agreement is requesting I give the same two month notice period. How can I get my legal rights in this instance? Paula Feery, Milton Keynes.

Once a fixed period of the tenancy has ended, the tenant has a choice of either accepting a new written fixed period agreement or to just continue in the tenancy as a statutory periodic tenant.

A statutory periodic tenancy continues on the same terms as defined within the fixed term agreement with the exception of the notice period for the tenant, which reverts to the statutory requirement of at least 28 days in writing, expiring on the first or last day of a period of the tenancy.

However, the notice period on a fixed term tenancy agreement is whatever is agreed by the landlord and the tenant. If you agree with two months' notice requirement, you will be legally bound by it if you sign the agreement.

You could try and negotiate a one month notice period but if the landlord does not agree to that, you have the choice of either entering into the new agreement on its terms, or remaining as a statutory periodic tenant but without the security of a fixed term.

Q14. I have been a tenant at my flat for eight months now. Two weeks after moving into the property, the outside of the double glazing was broken. I contacted my agency with a police reference. I reported this every month and have had the same answers, that the agency cannot get in touch with the landlord. She has not returned phone calls, emails, or messages left in any other manner. I then reported a leak two months ago which has so far cost me £300, which still has not been fixed. I have recently handed the 28 day notice in and I have been told that if the landlord does not agree I have to stay, and if she does I may still have to pay the rent up until the end of the lease period in three months' time. I have already waited eight months for these problems to be fixed - surely this is a breach of contract on her part?Gemma, Pontefract.

The landlord's statutory obligations to repair are contained within section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985.

This Birmingham city centre slum was saved for the nation by the National Trust
Old fashioned slums are now of historical interest

Under this section, there is an implied covenant by the landlord to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling house (including the windows) and to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling house for the supply of water, gas, electric and sanitation.

If the landlord, or the letting agent acting on the landlord's behalf, has not arranged to repair for eight months, then they have failed in their obligations to repair under section 11.

It is not surprising that a tenant would tire of this landlord's failure to act and want to end the tenancy early. Contractually a tenant is liable for rent until the end of the fixed period and it would be a breach of the agreement to leave early.

However, the landlord may have difficulties getting a court order for rent outstanding when they have not repaired broken windows and leaks when statutorily required to do so. That would be the basis of your counter claim if the landlord brought a court action against you for rent outstanding after leaving the fixed term early.

Q15. We have an assured shorthold tenancy in joint names. The fixed term was six months and we have stayed in since, continuing to pay rent every month as per the original agreement. The original tenancy agreement states that we have to give two months' notice if we wish to leave, but we believe that only one month is necessary by law. Please could you clarify this as opinion seems confusing when searching on the internet.John Duffell, Winchester.

As the tenancy is now a statutory periodic assured shorthold tenancy, following the expiry of the fixed term, the tenancy continues on the same terms as defined within the fixed term agreement.

The exception is the notice period for the tenant which reverts to the statutory requirement of at least 28 days in writing, expiring on the first or last day of a period of the tenancy.

That is the notice that you are now required to give in order to end the tenancy. The landlord cannot legally hold you to the two months notice period now the fixed term has ended.

Q16. We are currently renting. Our contract was for one year, but then we agreed with the landlord that we would continue on the current basis until the end of the year. However, no new contract has been signed, although the agreement was made by email. Is there anything in law protecting our rights, or should we get another contract signed? Paul, Glasgow.

If you have exclusive possession of the accommodation, with a set rent and rental period, then you will have a short assured tenancy under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988. In England and Wales, this is called an assured shorthold tenancy and the principle is the same.

Agreements made by email can leave room for doubt

You had a fixed term tenancy under the previous agreement of one year but when that fixed term ended, your tenancy still continued as a periodic tenancy under the protection of the 1988 Act. There is no legal requirement to sign another agreement. You can continue as a periodic tenant until either the landlord or yourself ends the tenancy by notice.

If you sign a new written fixed term agreement, then you will have the security of another guaranteed period of time - for example another year - but you will also be legally binding yourself to that fixed term period. If you wish to stay for another fixed term, and you are happy with the terms and conditions within that agreement, then you can sign it.

An agreement for a new fixed term has to involve a clear offer and acceptance by the parties, and written tenancy agreements that are signed clarify that.

Agreements made by email can leave room for doubt as to whether the agreement has actually been entered into, so you should ask for the fixed term agreement to be in the form of a written tenancy agreement.

Q17. We have recently moved into a small house. Despite repeated assurances from the agent before and during our move in, it does not, in fact, have the two allocated parking spaces we need. Also, the boiler has broken down more than three times. We cannot run a bath as the system does not pump hot water to these taps consistently. We want to look for another place to live but have been warned by our agent that we would be in breach of contract as the rental period is initially six months. We have been there for three to four weeks. I believe that the issue with parking was part of a verbal agreement and believe that this has a direct impact on us, my car insurance and the safety of our vehicle.Suzie Hart.

It is likely that the promise made about the parking places does form part of the contract and so the landlord is in breach of the contract by not providing them. One remedy for this is financial, for example a reduction in the rent.

Only in some circumstances would the matter be sufficiently serious so as to bring the tenancy to an early end, which is what you want so as to be able to move out early and not owe the rent for the remainder of the six months.

You do appear to be entitled to some reduction in the rent in respect of the breach of contract, but it is not possible to say with certainty that you have the right to end this tenancy early. If you do move out now you will run the risk of being found to owe the remaining rent if the landlord took the matter to court.

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 makes it clear that the landlord is liable to fix the boiler and the heating systems. Failure to do so is a breach of contract. This breach is probably not sufficiently serious to bring the tenancy to an early end, but you are entitled to have the boiler fixed and to compensation.

It is worth checking with the council's environmental health department to see if they are able to assist with the boiler, but it may not be within their remit.

If environmental health are not able to assist you could write to the agent and the landlord and remind them of their statutory duty under Section 11 and your right to compensation and ask that the boiler is fixed without further delay.

Unfortunately, if the repair to the boiler is not carried out voluntarily your only remaining options are for you to take action yourself, such as applying to the court for an order that the landlord carries out the repair or paying for the repair yourself (with sufficient written prior warning and explanation to the landlord or agent) and seeking reimbursement from the landlord with the risk you do not get your money back.

Q18. A suspended repossession order was issued a month after we moved in. Our tenancy is for a year, with a six month break clause. Can we terminate the tenancy before six months, as we feel insecure about our tenancy with a suspended repossession order? In case the repossession does take place, can we claim any expenses incurred in the move from the landlord?Shilpa Shekar, Slough.

In your case, the suspended repossession order is a possession order granted by the court to the lender, which has been suspended and will not be enforced provided that your landlord maintains the regular payments to the lender as per the court order. Should the landlord fail to adhere to the order then the lender can request enforcement by way of a warrant of eviction from the county court bailiffs.

As your tenancy was created after registration of the mortgage on the title deeds of the property recorded at the Land Registry, unfortunately you have no over-riding interest above that of the lender.

So you would have no right to apply to court for the eviction to be postponed even for a short period to allow you a bit longer to secure alternate accommodation. If your landlord was to default on the court order and you had to secure alternative accommodation for which you incurred removal expenses within your fixed term period then you could make a claim against your landlord for damages for breach of contract.

Unfortunately, although you have very limited security of tenure because of the order, this may not be seen to be sufficient to demonstrate a breach of this tenancy agreement on the landlord's behalf severe enough to warrant termination of the tenancy.

So provided that the landlord adheres to the terms of the order your security remains as that of an assured shorthold tenant.

It is in your best interest to contact the lender to inform them of your occupation in the property as tenants; and to request that they inform you of any request to the county court bailiffs for enforcement of the possession order in order to provide you with sufficient time to secure alternative accommodation and to vacate this property.

The Mortgage Repossessions (Protection of Tenants) Act 2010 received Royal Assent on 8th April 2010 and we are awaiting implementation date of this act which will assist many tenants in a similar position to you.

Where a mortgagor (other than one under a buy-to-let mortgage) has granted a tenancy of the property and fallen into arrears on his mortgage, the court will then have power to postpone any possession order obtained by the mortgage company for up to two months, so as to allow the tenant to make alternative housing arrangements.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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