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4 Renting and Letting

Download Renting and Letting (PDF File, 358kb)

1. Introduction

2. Private tenancies

3. Council tenancies

If you live in a self-contained council house or flat and are the person named on the tenancy agreement or rent book, you are probably what's called a 'secure' tenant. The main exceptions to this are as follows:

  • People who have an introductory tenancy, which some councils give new tenants for up to 18 months. Introductory tenants who do not stick to the terms of the tenancy agreement can be evicted very easily (see ´If the council wants you to leave´). After a year, if possession proceedings have not been started, introductory tenancies automatically become secure tenancies.
  • People housed because they were homeless (instead of being given a home through the waiting list). But if you were housed before 1 April 1997, the situation is not so clear, and you should get advice.
  • People living in council accommodation that is tied to their job because they work for the council.
  • Students living in designated student lets.
  • People who live in council hostels or temporary council accomodation. These people usually have a tenancy or licence with basic protection or an excluded tenancy.
  • People whose secure tenancy has been 'demoted'. This could happen if someone in your household behaves anti-socially, causes a nuisance or uses your home for illegal activities (such as drug dealing). Tenancies like this are normally demoted for at least a year and give you fewer rights than a secure tenancy, so it is easier for the council to evict you if it wants to. If there are no problems during a demoted tenancy, you should go back to being a secure tenant.
  • People who have lost their secure tenancy because of previous court proceedings, and have become 'tolerated trespassers'. If you are in this situation, the law is complicated, and you will need expert advice on your rights.

If you are not sure whether you are a secure tenant or not, you should get advice.

If you want to end the tenancy
If you want to leave your council house or flat, you can do so by giving notice, usually of four weeks. If you have a joint tenancy, and one tenant wants to leave, the legal situation can be complicated, and you should get advice.

If the council wants you to leave
In most cases the council must be able to prove there is a good reason to ask you to leave. Council tenants have fairly strong rights, but you should always get advice if you are threatened with eviction.

Usually the council must serve notice warning you that it plans to take possession proceedings against you, and teling you why. You will normally get at least four weeks' notice that the council is applying to court, unless the council wants you to leave because you have been a nuisance to your neighbours. In this case you will still get a written notice, but the council can start court proceedings straight away.

If the court awards an outright possession order, and you still do not leave, the council can ask the court to call in bailiffs to evict you.

Instead of outright possession, the court may grant one of two types of order:

  • An adjournment, which is when the hearing is put back to give you time to prepare your case. An 'adjournment on terms' is when the court delays the hearing for a fixed period or even indefinitely as long as you pay the rent and pay a regular amount towards the arrears.
  • A postponed (suspended) order, which is when you are allowed to stay in your home as long as you stick to certain conditions, such as paying off a certain amount of arrears each month or week or not causing a nuisance to neighbours.

For most of the grounds on which the council may ask for possession the court must decide whether it would be reasonable to make a possession order. Grounds can include if you:

  • have not paid your rent;
  • cause nuisance to neighbours;
  • damage the property; or
  • have too many people living at the property.

In certain cases, the court may grant possession if the council can prove its reason for wanting this, and show that it can find you somewhere else suitable to live. Some of these other reasons are complicated, and you should get advice.

The council may also be able to evict you if your husband or wife or partner has been forced to leave the home because of violence or threat of violence by you, and is unlikely to return.

Introductory and demoted council tenancies
If the council wants to evict you from an introductory tenancy or a demoted tenancy, it must tell you at least four weeks beforehand. It must write to you, giving its reasons and allowing you 14 days to ask for a review. If you don't ask for a review, or the review is unsuccessful, the court will automatically grant a possession order. It is very important to get advice and ask for a review as soon as you are threatened with eviction. You can sometimes challenge the council's decision to pursue a possession order against you.

Rent increases
If the council wants to increase your rent, it will usually give you notice in writing. If you pay rent weekly, you should be given at least four weeks' notice. It is very difficult to challenge council rent increases in the courts.

Responsibility for repairs
You should tell the council about things that need repair as soon as possible. It is best to do this in writing and keep copies of letters. Some councils have their own guidelines on how long it should take to do a repair, depending on how urgent it is.

If minor repairs are not done within a reasonable time, you should be able to claim compensation of up to £50. For bigger problems, you have many of the same legal options as private tenants (see 'Responsibility for repairs'). The main difference compared with private tenants is that you can't get the council to take action against itself, as the landlord, to get repairs done.

If the poor state of your home is affecting your health, or your home is unfit to live in and the council won't fix it, you could take a complaint to the magistrates' court under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Housing Act 1985. But you will need expert advice before doing this.

You could also try putting pressure on the council through a tenants' association or your local councillor. Tenants' associations may have the right to take over the job of looking after their homes from the council under the 'right to manage' scheme. You can get information about this from:

  • the Department for Communities and Local Government (in England); or
  • the Welsh Assembly Government (in Wales).

See 'Further help' for details.

As a council tenant, you may be able to get compensation from the council for certain improvements you have made to your home.

You will have fewer rights to repairs if you are in temporary council accommodation or the property is due for renovation or demolition.

Buying your rented home
If you have a secure tenancy, you will generally have the right to buy:

  • the freehold, if you live in a house; or
  • a 125-year lease, if you live in a flat.

To claim this right you must have lived in a public-sector home (for example, a council or housing association home) for a certain period:

  • If your first public-sector tenancy started before 18 January 2005, you must have lived there for at least two years.
  • If your first public-sector tenancy started on this date or later, you must have lived there for five years.

You do not have the right to buy if:

  • you have a demoted tenancy; or
  • the council is taking court action against you for anti-social behaviour; or
  • you live in sheltered accommodation; or
  • you live in accommodation that is provided as part of your job, and you must live there to do the job.

The cost of buying your home will be the market value, but with a discount based on the area you live in and how long you have lived in public-sector housing. The local council will say what it thinks is the market value. If you disagree with this, you can appeal to the District Valuer. If you sell your home within a particular period, you will have to repay some or all of the discount:

  • If your first public-sector tenancy started before 18 January 2005, you will have to repay some or all of the discount if you sell your home within three years.
  • If your first public-sector tenancy started on this date or later, you will have to repay some or all of the discount if you sell your home within five years

But even within this period, you can pass on your home or leave it to certain family members without anyone having to repay any money.

Any period in which your tenancy has been demoted will not count towards the time you need to have rented to have the right to buy your home, or get a discount on the price.

In some rural areas, there are special rules on who you can sell property to.

You can get more details of right-to-buy schemes from your council.

Complaining about your council
If you have a complaint you should first take it up with the council, using its complaints procedure. If you are unhappy with its response, contact:

  • the Local Government Ombudsman if your complaint is about an English council; or
  • the Public Services Ombudsman if the complaint is about a Welsh council. See 'Further help' for more details.

4. Housing association tenancies

5. Other issues

6. Problems with neighbours

7. Further Help

8. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Shelter.

The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet version: October 2006

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