Landlord disputes: What you need to know

While many tenants move in and out of properties with no problems, there are times when disputes between landlords and tenants arise. If you are unsure as to your rights as a tenant, here's what you need to know.

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Tenant rights
Under the Private Tenancies Order 2006, all private sector tenants have basic rights. Your landlord should provide a rent book stating their name, address and rent payable, as well as details of when the rent is due and any other payments you may be liable for. This should be provided within 28 days of the start of your tenancy.

You have the right to claim Housing Benefit, provided this is included in the tenancy agreement.

As a tenant you are protected from harassment and illegal eviction. This means your landlord cannot change the locks, cut off essential utilities, interfere with your personal possessions or threaten you, either verbally or physically. Should any of the above occur, you should seek professional advice immediately.

All tenants have a right to a minimum of 28 days written notice to vacate the property. Should the tenant refuse to move out at the end of the notice period, the landlord has the right to begin court proceedings to evict and recover possession of the property.

Problems and disputes
Disputes between landlord and tenancy typically arise from unpaid arrears, rent increases and over the repayment of deposits.

If you are behind with your rent, your landlord has the right to seek an eviction order but it is always worth contacting your landlord to see if an agreement over repayment can be made.

Rent increases are largely governed by the type of tenancy agreement you have. If you are on a fixed-term tenancy, your landlord cannot increase the rent until the end of the tenancy period. If you are on a periodic tenancy, it is difficult to dispute rent rises. The UK charity Shelter provides excellent advice online to help you understand which tenancy agreement you have and what your rights are accordingly.

The law states that landlords and letting agents issuing an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) must protect a tenant's deposit using a government-approved tenant deposit protection (TDP) scheme. If you believe this is not the case, you can apply to the county court, which may either order the landlord to repay the deposit or pay it into a custodial scheme's bank account within 14 days, along with between one and three times the amount of the deposit paid to the tenant.

Finding a resolution
In any dispute, it is always best to try first to find a resolution without going to court, as this is costly and time-consuming. A mediation service, where both sides can discuss the issue, may help you to resolve the matter.

If a dispute arises over repayment of a protected deposit, both landlord and tenant can ask the Deposit Protection Service to deal with the dispute, provided both agree to be bound by the adjudicator of the Alternative Dispute Resolution service. Similarly if you believe your rent is too high or your landlord has increased the monthly payment unfairly, you may be able to challenge via the Rent Assessment Committee, although once again, this depends on your particular type of tenancy agreement.

Ultimately if neither party can find a resolution, either landlord or tenant may decide to take legal action via the small claims court, which deals with cases worth less than £5,000, typically regarding repairs or unpaid rent.

The law sets out certain eviction procedures and if these are not followed correctly or the tenant is harassed it is illegal.

Should a tenant refuse to vacate the property at the end of the given notice period, the landlord must send a 'notice of intention to seek possession'. They can then apply to the court for a possession order. If granted the court will advise the date on which the tenant must leave or 'suspend' the order, allowing the tenant to stay on as long as they meet conditions set out by the court.

If the tenant refuses to leave despite a possession order, a landlord may apply for a warrant for eviction from the county court, whereby bailiffs can be employed to remove the tenant.

If you believe your landlord is attempting to evict you illegally, you should seek legal advice. The Community Legal Advice service, Citizens Advice Bureau or housing charity Shelter may be able to help.