The number of people renting in Britain has doubled since 2000 but unfortunately tenants are still not being given adequate rights and succumbing to ineffectual landlords.
Around 10 million people live in privately rented accommodation and the trend is set to continue as homeownership continues to be out of reach for 'generation rent'.
In 2007 the government brought in the deposit guarantee scheme, which ensures tenants' deposits are protected, but while this was a step forward the will of the government to give tenants protection from bad landlords has stalled.
Seb Klier, policy and campaigns manager of the National Private Tenants Organisation (NPTO), said there is still little tenants can do if they are unhappy with the property or the way they are being treated.
Rights around repairs
One common dispute is over the length of time it takes landlords to undertake repairs. While landlords are obliged to carry out emergency repairs – such as flooding and heating failures – as quickly as possible there is no specific timeframe set out.
"If you're in private rented accommodation then [the landlord] has an obligation to maintain the property at a decent level and to sort out disrepair, like the heating breaking down or the lights going out...as quickly as possible," said Klier.
Klier said that if a tenant is struggling with an obstinate landlord, the only external recourse would be to contact the local council's which has the ability to force a landlord to make repairs if they are endangering health and safety.
Many councils, however, would not consider a broken boiler a council matter.
Can I withhold rent?
If a landlord is dragging their feet when it comes to essential repairs in a property there is little a tenant can do except keep nagging.
Klier said withholding rent is illegal and if a tenant does so, even with good reason, then the landlord can evict them when they fall into eight weeks of rental arrears.
A tenant can, under specific procedures, use their rent money to pay someone else to do the repairs if they have informed the landlord of their problem but they are being unreasonably slow to respond. To do this without being evicted for rental arrears, the landlord must be told of the intention to employ someone and provided with quotes from three tradespeople. If they still do not respond then a tenant can carry out the work and send the landlord the receipt.
Tenants fed up with waiting for repairs to begin in an unliveable home who decide to book into a hotel could bill their landlord for the cost but Klier said the law is 'vague' on whether a landlord has to reimburse them.
"The law is vague on this. It could be possible [that your landlord would reimburse you] but I wouldn't guarantee it," he said.
In short, it depends on how charitable the landlord is.
Will a letting agent help?
The introduction of a compulsory redress scheme for all letting agents will mean that tenants will have more opportunity to make a complaint and be reimbursed.
However, lettings agents do not have responsibility for the condition of a property, which always lies with the landlord said Sophie Robinson of charity Shelter.
'This is the case even if tenants have day-to-day dealings only with the letting agents, who don't have the legal liability,' she said. 'Their only responsibility is to the landlord, which makes things very difficult for tenants, who do not have a line of communication to the person who should be dealing with their complaint.
'Unfortunately this is an example of a dysfunctional letting agent market in England that isn't working.'
This means that lettings agents can do as little or as much as they want to in terms of providing tenants with a good service, such as having an out-of-hours emergency contact number.
'We are in an unregulated sector and lettings agents do not have to provide a 24/7 number for tenants,' said Klier. 'That would be good practice but good practice means different things to different people.'
For legal advice on your rights as a tenant contact the Shelter housing advice hotline on 0808 800 4444 or visit the website: www.shelter.org.uk/advice.