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Tenants' and owners' obligations

This information only applies in England and Wales.

Rented residential property is a highly regulated sector. There are numerous obligations and rights in place to protect both tenants and owners. Read this guide to learn more about how to rent or rent out a property safely and legally.

Last updated 14 November 2022.

For the avoidance of doubt, references to ‘tenants’ also apply to ‘contract holders’ unless otherwise specified.

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A tenancy agreement (or occupation contract in Wales) contains many of the things that a tenant (or contract holder in Wales) can and cannot do at the property. Although a tenant and landlord may negotiate some of the terms of their tenancy agreement or occupation contract, some rights and obligations will always or usually be included. These include certain general tenant responsibilities, such as: 

  • paying the rent

  • paying all utility bills and sometimes council tax and water rates

  • keeping the interior in good repair

  • not subletting the property without permission

  • allowing the landlord to carry out periodic checks to inspect the property

  • fixing any breakages

  • not damaging the property

  • ensuring that any guests are well behaved and do not, for example, damage the property

The landlord is generally responsible for maintaining the structure and exterior of the property, whilst the tenant must usually keep the property clean.

On a practical point, at the start of a letting, make sure the tenant understands what repairs (if any) they are required to carry out under the agreement, and what decoration they’re permitted to carry out, to avoid any confusion.

For more information on tenants’ rights, read Tenants’ rights.

A landlord’s specific obligations will also depend on what’s specified in the tenancy agreement or occupation contract. Some of the main obligations that are always or usually included are the landlord’s obligations to:

  • facilitate quiet enjoyment - ie allowing the tenant to have the complete benefit of the property without the landlord adversely affecting that enjoyment by, for example, coming regularly to the property without a valid reason 

  • hold insurance for the property

  • repair - a landlord must keep the structure and exterior (including gutters, drains, and pipes) maintained and repaired

Landlords also have responsibilities under the law for gas safety, furniture safety, fire safety, environmental health, and more.

Tenants are entitled to a safe and secure home and landlords must endeavour to do everything possible to ensure their property is safe.

Landlords in England and Wales must also ensure that residential property they let is fit for human habitation when the tenancy is granted and for the duration of the tenancy. For more information, read Fitness for human habitation.

For more information, read Legal obligations of a landlord.

Alongside their legal obligations, there are things that landlords should consider doing to help maintain a good relationship with their tenants. Firstly, landlords must treat all tenants equally and with respect.

Moreover, it’s beneficial to maintain a business-like relationship and be organised and committed about your responsibilities under the tenancy agreement. Some practical steps landlords should consider include:

  • providing tenants with a ‘welcome pack’ - providing the tenant with house rules ensures that they’re aware of what’s expected of them. You could also include information about your landlord obligations that they can rely on. This may help avoid any communication problems later on in the tenancy

  • keeping up with maintenance - all properties will require maintenance over the years. Dealing with decorating and minor jobs on a regular basis can keep tenants happy and prevent jobs from piling up

  • fostering relationships with local tradespeople - keeping up respectful relationships with local tradespeople can help landlords source help on short notice if required

  • caring for appliances - consider insuring appliances against breaking down, and repairing or replacing them when they start functioning poorly, rather than waiting for them to stop functioning altogether 

The landlord is responsible for most repairs to a rented property. Examples of repairs include fixing a broken boiler, sealing broken windows, or anything else that’s required to make the property habitable (ie decent enough to be lived in). The landlord is also responsible for repairs to common parts, such as communal stairwells. If a tenant pays for any repairs using their own money, they can usually reclaim their expenses from their landlord. To reclaim the money, the tenant will need to submit receipts and all the evidence of what was repaired and why it needed repairing, and a breakdown of all the costs.

The landlord is usually not responsible for any improvements to the property, for example, replacing kitchen units with new ones or redecorating a loft. The costs of any improvements that the tenant wants will be the responsibility of the tenant - although the tenant should usually not carry these out without the landlord’s consent

When the tenancy ends, it's unlikely that a tenant can remove improvements that are fixed (such as new kitchen units or paint) even if they (with the landlord’s approval) made them happen. Therefore, if the duration of the tenancy agreement is not for an extended or long period, it may not make sense for the tenant to make improvements to the property.

If you’re a tenant and you’re having trouble getting your landlord to repair something that’s broken, your first step should be to get a copy of your tenancy agreement. If you can’t find your agreement then you need to ask your landlord or agent for a copy. Pull out the clauses that you think your landlord has broken (eg their promise to repair, which covers the type of breakage that has occurred) and write your e-mail/letter to them. Inform them of what terms you believe they have breached and ask them to rectify this.

You should include:

  • the property’s address

  • the date of writing the letter

  • the clauses you believe have been broken

  • the nature of the repairs required and the reasons why they’re required (you should clarify, for example, that the damage is not your fault)

  • the date by which you would like the issues rectified - ensure this is a reasonable timeframe

If the repairs aren't done within a reasonable time, you can do the repairs yourself (ie by getting a certified repairman or contractor) and then claiming back the costs from the landlord (assuming they’re definitely the landlord’s responsibility). Before doing this, you should send a second letter to your landlord about the issue and then get quotes for the repairs and send these to your landlord. Inform them that if they don’t carry out the repairs you’ll go ahead with the cheapest quote. You should keep all correspondence and receipts, including invoices. This will be important when providing evidence. If you’re worried about how your landlord might react to you doing this, it may be prudent to speak with a lawyer about the issue.

You can also contact the environmental health department at your local council for help. They must take action if they think the problems could harm you or cause a nuisance to others.

If your house isn't fit to live in and you think your home’s unsafe, and your landlord isn’t helping or communicating, contact the housing department at your local council. They’ll do a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment and must take action if they think your home has serious health and safety hazards.

If these options don't work, you could need to go to court and get an order for specific performance (ie a court order forcing the landlord to repair the property). To obtain an order a tenant will need to convince the court as to the urgency of the works and that any alternative remedies are inadequate.

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