Roughly 15% of all tenants break the rules with the worst violations being the most frequent. That’s what a survey done by Direct Line Landlord Insurance indicates.
The research was conducted on a nationwide sample of 2,000 UK adults, out which less than half (938) are private renters. The sample is actually quite low – roughly 0.001% of the kingdom’s population – so whether or not this survey is statistically significant is unknown (at least by us). However, most numbers check out with industry observations and provide a good base for our discussion in this blog post.
What are the results ?
- Two out of three tenants (65%) report they have not broken any terms of the agreement and have sufficiently upheld their tenant responsibilities.
- One in five tenants (20%) is in the neutral zone. Half of these (11%) state they are unsure if they have broken any terms of the agreement.
- Another half (9%) say they have no contract with the landlord. Thus, they would also not know if they have broken, any terms. Although the law creates a default assured shorthold tenancy and assigns both the landlord and tenant-specific responsibilities and rights, the tenants are not required to know that.
- One in seven tenants (the rest 15%) outright admit to breaking at least one rule in their tenancy.
The survey also broke down the violations in 10 categories, the worst being the most.
Here is how they rank up:
|Violation||% of violations||% of all renters|
|Failing to pay rent on time (or at all)||25%||3.75%|
|Smoking in the property||21%||3.15%|
|Keeping a pet in the property||18%||2.69%|
|Damaging or making alterations to the premises||17%||2.55%|
|Changing the locks||16%||2.4%|
|Caused disturbances or a nuisance to neighbouring properties||14%||2.1%|
|Sublet a room without notifying the landlord||14%||2.1%|
|Failed to clean accessible windows||13%||1.95%|
|Redecorated without permission||12%||1.79%|
|Failed to check smoke or carbon monoxide alarm||10%||1.5%|
It’s important to realise that the original survey listed the breakdown as fractions of all tenants who admitted to violating the tenancy agreement, which was originally determined as 15% of all surveyed tenants. To make these numbers practically relevant (although possibly inaccurate), we’ll use them as a fraction of all renters.
Furthermore, we’ll assume there are approximately 4.3 million private renters (source: Homelet).
3.75% all tenants failed to pay rent on time or at all
This accounts to as much as 161,250 tenants in the UK.
As bad as this sound, we must also account that this category includes both tenants who delayed payment due to a bank holiday and tenants who have left their properties with months upon months of rent arrears, as the landlord is fighting for a possession order.
You easily realise that the two extremes have nothing in common and the severity of this violation can vastly different.
What happens if you stop paying rent ?
Many tenants believe that not paying rent is a good option when repairs and other severe issues are not being dealt with by the landlord or letting agent.
In reality, however, not paying rent is the second worst thing to do as a renter, after engaging in crime at the property.
Not only it doesn’t make a dent in any protest action against the landlord, it can easily get you evicted.
Landlords are entitled to obtain an automatic possession order from the court if they can prove you have not paid two full rent payments if paying monthly (8 if paying weekly).
They can use a special ground and serve you a Section 8 notice to terminate your tenancy regardless if there is a fixed term or not. In addition, this procedure can happen relatively quickly as the normal requirement for two months’ of notice time are amended.
Furthermore, you’d still be owing the rent money to your landlord, who can continue to pursue you in the courts even after you’ve vacated the property.
Another bad consequence is that an eviction will limit your ability to get a great property next. If you get officially evicted through the courts, there will be a public record of a county court judgement (CCJ) on your name.
This record is publicly visible and a core part of any tenant screening process.
Finally, any landlord who evicted you for rent arrears will deny giving you a reference for your next landlord OR may even make an effort to find your new landlord and warn them about how you failed your responsibilities last time.
3.15% of all tenants have smoked in the property without permission
This accounts to as much as 135,450 tenants in the UK.
Landlords frequently include a clause in their tenancy agreements forbidding tenants or their guests from smoking in the property. You need to ask your landlord and negotiate this clause when you move into a new property to avoid complications.
Smoking relates more to mild material damage and cleaning costs. At the end of the tenancy, you may find that the walls and ceilings have been tinted with a yellow or brown shade, as a result of excessive smoking in the room without ventilation.
This may require repainting of the room following the tenancy.
Furthermore, you may typically expect the furnishings, carpets and furniture to have a strong odor, requiring specially cleaning services, which may also be pricey.
Both these costs are likely to be discounted from the tenant’s deposit, regardless if it’s permitted to smoke in the property or not. As this is a conscious act by the tenant, which deteriorates the condition of the property, you would have little defense against your landlord’s claim if it ever goes that far.
2.69% of all tenants have kept a pet in the property without permission
This accounts to as much as 115,670 tenants in the UK.
Similarly to smoking, landlords rarely feel easy about letting tenants with pets into the property. At least not with a fully documented renting history and landlord references to vouch for little Smithy’s model cat behaviour.
Pets, although cute and cuddly often take their toll on the furniture, walls and the home in general. That’s why most landlord will ban pets outright.
What tenant’s don’t know is that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 doesn’t permit landlord to outright ban animals in the property.
Instead the law requires tenants to ask for permission to keep their pet in the property, which the landlord may not “unreasonably decline”.
The reasonableness of the landlord’s prohibition will largely depend on what kind of pet you want to bring in. A large Saint Bernard and a fish tank are two entirely different pets.
If there is a pet prohibition clause in your tenancy agreement, there is a good chance that the landlord cannot legally enforce it. However, if your pet can cause severe damage to the property, the landlord may be entitled to deny the pet.
How to get permission from your landlord to keep a pet ?
Keeping a pet in the rented property is all about your culture as a pet owner. Responsible owners will offer a reasonable non-refundable pet deposit to cover for cleaning costs (especially for a furry dog or cat).
Also as an responsible owner you should be able to present all relevant documents from the vet that the pet is fully inoculated and treated against fleas and other common pests.
Finally, it’s a great idea to get a reference from as many of your past landlords as you can that confirms the pet has acted reasonably and no excessive damage was left behind.
2.55% of all tenants have damage or altered their rented property without permission
This accounts to as much as 109,650 tenants in the UK.
This is another broad category. While a nail hole in the wall can also be considered as damage, it’s entirely different from wrecking the living room couch and tearing off two doors from the kitchen cabinets.
Obviously any damage determined in the check out report will be discounted from the tenant’s deposit.
Some minor damage, like scuffmarks, scratches and discoloration might be placed under fair wear and tear, especially if the tenancy has continued for more than a couple of years. You should hold a negotiation between you and the landlord to determine who should cover what.
As a tenant, you’re also not allowed to alter the property and the contents provided by the landlord without their permission.
This includes replacing furniture, electrical appliances, changing feature in the property or even redecorating. For the sake of consistency, we must really add the redecorating, which is it’s own item on the list falls entirely into this category.
1.79% of all tenants have redecorated the property without permission
This accounts to as much as 76,970 tenants in the UK.
Sometimes redecorating might even improve the property’s condition. However, as not all renters share the same opinion on interior design, some bold decisions in decoration or wall color may make it difficult for the landlord to re-let the property after you move.
Thus, tenants are often required to return the original design of the property before leaving. Otherwise, the landlord will have to do it, but still deduct the costs form the tenant’s deposit.
2.4% of all tenants have changed the locks without permission
This accounts to as much as 103,200 tenants in the UK.
Typically, this should also be included as “unauthorised alteration”, but since access to the rented property is it’s own very sensitive topic, it deserves to be discussed in it’s own section.
The law foresees that landlords require occasional access to the property for various reasons, but mostly to do maintenance and repairs as their legal responsibilities demand.
However, the law also foresees that tenants should be living undisturbed in the properties they rent, and rely on having exclusive control over who enters the property and under what conditions. This is referred as a “right of quiet enjoyment“.
It states that landlords need to serve a minimum of 24h notice when they need to go into the property. The tenant must then approve or disapprove of this depending on their ability to accommodate the visit and largely how they really feel about letting strangers, be it their landlord, into their HOME.
Landlord usually have a spare key for the door, but should not enter the property if specifically asked not to by tenants. This can be seen as a violation of their right to quiet enjoyment and may even be seen as harassment.
Tenants whose landlords have not followed the rules about accessing the properties often resort to changing the locks and keeping the landlord out.
In most tenancy agreements, this would be a straight violation of the rules. It may be morally justified to do so, and tenants may successfully defend their act in front of the court (as far as access is concerned). However, when the tenancy eventually ends, the cost of replacing the locks may fall upon the tenant.
If you DO change the locks, remember to allow the landlord SOME access in order to meet their responsibilities for repairs and maintenance. Also, collect full documentation about the lock change, as well as the old lock as you should return it in place before moving.
2.1% of all tenants have caused disturbance or noise to their neighbours
This accounts to as much as 90,300 tenants in the UK.
Unfortunately for any neighbours or room mates, there isn’t too much to be done in case of noise and nuisance by others.
The GOV website offers a digital tool to report noise, loud parties, barking dogs, etc directly to the authorities.
However, unless the noise is particularly loud late at night, or at quiet times, it’s unlikely to receive any practical help.
It’s recommended to contact your landlord and ask them for assistance in resolving the problem. Your landlord doesn’t actually have more power than you do, but they may have more influence as the property’s owner.
In cases of a rowdy roommate in an HMO property, the landlord has far more authority. Excessive noise and bad behaviour may be seen as anti-social activities if they particularly disturb the other tenants. The law gives the landlord a special ground to evict such tenants during the fixed term.
However, this type of eviction is notoriously hard to achieve, so most landlords will just wait for the fixed term to end and use the standard Section 21 notice to evict a bad tenant.
As a tenant who is causing a nuisance to others, you should know that although you might not get evicted, such behaviour will impact your ability to find good rental properties in the future. The landlord will be reluctant to give you a good reference or testify against you if your new landlord decides to reach out and ask.
2.1% of all tenants have engaged in illegal subletting
This accounts to as much as 90,300 tenants in the UK.
A lot of tenants consider subletting their property when they need to leave the property for a short period of time.
For example, if you have to on an internship abroad for three months. Subletting allows you to reserve the property for yourself but avoid paying rent for months you don’t live in. Another example might be when you’ve rented a larger home, but some rooms have since remained empty and you want to find somebody to occupy them and help with the rent.
However, as it’s a substantial risk to the property, subletting is met with a heavy dose of scepticism by most landlords.
Subletting without permission is a serious breach of the tenancy agreement:
“The Housing Act 1988 states that the tenants with assured or periodic tenancies shall not, without the consent of the landlord:
(a) assign the tenancy (in whole or in part); or
(b) sub-let or part with possession of the whole or any part of the dwelling-house let on the tenancy.”
If you plan on subletting you have to talk with your landlord first. Otherwise, you risk serious action and even eviction of both you and your subtenant.
1.95% of all tenants failed to properly clean the accessible windows
This accounts to as much as 83,850 tenants in the UK.
This is a rather odd item on the list, as it would be better if it was expanded as a general cleaning and hygiene category.
Still, window cleaning is just cleaning so we’ll regard it as such.
Tenants have a full responsibility to upkeep the hygiene throughout the tenancy. Even if they haven’t, they must present the property in very clean condition at check out in order to avoid any deposit deductions.
Cleaning is still regarded as the number one cause for deposit deductions being present at roughly half of all deposit claims by landlords.
Often, landlords will include clauses in the tenancy agreement related to end of tenancy cleaning, carpet cleaning, window cleaning or garden maintenance. It’s important that you realise what these clauses mean and what is expected of you before entering into the agreement.
If your windows are smudgy and your tenancy is due, don’t risk losing real money out of your deposit for something as easy as window cleaning. Even if you don’t have the right supplies, you can pretty much clean anything with vinegar.
1.5% of all tenants failed to check the smoke or carbon monoxide alarms
This accounts to as much as 64,500 tenants in the UK.
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are essential to ensure your safety at all times.
Following 1st of October 2015, landlords are required to install a smoke alarm on every story used for residential accommodation.
Alarms must be properly installed and functional at all times. A core responsibility of all tenants is to regularly check test the alarms to ensure they are working and the batteries have charge in them.
If you have not regularly tested the alarms or their batteries run out of charge, you may falsely rely on a warning system that is out of order. This may create countless of hazardous scenarios which are relatively safe to handle provided a properly working alarm is in place.
If a fire damages the property and the inspection determines that your lack of maintenance to the smoke and fire alarms has caused them to not set off, you may become liable for part of the restoration costs.
As these numbers may be wildly inaccurate (or surprisingly true) due to the sample size and other statistical factors that we might be missing, they provide a good base for our discussion.
Landlord – tenant relationships are fragile and easily thrown off balance. Remember that bad tenant behaviour almost certainly reflects in the landlord’s eagerness to uphold their own part of the deal. You don’t want to close a vicious circle of mutually breaking terms with your landlord as ultimately this is YOUR home and you should aim to have it maintained and fully functional at all times.
At The Tenants’ Voice, we believe that mutual respect and following up on one’s own responsibilities is the best way to lead a healthy relationship between you and your landlord.
This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.
We advise all tenants to act respectfully with their landlords and letting agents and seek a peaceful resolution to problems with their rented property. For more information, explore the articles in our Managing your home category.
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