Tenants in County Durham are being reminded to check their landlords are complying with property and rental standards following new and updated housing legislation.
With the return of university students to the county in September, Durham County Council’s trading standards team wants to ensure that all tenants, including students, are living in accommodation that meets current standards.
Last year, a Tenant Fees Act was introduced which bans most letting fees and caps the tenancy deposit paid by tenants in the private rented sector in England.
This legislation was introduced to reduce the costs that tenants can face at the outset and throughout their tenancy. Tenants should be able to see at a glance what a given property will cost them in the advertised rent with no hidden costs.
Under this act, the only payments that landlords or letting agents can charge to tenants in relation to new contracts are:
• A refundable tenancy deposit capped at no more than 5 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is less than £50,000, or 6 weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above.
• A refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than 1 week’s rent.
• Payments associated with early termination of the tenancy, when requested by the tenant.
• Payments capped at £50 (or reasonably incurred costs, if higher) for the variation, assignment or passing over of a tenancy.
• Payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV licence and Council Tax.
• A default fee for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key/security device giving access to the housing, where required under a tenancy agreement.
The council is now starting to actively raise awareness of this act to ensure tenants are paying the right amount of money and are not faced with any hidden costs from landlords. Any tenant or student with queries or concerns relating to the Tenant Fees Act can be raise this by contacting the council’s trading standards team.
Tenants and students are also reminded to be aware of a change in energy efficiency requirements. In April this year, there was a change in Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards, which requires that all properties should now have an E rated Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) or above.
Under this legislation, it is the landlord’s responsibility to make improvements that will bring the rating to E or above and tenants should be provided with a copy of the EPC before they start their tenancy.
The council is working with landlords and tenants to ensure privately rented properties in the county meet the change in standards. There are a number of schemes available that can help fund the necessary home energy improvements and the council’s housing solutions team are available to offer advice to landlords in claiming these.
Tenants who feel that their home would benefit from improvements should speak with their landlord or letting agent. If tenants, or students privately renting, are concerned that their landlord is unwilling to make improvements to their home to raise the EPC rating, they can contact the council’s trading standards team.
Cllr Kevin Shaw, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “It is important that tenants are aware of the current legislation when it comes to what they can and cannot be charged for, and the standard of the home they live in. This also applies to new or returning students, who don’t always know their rights when it comes to privately renting for possibly the first time.
“We are encouraging both landlords and tenants to become familiar with the changes and new legislation relating to the property they own or live in. Our housing teams work tirelessly to provide information advice guidance and support to both landlords and tenants and are available to advise on any concerns regarding the new regulations or how they may apply.”
Jack Ballingham, president of the tenants’ union at Durham Students’ Union, said: “It’s hugely important that students are aware of their rights as tenants, especially first-year students, who will likely be renting for the first time. Particularly with the rushed housing market in Durham in the first term of university, it is crucial people know what protections the law gives them.
“We know from experience how big an issue the cost of housing can be for students in the city and it’s welcome that the law alleviates some of the problem in that area. We’re very happy to be working with Durham County Council in raising awareness about this issue among student tenants.”
Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Durham University, said: “Many students become tenants for the first time at University and they need to be fully aware of their rights as well as their obligations when signing accommodation contracts. It is more important than ever for students to take their time, get good advice and not rush to sign binding agreements without careful consideration.”
Citizens Advice County Durham is also offering help, advice and support for those who are looking to improve the energy efficiency of their home or save on their gas, electricity or water usage. For more information about its Energy Advice Programme, call 03444 111 444 or visit www.citizensadvicecd.org.uk/need-help-with-energy/.