When taking over the management of properties from other agents we often encounter one particular issue. Whether or not we are entitled to the tenant’s references and whether or not the previous agent is entitled to rely on the UK General Data Protection Regulations when refusing to release it. 

Is a landlord entitled to a tenant’s reference?

Put simply, yes, a landlord is legally entitled to their tenant’s reference. It is in fact a common misunderstanding in the lettings industry that a landlord is not entitled to a tenant’s reference for GDPR reasons. 

When agents act on behalf of landlords they do so under the law of agency. This means that when a landlord instructs an agent they are instructed entirely on the landlord’s behalf. By the very nature of the agent and landlord relationship, an agent is an extension of a landlord and acts on their behalf. Therefore when an agent secures a tenant they do so on behalf of the landlord and arrange for a tenancy agreement to be signed between the landlord and tenant. This of course means that there is in fact no contractual relationship between the agent and tenant. 

Any agent acting on behalf of their client the landlord is required to do so in their best interest. Landlords are ordinarily not a party or aware of the exchange between agents and tenants however, they are entitled to their tenancy documents, including references on demand due the agents responsibility and duty to account. 

Tenant references and data protection

Further with regards to the specific statement that references cannot be provided for GDPR reasons, this is wholly misconceived. Agents obtain references on behalf of their clients and they belong to those landlords. In fact when agents obtain these references they do so as data processors and it is the landlord that is the data controller for GDPR purposes. This means that agents are freed from many of the ordinary responsibilities for data protection that apply in this scenario. 

Read more about data processors and controllers and their respective roles in data protection.

Furthermore, having paid for the references a landlord is entitled to them not only to be confident about the person renting their property but also to ensure that the references have been obtained in the first instance. 

Finally, an agent can pass over data for processing by the landlord if it falls within the legitimate interests processing basis under the GDPR. Clearly, it is a legitimate interest of the landlord to have a copy of the references belonging to the tenant because they will have an interest in the identity of the person occupying their property as well as their ability to meet the tenancy obligations.

Gurdeep Clair
In-house Legal Counsel

The Coronavirus pandemic has been worrying and stressful on so many levels. The worry of keeping yourself and your loved ones safe from a harmful virus is enough. Yet, combining this with lockdown and too many life changes overnight, losing your job can just add to the ever growing stress, worry and loneliness. 

The government has had a blanket approach so far in financially helping people, by offering some companies the option to furlough existing staff and offering to pay 80% of salaries through PAYE. Yet some people have slipped through the net, with companies pulling roles and not being able to furlough staff if they’re not on the payroll in time. Some HR departments have said that furloughing staff can cause a range of issues for them with time and resources. Other companies just simply haven’t done it and made redundancies.  

Freelancers and companies can get government grants, however this hasn’t covered everyone. Thousands of individuals have been left looking for jobs at a time when things have stood still.

This has left people without adequate financial help and the only other support has been Universal Credit/job seekers allowance. If people are renting, often the housing benefit doesn’t cover the cost of the rental amount and so this needs to be topped up with Universal Credit. This doesn’t leave much room for Council Tax (even with a reduction), bills and food. For some renters, they’ve had to make the decision between paying rent and affording food. 

The economic impact of lockdown has hit people unequally but it has caused immediate impacts on mental health. The Mental Health Foundation reports that  “a quarter reported not coping well with the stress of the pandemic (twice as many as those in employment), almost half were worried about not having enough food to meet basic needs.”

Credit: Mark Oliver Paquin

First steps to take 

  1. If Housing Benefit or Universal Credit doesn’t cover all of your rent and you need more money, you could make a claim for a discretionary housing payment (DHP). A DHP is extra money from your local council to help pay your rent. 
  2. You could also look to get a council tax reduction if you haven’t already done it here.
  3. Check out the benefits calculator too,  to see if there is any additional support you can get. 
  4.  4. You may also be able to speak to your utilities company and try and get a payment plan to help with the costs, discover more.

Speak to your landlord

If you’re unable to get additional financial help and still you’re struggling to pay your rent, speak to your landlord as soon as possible. Please let them know what your situation is and that you’re struggling. They may be able to come to an arrangement. Perhaps you could pay half of your rent and then when you’re back on your feet, you can increase it over the coming months. Landlords would rather know the situation than receive radio silence and then no money at the end of the month. Your landlord may even be able to have a mortgage break and then pass this break on to you. 

If you aren’t able to come to an agreement with your landlord, get in touch with Citizens Advice who can signpost you to a range of help and advice. 

Credit: Co-worker

Speak to housemates

If you’re a lodger in a property, then speak to your live-in landlord and see if you could take on some additional work to lower your rent like cleaning. If you live with other housemates too, look to club together to buy food to help reduce your costs. Perhaps see if you could distribute the rent amongst yourselves differently to help each other out – if others are in a more stable position.  

Can I be evicted if I can’t keep up with the repayments?

Your landlord can’t evict you if you don’t keep up with your rental payments as there is now a tenant eviction ban in place until 31st March 2020. Your landlord will have to give you six months notice to leave. This doesn’t apply where there is domestic abuse or anti-social behaviour within a property. 

If domestic abuse is occurring within a property that you are in, get in touch with the National Domestic Abuse helpline. If you’re in life threatening trouble, ring 999 and if once dialed you can’t speak, press 55. 

We would strongly urge tenants to seek as much financial support as they can get and to be open and honest with their landlord about their current situation. 

We understand that dealing with financial worries can result in a range of issues and if you are struggling with your mental health as a result, please check out these links for advice and support.

There is no doubt that winter is firmly setting in. As the seasons change, a new challenge picks up pace for the nation’s renters and landlords – managing damp, condensation and mould issues.

Mould growth in a rented property can be more than just an unsightly annoyance. This pesky issue can cause health problems for tenants, the property to fall into disrepair and if left unchecked can even land the landlord in legal hot water.

But what causes mould, damp and condensation problems? What are tenants rights in this situation, should the fixing the issue be a landlord responsibility, or does the clean up land at the feet of the resident?

The common causes of mould in a property

A mould problem in the home is most often caused by a build-up of condensation. This occurs when moisture held in warm air (such as from showering or boiling kettle) meets cold surfaces, such as a glass window or a tiled wall. The warm air then condenses into excess moisture, which has nowhere to go.  Modern homes have actually made this situation worse. Better standards of insulation, such as double glazing and draught proofing work brilliantly at keeping heat in, but also trap moisture in exactly the same way.

If this happens regularly, the pooling excess moisture lingers in the same area, settling in regular places, such as on window frames and in the corners of baths, which can eventually becomes a mould infestation.

Whilst tasks such as showering and boiling kettles are an obvious source of condensation problems, another key day-to-day household task that is high on the list for creating excess moisture in the air is drying clothes. Every average sized load of wet washing holds a staggering one litre (nearly two pints) of water. That’s a lot of liquid to disappear into thin air every time a tenant needs to dry clothes!

Overcrowding can be a real issue too. Depending on how humid the air around us, the average person loses around 300 to 500 millilitres of fluid a day through just breathing. It’s no surprise that a lot of people in one small space, or even one person in a space that is too small can result in mould if left unchecked and unventilated!

Of course, the cause of damp doesn’t have to come from inside the property. Damaged guttering, broken roof tiles/flashing, damaged mortar in external walls or a leaky pipe hidden deep within a wall can all be sneaky culprits of a dodgy damp area inside the property. This is known as penetrating damp. Coupled with poor ventilation inside, all it takes is a few days of wet weather or a slow leak on a pipe fitting and you could be facing a damp spot that will struggle to dry out.

Finally, everyone’s favourite – rising damp. Occurring on the ground floor or basement, this sort of damp happens when moisture is soaked up though a broken or absent damp proof course, into the bricks or concrete foundations of the property. This situation is now slightly rarer, thanks to effective damp proof courses being present in most properties.

What are the dangers?

As well as being unsightly, some mould issues can actually have real impacts on tenant’s health.

Black mould releases tiny spores which travel through the home, triggering allergies, asthma, and fungal infections.  The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) classes mould as a category one hazard, and requires a landlord to remove or reduce any damp or mould factors that could have any impact on a tenant’s physical or social wellbeing. This applies to homes owned by a private landlord or local authority. You can read all of the HHSRS hazards here.

As well as being risky to your tenant’s wellbeing, a damp problem will undoubtably have a lasting impact on the health of your property. Should internal walls be subject to ongoing moisture, it is likely that significant repair work will be required to get plasterwork back up to a good standard, and woodwork is likely to suffer too.

In the very worst cases, damp can invade the very foundations of a building, and if this happens, you could be facing a really hefty bill – but it’s very possible to solve, so don’t panic! Additionally, it is outlined in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 that a landlord has a responsibility to ensure that the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house is kept in working order so if damp is causing a problem in your property, you need to fix the issue quickly to ensure not only that your asset is safe and secure, but that you are not breaching any landlord legislation (you can check out some more of your legal requirements here).

How to fix the issue

Working out where the problem is coming from is the first hurdle. Once you have figured out what is causing the problem, you can set about tackling the issue.

There are some simple fixes that will make a really big difference inside your property.

  • Install light-activated extractor fans in the bathroom and kitchen – these are the key areas that cause problems internally
  • Install a tumble dryer – and incentivise your tenants to use it if they are nervous about the cost
  • Explore vented windows – if windows are left unopened, bedrooms can be hotspots for condensation. Many windows now offer vented options allowing airflow whilst maintaining warmth and security
  • Consider installing air bricks if they are not in place already, and check that they have not been blocked up!
  • Request that large items of furniture (wardrobes etc) are not pushed flat to the wall. This encourages air flow around them, and prevents build up behind them

If you have a significant problem, you may need to look at ventilating the property, using dehumidifiers to draw water out of the fabric of the building. A dehumidifier can be hired from a local DIY store, but they must be left on continually and are not always very quiet – so the tenant may want to vacate the property whilst this is ongoing!

If damp has crept in from the outside, your focus should be on managing repair work to address the immediate cause. Ensuring maintenance of your roof, guttering, damp proof course and brick work is up to date is vital.

Landlords not managing mould

Manging damp appropriately can be tricky, as often tenants are nervous about reporting it to landlords.

There is a concern amongst some tenants that the blame for any damp within the property will be placed firmly at their feet, and that the first time they report an issue they will pay the price with an eviction notice.

However, whilst it is vital that landlords carry out any repairs that are needed within a reasonable timeframe, they can only do so if they know about them. Details of how a tenant can report any concerns must be included in the tenancy agreement, with UK contact details for the landlord, or their representative clearly stated.

Once a problem has been reported, it is landlord’s responsibility to respond in writing within 14 days to the tenant, noting details of what they intend to do about the issue, and giving a clear timeframe for works.  

If the landlord fails to do this, the tenant can raise the issue with their local council, where the environmental health team will investigate. If a landlord then tries to evict the tenant within six months of the problem being reported but not addressed, they will be unable to enforce the section 21 notice.

In worst case scenarios, failing to manage mould could even land you in court. A new law, the Fitness for Human Habitation Act came in force in 2018, designed to make sure that all rented properties are free from anything that could cause serious harm.

If a property is not fit for human habitation, tenants have the ability to seek legal advice and ultimately take their landlord to court, where they can be forced to carry out repairs, or put right health and safety issues. The landlord can also be made to pay the tenant compensation.

There’s nothing worse than a noisy neighbour, in fact noisy tenants with no volume control are one of the biggest causes of complaint to landlords.

But what are our tenants up to that is so loud? The most common complaints we hear at Howsy include:

  • Noise from pets
  • DIY
  • Parties / loud music
  • Shouting / Loud voices
  • Unattended car alarms

All very frustrating noises to live next door to.

However, there are some noises that, whilst possibly very maddening to listen to are not classed as anti-social behaviour and cannot be addressed by local authorities. These include:

  • Traffic, trains and planes
  • Children playing inside or outside the property
  • DIY activities during the daytime or early evening (Monday-Friday 8am-6pm / Saturdays 8am-1pm)
  • Noise resulting from the ordinary use of a property (Including footsteps, doors closing, toilets flushing, and household appliances being used during the day time and early evenings).
  • Fireworks before 11pm, except on certain dates (until midnight on 5 November, until 1am following the first day of Chinese New Year, until 1am on the day following Diwali day, until 1am on the day following 31 December)

But what can you do if your noisy tenant is causing upset? Before you start delivering ear plugs, there are a few options to try…

Who is responsible for noisy tenants?

Whilst as a landlord you do have plenty of legal responsibilities (you can read more about them here) you are under no legal obligation act on unnecessary noise complaints from a neighbour. However, it is in your best interest to ensure that neighbours are happy – after all, they are your eyes and ears and it is important to keep on their good side.   Wherever possible, it is always good to help smooth troubles waters if you can.

Whilst unlikely to contain a specific ‘noise clause’, some tenancy agreements will contain a clause requiring your tenant to not do anything in the property that causes them to be a ‘nuisance’, and all-night parties every evening would certainly contravene that clause. In this instance, you would be within your right to start section 21 proceedings against the tenant on the basis of a tenancy breach, eventually ending in eviction (however it is unlikely that many landlords would do so if the individual was an otherwise good tenant, and the party was a one-off)!

How to deal with noisy tenants

Very often, having a chat to your tenants can be the best first step to managing this issue. Keep things light and friendly, and mention to them that their actions are causing distress. They may not be aware that whilst they may find heavy metal relaxing to fall asleep to, their habit is causing their neighbours sleepless nights! Try and work with them to come up with a solution to the problem. For example, if the noise levels from their midnight trumpet practice are keeping everyone else awake, rather than demanding they stop entirely, ask if it would be possible for them to stop at 10pm – meet in the middle!

Popping them a message after your chat can be a good idea. A quick text to say ‘thanks for being so understanding about my noise concerns when we spoke earlier, hope your trumpet concert goes well!’ is simple and to the point, but reiterates the chat, and also gives you written and dated proof that the conversation took place.

This evidence is also useful if the causal chat doesn’t work and you need to move to the next step, involving the local council. Collecting evidence that you have tried to remedy the situation yourself is key, as is collecting as much detail about the noise as you can.

It can be difficult for official bodies to investigate noise nuisances, as often it can be sporadic and takes place at inconvenient hours. Making sure you ask the complainant to make clear audio recordings of the noise when it happens (recordings on a phone is fine) and logging the times and dates could be invaluable to a subsequent investigation.

What to do if you live next to a noisy tenant

If you are the suffering neighbour living next to a noisy tenant, contacting their private landlord, housing association or the freeholder can be a good place to start if you would like to elevate the situation. Whilst ideally you would give your neighbours a friendly knock and have a chat with them about the noise issues, in some cases it can be easier to alert the landlord immediately, and ask them to manage the situation on your behalf.

What if that doesn’t work?

If reasoning with the noisy tenant doesn’t work, the last resort would be to involve your Local Authority’s Environmental Health Department. Legally, this department has a responsibility to manage any noise disturbance that is considered to be a ‘statutory nuisance’ under the  Environmental Protection Act 1990, which includes anything which is considered to ‘unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises’ or ‘injure health or be likely to injure health’. However, they are reliant on evidence to process a case – so audio recordings, dates and details are vital here.

Once a case is underway, the occupier will receive a letter saying that they are the subject of an investigation regarding noise disturbance, however your identity as a complainant is kept confidential (many neighbours and landlords choose to skip straight to this route for this very reason). Having examined the evidence, if it is deemed that the noise problem is too loud and the tenant isn’t willing to do anything about it, the council can issue an abatement notice. This strict legal action instructs the individual to cease or limit noise it to certain time of day. A word of warning though, the abatement notice can be served on an individual or the owner of the property – potentially the landlord.

What if they do not stop?

The individual does have the right to appeal an abatement notice, but this is a strict 21-day window. If they do not launch an appeal in this time, they are not able to do so.

Once the individual has received an abatement notice from the council, it is a criminal office to fail to comply with the requirements set out in the notice. In the event of a breach of the notice, the recipient can face prosecution and a hefty fine.

Should it get to this stage, if the property is rented it is possible that the unsuspecting landlord could be facing bigger problems than a noisy tenant. There have been cases in the past of tricky tenants leaving a rental property, and disappearing, thus landing their unfortunate landlord with the fine from a breached abatement notice!

Howsy’s Top Tips

  • If you have a noisy neighbour, notify landlords and managing agents of any issues
  • Keep a clear record of the situation – recordings, dates and conversations
  • Raise issues to Environmental Health if not rectified
  • Be patient – Environmental Health can take up to 12 weeks to process a case
  • Closely monitor any tenants who are causing a noise nuisance – make sure they are abiding by the rules!