Renting a home from a private landlord or through an agent could be a good option for you if you need to find somewhere quickly or if the Housing Executive isn’t required to offer you permanent housing. But, it's important to understand your rights and your responsibilities before you sign any agreement for a new rented home.
Know your rights
It’s essential that you know your rights as a private tenant.
Most landlords won't rent to a person who is under 18 as they will have difficulties enforcing the agreement in court if something goes wrong. If a landlord is willing to give you a contract for the property, they will probably insist that an adult signs it too and you should get advice before you sign to check that the contract is fair.
When a property is rented under a tenancy the landlord has certain responsibilities to the tenant and the tenant has responsibilities to the landlord. Sometimes, landlords might not carry out their legal responsibilities, particularly if they think you’re young and you don’t understand your legal rights.
Check things over before you move in
Finding and moving into a new home is pretty exciting. You might overlook problems with the property because you’re so keen to move in.
When you first look at a property don’t let the estate agent rush or pressure you. Make sure you properly check that the place fits your needs and if you notice anything that needs to be repaired get the landlord’s promise to fix it in writing before you sign an agreement. The SmartRenter website has some useful checklists and tips about viewing a property.
Always take a detailed inventory of the condition of the property and any furniture. You don't want to end up paying for damages that you didn't cause. You can use our sample inventory, but you should sign it and get your agent or landlord to sign it too.
Getting repairs done
The law requires that your landlord carries out certain basic repairs, but the housing standard in the law isn’t very high. This means that it can be difficult to get your landlord to carry out some repairs if he or she doesn’t want to do them. However, most landlords are pretty good when it comes to repairs.
Don’t forget it’s your responsibility to tell the landlord as soon as something breaks or needs to be fixed. Send a message as well as talking to your landlord so you can prove when you reported the problem. If you or your guests caused the damage, you will probably have to pay to get it fixed. It’s a good idea to follow up any requests for repairs with an email or a letter, so you can prove that you’ve told the landlord about the problem.
Problems with your landlord
Your landlord can’t come and go in your property as he or she pleases. The landlord can only enter the property if you or another tenant has allowed this.
Your landlord cannot cut off your access to electricity, water, heat or other essential services and cannot change the locks in the property or mess with your stuff. If any of this happens, contact an advice agency immediately as your landlord may be guilty of a criminal offence.
If your landlord threatens you, let the Environmental Health officer at your local council know. If you’ve been assaulted you should contact the police.
An advice agency like Housing Rights can help explain what your landlord is and isn’t allowed to do and may be able to help out if you’re being harassed or intimidated by your landlord.
The only people who can physically force you out of your rented home are court officers and the Fire and Rescue Service. Your landlord can’t turn up and throw you out of the property or come into the property and remove your property. This is illegal.
If you’ve fallen behind on your rent or you’ve broken the terms of your contract your landlord may decide to end the tenancy agreement. To do this the landlord will write to you at least 28 days before the date you're supposed to leave. This message is called a notice to quit.
If you stay on in the property after the notice to quit expires the landlord will have to apply to a court to have you evicted. You can argue against the eviction if your tenancy agreement hasn't ended yet. If it has already ended, the court has to order that the eviction goes ahead.
If you get a Notice to Quit from your landlord talk to our advisers to see if you can fight the eviction action and what your rehousing options are.
Getting your deposit back
When you move into a rented property you’ll usually be asked to pay a security deposit. This is to protect the landlord from any money he or she might lose out on because of your tenancy.
Your deposit has to be protected with an approved tenancy deposit scheme and your landlord must give you written information about this scheme.
The landlord can keep some or all of your deposit if you leave the property:
- without giving proper notice
- owing rent to the landlord or
- having caused damage.
Your deposit shouldn’t be used to cover normal wear and tear on furniture, but fair deductions can be made if you damaged something.
If your landlord refuses to return your deposit and you think this is unfair, talk to an advice agency like Housing Rights. The deposit scheme can help if you disagree with the landlord's decision. They will look at the paperwork and ask both you and the landlord for your version of events and will then decide who the money should be returned to.
Sometimes, you might have to go to court to get your deposit back. This might happen if
- your landlord didn't protect your deposit, or
- the landlord protected your deposit at the start of your tenancy but didn't renew this protection;
- you left the tenancy before you were supposed to but still think you should get your deposit back.
Before you go to court you must write to your landlord to see if you can convince him or her to return your money. If this doesn’t work you’ll have to make a claim in the Small Claims Court to get your deposit back.
Problems with benefits
The amount that young people receive in benefits to pay rent in private housing is very limited. You'll normally only get the shared rate of local housing allowance. This means most young people can only afford to rent a room in a shared house or flat.
If the benefit you get to help with housing costs isn't covering your full rent, you might be able to get a Discretionary Housing Payment to help you out for a short while. This is a top up payment that can be paid for a set amount of time (usually 4 months).
Students won't normally get any benefits to help with their rent, but there are some exceptions to this rule.
If you're worried about paying your rent, speak to an adviser to see what your options are.