Renter in London? A new tool lets you check if your landlord needs a licence – and you could be owed £1,000s
Tenants in London can now use a new tool to check whether their landlords need to license their homes – and some could be owed £1,000s in rent refunds if their landlord doesn't have the right documentation.
Update: 12 April 2022: We first published this story in November 2020 but the info in it still stands and you can use the tool as set out below.
Some privately rented homes need a property licence before they can be rented out to tenants, to show that the property is suitable to be lived in and managed to an acceptable standard. But confusingly, different London boroughs have different property licensing rules, which can make it difficult for tenants to know whether their landlord has the right licence.
To help, the Mayor of London's launched a property licensing checker that lets you see if your rented home needs a licence – though you may still need to do some legwork to find out if your landlord actually has that licence.
If you do find that your landlord doesn't have the correct licence, the implications could be huge. You could be due a refund of up to 12 months' rent – likely £1,000s – while if you've received a 'no-fault' eviction notice, this will be invalidated.
Check our 50+ Tips for Renters guide for more info on how to rent your home safely and cheaply.
How to check if your landlord has the correct licence
To check if your landlord has the correct paperwork, you'll first need to use the tool to see what licence your property requires, then check elsewhere if your landlord actually has whatever's required. Here's what to do:
- Step 1. Put your details into the tool. The tool is on the Mayor of London's website – you'll need to enter your postcode and address, and confirm you live in a private rented property. You can use the tool if you rent privately (so not if you're a council or housing association tenant) and at least one person in your household pays rent. Landlords who live in a property with one or two lodgers also don't need a licence, so you won't be able to use the tool if this is your situation.
You'll also need to say how many people live in your home, and how many "households" this is made up of. The reason this is important is some landlords need a special licence if multiple households live in the same property and share facilities such as the toilet or kitchen. Once you've done all this, the tool will tell you whether your property requires a licence and, if so, what type.
- Step 2. Follow the link in the tool to check whether your landlord has the required licence. The tool will link you to information from your local council on how to check if your landlord has the licence they need. Exactly how you can check this varies – most councils will have a register of licensed properties you can access online, but in some cases you may need to contact the council directly to see if your home's licensed.
If you think your landlord doesn't have the correct licence, you'll be given a link to report them to the local council.
What are my rights if my home isn't correctly licensed?
Having the right licence is a legal requirement for landlords, and it's their responsibility to get one – not the tenant's. If your landlord is found not to have the right licence for your home, this means that:
- Any 'no fault' eviction proceedings your landlord has begun against you won't be valid. 'No fault' evictions – technically known as Section 21 notices – allow landlords to remove tenants with two months' notice once their fixed-term contract has ended, without giving a reason. If your landlord doesn't have a licence, the eviction will be invalid.
- You could be entitled to a rent repayment order worth £1,000s. Either you or your council will be able to apply to a tribunal for a rent repayment order. The exact process for this may vary by area though, so if you've found your landlord isn't properly licensed, it's worth checking with your council what its policy is and what, if anything, you need to do.
If your landlord has been convicted of a licensing offence – or the tribunal finds that it's beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the licensing offence – they can be required to refund you for the rent you paid while your home didn't have the right licence, up to a maximum of 12 months' worth of rent.
If you pay your rent yourself, the refund will be paid to you – though if you pay part or all of your rent through housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit, this proportion of the refund will be paid to your local authority instead.
Your landlord could also face enforcement action from your local council.
What other rights do I have as a tenant?
As well as getting the right licences to rent out a property, landlords also have other obligations to their tenants – and if you're renting, it's important to know what these are. For example:
- Your landlord must make sure your deposit's protected – and you can get money back if they don't. Under the law in England and Wales, if you've what's called an 'assured shorthold tenancy' that started on or after 6 April 2007, your landlord MUST put your deposit into a tenancy deposit protection scheme within 30 days of getting it (there are similar schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
If your landlord hasn't protected your deposit, you can go to the small claims court to get the deposit itself sent to you or a tenancy deposit scheme, plus a penalty of up to three times the value of your deposit.
- Your landlord needs to provide you with safety documentation when you move in. This includes a gas safety certificate, an energy performance certificate and fire safety labels on any furniture that's provided.
- Letting fees are now banned in England, Scotland and Wales. Previously, you could be charged £100s in tenancy set-up, checkout and referencing fees when moving in to a new rental property.
But other than rent and bills, landlords and agents can now legally only charge fees in specific situations, such as if the tenant requests a change to the tenancy agreement.
You can find more information in our 50+ Tips for Renters guide. And if you're struggling to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic, there's more on what support's available in our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide.