Rights of a tenant – do you know what a landlord can and can't do?

A new study shows that 97 per cent of tenants DON'T know their rights as renters

Since 1997, the number of people renting their home has doubled to 4.7million households across the UK. And yet according to a new survey by Totally Money, only a paltry 3 per cent of those renters actually know their full rights as tenants. Shocking, isn't it?

Related: How much would we spend to make a rented property feel like home? The results may shock you

Whether you're one of that 4.7million, or a private landlord with a small portfolio, it's well worth knowing the answers to the following.

Can a landlord legally change the rent without notifying the tenant?

rights of a tenant

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

Yes they can. But if you're shocked, you're not alone. Half of those questioned (exactly 50 per cent) didn't know the right answer to this one.

Can a landlord check my credit score?

Yes indeedy, but they must ask permission from the tenant or tenants first. 19 per cent of those surveyed thought a landlord could do so without permission. If they do ask, the landlords will see the results of a 'soft search'. This will show if the tenant has a history of missed payments – but it won't give the details of any defaults, such as the amounts.

Can a landlord enter my house when I'm not there?

living room with wooden door and stairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

Here's another one that flummoxed the public. In fact, 38 per cent of tenants weren't sure when their landlord could legally visit the property, with 6 per cent thinking they were NEVER allowed in, and 11 per cent at the opposite end of the scale, believing their landlord could come and go freely.

In reality, a landlord can enter the property to carry out repairs and maintenance, so long as they give 24 hours notice. They are also allowed to do so in an emergency, where the property or tenants could be at risk.

Can a landlord change the locks?

Landlords can change the locks to a home, provided they have been given permission to access the property. They can also do so in an emergency where the security of the property is compromised, but they must give the tenant new keys straight away. Totally Money found that 16 per cent of those surveyed thought their landlord would have to get a court order to get this done.

Is the landlord legally required to fix ANY problems with the property?

living room with shelves and sofa set

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

No, they are not. Yet more than 57 per cent of us think they are. Landlords are legally required to carry out any repairs that would otherwise affect a tenant's ability to live in their home. However, they're under no obligation to fix smaller issues. And if you don't like the colour of the walls or the type of oven, you'll most likely have to live with it we're afraid!

What can my landlord deduct from my deposit?

This one always causes controversy. But the hard fact is that the landlord is able to take money from a tenant's deposit to cover any unpaid rent or items missing from the initial itinerary. They can also deduct the cost of repairs or cleaning required to bring the property up to the same state it was in at the beginning of the tenancy.

How long does the landlord have to return a tenant's security deposit?

house exterior with a beautiful porch

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

Provided there are no issues with the state of the property, a landlord should return the deposit within 10 days of the expiration of the tenancy agreement. Landlords are now required by law to keep deposits in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme (TDP). If there IS an issue with deductions, your deposit will be protected in the TDP until any problems are resolved.

More advice: Want to make more money? Here are our top tips for renting out your home

What are a tenant's rights if the landlord wants to sell the property?

If a landlord wants to sell up he MUST honour the current tenancy agreement. That means either not selling until the current tenancy period has expired, or transferring the agreement to the next owner, who must also honour the tenancy until it runs out.

Amy Cutmore

Amy Cutmore is an experienced interiors editor and writer, who has worked on titles including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc, Real Homes, GardeningEtc, Top Ten Reviews and Country Life. And she's a winner of the PPA's Digital Content Leader of the Year. A homes journalist for two decades, she has a strong background in technology and appliances, and has a small portfolio of rental properties, so can offer advice to renters and rentees, alike.