If you are a tenant one of the most dreaded phrases you’re likely to hear is, “rent increase.” For many, an increase in rent can mean the difference between putting food on the table or having to cut back on the things you enjoy.

But, rent increases aren’t something that can be enacted willy-nilly and laws and other regulations govern when a landlord can and cannot increase rent on a property.

In this article, we will delve into what a rent increase is, when it can and when it can’t be legally increased, as well as discussing what you can do as a tenant if you are faced with an uplift in your housing costs. Let’s get started by answering the question, “Can a landlord increase rent?”

When can a landlord increase rent?

As with most things that cost money, rent will, from time to time, go up. Landlords have bills of their own and things like inflation and increased interest rates may prompt them to raise the price of the rent they charge. But rent cannot be increased on a whim and a variety of rules govern when a landlord can legally increase the price they charge for a property.

If your tenancy is periodic, that is rolling on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis, your landlord may only increase the rent on your property once a year without your agreement. This doesn’t mean that rent will increase every year, but it does prevent your landlord from repeatedly upping costs whenever he feels like it.

If your tenancy is for a fixed term, that is it runs for a set period (usually 12 or 24 months), your rent is pretty much set in stone and your landlord can only increase the rent if you agree to the change. If the landlord tries to enact an increase and you do not agree, then they will have to wait until the fixed term ends to legally up the rate up.

Other rules that landlords must adhere to when increasing the rent on a property include:

  • If you have an agreement in place for a rent increase or you’ve already been notified of an increase and your landlord wishes to change the amount, then they must get your permission to do so. This applies to rolling or fixed-term tenancies.
  • All rent increases must be “fair and realistic”. This generally means that they must be in line with the average cost of renting a similar property in the area. Again, this applies to rolling and fixed-term tenancies.
  • If the tenancy agreement sets out a schedule for increasing rent, your landlord must stick to it. For example, if your tenancy agreement states that there will be a 2% increase yearly, then this is the only increase that can be made.
  • Your landlord must give you a minimum of one month’s notice of any rent increase if you pay your rent weekly or monthly. If you pay rent yearly or over any other extended period, then changes must be given in writing at least 6 months before they come into force.

How do I know if a proposed increase is fair?

The government states that any rent increases must be “fair and realistic”, and laws limit changes so they are in line with the local average. The question is, how do you know if a proposed rent increase is “fair and realistic”? The term is incredibly vague and one person’s idea of realistic is another’s idea of unfair.

Many people take to looking at the whole rental market in their area to compare the rental costs of properties nearby. This is a time-consuming strategy and seldom gives a realistic picture of the situation. The best thing to do is look at apartments or houses that are similar to yours in terms of size, bedrooms, and location. Compare the rental cost of these properties against how much your home will cost after the increase.

If you think the rent rise is unfair or unrealistic speak to your landlord and tell him what you have found. If they won’t budge or negotiate, then you can take the dispute to a tribunal (more later). The process for doing so is incredibly simple but we would advise you to get legal advice before doing so.

When CAN’T a landlord increase Rent?

The rules for when a landlord can’t increase the rent on a property are perhaps unsurprisingly the opposite of the rules for when they can.

If you are on a rolling week-by-week or month-by-month tenancy agreement, then your landlord cannot increase your rent more than once in a calendar year unless you agree to further changes.

If you are on a fixed-term tenancy agreement, then the price you pay for your rent is set in stone for the entire contract and your landlord cannot increase the rent until the agreement ends (again that is unless you agree).

On top of this, your landlord cannot increase your rent “unfairly”. In other words, they can’t suddenly double the cost of living at the property if this is not in line with other rental property rates in the area.

One more thing to consider is that rent increases can still take place during the COVID-19 outbreak, so long as the rules are followed. While this may seem harsh, it’s worth noting that many landlords are withholding increases to allow tenants a little breathing space during these financially uncertain times.

What to do if your landlord tries to increase rent illegally.

We mentioned this briefly above. If you think that the rent increase is unfair or even illegal, then you can take your case to something called a First-Tier Tribunal if you live in England. These tribunals are independent and will listen to both sides of the argument before making a decision that will be binding for both you and your landlord. You can access a First-Tier Tribunal at any time if you think your rent is too high and don’t have to wait for an increase.

We would always advise that you take legal advice before heading to a tribunal as some less scrupulous landlords may evict you from your property if you take up this option. And while there are laws in place to prevent such things from happening, people on Assured Shorthold Tenancy have fewer rights and security and may find they have no option but to move out.

If you are worried about the cost of going to a tribunal speak to the Citizens Advice Bureau. They may be able to help or get you in touch with a Law Centre that can advise you on your legal options.

What Options Do I Have if I am Notified of a Rent Increase?

When you are notified of a rent increase you have a variety of options.

Your first option is to accept the increase. If it is fair and you have no issue with paying it, this is the most straightforward option.

If the increase is fair but you think you will struggle to find the extra money you could try speaking to your landlord. They may be able to cancel or reduce the increase. If you are on a rolling contract you always have the option of leaving the property and finding somewhere else to live. If you are on a fixed-term contract you may feel you are trapped and have no option but to pay the increase. In these cases, it’s worth looking in your tenancy agreements for breaking clauses that allow you to leave the agreement early. These are often set out in relation to rent increases and you may find that you can leave the property without penalty.

If you believe the rent increase is unfair then have a look at our advice above regarding illegal rent increases.

Can I ask for my rent to be reduced?

Yes, you can. All rental agreements can be amended if all parties agree to do so. If you are struggling to pay rent due to circumstances out of your control, then speak to your landlord. They don’t have to agree to reduce the rate, but until you’ve asked you won’t know. They may even allow you a few months grace to get back on your feet.

It may also be prudent to check your rental agreement which may dictate terms for rent freezes, deferments, etc. that may be helpful in the short term.

Where can I go for more help?

If you are having a problem with paying rent or you’ve been advised of an increase (fair or unfair) that you will have difficulty paying, then there are several avenues open to you.

Your first port of call should always be your landlord. Speak to them and explain the situation. If you think the increase is unfair, explain this to them and show them any evidence you have. If you are having difficulty paying, tell them why. Most landlords will try to help out their tenants.

If you get nowhere with your landlord, speak to the Citizens Advice Bureau. They will be able to advise you on your rights and may be able to help you sort out any money issues you have. They will also be able to point you in the right direction for legal advice if you think your rent increase is unlawful. The Citizens Advice Bureau’s website also contains a vast array of housing information and advice.

Shelter, the charity for homeless people, also give out free advice on how to deal with landlords. Give them a ring or contact them through their website to get a good idea of your rights.

In conclusion

Nobody ever wants to hear the words rent increase but it’s a fact of life that if you live in rented accommodation the price of living will go up at some point.

We hope that with a little help from this guide, the next time your rent goes up, you have a better understanding of what your options are and how you can deal with the change.

Sources

Rent increases – Shelter England
Landlords holding back on rent increases during Covid, poll reveals (landlordzone.co.uk)

What Are The Rental Rules In The UK? | UK Property Guides

Private renting: Rent increases – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Dealing with a rent increase – Citizens Advice