The Housing Act 1988 Explained for Landlords

The Housing Act 1988 is one of the leading statutes that govern property law in England. The Act covers a number of areas around the responsibilities and rights of both landlords and tenants. The Act has also been amended several times since its inception, making it a confusing piece of legislation to follow.

To help you get to grips with the information you need to know, we’ve created a simple-to-follow guide explaining the Housing Act 1988. 

What is the Housing Act 1988?

The Housing Act 1988 is an important piece of legislation for landlords that specifies the legal rights of both the property owner and the tenants. It is, in essence, a set of landlord laws, detailing the statutory rights and legal obligations of both landlords and tenants.

Most landlords are likely to have come across the Housing Act 1988 at some point, as it’s referenced a number of times in tenancy agreements.

A common misconception, however, is that the Housing Act 1988 is interchangeable with a tenancy agreement. These are, in fact, separate documents. A tenancy agreement specifying the terms of an individual tenancy while the Housing Act is used to stipulate the conditions within a tenancy agreement.

New rules for landlords: A timeline

  • 1989: The original Housing Act was developed and put in place as new tenancy laws. The act created a more fair and balanced relationship between landlords and tenants, preventing tenants from staying in properties indefinitely.

  • 1996: The Housing Act is reviewed to identify any shortcomings in the changes.

  • 1997: Based on the findings of the1996 review, revisions were made in regards to grounds of possession, rent arrears and various other areas.

  • 2015: The Deregulation Act made significant changes to Section 21 of the Housing Act, preventing tenants from being unlawfully evicted in retaliation to complaints or repairs requests. The changes to Section 21 took immediate effect on all new tenancies from this point.

  • 2019: The UK government discusses plans to abolish Section 21 completely from the Housing Act. This would require all landlords to disclose the reasons for ending a tenancy and would mean relying on a Section 8 notice instead.

Why was the Housing Act 1988 introduced?

The Housing Act 1988 was introduced to implement new tenancy laws that would give landlords more control over their properties. 

Prior to the introduction of the Housing Act, the relationship between landlords and tenants in the private rental sector was different from what we are used to today. Most tenancies were classed as ‘protected and statutory’, giving tenants much more legal power than landlords. Tenants were, therefore, able to stay in properties indefinitely — to the point of bequeathing a tenancy to a relative when they passed away. This made it difficult for landlords to regain possessions from their own properties.

As a consequence, landlords were less willing to let their properties for fear they would eventually lose control due to the legal inequality between landlords and tenants. 

To help revive the private rental sector and create a more balanced relationship between landlords and their tenants, the UK Government began to draft new tenancy laws. This resulted in the Housing Act 1988, which gave landlords the right to gain possession of their property if the situation called for it.

How did it change laws for landlords?

Below, we explain in detail the three main areas that the Housing Act 1988 changed and how it affected landlords.  

1. Rent regulation

Rent regulation was significantly reduced as a result of the Housing Act 1988, allowing landlords to charge whatever they like for a property. What this change also meant is that tenants are the only ones with any legal right to challenge the rent set by a landlord.

Even if a tenant does wish to challenge the rent they pay, there are only certain instances in which they may legally do so: 

  • During the first six months of an assured shorthold tenancy 

  • When a tenant is serviced with a notice to increase rent — something which can be done by landlords annually to raise a property’s rent once a fixed term has ended. 

2. Succession

The rules of succession have become similar to those under the Rent Act due to the implementation of the Housing Act 1988. This means that today, only a spouse can legally inherit rental rights.

Very few landlords are directly impacted by the changes to succession rules, as assured tenancies — those that stipulate a spouse can inherit rental rights — are uncommon in the UK private rental sector.

Instead, assured shorthold tenancies make up the majority of tenancies, which include no rights of succession. This means that in the event that a tenant dies, a spouse or other beneficiary cannot claim any rights to remain in the property.

3. Security of tenure

The third way that the Housing Act 1988 created new landlord rules is through the security of tenure. The Act essentially split the types of tenancies that landlords can offer tenants:

  • Assured tenancies are similar to the old fashioned ‘protected’ tenancies except landlords are given mandatory ground for possession of a property in the event of serious rent arrears. As described above, assured tenancies are rarely used by private landlords and are more commonplace by social housing providers.

  • Assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) are more popular in the private rental sector. As well as giving tenants the right to challenge rent in the first six months of a tenancy, also described above, it also offers an additional shorthold ground for possession, detailed in Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

The Act also ensures that both assured tenancies and ASTs continue as a statutory tenancy at the end of the contractual fixed term. This provides more security for tenants on an assured tenancy and allows landlords to end an AST at any time, provided a Section 21 notice has been issued.

Changes to the Housing Act 1988

1988 was not the only instance of changes being implemented to the rules surrounding landlords and tenants. The Housing Act 1988 has been updated twice since its implementation; first in 2015 to amend Section 21 and secondly in 2019 with the removal of assured shorthold tenancies.

The Deregulation Act 2015

Changes to Section 21 of the Housing Act were brought into effect with the introduction of the Deregulation Act 2015. The changes were put in place to protect tenants from ‘retaliatory evictions’ — being evicted in retaliation to asking for repairs to be made or making complaints about the condition of a property.

The Deregulation Act 2015 meant that landlords needed to complete a number of steps if they wished to issue a Section 21 notice or no-fault eviction, including:

  • Providing a copy of the licence to all of the tenants in a property (if a property is subject to licensing)

  • Providing tenants with Prescribed Information relating to the protection of their deposit

  • Issuing the property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

  • Providing tenants with an up-to-date Gas Safety Certificate

  • Ensuring that a ‘How to Rent’ guide has been issued to tenants — either physically or digitally

These new laws for landlords took immediate effect and were applied to all new tenancies from 2015 and then all assured shorthold tenancies from October 1 2018. 

New tenancy laws 2019

Back in April 2019, the UK Government announced its plans to completely abolish Section 21 notices. The reason for the decision was in an attempt to give renters in the private rented sector the freedom to make their own housing choices, rather than have them made for them. 

Under these new tenancy laws, landlords would need to present a reason that is already specified in law if they wish to bring a tenancy to an end. This would also mean that they would need to use a Section 8 notice rather than a Section 21 notice.

Section 8 notices are only valid if a tenant has fallen into rent arrears, has been involved in criminal or antisocial behaviour or broken the terms of their tenancy agreement. Controversially, Section 8 notices are also much easier for tenants to dispute than a Section 21 notice, causing many landlords to fear that they will struggle to regain possession of their properties if required.

Currently, the abolition of Section 21 notices is still under consideration. However, the government insists that Section 8 will be amended to allow landlords to sell their properties or move back into them without complications.

Learn more about the Housing Act 1988

The Housing Act 1988 is a detailed and complex legal document. Although we’ve summarised some of the key details that landlords need to know, you can read the full Act by visiting the government’s website

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