The Housing Act 1988 – why it’s so important
The Housing Act 1988 had a huge impact on the private rental sector when it was launched. More than three decades later, it’s still crucial when it comes to defining landlord and tenant rights in the UK. Here’s a brief history, what it set out to achieve and how it affects you as a property owner.
What is the Housing Act 1988?
Why was the Housing Act 1988 introduced?
What were the outcomes of the Housing Act 1988?
Is the Housing Act the same as a tenancy agreement?
As a landlord do I need to know about the Housing Act 1988?
Does the Housing Act 1988 apply to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland?
Continuing changes within the private rental market
The Housing Act 1988 sets out the legal rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in the UK. The act itself came into force in January 1989.
The act was designed to make the private rental sector fair to both tenants and landlords.
Before it was introduced, tenancies were ‘protected and statutory’ which meant property laws were heavily skewed towards the tenant. Tenants could even claim the right to stay in a rental property indefinitely and eventually pass it on to their children or other relatives. Fundamentally, it meant landlords had little control over their own properties and many shied away from the rental market.
Meanwhile, the landscape of the property market was shifting as the Thatcher government’s Right to Buy scheme saw council tenants buy up the houses they lived in. This, together with an already shrinking private rental market resulted in a lack of rental properties which paved the way for the Housing Act 1988.
The act was designed to redress the balance between tenant and landlord rights and give landlords greater control over possession of their properties. By doing this, the government also hoped to revive the flagging private rental market. The biggest changes were in three key areas:
Security of tenure
This essentially set out two types of tenancy:
- Assured tenancies which are long-term tenancy agreements. These closely resemble the types of rental agreements that existed before the Housing Act 1988 came into force. But importantly, landlords were given the right to evict tenants in certain circumstances (for example, rent arrears).
- Assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) are fixed-term tenancies and are the most common type of private rental agreement in the UK today. Under the 1988 act, landlords can reclaim their properties under the rules set out under Section 8 and Section 21 – so long as they give tenants proper notice.
Read our Guide to the different types of tenancy agreements for more information on tenancy types.
If tenants have an assured tenancy and pass away, only their spouse can inherit rental rights. Before the Housing Act 1988, any relative could inherit.
For most private renters with assured shorthold tenancies, the tenancy will end if they pass away. Their relatives (including the tenant’s spouse) has no right of succession – in other words, the tenancy does not automatically pass to them.
The Housing Act 1988 also allowed landlords to set their own rents. Before this, rent was regulated by the government (and varied according to the age, location and condition of the property).
Tenants do have the right to challenge rent prices but only under limited circumstances. For example, in the first six months of a tenancy starting or after receiving notice of an increase.
No, although the Housing Act 1988 will influence tenancy agreements, they aren’t the same.
The Housing Act 1988 essentially lays down the law governing property rights. Tenancy agreements set out ground rules between you as the landlord and your tenant. Tenancy agreements should of course, only include terms and conditions that are legal and valid according to the Housing Act 1988.
You don’t need to know every rule and regulation by heart, but it is a good idea to be familiar with key aspects of it. It can be particularly useful to have a good understanding of the rules around eviction, rent increases and your obligations as these are the issues you’re most likely to come across.
It’s also vital to ensure that your tenancy agreement doesn’t go against any of the rules in the Housing Act 1988. If it does, you risk invalidating the whole contract which could affect any action you take against your tenants.
Being a landlord comes with a whole host of responsibilities. Ultimately, that means ensuring your property is safe and habitable for your tenants. This includes arranging the relevant gas, electrical, and fire safety checks and securing certification. You can find out more about what you need to do in our guide to landlord responsibilities.
When it comes to your rights, the Housing Act 1988 makes it very clear that as a landlord, you have the legal right to repossess your property. You also have the right to reasonable access, especially if it’s to carry out safety checks or if it’s an emergency.
You also have a right to expect your tenants to carry out their responsibilities which includes taking good care of your property and paying the agreed rent.
The Housing Act 1988 applies to England, Wales, and Scotland. Housing laws in Northern Ireland are set out in the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1981.
However, since the late 1990s, housing has been devolved. That means each home nation is largely responsible for developing their own housing and property regulations.
In Wales, the National Assembly has passed several recent pieces of legislation which can be found at Wales.GOV, housing. For regulations in Scotland, head to GOV.Scot, private renting, and for legislation in Northern Ireland, visit Communities-NI.GOV,housing legislation.
As the private rental market continues to evolve, so too will your responsibilities as a landlord. The good news is that at Alan Boswell Group, our five-star rated insurance products can help protect your assets. Take a look at our landlord hub to find out more about what we offer and how we can provide peace of mind.