Barred from Entering My Own Rented Property
Landlords and tenants often fall foul of the law when they mistakenly prevent the other from entering a rented property. It’s an all too common occurrence – and one that sometimes finds itself being resolved through the courts. The mistakes are made out of ignorance on one side or the other. So, in the interests of clarity, let’s set the record straight.
There are two facts that anyone involved in letting or renting a property in the UK should be aware of, before we even start to delve deeper into the ins and outs of this situation:
- Tenants are entitled to quiet enjoyment of their home; and
- Landlords are entitled to enter their let dwelling under certain circumstances.
Most tenancy agreements provide the landlord with a right of access. This is important, as it underlines the fact that the tenant has pre-agreed to this facility at the commencement of tenancy. However, nothing entered into a tenancy agreement can alter or discard the rights granted to the tenant under primary legislation. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the tenancy agreement follows the rule of law – and does not frustrate, confuse or attempt to obstruct it.
For example, while the landlord has the right to enter the let dwelling under certain circumstances, he cannot make provision in the tenancy agreement to gain access at any time or under any circumstances. If he followed this improper clause through, his actions would, in fact, be classed as harassment in the eyes of the courts. And landlords be warned, the penalties for harassment are severe.
Landlords are entitled to enter their property while it is let to a tenant, providing they give at least 24 hours notice and wish to enter to make a necessary repair or attend to maintenance deemed urgent. The only exception here might be when the tenant is unavailable and a neighbour or someone else reports an emergency, such as a fire or flood. In all other cases, the landlord must make the arrangement during socially acceptable hours.
If the landlord follows the rules above and the tenant obstructs him gaining access, they would be in breach of their tenancy agreement and the implied rights of the landlord granted under the Housing Act. The landlord could then pursue possession of the property through the courts using ground twelve.
The tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment does not extend to them obstructing the landlord’s reasonable access. So, they are not entitled to change the locks without written authority or without providing the landlord with a key (in fact, changing the locks is usually prohibited in the tenancy agreement in any event). This type of behaviour would also trigger the landlord’s right to seek possession of the property.
While the Housing Act makes direct and unequivocal reference to ‘repairs’, it fails to address the landlord’s right of access to complete legally demanded inspections, such as the annual gas safety inspection. However, advice from the Health & Safety Executive suggests that the landlord should make and be able to prove that he has made at least three attempts to undertake the inspection and should ensure the provision for gaining access under these circumstances are contained in the tenancy agreement. A notice should also be put through the tenant’s letterbox on each occasion, stating that an attempt at gaining entry has been made and that the tenant should contact the landlord urgently to rearrange a new appointment.
If the tenant subsequently continues to deny access, a wise landlord will write to both the local authority and to the Health & Safety Executive reporting this fact, just so there is adequate evidence available that three attempts have been made and that the inspection has not been carried out because the tenant has blocked each attempt. It might also be appropriate to write to the tenant explaining that they may be breaching the Gas Safety Regulations when they obstruct the legally required annual inspection – and that this is a criminal offence.
Good record-keeping and adequate notes of any tenant denying access under these circumstances, should offset the potentially serious offence and consequences that failing to undertake an annual gas safety inspection ordinarily carries.
Letting agents might also have difficulties with the tenant providing access for repairs or for the safety inspection, particularly if there have been recent disagreements or where there has been a fundamental breakdown in the agent tenant relationship. The rules of law do not change – the landlord remains entitled to enter the premises under the above circumstances and with due notice and, if he has authorised an agent to act on his behalf, the agent is granted the same privileges.
However, the agent is also in the same hand-tied situation with regard to the gas safety inspection, as they cannot enter without the tenant’s consent and must not (under any circumstances, except a dire emergency) make forced entry. In the situation where the tenant frustrates and obstructs letting agent access, it might be useful for the landlord to intervene, as this will at least provide some proof that every possible attempt has been made to fulfil the obligation of carrying out a gas safety inspection demanded by law. At some point, however, both agent and landlord may have to accept defeat – and providing there is enough evidence of having tried repeatedly, neither the agent nor the landlord will be held liable.
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