Landlord laws and tenants’ rights made easy
A friend recently told me about a time he had rented a room in a Bed and Breakfast hostel. He was living there with his girlfriend and baby daughter, though never received any breakfast. In fact, none of the occupants did.
One day, when my friend returned home from work, his girlfriend told him how the landlord had checked the electricity meter that day. He had used his own key to enter their room, without giving notice or gaining permission. Of course, my friend wasn’t best pleased about this. He changed the locks.
A week later, the landlord took him to task about this. My friend refused to budge. He told the landlord that if he tried to evict him then he would simply go to the authorities. He would report the landlord for defrauding the DHS of social security benefits for a bed and breakfast which wasn’t.
The landlord backed down. He could have been closed down. Both for fraudulent receipt of benefits payments, and also for breaking ‘exclusive occupancy’ and ‘quiet enjoyment’ laws.
While the fraud may seem obvious to you, the concept of ‘exclusive occupancy’ and ‘quiet enjoyment’ may be less so. But, as a landlord, you must understand them and comply with them.
What is an exclusive occupancy?
Put simply, exclusive occupancy is the right for the tenant to live without interference or interruption. The tenant can close the door and shut the world out.
It’s likely that your tenancy agreement includes clauses stipulating the right to exclusive occupancy, but even if it doesn’t, the right is probably there. You see, a court will consider what actually happens, rather than what the paperwork says.
As an example of how a court might judge, my friend’s agreement all those years ago stipulated a licence to stay in the property as a non-trespasser. However, because the terms of the agreement (bed and breakfast) were not carried out, the licence would probably have been considered to be a tenancy by a court.
Further evidence of this is that he had a lock on the door to his room – providing him with the right to exclusive occupancy. The landlord probably realised that he would not be able to evict under a licence agreement. Therefore, he would have to take the more complicated and expensive route of eviction of a tenant.
What is ‘quiet enjoyment’?
Now, let’s consider the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Even if this isn’t stipulated in a tenancy agreement, it certainly applies to it. Though a little confusing, the term simply means that your tenant can live in the property as if it is their home – without disturbance from you as the landlord or anyone acting on your behalf. For example, to enter the property you must get the permission of your tenant. This law extends to doing things like cutting off the supply of utilities. Breach this covenant, and you might be liable to criminal prosecution under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
Returning to my friend’s story, having established that the licence was, in fact, a tenancy and that my friend had the rights of exclusive occupancy, it follows that by entering the room without permission the landlord had breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
My friend’s particular landlord clearly knew he was in a very hot water. He could have been prosecuted under at least two criminal laws, and probably would have been banned from letting properties by the local authority.
It is important to remember that exclusive occupancy and quiet enjoyment usually operate hand in hand. They may apply to all buy-to-let landlords and property types, including HMOs. Indeed, the covenant of quiet enjoyment is one of the strongest rights that tenants have.
The law is toughening up on landlords. Don’t get caught out. Call Ezytrac and benefit from effortless property management on +44 0 1522 503 717 and benefit from being an informed and savvy landlord.
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*Remember that your situation may be unique. The above should be used for guidance only, and not instead of specific legal advice from a lawyer versed in your actual issue or dispute.