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Landlord almighty? 3 things you didn't know your landlord isn't allowed to do

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 12 May 2015
  2. Housing
  3. 0 comments
Upset tenants

All too often, tenants believe themselves to be completely at the mercy of their landlord, simply because they’re not aware of their rights. If you rent your property from someone else, you might be surprised to learn some about some of the laws in place – and discover that things many landlords commonly do are actually illegal.

Unannounced visits

At some point in your life you may have had the unfortunate experience of waking up in the morning to the sound of the landlord hammering on your door; or maybe you’ve blithely stepped out of your bathroom in just a towel, only to find your landlord lurking in the hall. All part of living in someone else’s property, you may have thought – but the truth may surprise you.

While the landlord may own the property, that doesn’t give them the right to barge in on you unannounced. The laws covering this topic are designed to balance the rights of the landlord to access their property with the rights of the tenant to live there in relative peace.

Though many tenants don’t know it, this means landlords are actually required to get their permission to enter the property. According to the Landlord and Tenant Act, a landlord should give tenants 24 hours’ written notice before visiting, and they need a reason to do so, such as wanting to inspect the property or do repairs. The only exception is in the rare case of an emergency – for example, if there is a suspected gas leak and emergency repairs may need to be carried out.

The standard wording of a tenancy agreement also states that the landlord should schedule their visits for a reasonable time – so if, for example, you would prefer that they were not poking around your home while you are at work, they should try to arrange their visit to accommodate this.

Even if your landlord does give you the appropriate notice, they should get your permission too. If you say that the planned visit is an inconvenient day and you would like them to reschedule, they should respect this.

However, it is worth noting that if you repeatedly refuse to allow your landlord to visit, without good reason to do so, you may find yourself in breach of your obligations as a tenant, so you shouldn’t abuse the privilege.

If your landlord and you are on good terms, the formalities may be dispensed with – they might simply give you a call on the day asking if it’s okay for them to drop by. In these cases, though, you retain your right to refuse them entry if you wish.

On the other side of things, if your landlord persists in turning up unannounced, letting themselves into the property when you are not there, or breaching your privacy in other ways, they may be guilty of harassment under the Housing Act and Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

Unreturned deposits

For many tenants, their deposit isn’t something they expect to ever see again. It often seems less like insurance against damage and more like throwing your money into a hole in the ground - a hole that your landlord will probably claim wasn’t there before you moved in.

But actually, deposits are heavily regulated, and there are things you can do if your landlord refuses to pay it back to you.

First of all, if your tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy – the most common kind – your landlord is legally required to put your deposit in a government-backed tenancy deposit protection scheme. They can’t just keep the deposit themselves; they should place it in an appropriate scheme and give you details of it within 30 days of receiving your money. You should also be given information on how to claim back the deposit once the tenancy is over, and the procedure to use if there are any disagreements.

Because your landlord doesn’t hold on to the deposit themselves, they don’t control how much of it you’ll get back. If they try to take a chunk out of your deposit when you leave and you don’t agree with their reasons, the tenancy deposit schemes operate a free alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service, which will help to find a solution to the dispute. However, you both need to agree to undertake ADR in order for this to happen.

If you discover that your landlord did not protect your deposit in the first place (and your tenancy began after the 6th of April 2007), a court could force them to pay you up to three times the value of your deposit in compensation, and they will likely not be able to evict you until this has been resolved.

Unfair terms

Many tenants find the terms of their rental to be confusing, disappointing or simply nonsensical. However, if your landlord or letting agency slaps you with huge charges for seemingly innocuous things, or always seems to be able to dodge their responsibilities thanks to the small print, they could be breaking the law.

When a property is rented through a lettings agency or on a commercial basis, the tenancy agreement will usually be subject to the rules of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. What these regulations mean is that if you sign a contract (in this case, a tenancy agreement) which includes terms which are ‘unfair’, you may not have to abide by those terms.

The meaning of ‘unfair’ can include terms which bias the agreement towards the landlord’s interests, impose unjustified restrictions, penalties or charges, or are simply too difficult for the average person to understand. So, if the rules of your tenancy seem to always be in your landlord’s favour, or your letting agency hits you with outrageous fees for carrying out the simplest task, they could be breaching these regulations and you may be able to challenge them.

This legislation only applies to assured shorthold tenancies, but, as these are the most common type of tenancy, it’s fairly likely that your situation will be covered. If you think your tenancy agreement includes unfair terms, you should contact your local Trading Standards office.

For a full explanation of tenants’ rights and responsibilities, take a look at our Tenancy page.

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