A tenancy agreement will always exist between a landlord and tenant, whether or not it is in writing. A tenancy agreement consists of the arrangements the landlord and tenant have made about the tenancy, as well as any rights automatically incorporated in the tenancy agreement by law (statutory rights). The tenancy agreement can give both landlord and tenant more than their statutory rights ; it cannot take away rights that they have by law.
The ‘express terms’ of the tenancy agreement are those which were specifically agreed in writing (or orally, although this is harder to prove) between a landlord and tenant. ‘Implied terms’ are terms which, whilst not specifically in the agreement, are part of it because they are either written down in an Act of Parliament (‘statutory implied terms’) or have been established in the past by cases in court.
A tenancy agreement can, therefore, be made up of :-
- a written signed agreement. These are express terms of the agreement; and/or
- what was agreed orally. These are also express terms of the agreement, but may be difficult to prove, unless there were witnesses; and/or
- any rights conferred by statute or established by case law. These are implied terms of the agreement; and/or
- what was written in the original rent book; and/or
- any arrangements/agreements made since the tenancy started. These are also implied terms of the agreement.
If you have a problem with your landlord, the first thing to do is look at any written agreement you have. This could be in a contract or it could be a letter or email from your landlord/agent.
Access to the property by the landlord
The landlord has the right to ‘reasonable’ access to carry out repairs for which s/he is responsible, but s/he should always ask for the tenant’s permission, and should give at least 24 hours’ notice. If the landlord wants to enter the property for any other reason, for example, to show round a prospective purchaser, s/he can only do this with the tenant’s agreement.
The tenant has a right of quiet enjoyment of the tenancy. This means that you can occupy the premises without being disturbed by the landlord or her/his agents. Quiet enjoyment is an implied contractual right whether or not it is written into the tenancy agreement.
Entering the property without the tenant’s permission
If the landlord is repeatedly entering the accommodation without the tenant’s permission, s/he is committing a civil offence because:-
- s/he is in breach of contract, because s/he has broken the implied term to allow the tenant uninterrupted use of the accommodation. This is known as breach of quiet enjoyment; and
- s/he is trespassing on the tenant’s premises.
If the landlord is entering the accommodation so often and at such times that the tenant no longer feels secure in her/his own home, this could be interpreted as a form of harassment. Harassment is a criminal offence and the landlord could be prosecuted. There are also civil remedies to deal with harassment.
Finding out who the landlord is
The landlord or anyone acting on her/his behalf must provide the landlord’s full name and address when this is requested in writing by a tenant. The tenant has a legal right to know the name and address of the landlord under Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
You can inspect the Land Register to find out who is the owner of a registered property, although a fee will be charged for this. More information is available from www.landregistry.gov.uk.
A landlord must not unlawfully discriminate against an occupier or prospective occupier, for example, in the terms on which s/he offers a tenancy or in the way s/he treats her/his tenants. It is unlawful for a landlord to discriminate you because of disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation by treating you less favourably. A landlord also has a duty to make reasonable adjustments when this is requested by a disabled occupier or prospective occupier.
Gas, electricity and water
If the accommodation does not have an adequate supply of lighting, heating and hot water, the local authority may take action.
Responsibility for bills
The tenant, as the occupier of the accommodation, must pay for the fuel and water used. You may pay the bills yourself, or the cost of fuel and water may be included in the rent so that the landlord can pay the bills.
If you are responsible for paying for gas or electricity bills, you also have the right to choose the energy supplier.
Can the landlord disconnect the gas, electricity or water
The landlord should not disconnect a fuel or water supply because the tenant has not paid rent. S/he should take the appropriate action for recovering rent arrears.
If the landlord disconnects your fuel or water supply in order to try to make you leave, this is a form of harassment and is a criminal offence.
From 30 June 1999, water companies cannot disconnect a domestic water supply. This means that if the landlord fails to pay the bills, the water company must take court action against her/him, but cannot disconnect the supply.
If the landlord is responsible for paying the fuel bills and has not done so, the supply may be disconnected. If you have had your supply disconnected by the fuel companies because the landlord hasn’t paid the bills, you could:-
- contact the local authority, who can arrange for the services to be reconnected and to pay the bills on the behalf of the landlord. If the local authority takes this action, the tenant will normally pay rent to the local authority until the local authority has recouped the money paid for the bills. All tenants can apply to the local authority in this way, not just local authority tenants
- apply to the county court for an injunction to get the supply reconnected and claim damages for any costs incurred because of the disconnection. You would need legal advice
- try to get the supply put into your name so that the bills are sent to you. This will mean, however, that you will be ultimately responsible for paying the bill.
Safety of electrical appliances
A landlord has a responsibility to ensure that any electrical appliances supplied with the accommodation are safe. This includes heaters, cookers, kettles, and any other electrical goods.
If you are concerned that an electrical appliance is not safe, tell your landlord. You could also contact the trading standards department of the local authority. Trading standards departments have a duty to enforce legislation which covers the safety of electrical appliances supplied with accommodation.
More information on the safety of electrical appliances is available from the Electrical Safety Council’s website at www.esc.org.uk.
Safety of gas appliances
If you are worried about gas fittings and you have been ill, suffering, for example, from lethargy, fatigue, headaches, nausea, confusion, vomiting, giddiness, fainting or convulsions, talk to your GP as soon as possible as you may have carbon monoxide poisoning
All gas appliances in bathrooms installed after 1 February 1996 must be sealed off from the room. Gas fires, gas heaters and water heaters of more than 14 kilowatts (kW) in bedrooms or bedsitting rooms must be sealed off from the room. However, heating appliances of less than 14 kW, which are not room-sealed, can be fitted in bedrooms or bedsitting rooms, provided they have a device which cuts off the gas supply before a dangerous level of carbon monoxide builds up.
Landlords must ensure that any relevant gas fitting, including any flue which serves the fitting, is maintained in a safe condition.
Landlords must arrange and pay for safety checks and any necessary work to be carried out on appliances at least once every twelve months. The checks must be carried out by a person who is registered with, or employed by a company registered with, Gas Safe Register, which is monitored by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The HSE operates a special freephone Gas Safety Advice Line. The contact details are:-
HSE Gas Safety Advice Line
Tel: 0800 300 363 (Monday to Thursday from 9.00am to 5.30pm; Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Gas Safe Register has details of registered installers. The contact details are:-
Gas Safe Register
PO Box 6804 BasingstokeRG24 4NB Tel: 0800 408 5500
What furniture must be provided
If a property is let furnished, there is no legal definition of what furniture must be provided or its condition. Normally you could expect a level of furnishing that would be reasonable to enable you to live in the accommodation. This includes:-
- table and chairs in the kitchen/living room
- sofa and/or armchairs in the living room
- a bed and storage for clothes in each bedroom
- heating appliances
- curtains and floor coverings
- a cooker, fridge, kitchen utensils and crockery.
If you think that the provision for furniture is not adequate, you can provide your own furniture, unless this is forbidden in the tenancy agreement. You should store carefully any of the landlord’s furniture which you do not use, unless you can negotiate for the landlord to remove it.
If you are not happy with the condition of the furniture when you move in, discuss this with your landlord. You could check what was stated in the inventory (if one exists) or tenancy agreement about the condition of the furniture. It may be worth noting on the inventory, in the landlord’s presence, any defects or repair problems in the furniture or fittings provided.
An inventory is a list of the furniture and other contents which have been provided in the accommodation by the landlord. It is to the advantage of both tenant and landlord to agree an inventory, since this reduces the probability of a dispute over whether there are missing or damaged items.
The landlord normally draws up an inventory. It should list everything provided in the accommodation for use by the tenant, with a description of the items, including their age and condition.
You should check that you agree with the inventory, sign and date it. You may note any discrepancies (particularly relating to the condition of objects) on the inventory. Take photographs if possible. It is good practice for the landlord to give you a copy.
If the landlord does not draw up and agree an inventory, you could draw one up as soon as you move into the property and get it witnessed (signed and dated) by an independent witness (not a close relative or friend).
Furniture fire safety
Furniture supplied by the landlord
Any furniture provided by a landlord, both in new and in existing lettings, must be fire resistant. Since all furniture sold since 1 September 1990 must meet fire safety regulations, it is increasingly likely that such furniture will be fire resistant.
All new and second-hand upholstered furniture sold after 1 September 1990 should meet the fire safety regulations, and carry a label to say so. Second-hand upholstered furniture pre-dating 1950 does not need to be labelled. The labels should be permanently attached to a hidden part of the item. If you find such a label on a piece of furniture, you can be satisfied that the furniture meets the safety regulations. If a piece of furniture does not carry a label saying that it meets the regulations, it is likely that the item does not meet the regulations and must be replaced.
A landlord would be committing an offence if any of the furniture supplied to a tenant with her/his accommodation does not meet the fire safety regulations.
It is the person who makes the agreement with the tenant who is liable for any breach of the safety regulations. If the agreement is between the landlord and the tenant, it is the landlord who is subject to the regulations. If a letting agent enters into an agreement with a tenant on behalf of the landlord, it is the agent who is responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulations.
The tenancy agreement may state who is responsible for cleaning, for example, any curtains, chair covers or carpets.
If nothing is said in the tenancy agreement about cleaning, the tenant is responsible for keeping fittings and furniture in good condition, which includes cleanliness.
Damage or loss to contents/furniture
What is the tenant’s responsibility
The tenant is responsible for making sure that fittings and any furniture or other contents are not damaged because of negligence by anyone in the household, or by any guests, and that internal decoration is not damaged through negligence. A tenant will not usually be responsible for making good any deterioration caused by ‘fair wear and tear’: for example, over a period of time, most household furniture and contents deteriorate as a result of normal use.
If there is damage for which you are responsible, you are obliged to pay for the cost of repair or replacement. The landlord could deduct the cost from your deposit. Damage may also provide grounds for the landlord to go to court and get possession of the accommodation.
If you have damaged furniture or fittings, you should normally tell the landlord what has happened and try to agree on how the replacement or repair is to be arranged, and how payment will be made. Any item replaced by you becomes the property of the landlord.
If there is damage or loss to furniture or contents, check to see if this is covered by your insurance, or your landlord may have insurance. The tenancy agreement may state who is liable for any damage or loss to contents.
Your tenancy agreement may say that you must not keep a pet. You must keep to the terms of the tenancy agreement and keeping a pet would be a breach of the terms of this agreement. If there is no term in the agreement about pets, you may keep pets. The pet should not be a nuisance to neighbours.
If the tenant removes furniture/contents
If the landlord has reason to believe that the tenant has removed furniture or contents, s/he can:-
- deduct the value from the deposit; and/or
- consult a solicitor to consider taking legal action for compensation; and/or
- report the matter to the police.
If the tenant leaves possessions behind
It is unlawful for a landlord to try to keep or take an occupier’s belongings in most situations. If this is done to try to force her/him to leave, it will probably count as unlawful harassment or illegal eviction.
Where a tenancy has ended and belongings are left behind by an occupier, a landlord has a legal obligation to take care of the belongings . The landlord should:-
- write to the former occupier giving details of the belongings held, and when and how they can be collected
- give the former occupier reasonable time to arrange to collect the belongings
- advise that if the belongings are not collected within the time specified, they will be sold or disposed of.
If the landlord does not have a forwarding address or phone number to contact the former occupier, s/he must make all reasonable attempts to trace her/him, for example, by contacting a relative or friend. Where a former occupier cannot be traced or the landlord receives no response to her/his letter, the belongings can be sold or disposed of after a reasonable period of time. If this happens to you, get specialist advice.