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An Introduction to the Legal Rights of Landlords in England

By 6 min read • September 17, 2019
A man holding a house model

Although much of the information out there relates to tenants’ rights, landlords in England have rights too. However, it is easy to get caught up in the complex web of legislation surrounding property letting.

Tenants are very well protected in England. There is a lot of legislation in place to ensure they aren’t taken advantage of or forced to live in dangerously unsafe properties. While the majority of landlords are upstanding people who take care of their tenants and their properties there are still some out there who flout the rules.

Many landlords are ‘accidental’ landlords. They end up in the private rental sector because they inherited a property or moved in with a partner and decided to rent out their other property. The number of professional landlords with large portfolios is relatively small and the Fergus Wilsons of this world are few and far between.

If you are letting out a property for money, you need to be aware of your landlord rights.

An inexperienced landlord can quite easily fall foul of the law and this can have far reaching implications for your investment. Read on to boost your awareness of a landlord’s rights in England.

Tenancy law

Landlord and tenant rights are governed by the Landlord and Tenant Act [1985]. It’s a long and boring read, so we wouldn’t hold it against you if you haven’t read it in minute detail.

However, it is a good idea to be aware of your legal responsibilities as a landlord. We will touch on some of these below.

Landlords Have the Right to Increase Rent

You have the right to increase rents, but only if you stick to certain rules, you can’t just put the rent up arbitrarily.

In a periodic tenancy, landlords can increase the rent once a year – but no more than that, unless the tenant agrees to an increase.

In a fixed-term tenancy, landlords can’t increase the rent until the tenancy comes to an end unless the tenant agrees.

Landlords Property Access Rights

A tenant living in a rental property has the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of that property. This means that you can’t visit the property unannounced. You must give the tenant notice if you want to attend the property for any reason. The notice period you must give is usually stipulated in the tenancy agreement but it is customary to give 24 / 48 hours notice.

The only exception to this rule is if you need to access your property in the event of a genuine emergency. For instance, if your rental property is a flat and the neighbour below reports water running through their ceiling and you can’t get hold of the tenant you can access the property to turn the water off. It must be a genuine emergency and you should make an attempt to contact the tenant first.

Landlords Right to Repair

Landlords have the right to carry out repairs to their property. If you need access to the property to carry out a repair, then you must give your tenant notice as mentioned in the previous section. It is customary to give 24 / 48 hours notice, but the notice period is usually stipulated in the tenancy agreement, so you should stick to the notice period therein. This is also the case if you need access for any other non-emergency, such as a property inspection.

Repossession Rights at the end of a

Landlords have the right to repossess their property at the end of a fixed-term tenancy. There are certain notice periods that must be observed. The standard notice period is 2 months, but you should check your tenancy agreement to be certain.

Evicting a Tenant During a Tenancy

Landlords have the right to evict a tenant if they fall into arrears with their rent. Landlords can also evict if they want to sell the property, or for any other reason. There are strict rules around evictions.

The exact eviction protocol depends on what type of tenancy agreement you have. Most landlords use assured shorthold tenancy agreements, either fixed-term (for example, 12 months) or periodic tenancies that roll over each month.

You can use a Section 21 notice to evict a tenant at the end of a fixed-term tenancy.

Use a Section 8 notice to evict a tenant if they breach their tenancy agreement, for example, by failing to pay the rent.

If your tenants refuse to leave by the date on the notice, you will need to apply for a standard possession order through the courts. Use an accelerated possession order if rent arrears isn’t the reason for the eviction. A warrant for possession is required if tenants still refuse to leave, in this scenario bailiffs are used to remove tenants and their belongings.

Evicting a Tenant who Lives With you

Live-in tenants typically rent a room in your home. You are able to evict live-in tenants but the rules are a bit different.

Live-in tenants should be given reasonable notice of your intention to evict them. It is customary to give a live-in tenant one month’s notice, or one week if they pay rent weekly.

You can give notice verbally; you don’t need to put it in writing. If the live-in tenant doesn’t remove their belongings by the time the notice is up you are within your rights to change the lock on their room, even if they still have items stored in there.

Older Tenancies and Eviction Rights

Tenancies that began prior to 1997 are different again. Tenants with assured or regulated tenancies have more rights when it comes to eviction.

You’ll have to give notice, citing serious rent arrears or serious anti-social behaviour. If your reasons are not serious or can’t be proven, the court is far less likely to grant you a possession order.

If you want to evict a tenant on an assured or regulated tenancy, it’s a good idea to seek advice from an expert before you give notice.

Section 21 and a Landlord’s Rights

A recent court case has cast doubt on a landlord’s right to repossess their property using a Section 21 notice. The landlord at the centre of the case failed to hand over a gas safety certificate at the start of the tenancy. He did hand one over before the Section 21 notice was sent and the property had no gas appliances, but the tenant used this to appeal against an eviction notice for non-payment of rent – and the appeal was successful.

According to the RLA:

“On appeal in the county court, the judge concluded that the new regulations meant that where a landlord has failed to give the tenant a gas safety certificate before they occupy the property, this is a breach that cannot be remedied later, and as such the landlord can never rely on a section 21 notice.”

The RLA is currently appealing for donations to help fight the judgement in the Court of Appeal. It says the judgement breaches a landlord’s right to repossess their property. If the appeal is unsuccessful, it could have far-reaching effects on the private rental sector.

Use Break Clauses in Tenancy Agreements

Always insert a break clause into your tenancy agreements. This gives you (or the tenant) an option to end the tenancy at a fixed point.

A Landlord’s Right to Sell a Property

It’s your property so you have the right to sell it at any time. However, if you don’t intend to sell with a tenant in situ you must follow the appropriate eviction procedure, as we have already outlined.

Dealing with a Tenant’s Belongings

Tenants sometimes leave belongings behind when they leave a property. These items cannot be disposed of or sold by the landlord.

If belongings are left behind you can ask the tenant to pay any charges you’ve incurred for removing the items. For example, if you need to hire a skip to remove rubbish from the property you can invoice the tenant or deduct the costs from their deposit.

Before you sell or discard any items belonging to a tenant, make sure you follow the correct protocol, as per the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act. This resource has a lot of useful information on the subject.

Send a letter to the tenant via recorded delivery or hand-deliver it, letting them know you intend to remove their goods and dispose of these items in an appropriate manner. Provide contact details, so the tenant can get in touch to organise a time to collect their items and let them know where the items are being stored. Give notice of how long you intend to keep the items before disposing of them; two to four weeks is perfectly reasonable.

If your tenant has absconded or not left a forwarding address the onus is on you to take reasonable steps to find them. Use a tracing agent and keep a copy of their report, especially if they’ve not been able to find the tenant. It’s important to have a paper trail to evidence that you’ve done everything in your power to find and make contact with the tenant.

Pro tip: use a no trace, no fee agent. That way, it won’t cost you anything if the tenant can’t be traced.

Where can Landlords get Help?

There is a lot to think about when letting out a property. Not surprisingly, a lot of landlords decide to use a letting agent to avoid any issues. They would rather not take any chances.

This is perfectly understandable given the amount of legislation a landlord must comply with. Managing buy to let properties is not as taxing as you might think. Using property management software like Landlord Vision takes a lot of the stress away from the management side of things, so it is well worth considering.

Don’t assume a letting agent is the only option on the table. With the right education, you can do most things yourself – and save money in the process!

We hope this has cleared up a few things for you. As always, feel free to get in touch if you have any comments, suggestions, or ideas for future articles. You can contact us by leaving a comment below or reaching out on Facebook or Twitter.

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