Conducting property inspections is an essential part of being a responsible and savvy landlord. Not only are you obliged to carry out repairs as and when they are needed but leaving a tenant to his or her own devices for umpteen years is a recipe for disaster. For one thing, they might not be taking good care of your investment, and for another, they could have illegally sub-let it to a bunch of strangers. However, even though you own the property, you don’t have an automatic right of access, except in a few specific circumstances.
It’s very important to stay on the right side of the law. Throwing caution to the wind and letting yourself into the property early one morning is not allowed. In fact, it’s likely to go horribly wrong, with you being questioned by some burly police officers with zero sense of humour, or worse, being given a free ride to the nearest police station.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the rules relating to rental property access. Read on to find out when and why you can enter your rental property when you have tenants living there.
A landlord’s Rights of Access
Landlords have some rights of access, as per the Housing Act 1988, but there are key rules to follow.
You must give your tenants a minimum of 24-hours’ notice if you want access to the property for any non-emergency reason but be aware that you must have a genuine reason to ask for access.
Landlords can give notice by various means:
- Text message
- Phone call
Whichever way you choose to give notice, make sure the tenant has agreed to receive notice this way. Keep a record of them giving permission (in writing), in case of any disputes later.
Once you have given notice, you can’t just show up 24 hours later and expect to gain entry. If you show up unexpectedly, tenants have the right to say “no, go away”. You must schedule a visit during “reasonable hours”, and by reasonable, we mean reasonable to your tenants. So, if your tenant works nights, work out a suitable time to visit that won’t impact their sleep patterns.
A notice period gives tenants a chance to tidy up and make arrangements to be in the property. It also gives them time to remove any incriminating items, such as forbidden pets or sub-letting tenants, so do bear this in mind.
It’s likely that you have a key to the property, but don’t make the mistake of letting yourself in, even if you are certain the property is empty. This is strictly against the law unless you can legitimately claim it was an emergency.
Access to Carry out Repairs
Landlords have a responsibility to carry out repairs. As such, all assured tenancy agreements include a clause that states tenants must let the landlord or his agent access the property to make repairs. However, you must still give notice, as stated above.
Essential Legal Checks You can Request Access For
As a responsible landlord, you have the right to access the property to ensure it’s safe. Landlords can request access to their properties to check the following:
- Smoke and CO alarms
- Heating appliances
- Fire safety equipment
Since scheduling events like a boiler service are a statutory requirement for landlords, it’s wise to plan in advance, so you can organise an appointment for a contractor to visit that is acceptable to your tenant.
If you have trouble accessing the property, keep a record of all communication with the tenant. This will show you took all reasonable steps, in the event the tenant decides to sue you for not maintaining the property to the required standard.
Landlords can access a rental property in an emergency, without first seeking consent from the tenant. Examples of emergency scenarios include:
- A neighbour reports water pouring through their ceiling from your flat upstairs.
- A neighbour reports a nasty smell of decay and you can’t get hold of the tenant
- There is a fire or a gas leak in the property
- You strongly suspect the tenant is doing something illegal
- You need to carry out urgent structural repairs to the property
This is not an exhaustive list, so use your best judgement and be prepared to justify your need to access the property, in the event the tenant makes an official complaint.
Tenants Have the Right to “Quiet Enjoyment”
In most standard tenancy agreements, there is a covenant that states tenants have the right to “quiet enjoyment”. Even if the covenant is not there, it is implied by law.
In simple terms, this covenant means tenants have the right to enjoy living in your property without being bugged by you or your agent.
A Tenant’s Right to Refuse Access
While you have the right to request access to your property, tenants have the right to say “no” to any request. However, do not assume the tenant is just being difficult. A convenient time for you to visit might not be convenient for them. Be mindful of the hours they work and other factors. Do your best to fit in with their schedule, even if the time they suggest does not fit in with your working hours.
It’s very important to maintain a good working relationship with your tenants. Being flexible about visiting times is all part of the process.
Ideally, when you want to schedule a visit to the property, whether it’s a routine property inspection or a safety check, offer the tenant several times and days, so they can choose the most convenient one. If they still refuse, ask them to suggest a time and day that suits them.
What Happens When a Tenant Refuses Access to the Property?
Unfortunately, as tenants are not obliged to give you access, there might come a time when you end up with a difficult tenant who flatly refuses to let you in the property, even for legitimate reasons. Unless there is a good reason for their lack of cooperation, for example, they are trying to protect a vulnerable sick relative, you may have a problem on your hands.
Chances are if a tenant doesn’t want you in the property, it’s because they have something to hide. This could be anything from an attic full of marijuana plants to property damage or dozens of stray cats camped in the living room.
It’s in your interests to try and negotiate entry, especially if the boiler needs servicing or you want to fix an issue with the plumbing or any other health and safety related issues.
Always keep a record of all communications between you and the tenant. Be professional. Don’t lose your temper and threaten the tenant if they won’t let you in.
If all else fails and the tenant continues to refuse you access to the property for any reason, you may have no choice but to serve an eviction notice or seek a court order to gain access. Naturally isn’t ideal, so try all other avenues first.
Recovering Costs When a Tenant Refuses Entry
If your tenant has refused to give you access and his actions are judged “unreasonable”, you can seek to recover your costs from them. The law states this is your right, however, the success of your claim hinges on whether the tenant has any money…
Do Tenants Have the Right to Change the Locks?
It’s a grey area but in some instances, yes. Most tenants won’t do this, as it costs them money, but if a tenant feels threatened in any way, there is a chance they will change the locks to ensure the landlord can’t enter the property without permission.
A rogue tenant may also choose to change the locks to be certain you can’t catch them in the act of doing something dodgy.
If a tenant does change the locks without permission, they will need to justify their actions if the case ends up in adjudication. Some examples of when a tenant is justified in changing the locks include the following:
- A tenant feels they have been harassed by a landlord and has changed the locks to make themselves feel safe from unwanted attention
- A landlord is slow to change the locks after a burglary or the keys were stolen
- A landlord persists in entering the property without permission
Take Legal Advice if You Have Issues Gaining Access
This article aims to offer general advice, but it’s always best to seek legal advice from a lawyer if you are having problems accessing a rental property, a tenant is being evasive, or you are not sure whether you have the right to enter. If you do the wrong thing, it will end badly, so think before you act.
Read More Like This: