Is a tenancy illegal if the landlord does not own the property?
I get asked this sometimes by tenants who get very suspicious if they do a search at the Land Registry and find that their landlord is not given as the owner. Or if they see that the landlord is a joint owner and the other owner is not named on the tenancy agreement.
Frequently they will ask if they can use this as a reason to end the tenancy as their landlord has not ‘acted legally’. Or, optimistically, if they can use this as an excuse not to pay their rent!
Sadly I have to quash these hopeful arguments. For a start, the fact that the landlord is not named as the owner at the land registry does not mean he has no right to rent the property to you.
For example he may be leasing the property from the owner – not all leases have to be registered at the Land Registry. And there is no reason why just one of joint owners of property should not rent out the property under his sole name – assuming his co-owner does not object.
Tenants can’t challenge their landlord’s right to rent
However even if the co-owner does object, or even if the landlord is a squatter with no right to the property at all, there is nothing his tenant can do about this. This is due to a legal rule which says that if you are a tenant you do not have the right to challenge or question your landlords right to let to you.
Of course if the landlord actually IS a squatter, then you will be at risk of being evicted by the true owner at any time. If this happened then you would have a claim against your landlord for breach of contract, although this would not do you much good as the ‘landlord’ would almost certainly have vanished without trace.
However, if this did not happen and there was nothing to stop you living at the property, then so far as the agreement between you and the squatter landlord is concerned it is binding. So you will still be liable for the rent, and he will be bound by the various regulations for example regarding gas certificates, and keeping the property in repair.
Scams and scammers
Generally if you have been living at the property for a while, it is likely that your landlord is legally entitled to let the property to you. There are a number of scams where criminals offer to rent properties they do not own (or even for properties which do not exist). However here the object is normally to get the rent and deposit up front and the tenant never gets to live in the property.
Largely because of this though, it is no bad thing to do some due diligence on a prospective landlord and property before you sign a tenancy agreement. It will help you avoid the scammers and you will be able to question the landlord about his right to rent the property if your investigations do not show him as the owner. Because once you sign you will be bound by the tenancy whether the landlord owns the property or not.
Have you had any situations where you have rented from people who did not own the property?