Foundations of landlord and tenant law – Part 11
I said last week that I was going to talk about the Rent Act this week. However, on reflection, before I look at the main statutory codes which govern tenancies today, I really need to take a quick look at two other pieces of legislation which are very important in tenancy law:
- The landlords repairing obligations, and
- The protection from eviction act
The protection from Eviction Act 1977
Perhaps I had better look at the Protection from Eviction Act first, as it came first. It was one of the big acts passed by the Labour administration at that time to improve tenants rights.
Under this act, it is a criminal offence AND a civil wrong (entitling the tenant to go to the civil courts for compensation) to evict any residential tenant other than via a court action for possession (or ‘due process’ as it is called by lawyers).
Which is why you can no longer physically ‘re-enter’ a property under the old forfeiture rules discussed last time.
It is also an offence for a landlord to do anything which will make the tenant move out whether or not that was the intention of the landlord. In order of severity, this includes things like
- Taking out the doors, walls and windows
- Cutting off the services such as gas and electricity
- Refusing to do repair work, and
- Going round and shouting at the tenant
This is not a complete list but it gives you an idea.
It is a defence if the landlord had reasonable grounds for doing whatever it was. So if there is a gas leak and the whole block is about to be blown sky high, it’s all right to switch the gas off. However, the fact that the tenant is in arrears of rent, for example, does not justify going around and shouting at the tenant every day demanding payment.
Or indeed to send daily text messages.
These things will also be a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. So if you are a tenant and want to sue for compensation in the civil courts, that will be the basis of your claim.
Excluded licenses and tenancies
The protection from Eviction Act applies across the board to all tenancies and licenses – but there are a few exceptions. The landlord will not need to get a court order if the occupier is one of a list of excluded tenants and occupiers set out in section 3A.
One of the most important of these is where the occupier lives in the landlords own home. This will normally be where someone takes in a lodger and shares living accommodation with them, but it will also apply if the occupier has a tenancy of his room, so long as living accommodation is shared with the landlord.
For the exception to apply however the landlord (or a member of his family) must have lived in the building as his only or principal home immediately before the license or tenancy is created and at the time it ends (although maybe not in between). The shared accommodation must be ‘proper’ accommodation such as a bathroom, kitchen and/or living room, not just a shared hallway and storage space.
I have written more about this on my Lodger Landlord website.
Lodgers are not the only excluded categories, others include bona fide holiday lets and situations where squatters are allowed to stay “as a temporary expedient”.
The landlords statutory repairing obligations
These are set out in section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and apply to all tenancies with a term of less than seven years. Under this section the landlord must keep in repair:
- The structure and exterior of the property and
- The installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation and
- For space and water heating.
These obligations are implied into ALL tenancies and cannot be excluded by any contract term (other than by a court order, which I have never heard of anyone actually obtaining).
So, for example, landlords need to be very careful about letting tenants into a property at a very low rent on the basis that they will carry out essential repair work. Because once in, the tenants can turn round and say ‘I’m not doing it, mate”.
The agreement to do the repair work will be unenforceable (if it is work that comes within section 11) but the low rent will continue to apply.
There are a few exceptions
The rules say that landlords will not have to do the repairs:
- Where the disrepair has been caused by the tenants failure to look after the property in a ‘tenant-like manner’
- Where the item in question belongs to the tenant (or as the act puts it, it is something he is entitled to remove from the premises), and
- A landlord does not have to rebuild or reinstate a property if it has been destroyed or damaged by “fire, or by tempest, flood or other inevitable accident”.
Finally, the landlord will not be liable for failing to do repairs for something he knows nothing about (we thought for a while that this rule had been changed in Edwards v. Kumarasamy but the Supreme Court reinstated it).
So before complaining about their terrible property to the authorities or bringing any claim for disrepair, tenants should tell the landlord about the problem and formally request that the repair work is done.
This needs to be done in writing (an ordinary letter will do) and make sure you keep a copy.
Next week, the Rent Act.