A landlord's right to access property – whether for viewing or inspecting purposes – is a provocative topic and remains one of the leading causes of tension between landlords and tenants.
Landlord and tenant rights can often feel like they are in direct conflict. This is how some landlords have been accused of trespassing or sued for unlawful entry by a disgruntled tenant.
However, you can easily avoid disputes if you and your tenants know your responsibilities.
Landlords must understand that, although they own the property, they still require some agreement from the tenant before accessing it. Equally, tenants should be aware that refusing access to landlords can lead to formal action being taken against them.
Unfortunately, the ever-changing legislative landscape means that tenancy agreements are continuously adjusted to address the changes. As a result, your rights and responsibilities are not always clear.
Of course, there may come a time during the tenancy when you wish to access the property for varying reasons. With this in mind, it's important to know your responsibilities towards tenants.
1. Contractual terms and 'quiet enjoyment.'
Within your tenancy agreement, typically under the Landlord Obligation section, you may come across the term 'covenant to quiet enjoyment'. This is an established rule in law, even if it isn't explicitly detailed in the agreement.
This covenant means that your tenants are entitled to enjoy the property without interference from you, your letting agency, or anyone else.
Per tenant and landlord law, you're required to give 24 hours notice before you visit. Otherwise, your tenants are within their legal rights to refuse you entry (except in particular circumstances). You can give notice via email or a message.
However, your tenancy agreement may also include a term that gives you a right to enter the property. But given the nature of the topic, the varying circumstances as to why you wish to gain access, and the reasons behind a tenant refusing permission, there is no 'one size fits all' answer.
One of the fundamental principles of a tenancy is exclusivity. Because of this, and despite a contractual provision in a tenancy agreement permitting you to access the property, it is always wise to seek your tenant's permission.
2. Access to inspect the property
Landlords primarily request the right to access a rental property for repairs, maintenance, and property inspections.
Gas safety inspections (every 12 months), electrical inspections (every five years) and energy performance assessments (every ten years) are all mandatory checks that all UK rental properties must have.
Landlords may also want to visit the property midway through the tenancy to ensure everything is in good condition and to address any issues – also called a mid-term inspection.
If you wish to inspect the property's condition, you have an implied right to do so upon giving your tenant at least 24 hours notice. That said, you must have a genuine reason to undertake that inspection and not just because you want to.
It is a common assumption of landlords and their agents that, as the tenancy agreement provides access upon what is usually 24 hours' notice, they have the right to access the property after the said notice. However, landlords must request access whenever they wish to enter the property.
3. Access when carrying out repairs
As stated in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, landlords must maintain and repair the property's structure, exterior, and installations for the water, gas, electricity supply, and sanitation.
To carry out these repairs, the landlord, or the engineer instructed by the landlord, will need access to the property.
Additionally, as mentioned above, the landlord also has a right to view the property's condition during 'reasonable hours', but only once they have given the tenant a minimum of 24 hours' notice.
It is also implied within points set out by tenant and landlord law that all assured tenancies, including an assured shorthold tenancy, will include a term that states the tenant shall afford the landlord access to the property to carry out repairs.
This falls within the key landlord responsibilities, meaning that even if there isn't a term in the tenancy, the law implies it to be the case anyway.
4. Access after giving notice
Although you have given your tenant enough notice, this doesn't mean you can enter the property at any time of day.
Your tenancy agreement will likely state that you will only visit during reasonable hours; if it doesn't, you should act as if it does.
'Reasonable' will depend on the circumstances of your visit and the type of tenants you have in occupation. This is particularly important when you must access the property for inspections and similar scenarios.
For example, if your tenant works night shifts and you expect to visit at 9 am the following day to show prospective tenants the property, your tenant may be asleep. Therefore, it is unlikely to be a 'reasonable' time to visit for this purpose.
5. Access for emergencies
In extreme situations, you as the property owner have a right of entry without giving your tenant notice or obtaining their permission.
However, this only applies in the event of an emergency, such as risk to life or risk of severe damage to the property, such as:
- A fire in the property
- A strong smell of gas
- Structural damage that requires urgent attention
- Water flowing from the building
However, if the tenant refuses access or has done in the past, landlords would be well advised to apply to the court for an injunction to enter the property.
If the tenant has unreasonably refused you access, your costs of doing so may be recoverable from them; this falls within your rights as a landlord.
It is also wise to make clear notes of any issue, obtain photographic evidence, log any police incident number, and get signed statements from any contractor.
6. Being refused access
There are some instances where a tenant may refuse access to the property – for example, if the time or date doesn't work for them. In this case, you can rearrange for a more suitable time. If a tenant is ignoring your attempts to get in touch, it's worth providing further information on the reason for visiting. For example, you should inform your tenants in writing if it's a gas safety check.
When every other avenue has been exhausted, you may make an application to the court for an injunction. This will give you a court order allowing you rights to enter the property without your tenant's permission.
It's unlikely that the situation will escalate to this level, but there are other legal options available, landlords could look at serving a Section 21 notice seeking possession, or if the tenancy is still within the fixed term, it may be necessary to go for a court hearing under Section 8, citing Ground 12: any obligation of the tenancy has been broken. Although a discretionary ground, a judge is likely to be sympathetic if they are convinced the motivation is genuine.
7. Entering without permission
Entering the property without notice or permission violates the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment and The Housing Act 1988. In this circumstance, landlords could be prosecuted for harassment.
The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 states that a landlord will be 'guilty of an offence' if their actions are 'likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of the residential occupier or members of their household'.
Essentially, a tenant has the right to exclude others, including the landlord, from the property. Unless there is an emergency, any access to the property will need to be with the tenant's consent.
Having a clear line of communication will help to allay any misunderstandings. For this, it's helpful to appoint a reputable letting agent to foster a healthy relationship between you and your tenant.