Why you can't disturb your tenants

by Tessa Shepperson

Tessa Shepperson, a legal expert in residential landlord and tenancy law, outlines why, under tenancy law, landlords cannot disturb their tenants during the tenancy.

Every tenancy agreement contains what is called the 'covenant of quiet enjoyment'. This doesn't just mean that tenants are entitled to a noise-free environment, but that they have the right to live in the property undisturbed.

This means that not only do they have the right not to face eviction, but also that you, as the landlord, should respect their rights and not do anything that will adversely affect their occupation of the property.

The covenant of quiet enjoyment is most commonly invoked to protect tenants whose landlord is trying to 'persuade' them to leave, perhaps because they are in rent arrears or because they want the property back for their own use, but they are reluctant to go to court for an eviction notice.

For example, such landlords may constantly visit the property, shout threats at the tenant, and interrupt the gas and electricity supply. This sort of behaviour is illegal and can attract both a criminal charge and make the landlord liable for civil proceedings for an injunction and/or damages.

But the covenant for quiet enjoyment can also apply to other matters. For example, it can cover your failure to comply with tenancy law by not repairing the property

It's important that you keep the property in proper repair, and that you don't intrude on the tenant's privacy. These may conflict, as clearly you will have to go to the property from time to time to carry out your inspections and repairing obligations.

Some tenants may object to this and call it harassment (particularly if they are in rent arrears). If there is a problem of this nature or is likely to be, then you should take care to only visit the property by appointment or by the invitation of the tenant.

You should never use your keys to enter the property without the tenants' knowledge or permission, other than in cases of genuine emergency.

If the tenant objects to you attending to do inspections or carry out repairs, then you cannot enter the property. This situation is rare, however, and if it occurs, then you should consider whether you should bring proceedings for eviction.

Note that if the tenant's failure to allow access for repairs is causing the property to deteriorate, this may in itself be a ground for possession. But this should only be used if the deterioration is very serious and urgent remedial work is needed.

If you treat your tenant with respect and comply with your obligations under tenancy law, you will be protecting yourself from any potential claims from your tenants. You will also find it easier to enforce your own rights against the tenant, should this be necessary.

Although a covenant of quiet enjoyment is not implied into licence agreements, licensees have the right to use the property for the purpose for which occupation was granted, which gives them a certain amount of similar protection for the duration of the licence agreement.

For more expert guidance on how to prepare a property, find a tenant, create a tenancy agreement, deal with deposits, and, ultimately, how to evict a tenant, read Tessa’s book, The Complete Guide to Residential Letting.

Published on: July 1, 2008

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