The difficulty of viewings with tenants in situ
My tenant isn’t exactly refusing me access in order to take viewings, but she’s making it incredibly difficult, consequently forcing me to have terrible thoughts, which all usually conclude with her crying like a blubbering baby, while I’m holding her bloody heart up in the air like a prized trophy and laughing like a hyena blitzed on amphetamine.
So I want to touch on the subject of arranging viewings with unwilling tenants, because there seems to be conflicting opinions about this incredibly common dilemma.
‘The struggle’ is real whether you want to take viewings to ‘find new tenants’ or sell a tenanted property, but this blog post will be based on ‘tenant viewings’ (i.e. finding new tenants to replace current tenants), but the general principles and legal aspects will apply to both scenarios.
The situation from both sides
On one hand, the landlord wants to limit the void period between tenancies, so they’re eager to take viewings while the property is still tenanted. Totally understandable. But on the other hand, the tenant is still the occupant; the property is still their home, and they’re not terribly encouraged by the idea of random punters trampling in and out of their home. Equally as understanding.
In reality, most tenants won’t have an issue with viewings as long as they’re orchestrated with courtesy by the landlord. Granted, many landlords haven’t the foggiest what that entails. But for many reasons, viewings can often be problematic while there is a tenant in situ.
It can be one of the trickiest and most irritating situations for both landlord and tenant, because there’s a legitimate argument from both parties- it’s easy to be sympathetic for either side. But it’s probably more irritating for landlords, and I say that while trying to remain unequivocally unbiased. The landlord simply has something more tangible to lose. Money.
So, who’s in the right? Morally, it can go either way (but who cares about morals, right?). Here’s how I’ve always understood it from a legal standpoint…
Can the tenant refuse the landlord access for viewings?
I believe so, yes.
If the tenant doesn’t want to allow access, whether it be for viewings, inspections or general maintenance, that’s their given right. The tenant has the right to possession and to the lawful use and enjoyment of the premises. Whether that’s reasonable or not is another issue altogether.
In this situation, I’ve noticed a bizarre trend, whereby many landlords and agents are under the impression that tenants mysteriously lose their statutory rights towards the end of the tenancy when it’s time for viewings. They don’t.
So what does that mean? Under Common Law, all tenants are entitled to live in “quiet enjoyment” until the tenancy is legally terminated, so only until then can you or anyone else can’t just waltz in and out of the property without permission.
Tessa Shepperson, from The Landlord Law blog, says the following on the matter:
It means that they [the tenant] are entitled to live in the property without interference from the landlord or anyone acting on his behalf (such as his letting agent).
There is also another legal rule which says that “a landlord may not derogate from his grant“.
This means, effectively, that a landlord cannot grant a tenancy and then expect to be able to treat the property as if it was his.
So the law is (or should be) on the side of the tenant if he wants to keep his landlord out.
‘Viewing’ clauses in tenancy agreements
This is where it gets particularly controversial, with opinions flying in several directions.
Many rely and believe in ‘viewing clauses’, which typically stipulates that in the last 28 days of a tenancy the landlord/agent is entitled to access the premises in order to take viewings. Many tenancy agreements have viewing clauses, but I think they’re often misinterpreted, and wrongly used as a license to breach the tenants rights. That’s when it can become dangerous.
While Citizen’s Advice does mention that landlords can rely on terms set in the tenancy agreement to gain reasonable access for viewings, it’s important to acknowledge that “forceful entry” into the property without legal consent (e.g. by a Judge) is not permitted, which is what I believe the situation would effectively be if a landlord or agent enters a property without permission to take a viewing. On that basis, viewing clauses become tragically weaker than many realise, because they still don’t actually give you any authority to enter the premises without permission.
Ultimately, the tenants right to refuse access will take presidency over any clause impeding the tenants right to “quiet enjoyment”, unless there is a genuine emergency. Section 11 clarifies that if there is an emergency the landlord can enter without permission, which I’m assuming is something like a heavily leaking/burst water pipe or fire. I suppose you could, in theory, strategically throw a rock through the window and dislodge an exposed pipe. Err… good luck with that one.
The biggest consequence ALL landlords should fear when contemplating the notion of entering a property without consent from the tenant is the prospect of harassment charges for “forcing entry” It’s very real. And scary. You definitely don’t want that allegation hanging over your sorry little peanut-head. I wouldn’t risk it. It’s also worth bearing in mind (in case you actually want to act on your mindless stupidity), Judges are generally in favour of the poor vulnerable tenants in these situations, so it’s practically financial suicide for landlords. Trespasser be warned.
I’d personally rather wait until the tenant vacates and subsequently risk having a longer void period, even if that means reluctantly swallowing the extra costs. It’s a total suck-fest, but that’s the reality of the situation as far as I’m concerned.
If the tenant does refuse access while there are ‘reasonable’ viewing clauses and the landlord has attempted to orchestrate them reasonably and with fair warning, yes, the tenant IS in breach of contract. Then you can serve a section 8, but what’s the bloody point? The tenant is due to vacate soon anyways.
The landlord may have a good case to seek compensation via the deposit scheme. But, even then that isn’t very reassuring, because BOTH the tenant and landlord have to agree for the matter to be arbitrated by the deposit scheme, otherwise the landlord will need to take the matter to Court (which will most likely be the outcome). A whole lot of hassle. Again, I’d still rather wait until the unreasonable douchebag tenant vacates.
Conclusion? Meh, in real terms, viewing clauses aren’t worth shit, in my opinion! However, purely on the grounds that most tenants aren’t aware of their right to quiet enjoyment, the clause is still worth having. So on the basis that you’ve managed to bag yourself a tenant that will blindly allow their fate to be determined by a clause that mostly, in my opinion, isn’t worth a damn, you may have hit the jackpot in this situation.
What about letting agents & viewings?
Yeah, what about them? They can go suck on a pulsating haemorrhoid.
I have two thoughts about letting agents and viewings.
Agents can be extremely useful during these turbulent times, because they’ll usually chase, pester and apply pressure until tenants reluctantly become accommodating. Agents usually aren’t shy of being relentless, greasy little assholes- and that can be an extremely persuasive weapon. Sometimes.
I’ve always said that one of the main benefits of using a high-street agent is having the viewings dealt with. Now, whether that alone is worth their sky high price-tag is debatable.
My second thought, is quite naturally, rather more disruptive. I often hear stories about letting agents freely walking in and out of properties without the tenants permission. This usually occurs because the agents are oblivious to the law or knowingly disregard it. They probably get away with it more often than not, because they know they’re preying on the ignorant. But it’s a risky game for them to play, because agents are governed by the same restrictions as landlords, which I appreciate is often difficult to tell when they’re whizzing round in their slick superhero costume, in the form of a power-suit from Burtons.
All i’d say is, if a agent is handling the viewings on your behalf, I wouldn’t pressure them to ‘force entry’ if you’re dealing with a difficult tenant. However, if they’re prepared to do it without your encouragement, on their greasy little head be it. But as the landlord, it’s wiser to keep your hands squeaky clean.
How to deal with viewings during tenanted properties
The key is communication and respect.
Don’t just assume or insist that taking viewings is perfectly acceptable in your tenants eyes- even if you have an an amazing relationship and your star-sign intertwines with theirs. Always ask permission and emphasise you’re prepared to work around their schedule. Remember, they don’t have to allow you access, they can easily make the entire process extremely difficult for you just for the sake of it. They hold all the chips. Of course, some tenants will naturally make it extra difficult regardless of how respectful you’re being about it. That’s just the fall of mankind.
My tenant was being extremely difficult when it came to the scheduling, and I genuinely didn’t understand why, especially since she’s the one that surrendered her freaking tenancy. I offered the miserable ol’ tart several days/times over a 3 week period, which she could choose from, but she point-blank refused without any hesitation.
She was allegedly busy during all the proposed days/times. Without a doubt, total bullshit. In any case, despite her shortfallings as a compassionate human, I completely appreciate and respect that she remains the tenant and therefore the property is her home until she officially vacates. But more notably, she’s generally been a very decent tenant. I have no complaints.
My way of dealing with it was to begrudgingly request access to the property for 4 hours during ONE lousy day of her choice, after 5pm, in which time I’ll arrange as many viewings as possible. A total pain to organise, because it was heavily reliant on the prospective tenants being available, but it’s all I had to work with. Fortunately, I managed to squeeze in 4 viewings during that time.
If I can’t find a suitable tenant out of that set, I’ll probably just wait until the property is vacant… or get on my knees and beg for her mercy. Failing that, I’ll probably just sacrifice a friend of mine by getting him to lower his inhibitions by caressing her lifeless carcass until the sun rises, hoping she’ll be in a more generous mood then. I’ll probably give him a fiver for his troubles. And when I say mate, I’m most likely talking about myself. Whatever I have to do, this is business.
From my experience, when you’re dealing with unreasonable tenants in these similar situations, the best solution is to allow them to take control and dance to their tune like a monkey, and take every ounze of mercy you can get your grubby little mitts on. I snatched those 4 hours out of her hand like I was gagging for my next high and she was dangling a mountain of cocaine.
What if the tenant completely refuses access?
If your tenant remains unreasonable, even after offering to bow down to their lousy terms and conditions, then there’s probably an underlying reason for it. Most commonly;
1) They could legitimately be unreasonable tenants with a chip on their shoulder. That could genuinely be the only reason, especially if you’re the heartless schmuck that served them notice.
In this case, I would just cut my losses and take viewings once the tenant vacates. Better that than the alternative(s) e.g. forcing entry and creating more problems.
- 2) It’s highly possible that the tenant genuinely has a massive phobia with random people walking in and out of thier home, snooping around, eyeing up their junk. It’s not uncommon, especially during a stressful period when they are planning to move homes, which probably heightens their phobia. I believe this was my tenant’s issue. If it was my business, I’d be inclined to recommend therapy (and to anyone else that falls into this bracket) to help deal with anxiety.
Again, I would just wait until the tenant vacates.
- 3) The relationship between you and the tenant is total bullshit. Perhaps that’s the reason behind the tenant’s departure, and consequently they’re adamant on making your life a living hell. Everyone knows that the best way to cripple a landlord is by attacking the purse.
Once again, I would wait until the tenant vacates.
- 4) The tenant is hiding something sinister e.g. damaged property, a property that’s been reduced to a shithole, or a cannabis farm. In this case, if you haven’t already served notice, I’d be inclined to serve a Section 8 or 21, depending on the specifics, because the reality is, they may not have any intentions of vacating. But also, you probably wouldn’t want to expose prospective tenants around whatever it is the current tenants are preventing you from accessing.
If you’re currently in this situation and you’re having a very concerning experiencing, whether you’re a tenant or landlord, I would advise seeking legal advice from either Shelter, Citizens Advice or a professional tenant eviction company.
Do you actually want to take viewings with tenants in situ?
Think about it.
In my experience, very few tenants live in conditions that I would deem truly “presentable” But then again, I do have a mild case of OCD. But despite my irrational compulsiveness, there is still something very real lurking in my point for even the average sane person. I’ve seen tenants live in conditions that even a donkey would be mortified by. It’s truly baffling.
In many cases, I’ve been reluctant to take viewings while tenants are in situ because I don’t want the new prospective tenants to endure the hellhole conditions the current tenants are living in- that would probably do more harm than good to any “tenant finding” process. I’d rather allow the property to be void for a couple of days after the current tenants vacate so I can make it presentable before taking viewings. Generally speaking, shit properties attract shit tenants. You better believe!
I’m not saying the properties have all been reduced to utter gloom and death, but they’ve been sore on the eyes. It’s usually made clear that hygiene or general tidiness isn’t on the top of your tenants agenda during property inspections (which all landlords should regularly do). I personally wouldn’t even contemplate arranging viewings unless I knew I was going to be showing a property worth showing. I’ve had tenants make my property look like show homes in the past, and consequently the viewings have been a joy.
So before insisting on viewings, decide on whether it’s actually sensible taking viewings with tenants in situ. You don’t want to burn through your prospective tenants by showing them a stinking shit-pit; not only will that make you look bad as a landlord, but it will also increase the chances of attracting similarly messy tenants.
I just want to emphasise how important it is to be respectful and build a good working relationship with your tenants. Being an asshole landlord is counter-intuitive, it will make your life much more difficult as this blog post demonstrates, and that can often reflect negatively on profit margins. Rightly or wrongly so, tenants can effortlessly eat through profit margins, so it’s better to keep them on your side, even if that means biting your lip on occasion (but not allowing them to completely take the piss). Always be rational and look at the bigger picture.
So, letting agents, tenants, landlords…anyone… have you got any personal experience on the matter? What’s your thoughts on the issue and the legislation? Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong! Speak to me!
Disclaimer: I'm just a landlord blogger; I'm 100% not qualified to give legal or financial advice. I'm a doofus. Any information I share is my unqualified opinion, and should never be construed as professional legal or financial advice. You should definitely get advice from a qualified professional for any legal or financial matters. For more information, please read my full disclaimer.