What Landlords Can’t Do (But Often Do Anyways)

Criminal

Needless to say, every landlord should be aware of their rights, which includes the things they can do and can’t do. However, the bullshit reality is that thousands of operational landlords are acting in accordance to their own scraggly little rule book, which is usually very different to the only rule book that should matter matters- the law.

The aim of this blog post is to cover some of the things landlords can’t do, or to put more accurately, things landlord aren’t permitted to do by law (but often do anyways). Many of the breaches, despite how seemingly ‘obvious’ and heavily documented, are still, sadly, ignored.

While the law isn’t always being broken intentionally (which isn’t a defence by any means, but it’s still better than any malicious alternative), there is an undeniable truth about cockroach landlords crossing the line even though they know better, and that’s because many of them rely on the ignorance of tenants to escape consequences. Unfortunately, it’s a gamble most landlords win.

It’s like, when we go to a crocked mechanic; due to our utter ignorance, we’re all at the mercy of the crap they say: “Yeah, you need to replace the engine because it’s about to blow up. The thingy-ma-jig is causing the pistons to jam, and it’s flooding out the engine. You’re lucky to be alive!”

“Errr…huh? I only came in to change my window wiper. So how much is a new engine going to cost me?”

Many landlords operate on the very same scathing level (and this is coming from a landlord!). But what many of those blaggers don’t realise is that providing bad service and disregarding the law is bad business. Not only because crossing the line makes them a potential target for persecution (all it takes is one tenant with a bit of sense and will), but also because it increases the chances of creating a hostile relationship between landlord and tenant (which is never good!).

While this blog post will be useful for tenants researching their rights on a particular matter, I’m hoping it will gain greater attention from landlords, because even if I stop one landlord in his/her tracks of crossing over to the darkside, I’ll consider this a victory. JUST ONE MEASLY LANDLORD!

The following of “cant do’s” is in no shape or form an exhaustive list, but it does cover many of the breaches I hear being committed on a daily freaking basis!

What Landlords can’t do (but often do anyways)

Enter property without permission

Oh, yeah. This is a whooper alright. Perhaps the most misunderstood/neglected “can’t do” out of the filthy lot.

To be put simply, a tenant has a statutory right to “live in quiet enjoyment“, that means:

  • A landlord/agent cannot turn up at the property announced unless there is an emergency e.g. fire.
  • A landlord/agent cannot ‘force entry’ into the property (i.e. enter without permission)
  • A landlord/agent should give at least 24 hours written notice if they wish to enter the property, but even then, the tenant has the right to refuse if it’s not convenient.
  • Even if it there is a clause in the tenancy agreement that permits access, the tenant’s statutory right to live in quiet enjoyment will supersede that clause.

BOOM!

One of the most common scenarios is when landlords/letting agents let themselves into a property announced to conduct viewings. Yeah, that’s not allowed.

Excessively contact tenant (when the tenant is in arrears)

I put “when the tenant is in arrears” in brackets because that’s one of the most common reasons for why landlords transition into “stalker” mode. But it’s not exclusive to that rule; it could quite easily apply if a landlord excessively contacts a tenant to inform them of a rent reduction. I mean, there’s a better chance of monkeys launching out of my ass, but you get my point.

Without realising, many landlords make a bad situation worse by giving their tenant a potential counter-claim for harassment by over-doing the ‘chasing’. It’s amazing how quickly a tenant can turn the situation around. I’d even go as far as to say it’s unfair, but it is what it is.

I get it, when a tenant is in arrears, it’s tempting to call/text the tenant continually (until the situation is resolved), especially when the tenant is not being responsive. But there is a genuine argument for harassment when a landlord starts calling/texting all day, every day, and especially when threats are made.

Act professionally when communicating, and don’t act with emotions.

Change the door locks

Nope, the landlord cannot change the locks, even if the tenant is in breach of contract i.e. in rent arrears.

The only time a landlord can change the locks is when a tenancy agreement is legally terminated, or if granted by a Judge.

Discriminate

According to GOV.uk, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:

  • age
  • being or becoming a transsexual person
  • being married or in a civil partnership
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • disability
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

They are called ‘protected characteristics’, and tenants cannot be discriminated against for the above reasons. However, on a sidenote, that does not mean landlords can’t ‘lawfully discriminate’. For example, it’s perfectly reasonable for landlords to discriminate against a prospective tenant if they can’t afford the rent, or has horrendous credit history. In fact, according to this article on Landlord Law, “you can ‘discriminate’ against anyone, for whatever you like, so long as it is not in respect of one of the ‘protected characteristics’.”

Does a prospective tenant smell like a rotten cabbage during a viewing? Sure, go ahead, discriminate the crap out of them.

Refuse to make essential repairs

I frequently hear frightening stories of how tenants have gone several months without hot water and/or heat! Unless the landlord has an incredibly believable story to defend why that’s the case, that shit won’t fly!

The law, that is, section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, covers the legal obligation a landlord has to carry out basic repairs. Generally, it means that the landlord is responsible for keeping the following in repair and proper working order:

  • a) the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes)
  • b) the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and
  • c) the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.

Oh, and no, even the tenant is in arrears, or even if the tenant smells like he hasn’t used the shower/hot water a day in his life, the landlord is still obligated to make the essential repairs. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying.

More deet’s right over here.

Not secure the tenancy deposit

Securing a tenant’s deposit is probably the most discussed ‘to-do’- it’s literally the first thing you learn at ‘landlord school for dummies’! So I’m always baffled when landlords claim they don’t need to secure the deposit!

The tenancy deposit legislation applies to every landlord in England and Wales that has taken a deposit from a tenant under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement!

Sidenote, it’s a relatively easy (and lucrative) win for tenants if they wish to go up against landlords that fail to comply with the deposit legislation!

Increase rent willy-nilly

This seems like a mega no-brainer, but apparently it’s not.

To highlight the need-to-knows:

  • A landlord cannot increase rent during the fixed-term of a tenancy
  • Tenant’s are entitled to a minimum of 1 month rent increase notice
  • The landlord cannot pluck a number from thin air and increase the rent by that mount. The increase must be deemed “fair” The best way to ensure a fair rate is by keeping it in line with similar properties in the same area.

Here you go, more details on increasing rent.

Write bogus clauses in the tenancy agreement

Oh boy, have I read some bullshit tenancy agreement clauses in my time. Unfortunately, I’m numb to the shear audacity and stupidity these days.

Basically, just because a tenancy agreement contract has been signed by both parties, it doesn’t automatically make every clause legal or enforceable by law.

  • All written tenancy agreement contracts must be “Fair” and “Clear” (i.e. in plain English) and not intended to mislead the tenant in any way. That means, clauses based around excessive penalties may be deemed ‘unfair’and therefore reasonably challenged and denied.
  • No clause can supersede/overwrite a tenant’s or landlord’s statutory right. For example, it is a tenant’s statutory right to ‘live in quiet enjoyment’, no clause in a tenancy agreement can revoke that right.

Kick tenants out during the fixed-term and/or without proper notice

Perhaps another no-brainer that reality seems to keep on defying!

There’s a proper way for a landlord to repossess a property, and giving a tenant 2 days notice in the middle of a fixed-term is not one of them! Sorry!

There are potentially many caveats to the following rules, it all depends on the specific scenarios, but generally speaking:

  • A landlord cannot kick-out a tenant during a fixed term unless there is a break-clause (but proper notice must still be given via a Section 21 letter), or there are grounds for eviction, and in which case, the proper eviction procedure must be followed.
  • Perhaps the most misunderstood protocol: despite what is written in the contract in regards to the ‘end-date’, the tenancy agreement will NOT automatically terminate. The landlord must still give the tenant a minimum of 2 months notice via a Section 21 notice if he/she wishes to repossess the property on the end-date specified in the contract.
  • The the tenancy has rolled over to a periodic tenancy, a minimum notice period equal to the frequency of rent payments is required. For example, if rent is paid every month, a minimum of one month’s notice should be given.

In any case, a tenancy agreement must always be legally terminated!

So, there we have it! That’s my list of what “landlord can’t do” (but often do anyways).

If you have any suggestions to add to the ghastly pile, please feel free to share…

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