It seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but the question of whether or not a tenant can refuse entry to a landlord is not as straightforward as one might expect. Landlord access rights are frequently misunderstood and can be frustrating if you don’t know where you stand, which is why we’ve decided to put together this handy guide!
In this post we’ll explore some of the legal jargon, what rights landlords have to access their rental properties, whether or not a tenant can refuse entry to their landlord, what the landlord can do if this happens to them, and more besides.
Let’s start off with a simple question, though...
Whose property is it anyway?
This is an easy one: it’s the landlords, right? After all, they own the property, so it must be theirs.
Not so fast.
By agreeing to rent out a property for compensation, the landlord effectively handing over the right to live in and use the property to the tenant, which is where the subject of access becomes a little thorny.
The landlord may well own the property, but the tenant still has rights.
Legal terms landlords need to be aware of
To illustrate this, tenants have a right to what is called a ‘covenant for quiet enjoyment’. This legalese may be open to misinterpretation, but it essentially means that a tenant is entitled to live in rented accommodation without being hassled by their landlord (or anyone representing them, such as a letting agent, for example).
Further to the covenant for quiet enjoyment is the matter of derogation. Once a landlord grants a tenancy, they cannot legally expect to treat the property they are renting out as their own. To do so would be a derogation of grant.
After reading this, you would be forgiven for thinking there’s no way a landlord can gain access to their property if a tenant doesn’t want to let them in, but there’s more to it than that.
Landlord access rights: What is their right of entry?
Despite the fact that tenants are entitled to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property they are renting, landlords do actually still have right to entry, but only in specific circumstances. Generally, these will fall within three different categories, which are:
Right to inspect
As a landlord, you have a right to enter your property in order to assess the state of repair or to empty a coin operated fuel meter.
Right to perform repairs
Should any repairs need to be made to your rental property, you’ll naturally need to gain access in order to carry them out. This falls under the umbrella term of ‘reasonable access’, which also covers emergency situations such as:
- The smell of gas coming from the property
- Fire within the property
- Suspicion of criminal activity
- Structural damage that requires immediate attention
Right to access to provide services
This instance is a little different in that it will have been pre-agreed by both landlord and tenant and covered in the tenancy agreement. The right to access to provide services is usually reserved for ongoing tasks such as cleaning or regular maintenance jobs like gardening when the rear of the property is only accessible via the property.
Do landlords have to give notice before entering a tenant’s property?
In most instances, yes. The minimum notice a landlord is required to give by law is 24 hours, but they can give longer should they wish to do so. Many landlords chose to do just that, as it allows them to diarise the appointment and gives the tenant fair notice to ensure they are present when the landlord calls.
There are, however, some occasions where a landlord will be legally entitled to enter a property without notice or permission. These are rare and usually fall into the emergency categories listed above.
Do letting agents come under the same rules?
Yes. In fact, any representative of the landlord will have to adhere to the same rules as the landlord and get permission to access the property, except in the case of an emergency.
Can a tenant refuse entry to a landlord or letting agent?
Yes, they can. In 99% of cases a tenant refusing entry to a landlord will usually boil down to convenience, or lack thereof. Simply adjusting the time and date will be enough to gain access to the property.
That being said, landlords may occasionally come across a tenant that continually refuses to give them access to the property in question.
Is it acceptable for a tenant to change the locks on a rented property?
A tenant can change the locks and refuse to give the landlord a set of keys, should they wish to do so. This will, however, be subject to the tenancy agreement and whether or not there is a clause within it that states otherwise.
In fact, many would argue that a tenant should change the locks as soon as they move in. After all, they have no way of knowing who has rented the property previously, nor whether or not they still have a set of keys in their possession.
What can landlords do if a tenant refuses to let them into their rental property?
Now that we know a tenant can refuse a landlord entry, it’s important to look at what the next steps would be for the landlord if they find themselves in this situation.
In our opinion, their number one course of action should be to negotiate. Even if the landlord has already tried to talk to the tenant with little success, they should try again and log every conversation. Emails are a great way to establish a digital ‘paper’ trail that could work in the landlord’s favour should matters escalate at a later date.
The landlord should mention the liability for costs to the tenant if the property deteriorates because of the lack of access. They should also inform them that they, the landlord, will no longer be responsible for injury to the tenant, or damage to their property, if it results from lack of access. After all, the landlords hasn’t been unable to make the necessary repairs to ensure their safety, and they cannot then be blamed for any problems that may arise because of it.
Taking legal action to obtain permission to enter a rental property
Should polite communications fail, the landlord’s next step would be to consider legal action against their tenant in order to gain access to the rented accommodation. In the vast majority of cases, a court order to evict will not be necessary, but landlords should know that it is an option that’s available to them.
If you find yourself in this situation, the best course of action would be to consult a lawyer or get in touch with your local Citizens Advice team for more information.
Why landlords shouldn’t enter a property against their tenant’s wishes
Although it can be tempting, entering a rental property without the tenant’s permission is wholly unadvisable. Doing so would be an abuse of trust and could easily lead to a complete breakdown of communication between the landlord and tenant, resulting in greater problems than may already be present.
There’s also the very real possibility that the tenant could accuse the landlord of stealing from them or damaging their property should they enter the rental without consent. If a landlord finds themself in this situation, proving to the contrary could be difficult, especially if they entered the property alone.
London landlords also have the threat of being listed on the Rogue Landlord Checker should they be fined or prosecuted by their local authority, so any breach of their tenancy agreement should be avoided at all costs. The tenant would be well within their rights to complain to their local tenancy relation officer should a landlord enter their home without permission, which could result in an investigation being carried out. Should fines or prosecution result, the landlord would find themselves, quite rightly, blacklisted.