You’re the landlord and the property is yours, so you can do what you want when you want regardless of what the tenant thinks.
Wrong. Once a property is let, landlords don’t have much control over the property they own and must operate in accordance with the law.
This doesn’t stop unscrupulous landlords stretching the law and incredulity to try and shepherd wayward tenants into doing what they want.
This guide looks at 10 things landlords might do which are against the law that can land them in trouble with local councils and even end with a hefty fine or a ban on renting out a home.
- 1 Which laws dictate how a landlord should run a rental business?
- 2 The 10 things landlords must not do
- 3 1. You can’t write your own rule book
- 4 2. You must have permission to enter the tenant’s home
- 5 3. You can’t change the locks
- 6 4. You can’t message bomb a tenant
- 7 5. You can’t reject tenants for the wrong reasons
- 8 6. You must carry out major repairs and keep homes safe
- 9 7. The deposit isn’t your money, so keep it protected
- 10 8. You can’t increase the rent when you like
- 11 9. You can’t evict a tenant without following strict rules
- 12 10. …And one thing you should do if unsure about the law
Which laws dictate how a landlord should run a rental business?
The bad news for landlords is no single piece of legislation says how to run a property business.
The Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 and Housing Act 1988 is a good place to start, but successive governments have added and taken away rules over the years leaving a piecemeal legal structure of dozens of different laws.
To add to the confusion, England, Scotland and Wales all have a slightly different set of rules.
For England, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the hub for setting policy for local councils.
The 10 things landlords must not do
The important point to remember is what the law says is the final arbiter of what you can do as a landlord.
You can’t pick and choose the bits that suit you or push the boundaries to cover what you may feel is an unfair situation.
The law is there to protect landlords and tenants from each other – and themselves.
So here in no order of importance are the 10 things a landlord shouldn’t do:
1. You can’t write your own rule book
Just because you have included some extra clauses in the tenancy agreement that tip the balance in your favour does not make them legally enforceable.
Your tenancy agreement is a contract that binds both sides. The terms must be clear, unambiguous and fair to the tenant, while nothing you include can supersede a renter’s statutory rights.
Even if you do not have a written tenancy agreement, you may still have a verbal contract.
2. You must have permission to enter the tenant’s home
You may own the property, but the tenant has the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ for the time they live there.
That means you cannot turn up and enter their home unannounced or while they are out unless in an emergency, like a flood or fire.
The law says the tenant must give written permission for you, a letting agent or contractor to enter the property at least 24 hours in advance and that the visit must be at a reasonable time.
The tenant can reject an appointment but should offer to make alternative arrangements.
3. You can’t change the locks
You can’t lock a tenant out of their home even if they have a stack of rent arrears or are refusing to move out.
Landlords can only change locks with the tenant’s agreement, at the end of a tenancy or if a court order says they can.
4. You can’t message bomb a tenant
Do not hassle a tenant by knocking on the door or message bombing by text, phone or email to try and get them to pay up rent arrears or move out.
Going overboard like this could be considered excessive contact and even harassment in court, which is an offence that can come with a fine or jail term.
5. You can’t reject tenants for the wrong reasons
Landlords can turn down applicants who want to rent a home for lots of reasons but cannot discriminate because they don’t like a string of personal characteristics, like:
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Because they are pregnant or have a baby
6. You must carry out major repairs and keep homes safe
Tenants have an obligation to look after their home, keep the garden tidy and to carry out minor maintenance, like changing light bulbs.
Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe housing free from damp, pests like rats and mice that meets the HHSRS in England and similar standards in Scotland and Wales.
However, the tenant must make a timely report of the defect and agree a schedule with contractors for access to complete the work.
7. The deposit isn’t your money, so keep it protected
The law is explicit about how landlords should handle holding and security deposits and getting the rules wrong could block a Section 21 no-fault eviction further down the line.
The main point to remember is the deposit is the tenant’s money and should be returned to them at the end of the tenancy unless the landlord can show one of a few reasons to withhold the money, like the property is damaged, needs cleaning or the rent is in arrears.
8. You can’t increase the rent when you like
The tenancy agreement might contain a clause that explains how the rent can be increased and by how much.
You can’t put the rent up during a fixed term tenancy (unless there’s a specific clause agreed in the tenancy) or without at least a month’s notice.
The rise should be considered market value and in line with rents for similar properties in the neighbourhood.
9. You can’t evict a tenant without following strict rules
Eviction is a complicated legal process and landlords must stick to some strict rules or a judge is likely to rule against them.
The rules depend on lots of variables, like if the tenancy is fixed, the reason for wanting to take the property back and the terms of the tenancy agreement.
You can’t roll-up and expect a tenant to move on with little or no notice, even if they are in rent arrears or are treating the property badly.
10. …And one thing you should do if unsure about the law
Running a property business is becoming more strictly regulated and ignorance of the law is no defence to breaking the rules.
If you are unsure of how the law works in your circumstances, take independent advice from the Guild of Residential Landlords or a professional lawyer.