I have had a little flurry of members contact me in regard to a forum post which said:

“I just think too many landlords are lethargic about understanding the law and their obligations.

Did you know for instance, that it is illegal for the Landlord to hold a set of keys to the property? You can hold a set of keys if you get the tenant to sign an agreement to that effect and attach it to the tenancy agreement. That is the only legal way to hold keys.”

The post is here

It is because of this type of content that you often see on free public forums all over the internet nowadays that I have given over visiting them. They can contain good advice too but distinguishing between the two can often be difficult.

I am reminded with this case about the rumour that rent may not be deducted from a deposit which seemed to spread quickly soon after the new tenancy deposit legislation came into effect (which is of course totally untrue).

I went on to the forum and asked under what legislation a landlord may not hold keys and they have gone back to whoever told them this tale but as yet they’ve been too busy to reply. I thought therefore I would reply to the forum for the benefit of all because the landlord can indeed hold keys to the property perfectly lawfully [Aslan v Murphy (No 1 and 2) [1989] EWCA Civ 2]. [Emphasis added]:

…Provisions as to keys, if not a pretence, which they often are, do not have any magic in themselves. It is not a requirement of a tenancy that the occupier shall have exclusive possession of the keys to the property. What matters is what underlies the provisions as to keys.

Why does the owner want a key, want to prevent keys being issued to the friends of the occupier or want to prevent the lock being changed?
A landlord may well need a key in order that he may be able to enter quickly in the event of emergency – fire, burst pipes or whatever. He may need a key to enable him or those authorised by him to read meters or to do repairs which are his responsibility. …” [Lord Donaldson of Lymington Mr at Paras 14 & 15].

I could go one step further and suggest that a landlord should indeed hold a set of keys. We all know it is the landlord’s obligation to carry out repairs under section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Any works that are required must be carried out “expeditiously” [O’Brien v Robinson [1973] A.C. 912]. The landlord may not contract out of his repairing obligations (so ask the tenant to organise repairs for example) [s.11(4) Landlord and Tenant Act 1985]. If therefore, the tenant is unable to allow the landlord into the property due to work commitments for example but does allow the landlord to enter, I fail to see how the landlord can carry out the works “expeditiously” if the landlord does not hold a key.

I should quickly add, if the tenancy contains a provision that the landlord is prohibited from retaining a key (which I have never seen but in theory possible) then of course to hold a key could be a breach of the tenancy. Although, I’m not entirely sure what loss the tenant would suffer as a result of this breach.

I hope this kills off the rumour in it’s tracks!