Landlords can sometimes find themselves in unusual situations with their tenants and may be unaware of how they can legally handle the issue. Litigation Executive Hayley Gaffney, who specialises in landlord and tenant disputes, advises on some of the more uncommon queries asked by landlords.
There are different types of legislation in place in the UK to protect both tenants and landlords. Although most landlords will be aware of the regulations they have to follow when renting out their property, sometimes unusual issues crop up that require specialised legal advice. Here are the ten most unusual questions I have come across from landlords.
1. What can I do if my tenant has gone to prison?
If a tenant has seen sentenced to serve time in prison, it does not automatically terminate the tenancy. Before a landlord can advertise for a new occupant, they will have to legally end the tenancy with the imprisoned tenant.
There are a variety of ways in which a landlord can try to do this:
- Landlords can serve a Section 8 notice if the tenant is in breach of their agreement, such as being behind on their rental payments
- Landlords can serve a Section 21 notice if the tenancy has no fixed end date
- Landlords can request the tenant to surrender the tenancy
If you need help to locate the tenant, there is an online service available through the Government website.
2. Can occupants get out of the tenancy agreement early because they think the house is haunted?
There was a case in America in 2012 in which the tenants sued the property owners for not disclosing that the house was supposedly haunted.
For a fixed term tenancy, the occupant can only end the agreement early if there is a break clause or they can negotiate an end with the landlord. Otherwise, the tenant remains liable to pay rent until the end of the fixed term. Tenants should have a good reason for seeking early notice, such as not being able to afford the rent or a relationship breakdown. A haunted house is not deemed a good reason in UK law.
3. My tenant has been growing cannabis at the property, what can I do?
If a tenant is growing drugs at the property then the landlord could also face prosecution.
Under Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, any person concerned with the property can face jail time – a maximum of 14 years – or a fine. The property can also be seized if the landlord did not take any steps to deal with the issue. However, landlords can only be prosecuted if they knowingly allow drugs to be grown in the house.
Landlords should inform the Police if they suspect that the tenant is producing or dealing drugs at the property. If the Police don’t take action or there isn’t enough evidence, you could serve a Section 8 notice.
4. I think my tenant is keeping pets at the property without permission, what can I do?
Tenants who keep pets without the knowledge or prior agreement from the landlord could be found in breach of their tenancy agreement. This means that landlords could serve a possession notice.
If the landlord decided not to serve a notice and therefore lose an otherwise good tenant, they could draft an addendum to the tenancy agreement which would detail the terms and conditions of keeping the pet at the property. This could include stating that the tenant must keep the property free of mess and that they would have to pay for any repairs caused by the animal.
5. There’s a wasps nest on the property. Who is responsible for dealing with it?
Identifying who is responsible for dealing with a wasps nest depends on the cause of the infestation. For example, if the nest is due to a fault with the fabric of the building, then it’s the responsibility of the landlord to deal with the issue. However, if it isn’t, then the responsibility lies with the tenant who would have to arrange the removal of the wasps.
If they are not sure of the cause of the nest, landlords can also hire a pest control company to assess and report on the issue, which would conclude who is responsible. To ensure the issue is resolved quickly, even if they are not responsible, the landlord can organise the removal of the wasps nest and then bill the cost to the tenant.
6. Can I check prospective tenants’ social media?
Similarly with employers, landlords sometimes take to social media to get a better idea of a prospective tenant. However this could land them in trouble.
A landlord could argue that they have a legitimate interest in looking up potential occupants on social sites to see if they are likely to pay rent on time, look after the property and comply with the rules. However, someone posting on social media intended for friends and family might not be expecting that a landlord will use it to make an assessment. Landlords cannot assume that they are allowed to use the data from social media, even if it is publicly available.
Landlords should make it clear to people when advertising that they might check their social media profiles. Of course, there are other ways to assess a potential tenant such as references and credit checks.
7. Can my tenant paint the property without my permission?
Any maintenance or redecorating costs that are considered ‘wear and tear’ cannot be charged to the tenant. However, a landlord can deduct funds from the tenant’s deposit for certain types of maintenance at any point during the tenancy or once the tenant has moved out. This does include painting the property.
If a tenant paints the house in a non-neutral colour without permission from the landlord, then they can be charged for the cost of the repainting.
Other costs chargeable to the tenant include:
- Cleaning – the property should be thoroughly cleaned before moving out
- Damage to the house
- Damage to the garden
8. What can I do if my tenant has been sectioned?
If a tenant is sectioned under the Mental Health Act, this does not automatically terminate the tenancy. In this instance, it’s a good idea to enquire whether someone will be assisting with the tenant’s affairs and to find out whether they intent to be returning to the property in the future.
The landlord can serve a possession order but there might be protections in place so it’s important to seek legal advice before taking any action.
9. Neighbours are complaining about the amount of dog mess in the garden, what can I do?
Provided that the pet is allowed at the property then there will most likely be a clause in the tenancy agreement. The clause will detail the terms and conditions of keeping a pet at the property and should include activities such as clearing up dog mess. This means that if the tenant fails to do so, they will be in breach of their agreement and a possession notice could be served.
The landlord should warn the tenant in writing that if the issue continues then action will be taken. If a tenant moves out and fails to clear up the mess, cleaning costs can be taken from their deposit.
10. What are my rights if my tenant goes travelling and sublets the property?
If a tenant sublets the property without the landlord’s permission or if the tenancy agreement prohibits subletting, then the tenant is in breach of the agreement. A landlord could then serve notice to the tenant and request the removal of the people currently subletting the property.
In this scenario, the landlord could be faced with difficult possession proceedings if the sub-tenants refuse to leave the property. Coodes Solicitors can advise on the best course of action.
For more advice on any of these issues, contact Hayley Gaffney in Coodes Solicitors’ Personal Disputes team on email@example.com or 01726 874700.