When you hand over your property to be lived in by a tenant, you agree for them to hold the right to occupy it as their home. That means you can’t just waltz in and out just because you own it. Your tenant has ‘the covenant for quiet enjoyment’ which means that they are entitled to not be unreasonably disturbed or harassed whilst living in the property and a landlord breaking this would be a ‘derogation of grant’.
It’s so important to tread carefully when communicating with your tenants, so that you don’t come across as overbearing or worse, that you aren’t seen as harassing them. It’s something that’s taken very seriously by the police and courts. So, where exactly do the boundaries lie?
What is landlord harassment?
Anything that you do to deliberately disrupt your tenants life can be classed as harassment. This could be cutting off their gas, electricity or water supply, opening their post or removing their belongings from the home, verbally or physically abusing them, withholding keys or refusing to carry out repairs.
It can also be harassment if you enter the property without a tenant’s permission or if you send builders in without notice or at antisocial hours. You must always give at least 24 hours notice for repairs or property inspections because although it’s your property, you do need your tenant to agree to your access in most cases.
Harassment can also sometimes become illegal eviction. This is if you physically throw your tenants out, change the locks while they’re out or force them to leave the property as a result of you harassing them. If this is the case, your tenant can take legal action against you. Never be tempted to coerce or pressurise a tenant into leaving your property, no matter what they have done. It can be difficult, but try not to make it personal. If you need to evict your tenant for whatever reason, it’s always best to do this with a court order and with the appropriate amount of notice, else it is not legal.
What can my tenant do if they think I am harassing them?
Tenants will probably react in different ways, but they will be encouraged firstly to ask you to stop whatever it is you’re doing. They may do this in writing via the post or email so that they have proof of the correspondence. They may also get in touch with their local council who could speak to you on the tenant’s behalf or worse, take action against you if necessary. If the issue persists, they might even report you to the police.
By harassing your tenant, you risk a hefty fine, a criminal conviction or in extreme cases, imprisonment. It’s just not worth the risk – no matter what your tenant may be doing to warrant a negative reaction.
How can I avoid being accused of harassment?
Just because a tenant has accused you of harassing them, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. There may be times when you are being wrongly accused. It goes without saying, but the best way to avoid being accused of harassment is to stick to the rules. Try not to visit the property without 24 hours advanced notice – more if possible. Never enter the property without your tenants permission unless it’s an emergency and never try to evict a tenant without a court order.
If things become difficult between you and your tenant, avoid visiting them and the property personally. If you do need to visit under strained circumstances however, it’s a good idea to take along an independent witness with you so that your behaviour cannot be easily twisted and misconstrued in your tenants account of events. It’s difficult for someone to prove a negative, so having a witness with you will reduce the chances of your tenant being able to wrongly accuse you.
Tenant and landlord relationships are not always easy. In difficult situations, things can become sour but it’s so important to put personal feelings to one side and act responsibly and sensibly. There is always something more effective that you can do if you are having a tough time with a tenant, rather than acting in any way that can be seen as harassment. If you are experiencing a situation with a tenant that you’re not sure how to handle, always contact a Landlords Association such as the RLA.