You might be surprised to learn that when it comes to access, a tenants rights will override the landlord’s. If your tenant refuses you access, you can’t enter the property. That being said, the rules are not simply black and white. Refusing you access will probably put them in breach of their tenancy agreement, so it’s important to know your stuff so that you can stay on the right side of the correct protocol and ultimately, the law. You’d like to think that if you’re being refused access then there is a valid reason why - and usually, there is. Perhaps it’s not a good day or time and your tenant will be happy to rearrange. Other times, you might be persistently refused access and the relationship with your tenant has gone sour. What do you do then?
By law, when you agree to a tenancy you give the tenant the right to occupy your property as their home. That means that you are no longer allowed to enter without their permission. It’s called ‘the covenant for quiet enjoyment’ and it means that the tenant is entitled to not be unreasonably disturbed or harassed whilst living in the property. Once a landlord grants a tenancy, they cannot legally expect to treat the property as their own. To do so would be a ‘derogation of grant’.
Not only this, but your tenant is also well within their rights to change the locks and not give you a key. In fact, changing the locks as soon as someone moves into a rental is often encouraged amongst tenants as there’s no way of knowing if previous tenants have kept keys. If you have a harmonious relationship with your tenant though, they should ensure that you have a key or will at least let you in when you need access. If you’re not keen on this idea, it’s worth putting a clause in your tenancy agreement.
Obviously, landlords need to access their rental property to carry out inspections. You must give your tenants at least 24 hours written notice before you do this, however we advise giving them much longer than this; perhaps a few weeks. A tenant is more likely to give you access without problems if they’ve had long enough to prepare for it. Plus, it makes for a good relationship. To make things a little more complicated, you as a landlord have the legal right of reasonable access, which allows you to enter the property to carry out any necessary repairs during reasonable hours. You also have the right to inspect and carry out your routine visits and you have the right to enter to provide services such as room cleaning, if this is something that is specified in your tenancy agreement. And remember, you must always give at least 24 hours notice.
Once again though, it’s not as black and white as that. This is because the tenants rights override the landlords so if they refuse, there’s not an awful lot that can be done in that moment. The only time this doesn’t apply is in an emergency; such as a fire, a flood, if you suspect violent criminal activity happening inside or if there’s dangerous structural damage. In these cases, you are within your rights to enter the property without permission - day or night.
If you’ve requested access and given at least 24 hours notice but your tenant is refusing, hopefully they have a good reason. Try and negotiate with them and rearrange for a time and day that suits them better. It might be that they are at work on the arranged time and they wish to be present when repairs are being undertaken - and actually in many cases, it works in the landlords favour if the tenant is present during any repair work and inspections. That way they cannot (or will struggle) to accuse you or your repairmen of any theft or misconduct. The main complications with your tenant not allowing you access when you need to carry out repairs is firstly that the issue in your property will most likely persist and get worse which will cause more problems for you in the long run and secondly, that something might happen to the tenant or their property as a result of the issue. For example, a leak might cause damp and in turn, mould which could lead to health problems for the tenant.
With this in mind, it’s wise to contact the tenant in writing and let them know that they will be liable for any deterioration of the property if they do not allow you access for repairs, and also that you cannot be liable for an injury they might suffer because of a fault in the property that you’re not able to remedy. If they still continue to refuse you access, they won’t be able to claim against you for damages. If you are not willing to leave the ball in their court and you are worried that the issue in question is a major one or could be potentially dangerous, get in touch with the council and ask them to reach out to your tenant and explain that the repair work is necessary. Failing that, you could apply to the court for an order to enter the property and carry out any repair works that are needed.
It’s always best to attempt to solve the situation with communication above all else. Try and make sure that all negotiation is via email because that way, you’ve got yourself a digital paper trial to fall back on should the issue escalate. Also, do your best not to put a foot wrong. This means never turning up at the property unannounced, never calling the tenant multiple times a day or entering the property without permission. Don’t give the tenant any leverage that could work in their favour should you have to take things to court.
If polite chit-chat is getting you nowhere and your tenant is not providing access at all, seek legal advice from a landlords association or a legal advisor. As mentioned, you could apply for an injunction to gain access to your property and in extreme cases, serve a section 21 and repossess your property. No landlord wants to be refused access to their property and be reminded that in the eyes of the law the tenant living there has more rights. As always, the most important thing to do in this situation is to follow the correct protocol so that the courts can do right by you if that’s what it comes to.