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1. Introduction

We have a lot of information and guidance on this site about your landlord’s obligations towards you.  However, this is not just one way.  As a tenant, you also have legal obligations.

Some of these will be specific to your tenancy and will depend on what your tenancy agreement says.  However there are other obligations that are general and which will apply to all tenancies.

So lets take a look at these.

2. The obligation to pay rent

This is pretty fundamental.  A tenancy is at its simplest level, an exchange.  You get the right to occupy and use your property in exchange for the payment of rent to your landlord (or his agent).

Landlords are bound by obligations relating to rent too.  They can only charge the authorised rent – which will normally be the rent set out in your tenancy agreement – and can only increase this in the proper way (as discussed in our article here).

But you have to pay it!  If you don’t, your landlord can:

  • Evict you through the courts for non payment of rent, and
  • Obtain a County Court judgment for the outstanding amount.

Neither of these are something you will want, so you need to make sure that payment of your rent is your top priority.

3. The obligation to allow access

This is a tricky area and often a bone of contention between landlords and tenants.

Tenants, under the ‘covenant for quiet enjoyment‘ have the right to refuse access to anyone wanting to enter their property, apart from special situations such as police with a search warrant – and especially you are entitled to refuse access to your landlord.

However, under various legislation, landlords are given a right to enter the property for various purposes related to their legal obligations.  For example, so they can carry out their repairing obligations:

11 Repairing obligations in short leases …

(6) In a lease in which the lessor’s repairing covenant is implied there is also implied a covenant by the lessee that the lessor, or any person authorised by him in writing, may at reasonable times of the day and on giving 24 hours’ notice in writing to the occupier, enter the premises comprised in the lease for the purpose of viewing their condition and state of repair.

So we have two rights:

  • The tenants right to exclude landlords under the ‘covenant for quiet enjoyment’ and
  • The landlords’ right of access, for example under section 11(6) as shown above, and maybe also under the terms of your tenancy agreement

Which right should prevail?  

There is some dispute about this (at least with many landlords who take the view that they are entitled to enter whether tenants agree or not) but most lawyers agree that the tenants right to exclude landlords under the covenant for quiet enjoyment will prevail.

However, if you refuse to allow your landlord access in circumstances where he is actually entitled to enter for some proper purpose – such as an inspection visit or to carry out the annual gas safety inspection – then this will put you in breach of contract.

Your landlord will be entitled to go to court and ask for an injunction ordering you to allow them access.  This is often done when tenants refuse to allow access for the annual gas safety inspection.  They are called ‘gas injunctions’. 

Note also that landlords nowadays are often required by the terms of their insurance policy to carry out regular inspection visits – normally this will be every 3 or six months.

So if your landlord has a genuine and legal reason to require access, then you should allow this, although at a time convenient for you.

4. Looking after the property

We have discussed elsewhere (for example in this article) your landlord’s obligation to keep your property in repair and ‘fit for human habitation’.

You too however, have an obligation to look after the property.  Not to carry out major repair work – that is down to your landlord – but to do the normal things that you would do if you were the owner of the property.  Such as keeping the gutters clear and changing the light bulbs.

This is known as using the premises in a ‘tenant like manner’.

There was a legal case about this in 1954 called Warren v. Keen where Lord Denning in his judgement in the Court of Appeal said:

The tenant must take proper care of the place. He must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler. He must clean the chimneys, where necessary, and also the windows. He must mend the electric light when it fuses. He must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his waste.

In short, he must do the little jobs about the place which a reasonable tenant would do. In addition, he must, of course, not damage the house, wilfully or negligently; and he must see his family and guests do not damage it: and if they do, he must repair it.’

Warren v. Keen [1954]

Things have changed since 1954 so cleaning chimneys will not normally be appropriate as you will probably have central heating.  But the other things mentioned by Lord Denning will normally still apply.

The final part of the quotation is about causing damage and also makes it clear that if your guest damages the property – you are responsible for this damage to the landlord.  Although you may be able to recover the cost of repair from your guest, but this is up to you to do, not your landlord.

So to summarise:

  • You have an obligation to look after the property to prevent damage (and prevent any damage getting worse)
  • If damage is done which is your fault – you will be responsible for the cost of repair or replacement.  Unless the damage is down to ‘fair wear and tear‘.
  • If damage is done by your guests, or people living in the property who are not tenants – you are responsible to your landlord for the cost of repair or replacement.

5. The obligations in your tenancy agreement

When you and your landlord sign a tenancy agreement you are not just being granted a tenancy of (and the legal right to live in) a property.  You are also agreeing to be bound by the clauses in your tenancy agreement.

This is why you should always read your tenancy agreement – although admittedly this is often quite hard due to the difficult way they are often worded.  But do try.

However, this is another tricky area of law as not all clauses will be binding on you.  Clauses which are ‘unfair’ under the Unfair Terms rules in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will not be binding and you can safety ignore them.

But whether a particular clause is ‘unfair’ or not may be difficult to work out.  We have a Premium Article on this subject which you will find here.

6. Additional obligations on HMO tenants

As we discuss in our HMO article here, landlords have extra ‘health and safety’ related obligations under the HMO management regulations.

However, these also come with an obligation on tenants (under section 10 of the regulations)  not to obstruct landlords when they are trying to carry out their duties under the regulations.  So you must

  • Allow access to your landlord to carry out his legal obligations
  • Not do anything that will hinder this
  • Provide your landlord with any information he may need for this
  • Avoiding damaging things 
  • Deal with your rubbish properly, and
  • Comply with any rules your landlord may set as regards fire safety (ie not block fire escapes with bicycles and prams!)

Remember also that HMOs include any property where three or more unrelated tenants share living accommodation (such as three nurses sharing a flat).  

7. And finally

As we said at the start, a tenancy is a legal contract with obligations on both the landlord and on the tenant.

You will get on much better with your landlord (well most landlords!) if you take care to carry out YOUR obligations, which will (usually) be appreciated by your landlord.

Who will (normally) in turn be more willing to help you in times of need if they see that you have behaved responsibly.

We have qualified the text above as some landlords (probably a minority but they do exist) will behave unreasonably and are generally bad landlords.  In which case often the best option long term, is to look for somewhere else to live.

A tenancy works best where all parties carry out their responsibilities gladly and behave in a reasonable manner.

This is the end of this article.

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