Landlord's rights to inspect their properties

Inspections of buy-to-let property can feel intrusive unless handled sensitively. While it's reasonable for you to want to check on your property, it is also reasonable for tenants to want some privacy and respect. Being clear about your legal rights and showing some courtesy can help make inspections go smoothly.

Your right of access: what the law says

A fundamental principle of landlord and tenant law says that the tenant has the right to 'quiet enjoyment' and 'exclusive possession' of the property, meaning they are entitled to live as they choose without interference. This means the landlord cannot come and go as he or she pleases.

You have a right of 'reasonable access' to your property. You should give at least 24 hours' notice to tenants if you want to visit your property to inspect it or empty a utility slot meter. If you need urgent access to a property in an emergency, such as a gas leak or structural problem, you do not need to give the tenant notice.

If the property is let by the room, with shared living areas, you have the right to inspect shared spaces without notice. You can only inspect private rooms where you have permission or the room is shared by multiple lodgers.

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Contractual rights of access

It might be that your tenancy agreement sets out particular times when you are entitled to access the property. For example, many agreements stipulate quarterly inspections, with dates agreed in advance. Alternatively, some agreements state that the landlord will provide cleaning services and that you will have regular access to the property for this purpose.

Tenants can give permission for access at other times. For example, a tenant might agree that workmen can enter to carry out repair or building works to the property at a particular time. It is wise to set out the reason and duration of this access in writing to the tenant and confirm their agreement in writing.

You cannot insert a clause in the tenancy agreement giving you the right to access the property freely, as this would be void under the Unfair Contract Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999.

Giving notice of access

It is wise to provide written notice in more than one format, in case one goes astray: for example, send a letter and back it up with email. Under s11(6) of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1986, you should give a minimum of 24 hours' written notice. Allowing longer is advisable, in case the tenant is away or needs to change plans in order to be present.

You might want to provide some detail about what you will be looking at during the inspection, for example checking the safety of gas appliances, the condition of windows and doors or the state of fittings and furniture. You might also ask your tenants to raise any problems they have experienced so you can seek to remedy them.

What to do if a tenant refuses you access

If a tenant says they do not agree to you visiting the property, the worst option is to ignore them and go anyway. This is likely to antagonise the tenant, which could cause your relationship to deteriorate; they may take less good care of the property as a result, or decide to terminate the tenancy early, or generally be un-cooperative in future. Instead, ask why they refuse access and see if you can agree on another date. Explaining the reason for your visit clearly may help.

Accessing a property without permission could leave you open to claims of theft, damage to the tenant's belongings, or complaints to the Local Authority. If a tenant is insistent that you should not enter the property, ultimately you should stay away.

You may want to write to the tenant stating that they will be held liable for any deterioration due to you being unable to inspect or carry out repairs and that you cannot be held liable for any injury or damage to property because you could not access the property. You may want to threaten or proceed with a Section 21 notice to evict the tenant.

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