Once a tenant has started to pay rent on a property, that property becomes the tenant's home. The tenants' have a right to peaceful occupation of the property. Even though you are the owner of the property, your rights to enter are limited.
Your tenancy agreement should stipulate the terms under which you can enter the property. You must abide by these terms, unless there is an emergency and you need to gain instant access to the property.
Your right of entry
Unless there is an emergency and a genuine risk of damage to the building or danger to its inhabitants or neighbours, you cannot enter the property without the consent of your tenants.
Generally, you must get consent from the tenants at least 24 hours in advance of entering the property. It is not sufficient to phone the tenants on your way to the property or on the morning that you intend to visit. Similarly, if you have contracted someone to carry out repairs or work on the property, you must have the tenants' consent to allow these people access to the property. Where you intend carrying out maintenance work to the property, write to your tenants first informing them of your intention to carry out work and allowing them an opportunity to respond.
The tenants are entitled to refuse anyone access to their home, but should not withhold their consent unreasonably.
Agreeing rights of entry in a tenancy agreement
You can and should include a term in your tenancy agreement explaining when and how you can enter the property. This sort of term will generally say that landlords or an agent entering on the landlord's behalf can enter the property to inspect the property or carry out affairs as long as a minimum of 24 hours' notice is given to the tenant.
Any term that interferes with the tenant's basic right to peaceful occupation of the property is unfair and unenforceable. This would include terms that
- require the tenants to regularly facilitate viewings during the lifetime of the tenancy
- allow the landlord or agent to access the property without giving notice
- allow the landlord or agent to show around prospective purchasers or new tenants without giving the tenants at least 24 hours' notice in writing
Access in an emergency
If you need to access the property because of an emergency, first try to contact the tenants. If you are unable to speak to any of the tenants you should knock loudly on the door several times and make sure the property is vacant before using your own keys to access the property.
If there is a period of prolonged bad weather, you may wish to contact your tenants to make sure that they have taken precautionary measures to protect the property from frost or water damage.
To reduce the likelihood of damage to your property during the winter, you could ask your tenants to notify you if they are going to be away from the property during a period of bad weather and get their permission to enter the property if you need to turn the water off or check the pipes while they are away. Try to get this permission in writing.
Arranging viewings of an occupied property
If your sitting tenants plan to move out, you will want to get new tenants lined up as quickly as possible to minimise your risk of rental voids.
Unless there is a term in your tenancy agreement which allows you to schedule viewings during the last month of a tenancy, your sitting tenants are entitled to refuse any agent or viewers access to the property.
Whether a clause requiring that the sitting tenant allows viewings exists in the tenancy agreement or not, there are some guidelines which you should stick to:
- ask the sitting tenants if they have a preferred time for arranging viewings
- ensure that you give at least 24 hours' notice of any viewing
- do not make any unreasonable requests of the sitting tenants to facilitate viewings, e.g. requesting tenants to vacate the property during viewings, request that the property is immaculate for viewings.
If you, or an agent, freely access the property to carry out viewings without first gaining the sitting tenants' consent, you could be seen to be guilty of harassment. Inserting a clause in your tenancy agreement allowing you to conduct viewings without the tenants' consent is likely to be regarded as an unfair contract term and an unfair term is unenforceable.
What can you do if tenants refuse to let you in?
Your tenants should be reasonable and allow you access if you give reasonable notice. If a tenants is unable to attend the property, due to work or other commitments, and doesn't want a stranger in his or her property then it's perfectly reasonable for the tenant to ask you to schedule the visit at another time. If your tenant is being deliberately obstructive and refusing to agree a suitable time for you to carry out your inspection or repair you can apply to the court for an injunction allowing you access to the property. Speak to your solicitor if you need to do this.