Turning up the heat on landlord rights
A recent news story about a landlord blocking off a thermostat in one of their residential rental properties has brought into question the rights they have to control utilities. Whilst such actions could be seen as taking away the rights of tenants, the issue is not that clear cut.
These are exactly as you’d expect, contracts where utilities are included in the rental costs. Largely used by landlords with multiple-occupancy homes, they can help to simplify the challenge keeping track of what services are being used by whom, and how much to charge. However, they can also be taken advantage of by tenants who choose to leave the heating on constantly.
Unfortunately, this is a common issue, with tenants forgetting about the impact their actions have on the landlord’s finances, as well as the environment.
How landlords can avoid these problems
- New tenants – Landlords can create a contract that contains a reasonable usage clause. Much like with mobile phone contracts, if the tenant exceeds the usage stated, they must then pay extra to cover the excess.
- Current contracts – This makes regaining control more difficult. A ‘quid-pro-quo’ system could be the way forward, where the property owner offers reduced rental costs or other benefits to tenants who willingly give back control of the utilities.
Most landlords have access rights to their property to ensure they can deal with emergencies and carry out inspections at any time. As a result, this means they could install certain measures during these visits if utilities are being abused. The ability to track heating use in real-time through smart meters and smart thermostats means it has become far easier for property owners to identify overuse and take action.
Although actions such as blocking off a thermostat don’t necessarily infringe a tenant’s rights, the consequences may do. All tenants have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their home, this includes being able to live without interference from their landlord. Therefore, forcefully putting controls in place could be classed as breaching this right.
Plus, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, introduced in March 2019, states that extreme heat or cold are classed as hazards. If landlords don’t always adjust the heat appropriately, tenants can accuse them of infringement and will be able to seek redress from March 2020 as part of the Act. As such, landlords must prepare themselves for a second full time job.
For those who are determined to bring in measures to control utilities, communication with the tenant is vital. Providing clear justification and explaining how the measures will work ensures everyone is on the same page. Property owners must also consider whether they can cope with the added administrative responsibilities, if not, a different approach may be needed.