This is a question to the blog clinic from Stella who is a tenant.
I live in the basement of a friend’s house. I have my own front door but she has retained an internal door up a few stairs, off my kitchen which lead to her house. Originally I requested locks on both sides so I had some control but nothing came of them.
We have a shorthold tenancy agreement which specifies that these stairs aren’t part of my tenancy…although they lead directly into my kitchen.
For a while I’ve had a feeling she was coming down here without permission but now things have started to go missing. I feel quite violated. I’d like to move but I don’t have a permanent job so I’m left feeling helpless and furious. What, if anything, can I do? I’d be very grateful for your advice.
This is always a difficult situation. Sadly renting property from a friend often results in a broken friendship. Let’s take a look first at
Your tenancy type
Although it sounds as if you have a tenancy, this will not be an assured shorthold tenancy as your flat is in the same building where your landlord lives.
Where there is a ‘resident landlord’ the tenancy will be an unregulated ‘common law’ tenancy. There is nothing wrong with this, it just means that the rules set out in the Housing Act 1988 which apply to assured and assured shorthold tenancies will not apply to your tenancy.
The main differences are that any deposit paid does not need to be protected in a scheme and the court procedure to be used if your landlord wants to evict you is slightly different.
The covenant of quiet enjoyment
However this will not alter your right to be left undisturbed in the property. This is called the ‘covenant of quiet enjoyment’.
It does not mean you have the right to be quiet or enjoy yourself, it means that your landlord must not interfere with your use of the property or come into it without your permission. (See this case here).
The first thing to do I suppose is find out whether your landlord is actually coming into the property.
There is the old James Bond trick of putting a hair across the door and seeing if it is gone when you come back. Or maybe putting things in front of the door, and taking photographs to see if they have moved before and after you go out. That sort of thing.
Keep a diary of what you do and what you find.
If you are able to prove that your landlord (or at least someone) is coming into your flat via the door without your knowledge or consent then this will be a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and a breach of your rights as a tenant.
Technically this is a criminal offence and also a breach of your rights under the civil law. You can complain about this to your Local Authority and get them to write to her, threatening a prosecution if she does not stop and or bring proceedings for an injunction. Or you could report the thefts to the police.
However I do not suggest that you do any of these things. Both the Local Authority and the Police are overworked and will probably consider this to be a fairly minor matter and may be unwilling to do much other than perhaps write your landlord a letter.
However more importantly this will undoubtedly upset your landlord who may respond by requesting you to leave which is not something you want as you do not have anywhere else to live.
You need to be more subtle and take action in a way which does not directly accuse her.
Maybe start by sending her a letter saying that it looks as if someone has been entering your flat, and ask if there has been anyone staying or visiting her who could have done this? If so, could she please make it clear to them that the communicating door leads to your flat and that they should not use it.
Securing the communicating door
What you really want is to secure the door at the top of the steps. Technically you have no right to do this, however if you are able to show that the door is being used to access your property illegally it could be justified.
You also need to bear in mind that the door does not belong to you so if you do anything, it should be something that can be made good easily when you leave. I suspect putting a bolt on the door would damage the door less than having a lock fitted as it can be removed quiet easily and the screw holes filled in and painted over.
You would need to have a very good excuse for doing this which does not directly accuse your landlord of anything. Saying that you have had a burglary and the police and/or your insurers advised you secure the door might be a good ploy. Have a word with your insurers and/or the police first and see if you can get them to advise this (preferably in writing).
But always bear in mind that if you antagonise your landlord and she decides that she wants you to leave, long term you cannot prevent her from doing this. She does have the right to evict you through the courts after the end of the fixed term of your tenancy or (if this has already ended) after service of an old style ‘Notice to Quit’.