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Live-in landlords: What are your rights if it all goes wrong?

by constructaquote - 17 April 2018


While renting out part of your home to a lodger may be an appealing idea for landlords looking to increase their income, in some cases, things can go wrong for live-in landlords.

For homeowners thinking of becoming a live-in landlord, it is essential to know the legal responsibilities and rights the landlord has. If something goes wrong, it can be particularly awkward for live-in landlords and lodgers living under the same roof.

Below are some of the common issues live-in landlords may be faced with, and what they should do to deal with them correctly.

  1. What if the lodger damages my property?

If the lodger damages the property, the landlord can deduct the cost of the repairs from the lodgers’ deposit. As this type of tenancy is not an assured shorthold tenancy, the deposit will not need to be protected by the governments’ Deposit Protection Scheme, therefore the landlord can use the deposit to repair any damages caused.

But this is not always as simple as it seems as some landlords do not bother charging their tenants a deposit or carrying out an inventory.

Many landlords choose not to provide lodgers with a tenancy just in case things go wrong and they decide to end the agreement.

However, it is recommended for live-in landlords to carry out an inventory and charge the lodger a deposit when they move in. This means that if any damage occurs, the inventory will act as proof of the original condition of the area that the lodger has access too. The live-in landlord can then use the deposit to repair the damage caused.

If the cost to repair the damage exceeds the deposit, landlords can make a claim via the small claims court, but a signed inventory will be needed for a judge to prove that the property was in a different condition before the lodger moved in.

  1. What if the lodger causes problems?

Issues can arise between live-in landlords and lodgers due to a number of reasons.

Sometimes it is due to a clash of lifestyles, for example, if the lodger enjoys playing loud music or is a ‘night owl’.

In the event of the lodger causing distress to the landlord or anyone else in the household, the landlord should:

  1. Speak to the lodger

In situations like this, it can help for the landlord to have a polite conversation with the lodger and try to resolve the problem amicably.

  1. Write a polite letter

If nothing changes, the landlord should then write a letter to the lodger stating their areas of concern. This is a good idea if the lodger is out a lot and is difficult to speak to.

The first letter does not need not be formal and should address the issues in a polite manner. In order for the issues to be resolved amicably, landlords should refrain from antagonising the lodger with accusations.

  1. Write a formal letter

If the initial conversation and the first letter has not resolved the problem, landlords should provide the lodger with a second formal letter warning him or her that if things do not improve, they will be asked to leave the property.

  1. Give formal notice to leave

Giving formal notice is the first legal stage in evicting the lodger, also known as recovering possession of the property.

The notice period for lodgers will depend on the type of agreement, if any, they have with the landlord. (Read more about evicting a lodger in section 4 & 5 of this guide).

If the lodger behaves in a dangerous or criminal way, landlords must inform the police. This is also helpful if they are needed to evict the lodger at a later date as they will have a documented history of the lodgers’ behaviour.

Landlords that decide to take matters into their own hands by trying to drive the lodger out of the property with bullying, violence or withholding services could be considered as harassing the lodger.

The Housing Act 1988 states it is a criminal offence for landlords to force the lodger out of the property or restrict their access to part of the property that they have a legal right to.

If this is the case, local authorities can take the legal action they think appropriate, including prosecution.

  1. What if the lodger fails to pay rent?

If the lodger fails to pay the rent on time, there is a correct procedure that landlords should follow when chasing up the lodger for unpaid rent.

Although most live-in landlords will not have a formal agreement in place with the lodger, for those that do, the agreement should include:

  • who is renting from whom
  • which property, or rooms, you will be renting
  • the amount of rent you will pay
  • how long the agreement is for
  • the notice period for eviction if rent is unpaid

Some agreements are based on ‘payment in kind’ where a lodger is allowed to live in the property free of charge. For example, the landlord may agree that the lodger can live in the property rent free, providing they do the gardening every week.

However, if the value of this payment is very low, it will not count as a legal tenancy.

When chasing up rent arrears from the lodger, the landlord should:

  1. Speak to the lodger and see if there is a reason for the late payment. If the landlord does not what the hassle of finding a new lodger, it could help to understand the lodgers’ financial circumstances and negotiate the payment terms. For instance, if the lodger is looking for a new job, the landlord may agree a reduced rent until the lodger is back in work.
  2. If an agreement is not reached and payment has still not been made, the landlord should write a letter to the lodger to remind them that their rent is overdue.
  3. If the rent has still unpaid a few days later (or whenever the landlord decides), the landlord should provide the lodger with a formal letter warning them of a potential ‘notice to quit’.
  4. The last resort is for the landlord to provide the lodger with a formal ‘notice to quit’, informing them they must leave the property by a certain date. The landlord can then take action to evict the lodger (see section 4 & 5 of this guide).

If the amount owed to the landlord is £5000 or more, the landlord can include details of the unpaid rent when making a claim for possession (see court possession orders in section 5 of this guide).

If the amount owed to the landlord is less than £5000, the landlord can make a claim against the lodger via a small claims court. Landlords can also do this if the lodger has left the property and still owes rent.

  1. How to end a tenancy and evict a lodger?

When it comes to evicting a lodger, the rights of the landlord vary depending on the type of tenancy the lodger has.

The lodger is likely to be an excluded occupier if:

  • they live in the landlords’ home
  • they share a kitchen, bathroom or living room with the landlord or any other household members

In this case, the landlord only has to give the lodger reasonable notice to end the letting, known as a ‘notice to quit’ and they do not have to go to court to evict them.

The ‘notice to quit’ does not have to be in writing, but it is recommended that landlords provide the lodger with a formal notice to quit stating when they must leave. This is to prevent the lodger claiming they were never asked to leave an eliminating any communication errors.

The notice to quit is usually the length of the rental payment period – so, if the lodger pays rent on a weekly basis, the landlord must give the lodger one weeks’ notice to leave the property.

After this period, the landlord can change the locks on the property, even if the lodger has left their belongings there. The landlord must give the belongings back to the lodger without giving the lodger access the property.

For lodgers of this kind, the landlord does not need a court order to evict the lodger.

The lodger is likely to be an occupier with basic protection if:

  • they live in the landlords’ home
  • they don’t share any living space with the landlord or any other household members.

If the lodger is an occupier with basic protection, the landlord must serve them a written ‘notice to quit’.

If the lodger doesn’t leave, the landlord will need to get a court order to evict them.

  1. How do landlords obtain a court possession order?

A court possession order is not required for landlords to evict lodgers. However, if the landlord decides to evict the lodger, but they refuse to leave, the landlord may need to get a court possession order. The process of gaining a court possession order is as follows:

  1. Landlords fill in the relevant claim forms which are available via the local county court.
  2. The court will then serve the summons and details of the claim by post to the lodger and landlord notifying them of the date of the hearing.
  3. The lodger will also receive a defence form, which he or she can complete and return to the court within 14 days if they disagree with the reason they are being evicted.
  4. Both parties should attend the hearing.

Regardless of whether the letting is a tenancy or a licence, the court will award possession to the landlord – providing the landlord has followed the correct procedures.

In some cases, the court can postpone the start date of the possession order for anything up to 6 weeks.

If the lodger still does not leave by the date specified by the court, the landlord can apply to the court for a warrant for eviction whereby bailiffs will be arranged to evict the lodger.

If you’re thinking of becoming a landlord, our insurance cover can provide you with essential protection if something goes wrong.

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