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March 15, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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Laying Down the Law: dealing with landlords

Laying down the law

It’s that time of year—chances are you have recently moved into a new flat, maybe even your first flat. Time for flatwarmings and BBQs. If all goes to plan it can be a problem-free and a fantastic experience. But sometimes it can go very wrong. To avoid the worst of it, it’s important to know your rights and responsibilities.

Where do your rights and responsibilities come from?

Your first point of call is the written tenancy agreement. Your landlord is legally required to give you a copy of this, but even without one, you still have legally enforceable rights and obligations, based on what you’ve agreed verbally and under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986.

What are those rights and responsibilities?

Most of us know that we need to pay our rent, that we shouldn’t intentionally or carelessly damage the place and that we need to leave when the tenancy ends, taking all our rubbish with us and returning our keys.

Our rights include refusing unreasonable entry: the landlord can’t walk on into the flat whenever they feel like it, they have to give you 48 hours warning and can only come between 8am and 7pm unless you agree otherwise.

More importantly, the landlord has a duty to let the flat in a reasonably clean state, keep it in reasonable repair, ensure it has adequate locks and that it complies with building, health and safety requirements. If repairs need doing, you should let the landlord know. If the repairs are urgent and you’ve tried to contact the landlord, you can get them done yourself and get the landlord to compensate you after.

What to do if things go wrong

The best starting point is always to talk to the landlord directly, first in person or on the phone and then in writing. Any problems may just be the result of a misunderstanding. If this doesn’t work, Tenancy Services offer a mediation service which may help. If it still feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall and you have a genuine complaint, you can try the Tenancy Tribunal. The Tribunal can order the landlord to fulfil their obligations.

What if you or your landlord wants out?

Terminating a tenancy depends on the type of tenancy. Your tenancy agreement should state this. If it says you have a fixed-term tenancy, you and your landlord are basically stuck together until the end date, unless you both agree to end early or one party’s breach is so serious that the Tenancy Tribunal grants a termination order. If you have a periodic tenancy on the other hand, you can leave just by giving 21 days’ notice. The landlord generally has to give you 90 days notice but, in some circumstances, they may only need to give you 42 days.

Disclaimer and how to find out more!

Don’t forget that this column is not a substitute for professional research or advice. It is the opinion of a law student! If you would like more information about anything mentioned, a great place to look is the tenancy section of the Department of Building and Housing website. Happy flatting!

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