|Issue 2 - February 1972|
|King And Castle|
few days ago Harry Krishner was having a party in his flat. There were
a lot of people around, but not much noise, as everyone was too zapped.
Suddenly the landlord came bursting in and ordered everyone to leave --he
said he wouldn't allow guests after midnight. When Harry suggested that
there was very little noise and that no-one was being disturbed, he got
angrier and angrier, accused Harry of damaging the furniture, and threatened
to call the police. Finally he gave him a week to leave.
Too many landlords still assume quite arbitrary powers, as well as taking responsibility for their tenants' moral welfare. The behaviour of Harry's landlord was quite ILLEGAL, and because Harry knew this he was able to stand up to him. However it is very important that everyone should know their rights, which are very extensive, so that the continual hassling of young people is stopped. I shall be dealing in this article with your rights in a furnished house, flat or bedsit, where no food is provided. (If you pay a fair bit for meals every week, you have less security.)
The most important thing to get is a rent book (available from any stationer's), in which to write all your payments and which is signed weekly by the landlord. A lot of people don't bother with one, which is OK till you get hassled, when it becomes your main weapon. So ask your landlord for one - he can't refuse if you pay weekly. Without a rent book you have no legal rights at all, but once you have one the flat or room becomes legally yours so that the landlord has to ask your permission before coming in, and can't go in when you're not there. So when Harry's landlord walked into his flat uninvited, he was in fact trespassing; this even applies if the landlord is living in the same house.
Your landlord can't suddenly decide to make some new rules up if he doesn't like what you're doing in his house. Any rules he wants you to obey must either be written in the rent book or agreed between you before you move in. It's obviously much better to get things written down so there aren't any arguments later. It's not easy to prove what was or wasn't said in a verbal agreement if you do have to take your case to a Rent Tribunal.
Harry's landlord couldn't evict him. You can't be kicked out for a small infringement of the rules, but only for three reasons - overcrowding, if it can be proved that you're disturbing the neighbours (and they're expected to tolerate a reasonable amount of noise) or if you're not up to date with the rent.
If you are asked to quit remember that you have to be given notice, and that the minimum period of notice you can be given is a month. (This also applies if you leave - although you can try to get away with a week as most landlords don't know the law.) Ignore an order to leave unless it is in writing - a verbal request (however loud) doesn't count. Then before your notice expires - preferably only a couple of days before; you want to stay as long as possible - put in an appeal to the Rent Tribunal, stating your case. You can't then be evicted until the Tribunal has heard your case, which will take some time. If they decide the landlord has no real reason to evict you they can give you security for up to six months.
DAMAGE AND REPAIRS
This is complicated, and it doesn't help matters that the law is rather fuzzy round the edges. Lawyers delight in using terms in Acts of Parliament that can be interpreted in any way, and in the case of furnished lodgings there have been few test cases to establish a fixed meaning for words.
Although it's up to you to keep the place in reasonable order, it isn't necessary to leave it exactly as you found it. 'Fair wear and tear' on furniture etc is expected, but that could mean anything, and generally, if your landlord does accuse you of damaging stuff it is up to you to prove that it was falling to bits anyway and that you didn't accelerate the process.
Don't sign an agreement about keeping a place in repair without getting advice (from us?) first. For example if you agree to "keep and leave in repair" you may have to put a tatty place in order, which could be very expensive.
Two other points. A number of landlords demand a week's rent in advance - this they are not entitled to do, although if your landlord does insist, it's probably not worth an argument.
Gas and electricity bills can also cause trouble. It's up to you to pay unless the landlord agrees to.
Finally if you think you're paying too much rent you can appeal to the Rent Tribunal who can order the landlord to lower it. On the other hand they may decide it should be higher, so it's a good idea to check around and see what your neighbours are paying first.
If you do have any problems come to us and we'll try to sort them out. Don't bother about going to the Rent Tribunal for advice - when I rang them up they were very unhelpful and said they couldn't give legal advice. But don't be put off - the law is generally on your side.
The address of the Rent Tribunal for appeals is:
In Muther Grumble No.1 we said that it was illegal for house agents to charge a commission for finding a flat for you. Apparently this is not strictly true. They can charge you if they do anything more than give you a list of addresses - if for example they arrange an appointment with a landlord for you. So make sure they only supply you with a list and don't let them try to be more helpful.