Neighbours from hell – is a landlord liable?

Unfortunately, reports of nuisance tenants are all too common these days. Many landlords have been on the receiving end of complaints about their tenants – whether it’s for inconsiderate behaviour, mess, noise or worse.

When someone is unhappy about their neighbours’ activities, and direct approaches to them have no effect, they often end up contacting the landlord for help. Their increasing frustration can end up with threats of taking the landlord to court. But is this an empty threat? Legally, could a landlord be liable for nuisance behaviour from their tenants?

Can landlords be liable for tenant behaviour?

A quick internet search turns up all kinds of conflicting reports. Often the general public believe that the landlord is accountable for the people that rent the property - although the professional view is that a landlord can’t be held responsible for their tenant’s behaviour: if someone’s neighbour is being a nuisance, they should take it up with them directly. 

Clearly, however, if nothing is done, it makes sense to contact the landlord, initially at least to make them aware of the behaviour. Often, a landlord (or the agent acting on the landlord’s behalf) will informally speak to the tenant to raise the complaint. In some cases this can be enough to stop the behaviour – especially if the tenant is concerned that their rental agreement could be terminated. But if the trouble continues, things can become a little more complex.

The role of ‘Rogue Landlords’ 
In recent years, new legislation to tackle Rogue Landlords and help reduce anti-social behaviour came in in recent yearshas come into effect. The idea is that landlords who do not live up to their responsibilities in providing safe and well-maintained properties, attract tenants that behave in an antisocial way. Landlords can be prosecuted and banned from renting property if they are found to provide substandard accommodation. They are not directly pursued for the behaviour of their tenants.

Where landlords could be liable
There have been a handful of cases where the landlord has been found liable for tenant behaviour. These generally stem from situations where the landlord has known in advance that the tenant was likely to act in a problematic way.

Also, in some locations, landlords need to have a licence to rent their property - this is called Selective Licensing, this andapplies in to certain areas of Peterborough and other locations around the UK. In some cases, the terms of the licence require landlords to take reasonable steps to address anti-social behaviour. Whether this responsibility would stand up legally is unclear – but it could potentially lead to a landlord losing their licence.

Protection for the landlord
The best way to protect against renting your property to nuisance tenants is to unfailingly check their references. Always speak to a prospective tenant’s previous landlord and ask them if there were ever any complaints. This should help weed out any potential problems. You should also make sure that your draft tenancy agreement includes guidance on how the tenant should behave. This then gives you the opportunity to terminate the tenancy on the basis of breaching that contract, if there are repeated complaints about them.  

However, landlords are not allowed to impose unfair terms on tenants as the ‘Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations’ apply to tenancy agreements.

In summary, this is a contentious issue for both landlords and neighbours, and can be a tricky one to resolve. The best course is for landlords to take steps to avoid it, by seeking good quality tenants and working to keep them.

We hope this helps.