Landlord/Tenant relations: Cover your tracks

When it comes to landlord-tenant disputes, interpreting legal obligations can be tricky. The varying nature of issues that might arise is endless in possibility, which means that there is no well-defined guideline on how to handle a highly specific set of circumstances.

“The majority of disputes that will occur between a tenant and landlord concern the landlord’s fulfilment of his maintenance duties,” says Michelle Dickens, Managing Director of TPN. “In such cases, tenants are often inclined to withhold rent to force the landlord to act.”

She explains that the law which concerns disputes of this nature leaves a significant amount of grey areas, as it stipulates that the landlord has a responsibility to maintain the property such that it is fit for purpose it was let – but in practical terms what exactly does this mean?

“Maintenance responsibilities that fall to the landlord are things such as broken stoves, toilets that are not flushing and damp,” Dickens elaborates. “Issues such as doors not locking or light bulbs not working are matters for the tenant to resolve.”

However, because this is not spelt out in legal terms, the only way for both landlords and tenants to ensure they are not taken advantage of is to format a strong lease agreement. “The agreement needs to protect the rights of both parties, and it needs to include any obligations undertaken by either party in writing. For example if the landlord has agreed to build a wall, but has only agreed to this verbally, this will be difficult to enforce as it has to be done in writing.”

If the tenant faces a situation in which the landlord is genuinely in breach of contract, they need to be aware that they cannot withhold payment as a means of rectifying the situation. Should the tenant withhold payment, he or she will then also be in breach of contract.

Finally, Dickens’ advice for landlords or tenants who are already involved in a dispute of any nature is to make sure that all correspondence is recorded. “If the dispute has to be mediated, whoever looks at it will require evidence of your claims,” she explains. “As such, it’s absolutely vital to cover your tracks.”

This is an unedited statement produced by TPN

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