Recently, the story of a tenant losing access to the thermostat in his rented home hit the news and social media. The trouble started with the installation of a Nest thermostat, which seemed to be no problem. However, a few days later, the tenant came home to find the thermostat had been covered with a locked box, making access impossible.
Hot Water Goes Off on Saturday Afternoons
The issue came to light one Saturday afternoon when the hot water wasn’t on in Alex Milsom’s shared house, located in west London. When Alex contacted his roommate about the lack of hot water, the roommate let him know the issue was due to a “cage on the thermostat.”
Evidently, the roommates’ landlady had entered the apartment to cover the Nest thermostat, which controls heating and hot water in the home. The landlady has external control over the thermostat.
When Alex contacted the landlady about the problem, she replied that the thermostat was covered to keep the settings from being changed.
One night, Milsom woke up too hot and sweating, as the heat was turned up high. The next morning, he was unable to take a shower because there was no hot water. As a result, he had to shower at work.
Sharing His Story on Social Media
Alex shared his story on Twitter, with the tweet going viral. Many people responded by asking if it was legal for the landlady to cover the thermostat, blocking tenant access. Others shared their own stories of landlords gone wrong.
Welcome to renting in London!
My landlord has just put our thermostat in a cage. pic.twitter.com/j8QdFpb2eO
— Alex Milsom (@alexmilsom) November 2, 2019
Landlords also responded in support of the landlady, saying that she may have been motivated to cover the thermostat due to tenants’ lack of care with the amount of heat they were using. In fact, a careless use could lead to higher utility bills for the landlady.
Is it Legal for a Landlord to Cover the Thermostat?
That’s a legitimate question. According to David Smith, policy director for the Residential Landlords Association, has said there are no rules against locking thermostats.
However, he did recommend that landlords and their tenants talk together before taking this type of action. Even so, there’s no clear answer as to the legality of this situation.
Daniel Fitzpatrick, a partner with Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors, explained that tenants have the right to heating and hot water. Lack of hot water and heat can be considered a health hazard for the tenant. In that case, legal action could be taken against a landlord.
However, about locking the thermostat he, too, said it can depend on the situation. He explained that if the rental agreement is only basic and does not include utility bills, then this could lead to a landlord to cover the thermostat, if her bills were running high due to tenants’ use.
Another opinion was shared by Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter. She explained if a tenant’s rental home is too hot or too cold, then this could be recognized as a hazard according to the health and safety rating system for rental homes. She also said that a landlord coming into the rental home without advance notice could also be a problem.
So, what are a landlord’s responsibilities to tenants in the UK? According to Gov.UK, there are certain responsibilities landlords have toward their tenants:
- Under UK law, landlords are required to:
- Keep rental properties save and free from health hazards
- Provide an Energy Performance Certificate for the property
- Make sure all gas and electrical equipment is safely installed and maintained
- Protect tenant’s deposit in a government-approved scheme
- Make sure tenants have the right to rent property (if the property is located in England)
- Provide tenants with a copy of How to Rent checklist when they start renting
It doesn’t specify what type of actions a landlord can take if tenants use utilities in an irresponsible way. This will depend on exactly what’s spelled out in the rental agreement.
However, a statement from the Health and Safety Rating System reads:
“Water, Gas and Electricity: these items must have whatever is needed for their proper use. All equipment necessary to supply these utilities must be fully, safely and correctly installed. Any removable equipment or appliances which use gas or electricity are not counted as ‘installations’ unless these are provided by the landlord.”
Recommendations on Handling This Type of Issue
Experts advise that the landlord and tenant, in this type of situation, should first try to work out an amicable solution. Its possible tenants could even face eviction, due to the limited security of tenure most tenants have. In cases like this, landlords may choose to serve a section 21 notice (which is a no- fault eviction notice) if utility bills were unreasonably high due to tenant’s use and the landlord is paying for the utilities.
Another option landlords might try is to alter the rental agreement as a condition of renewal. In the case of a bills paid tenancy, this could change to tenants becoming responsible for their portion of the utilities, in the case of a shared home.
Can a Landlord Raise the Rent to Cover Utilities?
Basically yes, but a landlord must adhere to the UK regulations involving rent increases. If the tenancy is periodic (such as a rolling week-to-week or month-by-month basis), your landlord can increase the rent at least once a year, without a tenant’s consent.
For a fixed-term tenancy (one that runs for a set period), a landlord only has the ability to increase the rent if the tenant agrees. If the tenant does not agree, then the rent can only be increased at the end of the fixed term.
So, landlords can raise the rent, but they must follow the regulations. Landlords are required to give one month’s notice for tenants who pay weekly or monthly or give them 6 months’ notice in the case of a yearly tenancy.
Where Can Tenants Turn for Help?
If you find yourself in difficult straits with your landlord due to utilities or other issues, there are places you can you can get help. Tenants who find themselves in a hard situation with the landlord can seek assistance and advice from Shelter, an organization who helps people living in bad housing or dealing with homelessness.
This organization can provide advice, support and even assist with free legal services. They can help people who are facing eviction, who have lost their homes, and more.