The rule of law that all contracts relating to land, etc., must be in writing, applies to tenancies for any period, long or short, to flats or rooms, and furnished houses or apartments. A verbal agreement, repudiated, carries no remedy at law. When, however, the intending occupant has been allowed to enter into occupation in accordance with a verbal agreement, there is a part performance of such agreement, which will thereby be binding on both parties.
If the length of the tenancy has not been agreed between the two parties, but a yearly rent has been fixed, the tenancy will become a yearly one determinable by either party giving to the other half a year’s notice, to expire at the end of any year, calculated from the day of commencement of the tenancy, even though the rent may be payable quarterly or half-yearly. If a monthly or weekly rent has been fixed, but no length of tenancy agreed, a monthly or weekly tenancy (as the case may be) has been created, determinable by a month’s or a week’s notice.
Distraint (Distress) may be made by a landlord personally for rent in arrears, but not until the day after it has become due. A distress is effected by entering the premises let, and putting a man in possession of goods on the premises of sufficient value (when sold by auction) to cover the amount of rent due, and the expenses of the distress and sale. An inventory of such goods must be made, and a copy given to the tenant, or left at the house, with a notice at the foot, stating the amount due, and that, if not paid within five days, the goods will be sold. If the tenant fails to pay the rent and proper expenses the goods must (after five clear days) be removed from the house, and sold by auction, unless the tenant consents to the goods remaining in the house for a longer period. Any balance, after payment of rent and expenses, out of the proceeds of the sale, must be paid to the tenant.
It is usual to employ a fully qualified bailiff to effect a distress. He acts under an authority called a distress warrant, signed by the landlord. A distress must not be made in the morning, nor in the evening after sunset. The outer door of a house may not be broken to effect a distress, but an inner door may. Entry may be made through an unfastened window. Distress must not be made for more than six years’ arrears of rent, and, if the tenant has become bankrupt, for more than six months’ rent.
If the tenant’s goods have been seized for a sum due from him under judgment of any court, the landlord can claim rent in arrear, but only to a limited extent, in priority to the amount so due on the judgment. Certain goods are privileged, or exempt from distress, as wearing apparel, tools of the tenant’s trade, and bedding for himself and his family, to the extent of five pounds in value.
Distress must not be made for houses which are still subject to the Rent Restriction Acts without previously obtaining the leave of a judge, or the County Court.
Expiration of Tenancy.
If a tenant, for a term of years, or a yearly tenant, wilfully continues to occupy the property after the expiration or due termination of his tenancy, he will become liable for double rent, after notice has been given to him by the landlord, and possession demanded in writing. But if the landlord afterwards accepts rent at the lower figure, he waives his right to double rent, and a fresh tenancy will be created.
In the tenant’s interest, a tenancy agreement should contain a clause that, in the event of fire, the rent, or a proper proportionable part thereof according to the extent of the damage done, shall cease, or abate, until the house has been rebuilt.
Notice to Quit.
A tenancy for one year will expire at the end of one year from the commencement of the tenancy, without notice to quit on either side; but a tenancy for one year, and afterwards from year to year, is a tenancy for at least two years, determinable at the end of the second or any subsequent years, by either party giving the other six calendar months’ notice. These terms can, however, be varied by agreement, which should be in writing.
Possession and Entry.
Leases and some tenancy agreements contain a provision that in the event of non payment of rent, or breach of the tenant’s agreements, the landlord has power to enter and retake possession; although this is a proper clause to be inserted, it does not entitle the landlord to make an entry into the house and forcibly eject the tenant. The landlord must bring an action for recovery of possession. He is, however, entitled to enter a tenant’s house to carry out repairs or to inspect its condition.
Before proceeding to obtain possession for non-payment of rent, a formal demand for the rent must have been made at some convenient time before sunset on the last day on which the rent should have been paid, unless the forfeiture clause in the lease, or tenancy agreement, provides that no legal demand shall be necessary, or there is half a year’s rent due and there are not sufficient distrainable goods on the premises to cover the rent due. In the latter case, if the premises are deserted, possession can be obtained through the Magistrates’ Court.
In the absence of any agreement by the landlord to repair, he is not usually liable to do any repairs, and there is not even an implied undertaking. The house (if unfurnished) is deemed to be reasonably fit for habitation, except in the case of a house or part of a house which comes within the conditions specified in (Housing).
This, however, does not apply to the tenancy of a house let for three years certain or more, when the tenant agrees to put the house in a condition fit for habitation.
Anyone proposing to become a tenant of an unfurnished house, should, in the absence of any agreement by the landlord to repair (expressed or implied), examine the state and condition of the house, before deciding whether or not to take it in its present condition.
When, however, houses or parts of houses are let for habitation by the working classes, or furnished houses are let to any persons, there is an implied condition that at the commencement of the tenancy the premises are reasonably fit for habitation.
Any contract between the landlord and a member of the working classes, limiting the landlord’s liability in respect of such implied condition, will be void.
Under the war emergencies legislation, landlords of houses of an annual rental, or rateable value, not exceeding £105 for houses in London, and £78 for houses elsewhere in England, are, when the Rent Restriction Acts apply, prohibited from raising the rents of their tenants beyond the percentage allowed by those Acts. The Rent Restriction Acts is at present in a state of mutation.
Stamp duties on leases and tenancy agreements are charged according to the yearly rent.
A tenant may assign his interest, or underlet the whole or part of the premises, unless restricted from so doing by the lease or agreement; but he will continue to be personally responsible to the landlord.
Third Party Risks .
The party whether landlord or tenant, who is under legal obligation to repair, is liable to pay for any injury occasioned to a third party, through neglect to do such repair, so that a landlord who has agreed to keep a roof in repair will generally be responsible if a tile falls off the roof, and injures a person in the street. Protection as to such risks can be obtained by insurance.
Wear and Tear .
In the absence of any agreement by the tenant, as to repair, he is entitled to reasonable wear and tear, but must use the premises let to him in a proper and tenant-like manner, and is liable to repair windows broken, or other damage done to the building during his tenancy, and to cleanse the drains. It is usual, however, for the tenant to agree to keep the interior of the house in tenantable repair, and so leave it at the end of the tenancy, the landlord undertaking the keep the exterior, including the roofs, main walls, main timbers and drains in repair.
Written Agreements. —
Although cottage and rooms, furnished or unfurnished, are frequently let without written agreements, as well as houses of various sizes and land, a written agreement between landlord and tenant is always advisable, signed and dated and specifying the property, rent, terms and conditions of agreement. LODGINGS AND LODGERS.
Sec Landlord and Tenant. LORD LIEUTENANT.— See Justices of the Peace.