Life

Life for Rent: My Landlord Wants to Charge Me Extra Now I Work From Home

Plus: what to do if your landlord says they're "too broke" to fix your alarms.
November 13, 2020, 9:00am
2020-11-12

Hey Vicky! Do you know of any guidance on tenants rights to additional heating in winter, when in a HMO (house in multiple occupancy), all bills included tenancy. The landlord has a padlock on the thermostat and is asking for a rise in rent if we want more heating over winter months. He's also suggested that he shouldn't have to pay for daytime heating over winter since tenants are meant to be out working, but because of COVID they are working from home.

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What is it with landlords and putting padlocks on thermostats? Your landlord is a cold hearted Scrooge who probably thinks that being cold is character building. I know everyone’s really into the Wim Hof method right now, but this is too far. Also: we’re are in a pandemic. Everyone who can is supposed to be working from home – you’re not responsible for a virus that shuttered offices. 

Shelter housing advisor Andy Parnell says that, unfortunately, “it is considered reasonable for your landlord to cap the amount of energy you use, as long as it’s realistic for the type of property and number of people living there. If you do exceed a cap, the landlord can ask you to pay extra towards bills”.

I know, I know. You signed a deal with the devil and you probably didn’t even realise. I’m hoping that you signed a contract when you moved into this house. Find it now – it should contain details about energy usage if it’s included in your monthly rent. This is really important. 

If there are no details about this in your tenancy agreement, you need to talk to your landlord and negotiate. If he wants you to pay extra during the winter months, then you’re well within your rights to ask for proof of how much the energy bills are actually costing him before you cough up. 

Nobody, with the exception of a few virologists, saw this pandemic coming. Nobody knew that working from home would become so normal that some people actually started to miss the office. But, I’m afraid, if you are WFH you will be using more energy, and it’s not unreasonable for you to pay for that energy. If the bills were in your name instead of your landlord’s, this would still be the case. But I have some good news – you may actually be able to claim tax relief to offset the cost not only of heating, but of water and broadband if it’s not your choice to be stuck at your laptop at home all day. 

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Unfortunately, as with so many aspects of the private rented sector, there is no specific bit of housing law that protects you here. No legislation specifies how warm a rented home should be but, as Andy puts it, “you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortably cold”. 

He adds: “Your landlord also shouldn’t be refusing to let you heat your property during certain hours or set unrealistic limits on how much energy you use.”

If either of these scenarios ring true – if you feel that your landlord is deliberately causing your home to be “uncomfortably cold” or trying to “unreasonably influence how you use your home”, Andy explains that it could be a breach of what’s known as your “right of quiet enjoyment”. This, simply, means that all tenants have the right to live peacefully in the home they’re renting. If a landlord is deliberately obstructing that, it can be seen as harassment. If you think this is the case, please contact your local council – many have a private renting standards and enforcement team who can help in situations like this, particularly when the health, safety and wellbeing of renters is being jeopardised. 

Towards the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge transforms from a pernicious tightwad into a decent guy. That’s what we call redemption. Whether your landlord will suddenly come over from the dark side, I cannot say – but I do know that reasonable negotiation in any situation tends to elicit a reasonable response. Arm yourself with facts, check your contract and hope for the best. Remember that you are paying for a service and you have every right to be warm in your own home. 

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Our alarm system in our house has broken and our landlord has said he “can't afford” to get it replaced. Please can you direct me to any resources for help? 

I’m not sure what sort of alarm system you’re talking about here: burglar, smoke or carbon monoxide. But I want to be very clear about something before we get into this: landlords are running businesses. They make money from providing a service. That service is a fundamental human right: safe shelter. As a result, they have an obligation to the people they house. If they can’t afford to provide that service, they shouldn’t be doing it. Can you imagine if you went to the supermarket to buy a chicken and it wasn’t properly wrapped in cellophane because the people selling it “couldn’t afford” to stop you getting salmonella? 

If the alarm in question is a smoke or fire alarm, this is really, really serious. Your landlord has to fix it no matter how much it will cost. It is a legal requirement that all rental properties in England follow the Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Regulations. If they don’t, you can contact your local council and ask them to take action. Without a working smoke or fire alarm, you and those around you are being put at risk. Nobody who saw it, up close, on the TV or in pictures will ever ever forget Grenfell. Fire safety is not something anyone, anywhere should ever take for granted. Landlords are also required to carry out gas safety checks too, so make sure yours is doing this. 

If you’re talking about a burglar alarm, things are less clear. “These alarms aren’t directly covered by law,” says Andy Parnell from Shelter. “However, if you rented the property on the understanding that a working burglar alarm was included – particularly if it’s mentioned in your tenancy agreement – you could argue that your landlord is in breach of your contract. This might mean you can negotiate a rent reduction, or even pursue your landlord in court for compensation. But if this isn’t the case, you could instead argue that the landlord should repair the burglar alarm if the security of the property and your health and safety are being put at immediate risk. This could be the case, for example, if door or window locks aren’t secure.”

Either way, your landlord must do repairs. These responsibilities can't be removed by anything your tenancy agreement says and your landlord is never allowed to pass on the cost of any repair work to you – it’s their responsibility. If they continue to refuse, you can contact your local council who will carry out an inspection to see if there is any risk to your health and safety. If they find that there is, they can make your landlord carry out the repair work. As I said above, you are paying for a service – it’s your right to have a safe, secure and comfortable place to live. 

@Victoria_Spratt