What is a tenant's right to quiet enjoyment?

Landlords Nov 26, 2021

Landlords have the right (and responsibility) to access, repair, and maintain their properties to ensure all conditions are up to standard. However, in most cases, a landlord’s right of access is secondary to the tenant’s statutory right to ‘quiet enjoyment'. The right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ is implied in all tenancy agreements and entitles all tenants to live on their property without interference or disturbance. Despite the covenant’s long history in UK common law, its specifics can still be confusing to fully comprehend, and may feel counterintuitive when balanced against the landlord's repairing responsibilities and other compliance obligations.

To learn more about the tenant’s right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ from our FAQ down below.

What does ‘quiet enjoyment’ mean?

The right to ‘quiet enjoyment' means tenants have the right to live without interference. Despite what the name suggests, the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ does not mean tenants have the right to no noise nuisance. Instead, the covenant is meant to provide tenants with the right to live in their property without excessive interruption. Tenants are entitled to privacy on their property and the covenant protects against unnecessary disturbances from their landlord. For example, the covenant protects against unannounced and unauthorised visits from the landlord or contractors. Additionally, the covenant also prohibits landlords from physically interfering with a tenant’s property, such as cutting off utilities or changing locks.

The limits of the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ have been  the subject of much debate in the legal system and precedent for the current status quo is long established. In  McCall v Abelesz [1976], Lord Denning established that a disrupting interference is constituted as an action that interferes “with the tenant’s freedom of action in exercising his rights as a tenant.” McCall v Abelesz is one of the most commonly cited cases on quiet enjoyment, with its broad definition encapsulating more points of contention.

However, cases such as Browne v Flower [1911] defined an interference more so by its severity, stating it’s an action “so substantial or intolerable as to justify the tenant in leaving the demised premises.” In other cases, a landlord doesn’t have to directly act as an interference for it to be considered a violation; sometimes the lack of proper action, or negligence, also constitutes a violation of the covenant.

How does the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ apply to nuisance noise and the right to build?

While the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ doesn’t necessarily mean tenants are protected against all nuisance noise, there are certain scenarios which violate the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment, for example if the nuisance noise is of substantial interference to the tenant. There isn’t a nuisance noise level threshold that needs to be reached for a violation to take place. Instead, for severe noise-related issues, tenants can go to their local authority’s environmental health department to resolve the matter.  

For a noise nuisance to be considered a violation of the covenant, the intensity, frequency, location, and time of the noise will be considered. In order for the landlord to be in breach of ‘quiet enjoyment’ in noise-related instances, the noise-producing circumstances must be within the landlord’s control. Again, the right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ is not meant to qualify all noise complaints.

Landlords also have the right to build, in which the property in question can be modified or developed even while occupied. The balance between the landlord’s right to build and the tenant’s right to ‘quiet enjoyment’ has been a topic of continuous debate as well.

In the Timothy Taylor Ltd v Mayfair House Corporation & Another [2016] case, the tenant was awarded damages after the court deemed the landlord’s building equipment and scaffolding as direct interferences with the tenant’s art gallery business. The case serves as guidance for landlords to keep in mind that in their right to build, they also must do everything they reasonably can to minimize disturbances for the tenant.

The right to build generally comes into conflict with the right to quiet enjoyment in disputes between commercial landlords and landlords. However, it's nevertheless worth bearing in mind for residential landlords who let a property with an adjoining commercial premises or adjacent residential properties in which they intend to carry out substantial building works.

What are the tenants’ rights?

The tenant’s right to ‘quiet enjoyment' prevents landlords from making unannounced or unauthorised visits to the property, except in certain limited emergency circumstances (such as when there is a threat to life). Tenant’s have an essentially unqualified right to deny landlord access to the property. If landlords request access to the property, tenants must be notified at least 24 hours in advance, preferably in writing, and the visitation must take place during reasonable hours. The same goes for repair crews or property inspectors that are visiting at the request of the landlord. The landlord’s request for access should also have reasonable cause, such as repair work, inventory checks, inspections, maintenance, or annual safety checks.

Are there exceptions where the landlord can gain access without permission from the tenant?

Landlords are allowed to access the property without permission in emergency situations. Emergency situations include but are not limited to flooding, fires, gas leaks, suspected criminal or violent activity, and structural damage.

What actions breach the covenant of ‘quiet enjoyment’?

Actions which breach the covenant of ‘quiet enjoyment’ must be direct interferences that prevent tenants from enjoying a high quality of life. Landlords or workmen entering your property without permission or prior notice constitute a breach. Additionally, if the landlord directly damages a property or cuts off utilities, that is also considered a breach as well. Other examples include verbal harassment by the landlord, severe noise nuisances (where this is within the landlord's control), and obstructions of access to the property.

The right to ‘quiet enjoyment' protects tenants from unnecessary interferences in order to maintain a high quality of life. While landlords may technically own the property the tenants are renting out it is important to understand that, during their tenancy, the tenants are effectively the owner of the land. They are entitled to exclude others from entry, including the landlord, and in most cases, the covenant takes priority over a landlord's request for access.

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