How do you define the status of a lodger? Stephanie Robinson examines the legal rights of landlords who share their premises.
I let out a room to a lodger. He has signed a Lodger Agreement and I retain a key for emergencies only, so I believe he has exclusive possession. Does my lodger have a licence or tenancy and how can I bring the arrangement to an end?
If you believe your lodger has exclusive possession of his room, he may have a tenancy. Exclusive possession is one of the key features of a lease, along with the payment of rent and a definitive term.
A licence is simply permission for the holder to do something at the licensor’s property – in this case to live there – without the act being classed as trespass.
If a licence is granted, it gives your lodger a personal right, whilst you, as the landlord, have a propriety right in the land. The licensee is subject to the supervision of the owner, who retains general control of the property as a whole and under this type of arrangement you can enter the premises at will.
If you retain a key to the room for emergencies only, that does sound like your lodger occupies the room exclusively, however, each case must be decided on detailed facts.
A Lodger Agreement often requires the landlord to provide certain services to the licensee, such as fresh bed linen and towels every week. The licensor may also be expected to arrange regular cleaning of the room and offer breakfast. Supplying these services may help to show both parties agree there is a licensee/licensor relationship, rather than that of landlord and tenant.
If a tenancy is in place, it is unlikely to be an assured shorthold agreement, as the lodger shares the same house as the landlord. It may be classed as an excluded tenancy, which means a notice to quit, given in reasonable time, would need to be served to bring it to an end.
It is an offence to evict someone occupying residential premises without a court order or to harass them under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. However, a property owner does not need to obtain an order from the court at the end of an excluded tenancy, but you should exercise extreme caution in this situation and seek legal advice.
Even if the tenancy is excluded, you need to consider that a criminal offence can still be committed.
The act states any person who uses or threatens to use violence to gain entry at a residential property would be guilty of a crime if there is someone present who opposes the entry or the person attempting to access the premises is aware that someone disputes the action.
Referring the matter to the court is the safest option.
Because it is often so difficult to work out the status of a lodger, I would recommend consulting a legal expert before bringing any kind of arrangement to an end.
If you claim benefits, taking in a lodger may affect the amount of money you receive and increase the council tax you pay.
Renting out a room can also affect your contents insurance. Although most providers will put up your premiums, it is still important to inform them of any changes to your household to make sure your belongings are protected, or your insurance may not be valid.
If the payments you receive from letting a room exceed a certain amount, you may have to pay income tax on the earnings. Again, take professional advice.
Stephanie Robinson is a solicitor specialising in property and commercial litigation at Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP. Call 0114 218 4000 or visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk and www.landlorddisputes.co.uk.