Landlord’s right of entry: Whether a landlord breaches ‘quiet enjoyment’ covenant when entering a property to carry out works (Piechnik v Oxford City Council – 2020)
Where a landlord wishes to enter a property let to a leaseholder in order to carry out works, is it in breach of its covenant under the lease granting a right of ‘quiet enjoyment’ to the tenant?
In Piechnik v Oxford City Council , proceedings were initially commenced to assess the reasonableness and payability of service charges demanded by the landlord. The leaseholder viewed the proposed works as ‘improvements’ rather than repair or maintenance works and disputed the demands, arguing that the service charge does not cover improvement works. This issue was dealt with by the First-tier Tribunal and was not appealed. The leaseholder initially denied the landlord access to his flat to carry out the works, subsequently reaching an agreement through the County Court to allow access.
In the County Court, it was found that the lease did give the landlord a right of entry to carry out improvements. The High Court went on to address whether the lease gave the landlord the right to enter the property in order to carry out improvement works, rather than works of repair, without breaching the covenant for quiet enjoyment.
The High Court found in favour of the landlord on this point. The improvements undertaken at the property were for the purposes of fire safety; the quiet enjoyment provision could be ‘eroded’ so far as necessary for the landlord to avoid the risk of death or personal injury, or to take steps to remedy anything which may be ‘injurious to health’.
The Court concluded that the lease terms went further than purely essential access required to allow the landlord to perform simple repairing obligations. In this case, the landlord had accessed the property initially to undertake one set of works but on later inspection identified a further set of works that were also necessary; the Court found that the lease’s drafting was sufficiently wide to allow inspection of the property for these additional works not initially identified by the landlord.
Advice and action
It is unusual for the High Court to consider points relating to quiet enjoyment, and this case has attracted attention in the legal and general press during its various stages to date.
The decision is significant particularly for landlords who may be looking to access a property in order to carry out an inspection, but where they may not necessarily be able to identify precisely beforehand what they are inspecting or what they are looking for. Landlords do not have an unfettered right to enter properties for inspection purposes, but the standard ‘quiet enjoyment’ provisions of a lease will not be breached where a landlord needs to inspect under general lease provisions.
The High Court found in favour of the landlord. The lease terms went further than purely essential access required to allow the landlord to perform simple repairing obligations.