How can I stop my landlord invading my privacy?
July 31, 2006 6:21 AM   Subscribe

My landlord keeps letting himself in to my flat when I am not in. What can I do?

Just to give you a general idea of the situation:
I moved to a new flat (london, uk) 4 months ago and right from the start I found my landlord a bit strange and he made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Not necessarily creepy in a sexual way, his social skills were just a bit peculiar. (By the way, this is something that the estate agent had warned me about). I didn't mind this so much at the time as I thought that after I had signed the contract, I would not have much contact with him again.

I was wrong, for example he (still) hasn't arranged for his mail to be redirected. One day I got home, sensing that somebody had been in the flat, but I couldn't put my finger on it... When I checked his post, I noticed that the envelopes were gone. I immediately wrote him an email and in his reply he admitted coming by, looking around the flat and collecting his post. To top it off he added "I will probably check for letters each fortnight at weekend and I would like to chat with you." He also offered to pick up furniture, if I wanted anything from Ikea...

First of all, I was freaked out that he actually let himself into the flat without letting me know in advance, but then he made me feel really uncomfortable but wanting to come around 'to chat' every two weeks. And then his offer to collect furniture for me? I know that I shouldn't read anything to drastic into it, but I felt, and still feel, really invaded in my privacy. I now lock myself in every night, because I hate the idea that he could just walk in at any time...

Of course I told him that he broke the contract by entering without giving me 24h written notice. So did the estate agent. He never replied to those emails, but in a later email said he wouldn't do it again, if I don't want him to...

Then last week he wanted to come around "to see how happy" I am. I felt an inspection of the flat was a bit premature at this stage of the tenancy but agreed and organized for a (male) friend to let him in and show him around. My friend told me afterwards that he also thought he was a very strange and insensitive man, but felt he was harmless (but then he doesn't worry in the same way as a girl living by herself does).

Anyway, I came back from shopping on Saturday and found a bit of wooden beading lying on the floor in the kitchen. I know of course that I didn't put it there, so I emailed him, but haven't heard back. I am positive it was him though.

My question is: How can I feel more comfortable in my flat again? What security measure can I take other than changing the locks, which I am not allow to do. (Of course he shouldn't know that I have changed them unless he tries...) And is there any way of proving that somebody has been around apart from putting flour on the carpet or cctv camera...
posted by jp021272 to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is he registered as resident at the house? If so, he's not doing anything wrong. I know at least one landlord who wanders in whenever he feels like it because of that loophole.
posted by randomination at 6:24 AM on July 31, 2006

Fit a cheap entry burglar alarm (not fixed, one of those that comes in a pack.) They can be wired or wireless and come with keypad or a remote you take with you. You can get them at B&Q, Homebase, etc. or even Woolworths. Next time he comes in, a siren goes off and he gets the message that he can't just come and go.
posted by A189Nut at 6:31 AM on July 31, 2006

(Shelter's site is good for advice.)
posted by randomination at 6:32 AM on July 31, 2006

There's the old trick of sticking a hair or small bit of twine between the bottom of a door and the doorframe. Put in in place when you leave, check that it is in place when you get back. If someone has opened the door in the meantime, you'll know because it will have dislodged it.

As to the idea that you shouldn't read anything too drastic into it... well, I hate to break it to you but creepy anti-social guys don't barge into the homes of single women and offer to come around to "chat" and bring them things because they're nice. What he is doing is wrong and creepy. For all you know he's, um, "doing things" in there.
posted by Justinian at 6:36 AM on July 31, 2006

The burglar alarm seems like an excellent idea. I would also approach the real estate agent, and tell them that you feel harassed. If this continued, you might have a case for breaking your lease, so they should be eager to help solve the problem.
posted by jacalata at 6:37 AM on July 31, 2006

I let him know in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome to come into your flat without specific permission. In many cities in the US landlords are not legally allowed to enter an apartment without permission except in the case of an emergency. I don't know about London. Is there a landlord/tenant agency you could contact?

As for the locks, screw permission. Change 'em.
posted by caddis at 7:01 AM on July 31, 2006

I don't think you can change the locks - the owner has a right to a key to his property, surely? That's why something like an alarm would work.
posted by A189Nut at 7:08 AM on July 31, 2006

I don't think you can feel safe and comfortable in your home anymore. Your instinct is telling you that this man is dangerous to you in some way, and your polite and/or fiscal sense is telling you that you shouldn't feel this way. The polite/fiscal sense is probably wrong. My advice for you to feel safe and comfortable in your home is to get another home where the landlord does not invade your privacy.

However, in the spirit of your staying there, and I do wish you wouldn't, the cheapest, easiest way to keep someone out of your apartment would be to put a wedge in. You can buy rubber ones at most department stores, or you can just get a wedge shaped scrap of wood- they'll do the same thing. When you leave, step into the hallway, leave the door open just a bit, and slide the wedge narrow-end under the door. Then shut the door and lock as usual. If someone tries to open the door, the wedge will be forced underneath and won't open enough to let them in. Depending on the kind of wedge, if someone forced it, you'd be able to see evidence of that on its surface, as well.

It won't be so close to the door that you won't be able to open it again, but take a small screwdriver to push it out of the way, since you'll know where it is and ostensibly a prowler wouldn't.
posted by headspace at 7:09 AM on July 31, 2006

If it was me, I'd be entertaining revenge fantasies about hidden video cameras, youtube and world-wide humiliation. But like Justinian, I tend to think the worst of people.

Another vote for the burglar alarm. Also the standard "document everything" advice people give when things might go legal.

Another suggestion: change the locks, apologise profusely when someone finds out ("I'm really sorry, I meant to drop a copy of the new key off with you"), and give a copy of the key to the rental agency when asked. That'll buy you a few weeks.
posted by Leon at 7:10 AM on July 31, 2006

If what he's doing is illegal, change the locks and let him know. If he still tries to get in, have him arrested.

Otherwise, get a hidden camera. Record him. Then you'll know what he's up to. If it's anything untoward, his might give you the evidence you need to break your lease (and maybe get him arrested or at least kicked out of his own house by his shocked wife). If he's not doing anything weird, you'll be reassured.

If you combine a camera with an alarm, you should be able to record some amusing and revealing behavior on his part. What will he say about you when an alarm goes off? What will he say to you when you confront him with the tape?
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on July 31, 2006

Perhaps changing the locks is rash, I would try other avenues first. The owner does not necessarily have a right to a key. Much of one's ownership rights are transferred to a tenant. However, the lease probably addresses this.

Nevertheless, the landlord's entry without your permission does not appear to be entirely proper, see sections 4.3 and 4.4 (pdf).
posted by caddis at 7:13 AM on July 31, 2006

Why continue paying somebody to live in a situation you are uncomfortable with (not to mention possibly in danger)? He broke your contractual terms, and admitted in writing to doing so. You have an easy way out of your lease.

It's a lot of work to find a new place and move, but I suspect you will be happy you did. Just think out carefully how you want to time things so things go smoothly.

You only live once, so don't settle for a needlessly unhappy situation.

Good luck.
posted by PJensen at 7:16 AM on July 31, 2006

In the UK, you are entitled to change the locks if you have a rental contract stating you are the legal tenent.

Change the locks, and you can actually pop in the post office and make arrangements for his post to be forwarded to his address. If he has problems with this, there is something wrong. He doesn't sound much like a stalker from what you say in the sexual sense, sometimes people are just weird - more like an over anxious landlord with some, probably many, social disabilities. However, in the UK you are entitled to your space - at soon as the lease is signed, things are called "reasonable access", not to check the mail and have a wonder.

All else fails, you went through an estate agent - TALK TO THEM. Estate agents in London are notorious for not giving a shit about managing the property, e.g. the washer broke, etc. but they will take a big offense to a landlord who makes their job untenable. Chances are they might be able to give you a hand or talk directly to him - most landlords using an agent have multiple properties on the go or have their friends that directed them to the agent in the first place.

It may take a couple of tough days, but your end result will be safety and security of your home.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 7:30 AM on July 31, 2006

Definitely not okay under UK law. At the risk of being obvious, you have a problem.

Using wedges, alarms etc. is all well and fine in terms of letting you know he's been there. But the only real solution is to leave. As long as you're there, you won't feel safe. Until you can engineer your way out, keep a diary of dates and times of incidents, the entries and emails you sent. This will put you on firmer ground if you need bully the real estate agent and/or landlord.
posted by outlier at 7:38 AM on July 31, 2006

D'uh! Change the lock!!!
posted by sgobbare at 7:40 AM on July 31, 2006

Send him a letter, not by email, and explain that, except in emergencies, you don't want him to enter your home without 24 hour warning, and it will have to be at a time that is acceptable to you. Be very polite about it. Copy it to the agency. If he does it again after that, have a locksmith add a 2nd lock.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 AM on July 31, 2006

IANAL, but far as I know under UK law you do have a right to privacy and he is breaching it by entering your house unannounced, no matter if he is the landlord or not.

Might be a tad out of date (not taking into account 2004 renewal of the law, but the basics are there)

Landlords have a statutory right of entry to the property for inspection and repairs under the Rent Act 1977 and the Housing Act 1988. The Landlord also has a right of entry under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 if the Landlord is obliged by Section 11 of that Act to carry out essential repairs. The Landlord's right to make reasonable visits to check the condition of the property is also normally included in the agreement with the Tenant.
The Landlord should always take care not to interfere with the Tenant's right to peaceably occupy the premises without interference, and should give notice of his/her intention to enter the property. Normally the Landlord should give you at least 24 hours notice, and only call at a reasonable time during the day or evening.

But before you take any action, please, please goto Citizen's Advice.
posted by Nik_Doof at 7:42 AM on July 31, 2006

Unless I am wrong, yes, you can change the locks, but you have to give the owner a key.
posted by A189Nut at 7:50 AM on July 31, 2006

This site says you can't even change the locks. Other say you can with permission - the chief fear here being previous tenants, not landlords
posted by A189Nut at 7:56 AM on July 31, 2006

"If you want to, you can always change the locks on the doors, provided you inform the landlord and give him a key."
posted by A189Nut at 8:00 AM on July 31, 2006

"If you want to, you can always change the locks on the doors, provided you inform the landlord and give him a key."

Yes, that doesn't solve anything if it's the landlord you want to keep out.
posted by pracowity at 8:15 AM on July 31, 2006

This is an aside, but..

I felt an inspection of the flat was a bit premature at this [four months] stage of the tenancy

An inspection within four months isn't premature. It's reasonably common to get an inspect at three months and six months. We did, and we're with the best agency in the area (the agency inspected though, not the landlord).
posted by wackybrit at 8:26 AM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Change the locks. You don't have the right to do so, but the landlord doesn't have the right to come round and enter without warning. Then send a letter explaining what you've done, and that you will comply with his right to enter the property but will need notice. Arrange a chaperone for when he comes round. Having his post forwarded will not be possible for you without forms of identity you don't have, but you could offer to pay for the cost (about £7 a month) as a polite gesture.

Be prepared to be served notice to move out. When you do, hand over the new keys.

That's a good moral position: protects your safety: and is sufficiently reasonable that any kind of legal proceedings or council/police activity should be manageable or avoidable.
posted by alasdair at 9:10 AM on July 31, 2006

Under UK law you are entitled to something called 'quiet enjoyment' of your property. Your landlord cannot inspect the premises without giving prior notice, except in an emergency.

How about a locking door chain, which you can put in place as you leave the house, and unlock as you get home. It works as a normal security chain for when you're in the flat alone too.
posted by essexjan at 9:19 AM on July 31, 2006 [3 favorites]

I would add that if you have a locking door chain and the landlord complains he can't get in, tell him that he can have access upon giving proper notice but that he is not entitled to come into the premises unannounced and that you are entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent him from doing so.

(and yes, IAAL)
posted by essexjan at 9:23 AM on July 31, 2006

I don't know anything about UK law, but some of the advice you are getting here would just cause you more headaches in the US.

If your agent is not helping you resolve this problem, you need to seek out some sort of legal aid, like a clinic, law school, or university program.

It's very clear that your landlord is overstepping his bounds. However, if you also start acting wrongly, it just puts you at a disadvantage in any later negotiations or court-stuff.
posted by MrZero at 9:34 AM on July 31, 2006

TAKE ACTION. Do NOT discount your creepy feeling.

Buy a wedge today for the door. Determine today if you can have the locks changed. If possible, TODAY have someone, anyone, install some kind of chain or bar mechanism just like they have in hotels.

You aren't safe, you don't feel safe, this is not acceptable.
posted by ewkpates at 9:41 AM on July 31, 2006

This is the very reason I overcame my inertia and bought a home.

My new landlord, in a rental unit I'd lived in for several years, would knock, hear no reply, and come right on in. It got to the point where I was chaining the front and leaving from the kitchen door in the hopes the trip around to the back of the building would discourage him from visiting while I was at work. I became hyper-aware of the sound of feet outside my front door. I could tell the crunches of MY dead leaves from my neighbour's leaves six feet away.

On the day he came in while I was in the tub shouting for him to leave, I gave my notice.

His reasoning, when confronted, was that he took silence for consent. If I didn't say no EVERY TIME he wanted in, then he figured I was okay with it.

Not to be overdramatic, but that's just about the same difference as between a date and a crime scene. You don't want someone who thinks like that to have a key to your home.

Move out. You won't feel good about living there.

The law where I live says a tenant can change the locks and keep all the keys, but that they are responsible for all damage and any rekeying if the locked door prevents a repair or if the management company needs to call a locksmith or break a lock. That still wasn't enough to recalibrate my vigilance meter.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:40 AM on July 31, 2006

There is lots of good advice above - a mixture of the following would be my first steps:

- buy a chain and fit it
- contact your local Citizens' Advice Bureau who can provide more detailed help
- find the relevant passage in your tenancy agreement that forbids him access without notice. Write the landlord a formal letter quoting that section and asking that you respect it. Assuming you have a managing agent, copy it to the estate agent. Threaten to move it up the chain to a professional body like the OEA if they don't help to enforce.

Further steps will depend on what happens, but if it continues it could constitute harrassment. Your CAB will be able to advise on further options if that's the case.
posted by greycap at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2006

I am a landlord and I have to give at least 24 hours notice to enter my property, which seems more than reasonable to me. There is a clause to this effect in the Standard Shorthold Tenancy Agreement that my tenants signed. They can change the locks too, at their expense, but I must be provided with a key and I must also be informed how many copies are made.

It sounds like this guy is not likely to change his ways, given you were pre-warned about his behaviour. I'd get out of there as soon as you can and find a place with a nice landlord. Given that you are in London, this may be quite a hassle. I only managed one reasonable landlord in about 6 years whilst I was there.
posted by davehat at 10:50 AM on July 31, 2006

Move. He will never stop being creepy and he will come in whenever he wants and - I'm sorry to say this - based on previous complaints I've heard about this sort of thing, you probably won't take any actions about it.

You might, but most don't.

Just get out of there and don't live somewhere where you don't feel comfortable. If there is a lease issue, you will probably be able to get out of it because he has already shown what a total asshole he is.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:01 PM on July 31, 2006

please see the film "Home Alone" for tips to keep unwanted men out of your house.
posted by indiebass at 12:53 PM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had a landlord once who was trying to sell the building where my studio apartment was located. Numerous times, he "forgot" to tell me that he was bringing people by to look at the place. At the time, I was going to school full time and working full time as a bartender. I lived alone and if it was a weekend, I frequently kept my bartending tips (a roll of cash) in my apartment until I could get to the bank. I used to hide my money and sleep with a baseball bat beside my bed.

He showed up in my apartment unannounced one afternoon with a family and their two small children who wanted to see the building. He didn't knock. The family and my landlord was greeted by the sight of me butt naked, napping face down on my bed. I quickly woke up and angrily chased them out. My landlord apologized, but I moved out shortly afterward.

It is too stressful to live in fear of your personal safety and privacy. Follow what your sense of intuition is telling you.
posted by la gupita at 8:46 PM on July 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you for your replies everyone, I really appreciate it. I will have to think hard now what to do next... I guess the locking door chain comes on first.

I have to say, this whole thing is starting to seriously get to me, especially now that the landlord has written back, telling me that he hasn't been around and "I hope this is not a problem for you. I can turn up next weekend if you need any tidying." God knows what I want tidied up by him - at the weekend...??? But anyway, he is not telling the truth (which is a bit scary in itself): there is no way anybody else would/could have put a piece of skirting board or beading on my kitchen floor - particularly after he commented on the poor finish of the kitchen floor to my friend...

And just regarding inspections every three months: If it was the estate agent who was managing the flat, then that would be ok by me if they would want to come around to check things this often, but it's the landlord who is looking after the property, that's the issue: him... (And bearing in mind that in the four months I have been there, he has let himself at least three times into the flat and asked for an inspection once, that makes it a total of four visits in four months. I think that is pushing it a bit...)
posted by jp021272 at 2:45 AM on August 1, 2006

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