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House & Home

House Doctor: 'Our landlord is a family friend. Do we still have full rights as tenants?'

Question: My boyfriend and I rent a flat at a discount but our landlady, a friend of his family, regularly turns up unannounced to check things are OK or do little repairs. And the gas central heating works intermittently. She's promised to fix it twice, but we've been living here for over six months. Do we have proper rights LW, Gloucester

Answer: The showbiz maxim runs: you should never work with children or animals; in property, that applies to renting from friends and family. "Mates rates" can be great... or a huge burden. With the standard agreement between yourselves and the landlord – known as an "assured short-hold tenancy" (AST) – you have the right to four things under English housing law: to live in your flat undisturbed; to live in a property in a good state of repair; to get clear information about your tenancy; and protection from eviction. Your landlady is – unwittingly or not - trampling all over the first two.

"Landlords may well need access to the accommodation to inspect it and do repairs, but they must let you live in your home without unnecessary interference," says a spokeswoman for housing and homeless charity Shelter (www.shelter.org.uk). "Your landlord can't come in when they feel like it and should give proper notice and arrange a suitable time if they need to visit."

Check to see if the amount of notice she has to give is in your AST agreement but even if it isn't, your next step is to politely ask her to stop entering your flat without your permission.

Explain that although you understand her concern at checking the property's condition, she must alert you – and ask for 48 hours' notice.

If she persists, says a spokesman for renting advice website Tenancy Agreement Service (www.tenancyagreementservice.co.uk), "by interfering with a tenant's right to live in accommodation undisturbed, the landlord could be found guilty of harassment – a criminal offence."

Your second grievance has the potential to be a much more serious complaint. The problems from failure to properly heat your flat are patently clear – from simple damp to unacceptable freezing temperatures for tenants and, if not professionally checked and a dangerous leak, even carbon monoxide poisoning.

This is much more pressing and you must insist she comply with the law on this; failure to do so is perilous and close to criminal behaviour.