Who is your landlord? A cautionary note for tenants

20 March 2023

Who is your landlord? Many tenants don't even know. They may be in accommodation provided by an agent to a local authority via a chain of "supplier agreements".

Supposedly these are designed to promote market efficiency. But usually they have the effect (intended or otherwise) of making it impossible to work out who is actually responsible for the tenant's living conditions.

The freeholder is a long way away, the intermediaries are often no more than trading names.

To the discerning tenant, an agency or landlord that seems to consist only of a WhatsApp account might not inspire much confidence, but plenty of people out there aren't that discerning - or can't afford to be.

Overseas students and workers seem to be particularly prone to finding themselves in  accommodation provided by a non-existent "licensor" where the only certainty is that someone will always be there to demand the rent.

So how can you find out who your landlord is?

Section 48 Landlord and Tenant Act 1987

Most of us know about section 48 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, which requires landlords to provide their tenants with an address for service (but does not require the landlord to provide a name).

For most of us, the main relevance of the section is that the tenant is not compelled to pay rent at a time when the landlord is in breach of this section. Many tenants in arrears are thus happier living in ignorance.

Section 1 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985

A lesser-known provision is section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.  This provides that a person who is collecting the rent at premises or acting as the landlord's agent commits an offence if they fail to provide a written statement of the landlord's name and address if the tenant of premises occupied as a dwelling makes a written request for these details.

The sanction for non-compliance is a fine (up to £2,500). Otherwise, the provision is unenforceable.

Similar provisions in sections 21 and 22 of the same Act create offences of failure to provide information relating to service charges.

The Court of Appeal held that the courts have no power to compel a landlord to comply with these provisions. See Moorshead Mansions v Di Marco  [2014] EWCA Civ 96.

Of course, all this is just a ramble through some obscure legal provisions, rendered obsolete by online access to the Land Registry, isn't it?

I suggest not.

The intermediary industry which has sprung up in the wake of the buy-to-let boom makes extensive use of intermediate titles, such as leases for less than 7 years. These are not registrable.

Given the remarkable complexity of our law on information to be provided to tenants on gas appliances, deposits and (perhaps after the horse has bolted) how to rent a property, it seems odd that whoever is taking your rent money is under no obligation to prove what rights they have to let you your home.