Is it legal for a landlord to lock access to a shared property’s thermostat?

Ealing Broadway, London

A landlord has installed a locked cover over the Nest thermostat of the shared house she owns in Ealing, London. The move means that hot water and central heating settings are now out of the control of the property’s tenants – but is this legal?

The building’s tenants moved into the property in August and pay £700 per month including utility bills. They are now unable to control their hot water and central heating settings and also cannot see what the settings are, as the box has prevented the Nest screen from lighting up.

Ironically, rather than meaning that the house is now too cold, one of the tenants complained that the heating was on too high during the night and that they had woken up in a sweat but the following morning there was no hot water was available for a shower.

The story went viral on Twitter when one of the tenants posted a picture of the locked thermostat.

While there are no set rules governing control over thermostats, the Residential Landlords Association says that tenants should be able to manage their own heating and hot water temperatures.

Heating disputes between tenants in shared homes (and employees in offices) are not unusual, as people have varying comfort levels and various degrees of activity.

While boxing off the thermostat might be understandable if tenants were being frivolous with the heating, a tenant does have the right to heating and hot water and preventing this would breach Health and Safety rules. Both the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System agree that heating should be under the control of a house’s occupants.

Under the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act, the landlord must ensure that the property is ‘fit for human habitation’. This means it should be safe, healthy and free from anything that could cause anyone in the household serious harm, which includes a house or flat being too cold with no means to heat it which could affect the health of the occupants. A home that is too hot could also be considered unfit for human habitation.

Cold temperatures can be a hazard to the occupants of the house and action can be taken against the landlord if there is insufficient heating. The guidance advises that ‘adverse health effects’ can arise if indoor temperatures drop below 19C and ‘serious health risks’ if it goes below 16C.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 requires residential tenancies in England (that were granted, renewed or arising on expiry of a fixed term after 20th March 2019) to be free of hazards.

Citizens Advice advises tenants not to become embroiled in a row with their landlord but suggests they might consider taking control of the heating themselves by standalone heaters although, of course, this might provoke an argument over high electricity bills.

Back to November 2019 Newsletter