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Tenant/Landlord Relationship Not Simple in Law

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By Ravi Nanga

THIS article proposes to briefly examine the law as it relates to landlord and tenant.

It is readily apparent that there are a number of different types of tenancies, for example, tenancies in relation to residential property, tenancies in relation to business property and agricultural tenancies.

In Trinidad and Tobago a number of pieces of legislation govern the relationship between a landlord and a tenant and these laws contain various provisions that circumscribe the relationship between the parties.

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Some of these provide for the protection of tenants in the event the particular piece of legislation is applicable to a particular tenancy. However, for the purposes of this article, it is not proposed to examine these various pieces of legislation.

Independent of the legislation, the relationship between a landlord and a tenant is one formed in contract. A contract can be both in writing or orally created. The mere fact that one party agrees to rent a property or part of a property and agrees to pay for the rental, is sufficient to form the relationship of landlord and tenant.

Accordingly, where a person enters onto a property and agrees to and commences paying a rental to the owner – this is the formation of a tenancy agreement. Where you have such an oral tenancy agreement, legislation may be applicable to make certain clauses applicable to the relationship.

Although it is possible to have an oral tenancy, it is always advisable to reduce the agreement into writing.

While a relationship may be proceeding smoothly, there may come a point in time where the relationship may break down. In the absence of a written agreement, there may be difficulty in proving precisely what was agreed to. The more complex a tenancy agreement is, the more advisable it is to reduce the terms of that agreement into writing.

A word of caution – while it is not absolutely necessary to have an attorney draft such an agreement, if a person is entering into a complex arrangement, it is advisable that you retain the services of an attorney to draft the agreement for you.

In today’s world where it is possible to obtain sample agreements on the internet for example, interpretation of legal documents is a specialised area and you may not fully understand what you are agreeing to in the event you choose to draft the agreement yourself. Instead of saving money in the short term, it may end up costing more in the long run in the event of a dispute.

Like with all contracts, the rights and obligations of parties are contained in the agreement, whether the agreement is in writing or is oral in nature. In addition to the express terms of the agreement entered into, as mentioned above, legislation may provide for implied terms to be applicable to the particular tenancy agreement.

While the relationship of a landlord and tenant may appear simple, the relationship is not a simple one when it comes to the rights and obligations of the respective parties. The law as it relates to tenancy agreements is very specific and is not an easy area to grasp. Although the agreement may be simple and straightforward, in practice, it may be complicated to administer.

The most straightforward aspect of a tenancy agreement is the provision for the payment of rent.

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A tenant is permitted to peacefully enjoy occupation of the landlord’s property upon payment of the rent. However, there are many areas that can easily give rise to a dispute. For example, while the landlord may be of the opinion that the property is his and he can recover possession anytime he desires, it is not so straightforward in reality.

By law, there are many different instances when a landlord may be entitled to recover possession. For example, if there is non-payment of rent or a breach of some other term of the agreement, these state of affairs may give the landlord the power to bring the tenancy to an end and recover possession. However, the manner in which possession can be recovered may vary, and can be provided for by the tenancy agreement or by the operation of the law. It all depends on the terms of the tenancy agreement.

Further, a tenant may be of the view that as long as he continues to pay his rent, he is entitled to remain in occupation. However, that may not be the position. For example, it may be a tenancy for a specific period of time, that has come to an end or the landlord may decide to bring the tenancy to an end by serving a notice to quit.

Again, the law as it relates to notices to quit is very specific and it is important that any notice to quit must be given strictly in accordance with the law. Failure to do so may result in the notice to quit being ineffective and the tenancy not being brought to an end.

In the event circumstances arise bringing the tenancy to an end, as mentioned above, a landlord may wish to recover possession of the premises. Again, as with other aspects of the relationship between a landlord and tenant, how a landlord goes about recovering possession is very specific.

The tenancy agreement may provide for instances where a landlord can re-enter the property and recover possession, but again, the law on this area is very specific and in the event the landlord fails to specifically follow the law in recovering possession, it can expose the landlord to liability.

Should the landlord desire to recover possession, the safest method is to obtain an order of the court, declaring that the landlord has the right to recover possession and making an order for the recovery of possession, that can then be enforced.

As is apparent, while the relationship between a landlord and tenant may be a simple one from the commercial aspect of the relationship, the legal relationship can be complicated. In order to be properly advised, it is necessary for the agreement to be interpreted so as to be sure what are the rights and obligations of the respective parties.

Ravi Nanga is an attorney at law

(Please note that this article is intended only to provide general information on the topic being addressed and should not be taken as providing legal advice. In order to be properly advised it will be necessary for an attorney to examine the relevant documents and obtain the necessary instructions before properly advising as to rights and obligations.)

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