Say what you mean and mean what you say – access for improvement works
Network Homes Ltd v Harlow  EWHC 3120 (Ch) demonstrates the importance of good, clear drafting in tenancy agreements especially in relation to access clauses. Landlords frequently encounter issues gaining access to their properties to carry out repairs, periodic inspections, or to carry out improvements to the property. Enforcing that right may result in an application to court being made.
Mr Harlow was the tenant of a flat in a sheltered housing scheme. Network Homes Limited (Network) wished to gain access to replace his front door due to fire safety concerns. Mr Harlow, who had a number of complex medical needs, refused access unless certain conditions were met. He had impaired vision and was concerned that the door may be difficult to operate and prove a safety risk. The parties could not agree on what the conditions should be. Therefore Network made an injunction application requiring Mr Harlow to grant access.
The County Court found in favour of Mr Harlow, concluding that the tenancy agreement did not provide a right of access for carrying out improvement works in the relevant access clause, namely clause 3.19. Whilst this clause stated "you must give all authorised employees of Network reasonable access to the property to inspect or carry out essential maintenance, inspection and repair to the property…", improvement works were not included in this clause. Whilst clause 2.2 stated "we retain the right to carry out any repair, maintenance or improvement works …" it did not contain a right of access provision.
Network appealed the decision and the High Court allowed the appeal. It was held that as the wording of the tenancy agreement was poorly drafted it should be borne in mind that the choice of language was unfortunate so the Court should be more willing to depart from the natural meaning of words chosen than when considering a more carefully drafted document. Hence it was held that clause 3.19 did include a right of access for improvement works. On a final note, the Court commented that that this case was an object lesson in the need for clarity in drafting agreements.
Social landlords should ensure that tenancy agreements are clear when they are drafted in order to avoid costly disputes. Tenancy agreements should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain fit for purpose and access clauses should not be overlooked in this respect.