As a tenant moving into a private rented property, you have a number of rights and responsibilities, just like your landlord. These rights and responsibilities are often defined in your tenancy agreement so. But in some cases, there may be an unwritten tenancy agreement. This is particularly common in cases where migrants rent from local landlords.

Student Attorney Sharad Raghunath examined this issue for the for the Hugh Wooding Law School’s Human Rights Law Clinic. The Clinic’s focus for the 2019/2020 academic year was on migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.

This article defines the key rights and responsibilities you have as a tenant.

A tenant has certain responsibilities towards his landlord. The tenant agrees or ‘covenants’ to these responsibilities. Certain results occur if a tenant does not do what he must under the tenancy. 

1. All tenants must pay rent (the covenant to pay rent) 

A tenant must pay money or money’s worth to use the property of the landlord. This is called ‘rent’. 

When rent is to be paid is usually agreed by the parties. 

If the parties have not agreed on when rent is due, rent is usually due at the end of one period in the tenancy (e.g. one week, one month). 

What happens if a tenant does not pay rent when rent is owed? 

– The landlord may end the lease (forfeiture). 

– The landlord may enter the property and take goods of the tenant. The landlord may also sell these goods in order to recover the rent money owed to him. However, special rules must be followed by the landlord for this process (distress). 

2. Some tenants may not be allowed to use the property in certain ways (the covenant of user) 

– Tenants may not be allowed to use the property for immoral purposes. 

– Some tenants may not be allowed to ‘assign, sublet or part with possession of the premises’. This means that the tenant cannot create a new lease with another person as tenant. 

What happens if a tenant does not obey these ‘covenants’? 

– The landlord may have a right to end the lease. 

3. All tenants must use the property in a “tenant- like manner” (covenant to use premises in a tenantlike or husband like manner) 

– This is a basic duty which applies to every tenant. 

– This means that the tenant must take care of the place which he is renting- He must do the little jobs needed to care for the property. 

– Examples of this are: unstopping clogged sinks, mending fused electric lights, cleaning the property. 

– Also, a tenant must not damage the property. 

– A tenant under this duty is NOT responsible to repair major problems at the property. 

What happens if a tenant does not use the property in a ‘tenant-like manner”? 

– The tenant may be made to pay the cost to repair damage done. 

4. Some tenants must repair the property (covenant to repair) 

– Words which show that a tenant must keep the property in repair are, “to keep/put the premises in good/substantial/tenantable repair”. 

– If a tenant agrees to this duty, he must repair the property so that after the lease ends, he returns the property to the landlord in a condition suitable for the type of property. 

– At the start of the lease, the tenant should note the following aspects of the property: 

a. the age of the property;

b. the location of the property ; and 

c. the character of the property (expensive/ fashionable/ typical). 

If a tenant agrees to this ‘covenant’, he must repair the property according to the type of property. 

– This duty also includes doing repairs at the start of the lease, if the property needs repairs. It involves acts such as repairing windows, tiles. 

– However, a tenant does not have to reconstruct the property. He does not have to do acts such as rebuilding a wall, demolishing and rebuilding. 

What happens if a tenant does not keep the property in repair? 

– The landlord can, through the court, force the tenant to pay money (damages) for the cost of repair. 

5. Some tenants may have a limit to their duty to repair the property (the ‘Fair wear and Tear’ exception)

– If the tenant agrees “to keep/put the premises in good/ substantial/ tenantable repair” and there is an addition, “fair wear and tear excepted”, the tenant does not have to fix:

a. damage to the property as a result of natural forces (eg. wind, rain);and 

b. damage to the property as a result of normal use of the property. 

– Instead, the landlord is responsible to fix these types of damage. 

– However, a tenant is responsible if he does not inform the landlord of damage to the property due to natural causes, and damage continues to occur to the property. 

– Example: If there is a storm and a tile falls out of the ceiling, the tenant does not have to replace the tile. However, if the tenant does not inform the landlord of this damage, and the hole in the ceiling causes water leaks to damage the floor, the tenant is responsible to fix the floor. 

This article was re-published with permission from the Human Rights Law Clinic.

About The Author Jason Nathu

Jason Nathu is an attorney-at-law, admitted to practice in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. He is currently a full-time Tutor at the Hugh Wooding Law School.