Landlord liability and internet naughtiness

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Some landlords may decide to offer free internet to prospective tenants when renting out their property. Broadband packages can be reasonably priced per month and can make the rental property an appealing option. It’s also an attractive offering for short-term tenants – for whom it may be unrealistic to set up their own account.

Although it seems like a fairly risk-free idea and a good incentive for tenants, are there any pitfalls for the landlord?

Pitfalls of offering broadband for landlords

Firstly, be aware that if you offer free internet – you will be the first port of call for your tenant if anything goes wrong with it.  There can often be problems with the internet including issues with connection or running speed etc. If the internet is offered as part of your rental package, your tenant will probably expect you to sort out these issues every time something’s afoot.

Perhaps more worrying are the potential dangers of having a service in your name for which you have no real control over. The legalities around this topic seem to be a bit of a grey area and there’s some debate as to whether a landlord could be held  responsible for the illegal internet misuse of their tenants. It’s difficult to find a straight answer on whether a landlord would be held liable for the online misdemeanours of their tenants and most reports on the subject seem inconclusive.

You could be responsible for illegal activity

The Digital Economy Act came into force earlier this year with the aim of regulating digital media. It aims to deter copyright infringement by establishing a system that makes it easier to trace and sue persistent culprits. As a landlord, if you’re the named account holder for the internet at the property, any illegal activity (such as file sharing and illegal downloads) undertaken by your tenants could be linked back to you via the IP address. However, this does not necessarily mean that you’ll be held legally accountable for the misdemeanour. This is where the confusion seems to arise.

The Act also provides for the blocking or limiting of an internet connection in response to its use in engaging with copyright infringement. For example, if an employee uses the internet at work to access or share infringing material, that company internet connection could easily be blocked under the provisions laid out in the Act.  Equally, if your internet connection is shared over an unsecured wireless network, then infringing use of the connection by others could have similar consequences.

With this in mind, it’s quite possible that the internet service at the landlord’s rental property could be disconnected as a result of their tenant’s online activity. This of course is better than the landlord being prosecuted, but it could be very inconvenient and annoying.

Clauses in tenancies could be the answer

It’s difficult to find any hard-and-fast rules or legal advice for landlords on this matter. It may a good idea to insert a clause in the tenancy agreement warning your tenants that they must not carry out any illegal activity using the internet connection provided. You could also state in the tenancy agreement that any liability for illegal, online activity lies with the tenant. However, it’s difficult to know how useful these clauses would be if a problem arose. It’s quite new, hazy legal territory.

If you’re a landlord and you are concerned about this issue, it may be best to seek expert legal advice on the matter. The landlord law blog has also posted on this topic and has included some helpful links.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.