Repairs & Housing Conditions
This is an area which causes a lot of friction between landlords and tenants. Repairs are a fact of life whether you own your property or rent it and we have to accept that sometimes it is necessary to experience some disruption whilst these are undertaken.
Sometimes repairs may be identified as needing attention before you sign a contract or move in and ideally you should get something in writing to explain the timescale for works and any rent reduction or compensation you might be offered as a result.
Repairs may come about during your tenancy. This may be because of damage you have caused or because something has become dilapidated over time.
As tenants you can be expected to make minor repairs yourself although it is always advisable to check with your landlord/agent if this is not clear in your tenancy agreement , and get any instruction or response in writing.
Sometimes repair and disrepair get mixed up. Something might need repairing because it's damaged or causing an issue. It might be in disrepair because it is not functioning as it should. For example, if there is no damp-proof course on a property and there is damp there needs to be repair. If a damp-proof course had existed and then failed this would be in disrepair because it is no longer functioning as it should. Sometimes the issues can be a symptom of disrepair. The most obvious example of this would be damp or mould which can be a symptom of a window being in disrepair.
Your landlord has some legal responsibility for the repairs on your rented property. Generally:
- the exterior and structure of the property; for example doors, walls, roof, windows, interior plaster work, gutters, and pipes and drains;
- the key installations for the supply of water, gas and electricity and sanitation (basins, baths and sanitary conveniences) and for space heating and hot water;
- They must ensure repairs are made to gas appliances so that they pass the annual gas safety check as well as repairs to electrical installations whose check must take place at least every 5 years;
- Landlords should ensure the fire safety equipment is in good repair and working order.
The responsibility for repair falls once the landlord/agent has been put on written notice of the need for repairs. If you fail to notify the landlord and the issues deteriorates the landlord might be entitled to claim for consequential damage and loss against you. It is also not advisable to conduct work yourself without written consent.
The timeframe for repairs needs to be proportionate and reasonable. Repairs for broken heating or toilet are a higher priority than a broken curtain pole. You need to be realistic and reasonable about timescales as they may be restricted by factors outside of their control such as arranging contractors or ordering parts.
Landlords are not required to repair something damaged or caused by the tenants although they invariably do so they can ensure that it meets safety requirements that might fall under the law or local licensing but would be entitled to pass on the costs to the tenants. Even if they want you to do the work and pay the costs get something in writing to show this. It is never advisable to undertake work on someone else’s property without written consent.
If the landlord/agent refuses to deal with the repairs or you feel they pose a risk to your health and safety, you can complain to the council here in Newcastle on email@example.com . In London that will be via your respective local borough council. You can consider your own legal action against the Landlord/agent for disrepair. You are likely to only get legal aid for disrepair cases that seek removal or reduction of a serious risk of harm to the health or safety of the occupiers – for info an legal advice including the Civil Legal Advice line on 0345 345 4 345 who can tell you if you qualify for legal aid for disrepair.
Evicting a student tenant for reporting or requesting repairs is thankfully a rare occurrence. In the main most landlords comply with their repairing obligations and ensure their properties adhere to a decent and safe standard. Evicting you for reporting or requesting repairs is called ‘retaliatory action’, and correct legal procedures to lawfully evict you still apply. In this rare event you should seek advice immediately.
A very common complaint each year is the condition of housing on moving in. The many complaints suggest properties have not been prepared and sorted before tenants arrival. Many tenancies are literally back to back with one set of tenants moving out in the morning and another set moving in during the afternoon or a day apart. Realistically this does not give a landlord or agent the time to inspect, repair or clean adequately to ensure the property is prepared. A landlord is responsible for making sure the property is ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start and during the tenancy.
One person’s view on whether a property is fit to live in can vary widely from another person’s. Moving into a property where your excited anticipation and expectation is dashed by poor standards and condition either by the landlords our outgoing tenants, is not the same and it not being fit to live in although it can sometimes feel like it. Sometimes it is parents or family members that have more concerns than the actual tenants. Finding a dirty fridge or left belongings and un vacuumed floors is not the same as a property riddled with damps and and rooms without windows.
In more serious cases, to determine whether something is unfit for human habitation, a court will consider whether a property is 'not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition' because of one or more of the following matters:
- Freedom from damp
- Internal arrangement
- Natural lighting
- Water supply
- Drainage and sanitary condition
- Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of water.
- Any ‘prescribed hazards’ defined under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
However, just because one or more of the above hazards exist, that is not enough to make a property unfit to live in. Instead, a court will consider in each case whether ‘it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition'. If they consider this to be the case they can order a specific performance order to reduce or remove the unfitness and can award to the tenant damages/compensation. Of course, there are some exemptions as with most legislation, but this is the general position.
If you find yourself in this position on moving in, whether it's the more minor issues of disarray, property tidiness and cleanliness or the more serious concerns about unfitness, report your dissatisfaction immediately to the landlord/agent and request a plan of action. Try to get everything in writing.
Additionally, your inventory/schedule of condition and cleanliness is paramount at this point. If you don’t get given one create your own or use and adapt our template. Document the condition of the property and furniture and fittings thoroughly and supplement with dated photographs. It will help to read our section on Inventories. You can also report the property as a complaint to the local council Here in Newcastle that is via firstname.lastname@example.org In London that will be via your local borough council. Another very useful source of information on dealing with repairs is Advice Now.
Condensation and Mould
This must be the biggest cause of complaint received by the SAC in the autumn and winter months. Condensation occurs when moisture meets a cold surface and water droplets are formed. The water can create mould. Tenants can do a lot to prevent this occurring in the first place:
- Cover pans with lids when cooking.
- Close the kitchen/bathroom doors when cooking/bathing and until the warm air clears and if possible open a window and/or use extractor fans where provided.
- Dry clothes on an airer and not on radiators. Dry clothes with a window open (when you are in). Whilst this might feel at odds with the colder weather months it is necessary to let the warm moisture escape.
- Your property might have a clothes tumble dryer. If you do not have a dryer and there is room for one you could discuss this with your landlord/agent to see if they are willing to provide one. When weather permits consider drying outside if you have the facility to do this.
- A property needs to also be heated adequately. Try and keep heating on a low constant temperature, rather than heating it up and letting it go cold regularly.
- Allow air to circulate in the room. Move large items such as desks, wardrobes and headboards away from walls
Independent Redress Schemes – Complaints Ombudsman
Letting and Property management agents are required to register with one of two government approved independent redress scheme (complaints ombudsman) if they are carrying out lettings or property work for a separate landlord.
If you then have a complaint you should raise it formally with the agent using their internal complaint procedure and if this is not resolved within 8 weeks you can complain to the a government-approved they are registered with. This process is free and they will adjudicate the complaint independently.
This currently does not apply to independent landlords who are managing their own property.
Updated: 17 November 2020