Tenant rights and housing disrepair claims
There is nothing more frustrating than working from home sitting listening to a dripping tap or watching the mould grow on a damp wall. Landlord and tenant solicitors have seen a marked rise in enquiries about housing disrepair claims from tenants as we are all spending more time in our homes. In this blog we look at tenant rights and housing disrepair claims.
Online and London based landlord and tenant solicitors
Housing disrepair claims and COVID-19
Many tenants are contacting landlord and tenant solicitors because their landlords have told them that they can't carry out repairs during the global pandemic. As the UK has been in and out of COVID-19 related restrictions for nearly twelve months that is a long time to wait for a repair to be sorted out. Furthermore, although tenants are normally sympathetic to landlords experiencing supply difficulties during COVID-19, the law hasn’t suspended a landlord’s repair obligations during the pandemic. You should therefore report housing disrepair issues as normal to your landlord and keep evidence of the notification, for example, retaining the email or text to the landlord or letting agent.
Housing disrepair claims if your landlord hasn’t carried out repairs
It is harder to move to new rented accommodation because of COVID-19 and therefore many tenants are looking to their landlords to sort out housing disrepair issues rather than just say that they will cope with the problem but move on at the end of their tenancy agreement. In addition, as tenants have all spent more time at home during lockdowns, those things that just niggled them at the weekend are now a problem the tenant is having to put up with twenty-four hours a day.
If a tenant has reported repair issues to their landlord and the tenant has had no response or no action then potentially the tenant has a housing disrepair claim. That involves a court application. It is best to view court action for housing disrepair as a last resort. Often getting specialist legal advice from a landlord and tenant solicitor is enough to sort out the problem with a landlord.
Who is responsible?
Before you start contacting your landlord about a housing disrepair or making threats to start a housing disrepair court claim it is best to check who is responsible for the problem. The first step is to read your tenancy agreement. If you aren’t certain about what your tenancy agreement says and whether a repair is your responsibility or not then it’s best to take legal advice on the tenancy agreement before commencing a housing disrepair claim.
Whilst some aspects of repair and maintenance will definitely be your landlord’s responsibility, other aspects may be your responsibility. As landlord and tenant solicitors we have often had tenants want to start housing disrepair claim court proceedings because the ‘garden is like a jungle’, only to find that the tenancy agreement says the tenant is responsible for garden maintenance.
In some situations, the position can be a bit complicated as to the cause of a repair issue. For example, the growth of mould. A tenant may say the cause is dampness. A landlord may say that the problem arises because the tenant hasn’t ventilated the property and has encouraged the growth of mould through drying clothes indoors.
Working out who is responsible for housing disrepair is important because:
- If a tenant is responsible for the deterioration in the condition of the property or the furniture provided by the landlord, then the landlord may be able to serve a notice for breach of a ground for possession and apply for a possession order
- The tenancy agreement may place the responsibility on the tenant for some specified repairs. If the tenant doesn’t comply with the tenancy agreement and is in breach of their duty to repair the landlord may have a claim against the tenant for possession and/or damages for breach of contract.
Reporting a housing disrepair
landlords aren’t telepathic so if you don’t report a housing disrepair, they won't know there is an issue. If you do report a housing disrepair then you will need to give your landlord a reasonable time to fix the repair. What is reasonable depends on the nature of the problem. Clearly a water leak from an upstairs bathroom is serious and needs an emergency plumber whereas a dripping tap is a nuisance that needs fixing in a longer timeframe.
landlords aren’t always great at keeping you informed so you may not know whether they are trying to get an emergency plumber out to you or if your landlord has simply ignored your report. If you have had no response or an update after a reasonable period from your landlord then ask your landlord for an update but you should keep your reminder email or text as evidence as well as any reply received.
Housing disrepair and the pre-action protocol
Prior to starting a court claim for housing disrepair, a tenant should follow what is referred to as the ‘Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Disrepair Cases’, shortened down to the ‘disrepair protocol’.
If, as a tenant, you don’t follow the disrepair protocol then there are potential consequences:
- The court might not hear your housing disrepair claim
- The court could order you to pay some of your landlord’s costs.
That is why it is best to take specialist legal advice from landlord and tenant solicitors and to follow the disrepair protocol.
Under the disrepair protocol a tenant should send their landlord a letter before action to warn them of the potential housing disrepair claim unless the landlord sorts out the repair. A tenant should not proceed straight to a letter but should first tell their landlord about the repair needed and give a reasonable amount of time for the problem to be fixed. It is only if the landlord doesn’t fix the issue that a letter is required.
Once a letter before action (or early notification letter) is sent then under the terms of the disrepair protocol your landlord has twenty working days to respond. If the housing disrepair isn’t resolved you can apply to the county court.
Housing disrepair claims
Housing disrepair claims are dealt with in the county court under one of three potential routes.
For most simple housing disrepair claims the small claims court can deal with the application if damages are limited to £10,000 or less. If a housing disrepair claim includes an application for a repair work order the case will only be allocated to the small claims track if both the estimated damages are less than £1,000 and the estimated cost of the repair work is less than £1,000.
A repair work order is referred to as an order for specific performance or a mandatory injunction. The court can also make a declaration that you can sort out the repairs to the property yourself and deduct the cost from future rent.
Compensation and housing disrepair claims
You will only get compensation in a housing disrepair claim if you have suffered a foreseeable loss as a result of the landlord failing to carry out the repair. For example, you could claim damages if your property or furniture has been destroyed or damaged because the landlord failed to carry out a necessary repair or you haven’t been able to work from home and had to incur additional expenses or you have been made ill by the repair issues.
Online and London based landlord and tenant solicitors
For advice on housing disrepair claims and your best options call the landlord and tenant team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.