Property Disrepair - condition of private rented property & duties of the landlord

A landlord is under an implied duty in law to make sure that any property they let is fit to be lived in and to repair the property when necessary. They are also under the same duty in contract. (However, this implied duty does not apply to unfurnished houses, although the government is currently looking at changing this).

Any tenancy agreement will usually have a section explaining the landlord's responsibilities. These responsibilities include making sure the property is in good repair and safe to live in. Even if this is not actually written into the agreement the law says that it is "implied". The law says that "repair" involves the structure or exterior of a property. Examples would be a leaking roof, damp, subsidence, rotten woodwork, leaking windows, gutters, drains, external pipes etc.

The tenancy agreement may say that the landlord has to repair more than just the structure or exterior, for example, fixtures and fittings and furniture.

The landlord may also be required to repair parts of the building / block that are shared with other tenants such as corridors, lifts, balconies etc., as long as this affects or interferes with the use and enjoyment of the property. A landlord is entitled to do "patch-up" repairs as long as this keeps the property in repair.

A landlord must also make sure that "installations" such as gas, electricity, heating, water and sanitation are all working and kept that way.

If when a tenant moves into a property it was already in a poor state and the rent is kept low because of this they may not be able to force the landlord to carry out repairs which involve bringing the property up to an acceptable standard if the property has reached the end of it's life. Especially if the property is due to be demolished and / or redeveloped anyway.

The landlord must be told about the disrepair so that they can take action. Once the landlord has been told about the disrepair they must carry out repairs within a reasonable period of time. What is a reasonable period of time depends on the facts in each case.

In the case of disrepair to parts of a building or block which are shared with other tenants there is no need to show that the landlord has been told of the disrepair or given a reasonable time to repair the problem.

The landlord does not have to repair damage caused by the tenant or faults which are the tenant's responsibility under the tenancy agreement. The landlord does not have to repair anything brought to the property or added to it by the tenant and which the tenant can remove. The landlord also does not necessarily have to repair damage caused by an "inevitable accident".

The landlord and anyone who acts for the landlord, e.g. workmen are entitled to enter the property to carry out repairs. If the landlord takes on a builder to do the work and the work is done badly the tenant may be able to sue either the landlord or the builder, if the property is "defective" and was defective at the time the tenant moved in. This is because the law says that builders and anyone who does any work connected with building a property (e.g. builders, surveyors and architects) have certain responsibilities to anyone who occupies the property that they have built. The compensation will be for injury to the tenant or their family, or damage to the property, rather than forcing the landlord to put the defect right.

Also local authorities and property development companies who employ such people can also be sued if the work is not done properly. The law says the work must be done in a "professional" or "workmanlike" way using proper materials and should be fit to live in when the work is completed.

Any people living with the tenant or any visitors to the property also have the same protection. This means that if someone visits and they are injured because of a "defect" in the property they can sue the landlord / builder etc. and claim compensation for their injury. Unlike properties which require repair, in the case of defective properties there is no need for the tenant to have told the landlord about the defect. As long as it can be shown that the landlord knew, or should have known about the defect and under the tenancy the landlord has an obligation to repair or maintain the property.

If the landlord has not carried out repairs then the tenant has the right to carry out the repairs and deduct the cost from any future rent payments or service charges. However, as a precaution the tenant should tell the landlord that they intend to do this if the landlord does not carry out the repairs and should give the landlord a reasonable period of time to carry out the repairs. The tenant should also get 3 estimates for the cost of the work to be done and send copies to the landlord. If the tenant carries out the work they should choose the workman who has given the lowest estimate.

The tenant cannot deduct any other expenses from the rent which are not the actual cost of the repair works (e.g. money lost staying at home waiting for builders etc.).

A tenant does not have the right to simply stop paying rent until the repairs have been carried out. However, if they do stop paying rent and the landlord sues them for rent arrears the tenant can counter-sue for the cost of the repairs which need to be carried out and also for compensation for distress, anxiety and the inconvenience suffered.

However, remember if the landlord sues for rent arrears they will usually also be seeking a possession order and so there is a risk the tenant could lose the property.

If the tenant is paying a Registered Fair Rent and there is disrepair they can apply for the Fair Rent Officer to reduce the rent as long as the tenant can convince them there has been a substantial deterioration in the condition of the property since the last assessment.

Where disrepair is so bad as to make it difficult to live in the property the tenant can apply for an injunction to force the landlord to carry out the repairs urgently.

If the property is in a state where it is dangerous to a person's health or a nuisance then the matter can be reported to the local Environmental Officer. This can also be done in the case of overcrowded properties, slum housing etc. An environmental officer will inspect the property and report back to the local authority.

The local authority must act if the property breaches environmental health regulations. The local authority will serve a notice requiring the landlord to carry out repairs within a set period of time. The landlord can be fined if they fail to carry out the works. The local authority also has powers to carry out the works themselves and then charge the landlord for the cost of carrying out the repairs.

The local authority also has powers to serve a landlord with a demolition order or a closing order to remove the property from use as housing.

The local authority also has powers to prosecute a landlord who has failed to obey a notice by the local authority to carry out works and prosecution can lead to a fine.

Mortgages and Repossession - an Introduction

Private Housing