Tenants often complain about properties being in poor repair. The word generally used by lawyers for this is ‘disrepair’.
The main act which imposes oblgiations on landlords is the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 in the repairing obligation sections 11-17.
This says that landlords must keep the structure and exterior of the property in repair along with the installations for the supply of gas, water, electricity and space and water heating.
But what does disrepair actually mean?
Disrepair is the opposite of repair. There must be disrepair before a landlord can be liable to repair. Generally, disrepair is when part of a property is in a significantly worse condition than it was at an earlier time.
But there is a significant difference between REPAIR and IMPROVEMENT.
Under the landlords statutory repairing obligations, a landlord is liable to put a property into repair in certain circumstances, but he is under no obligation to carry out improvements.
It is sometimes difficult to say exactly where to draw the line. An obvious example is windows. If a property has rotting window frames then this is something the landlord should put right. However he is under no obligation to instal double glazing.
Although if the property already had double glazing when it was let, then any deterioration will come within the landlord’s repairing obligations.
There have also been a number of cases regarding roofs, where the court has held that it is sufficient for the landlord to carry out ‘running repairs’ – he cannot be forced to replace the whole roof.
It is normally also the rule that a tenant cannot force a landlord to do work to a property to correct a problem which is caused by the design of the property rather than a deterioration in its condition.
However there have been cases where in effect landlords have been ordered to do the – this is where the defect is actually causing disrepair – here if it is cost effective a court may sometimes order a landlord to deal with the underlying defect to prevent future disrepair problems.
Disproportionately expensive works
There is also a general rule that the works a landlord does should be proportionate to the type of property concerned. Or as the act puts it
In determining the standard of repair required by the lessor’s repairing covenant, regard shall be had to the age, character and prospective life of the dwelling-house and the locality in which it is situated.
If a tenant wants to bring a claim against their landlord for disrepair, note that there is a ‘pre action protocol’ you must comply with first.
This involves sending letters to the landlord setting out details of the claim, giving the landlord a chance to do the works without the need for court proceedings.
The main exception is in possession claims based on rent arrears, where tenants can defend and counter claim on the basis that they are entiteld to compensation for disrepair.
Its perhaps also worth mentioning here that generally a tenant won’t have a claim against the landlord for something he hasn’t told him about.
Take a look at the posts elsewhere on this blog on
- the top five laws on disrepair
- regulations on repair and eviction rights (part of the foundation series), and
- a new case making landlords liable for damge to plaster
If you want further information this is the book to get.