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D is for Disrepair

disrepairTenants 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.

Inherent defects

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.

Disrepair claims

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.

Further information

Take a look at the posts elsewhere on this blog on

If you want further information this is the book to get.

 

About the author

Tessa Shepperson Tessa is a lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. She runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 12th year) and is also a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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6 Responses to D is for Disrepair

  1. David Reaney says:

    If a property is in a poor state of repair at the start of a tenancy, is a landlord obliged to maintain it in that level of repair, or in the state it had been in in previous times?

  2. There is a common law rule which says that property must be fit for habitation (which now means no category 1 hazards) at the start of the tenancy – for furnished accommodation anyway.

    Apart from that it would depend on the circumstances and where it was etc. One mans tatty old property may be another mans desirable residence.

  3. Ben Reeve Lewis says:

    In TRO land this is a major problem. Our enviornmental Health officers will only serve works notice where there is an HHSRS Cat 1 hazard, anything out side of that is down to the tenant to take action against the landlord on a civil court and it is not a lay-friendly process.

    Merely calculating the amount of damages, called ‘Quantum’ is so arcane as to impenetrable for most, and subject to a raft of case law.

    Its a yawning gap in the housing law market as few solicitors know about it and few people qualify for legal aid on these claims.

    In reality tenants are left high and dry with disrepair claims

  4. Ben Reeve Lewis says:

    Sorry to double post but today I had a classic example.

    Woman with 2 kids. Her carbon monoxide alarm started blinking so she called gas engineer who disconnected supply. No heating or hot water.

    She called the agents who duly tried to get landlord’s clearance to repair but he isnt responding to emails, texts or phone calls. They say their contract with him states they have to get his approval before sanctioning a repair.

    Meanwhile the tenant is freezing. EHO’s have recorded as an HHSRS Cat 1 hazard but have to give landlord time to do the repair, but the landlord has gone underground. What does she do?

    Because of previous arrears housing benefit is going straight to landlord so the tenant cant use rent to get repair done under equitable right of set off.

    These are the kinds of real world problems that disrepair legislation doesnt help with

  5. sue gill says:

    Thought this might be useful – blog post from shelter scotland about disrepair. Links through to online advice that tenants and landlords might find helpful.

    http://blog.scotland.shelter.org.uk/2012/12/07/challenging-your-landlord-about-poor-rented-accommodation/

  6. Thanks Sue. But can everyone please note that the law in Scotland is different and the information via the links may not apply in England and Wales.




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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.


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