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Who is liable for the cost of clearing this drain?

flatsHere is a question to the blog clinic from Martin who is a tenant

Myself and my partner rent a property through a letting agent and recently our drain blocked in our back garden, sending a disgusting mess everywhere.

We reported to our agent who sent out first a plumber, then a well known drainage company. They cleared the problem and we thought this was the last of it.

Our agent then sent us the invoice for the plumber and the drainage company (a total of £180) saying that we had caused the blockage because some sanitary towels were found. My partner was appalled as she has never flushed such an item down our toilet.

We refused to pay the bill, however the agent has now written to us saying the cost has been added to our rent account and that we are £180 in arrears.

Can the agent do this? We are considering handing in our notice but don’t want this to affect our reference for our new property.

I am sure other tenants have faced a similar situation but I cannot find a satisfactory answer anywhere.

This is a bit of a tricky one.  If you had caused the damage then you would be liable for the cost.  If however you say that you are not liable then the landlord or the agent will have to prove that you are.

If you don’t pay the invoice then it is something which the agents will want to claim from your deposit.  If you want to challenge this, you will need to request that the matter be referred to arbitration.

Arbitrations always start from the premise that the deposit is the tenant’s money and that the landlord must prove (on the balance of probabilities) that the tenant is liable for the sum claimed.

They may be in some difficulties here as although no doubt an inventory was done when you moved in, I would be surprised if it covered debris in the drains.  So for you to be responsible, they will have to prove on the paperwork that it was you (or one of your guests) who put this sanitary towel down the toilet and not a former tenant.

I suppose the only way they could do this would be to have some evidence from the contractor who cleared the drain – who is presumably the only person who has seen it.

Before you embark on a challenge however, note that you will also be responsible if one of your guests did this.  Are you absolutely certain that none did?

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About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

The Landlord Law Blog from Tessa Shepperson

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

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The purpose of this blog is to provide information, comment and discussion. Although Tessa, or guest bloggers, may from time to time, give helpful comments to readers' questions, these can only be based on the information given by the reader in his or her comment, which may not contain all material facts. Any comments or suggestions provided by Tessa or any guest bloggers should not therefore be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice from a qualified lawyer regarding any actual legal issue or dispute.

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