This is a question I have been asked by a loyal reader. Which is not an easy one to answer. There are a plethora of laws and regulations to consider.
But first, you may be asking -
What are white goods?
‘White goods’ is the name normally used for those kitchen appliances which are usually white – washing machines, fridges, dishwashers - that sort of thing.
In a rented property they are normally provided by the landlord. But if they break down – who is responsible for dealing with this?
The Civil law:
As I have discussed before, there are two systems of law – civil and criminal, so we need to look at landlords obligations in both. Lets look at the civil law first.
Section 11 of the LTA, and SOGSA 1982
First lets take a look at the landlords repairing covenants in s11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985. Although this refers to installations for the supply of various services, this generally means things like pipes and wiring, or heaters and water boilers.
So it will not include things like fridges and washing machines. Indeed this is actually stated in s11(1)(b): ”but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity”
There are also obligations in the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 which require any items provided to be of ‘satisfactory quality’.
If s11 is not applicable, your tenancy agreement is the first place you should look if you want to know what your rights are.
Some tenancy agreements will specifically state that it is the landlords obligation to deal with problems with equipment provided, so long as the problem was not caused by the tenant.
Although often landlords will deal with the repairs even if the tenant caused the damage but will expect to be reimbursed for the cost – eg out of the deposit when the tenant leaves.
Enforcing civil law rights
This is normally done via a claim in the county court – although the court will expect the parties to have tried to resolve the issues first.
If you think you have a civil claim, it is best to seek legal advice before taking legal action.
These are various obligations on landlords which fall under the criminal jurisdiction – these are administered largely by local authorities (NOT the police).
Consumer safety regulations
I think if there is going to be a general obligation under law on landlords for the maintenance of white goods it will fall in this area. For example there are the Electrical Safety Regulations 1994.
I have a feeling that there is another general consumer safety statutory instrument which would apply here but cannot bring it to mind (and a quick search has not helped) – if you know what it is please leave a comment.
If the white good is in any way a ‘gas appliance’ then the landlord will be responsible for the repair under the Gas Regulations.
This is the Housing Health and Safety Rating System administered by Local Authority Environmental Health Depts. Properties are assessed for safety against 29 ‘hazards’.
I don’t have a list of these in front if me while writing this, but at least one of these will relate to dangerous electrical equipment.
So if an inspection shows that the property and its contents are in a dangerous condition so as to constitute a hazard, then the landlord will be asked to deal with it, and be served an improvement notice if he does not.
Enforcing landlords duties under the criminal law
You cannot normally do this yourself – so you need to report the issue to the relevant authority. They will then (if they think the situation warrants it) deal with the enforcement.
For most situations you visit your local authority tenancy relations or housing officer, or environmental health dept.
However for gas appliances, you need to speak to your local Health and Safety Executive. For consumer safety legislation, speak to your local Trading Standards office.
It is sometimes forgotten that tenants have duties too. Way back in the 1950′s Lord Denning pointed out that tenants have a duty to be good householders and to do the little things about the house that stop the big problems happening. For example replacing washers in taps and so on.
So it is arguable that this would include things like replacing lights in fridges and cleaning out the filters in washing machines and so on.
If they don’t do this and the appliance break down as a result – it will be their fault and they will be responsible for the cost of repair.
The sensible approach
In most landlord / tenant situations things are dealt with amicably. Tenants will treat appliances with respect and follow manufacturers instructions (which will have been provided by the landlord).
When there is a breakdown, landlords will get things done because they want to make sure that contractors working on their appliances are people they have approved and are working to a good standard.
If there is any dispute, landlords and tenants will come to a resolution because they are both reasonable people and just want to get things sorted.
It is MUCH better in a landlord and tenant situation to resolve things in an amicable, fair and sensible manner between yourselves, rather than to start looking up the law and citing statutes.
If this is necessary then it probably means the the landlord / tenant relationship bas broken down and you may want to think of moving on.
If you can of course …