Here is a question to the blog clinic from Didi regarding damage to tenants possessions, answered by David Smith:
I am a landlady of a house which is converted into two flats, one on the top and the other on the bottom.
In March this year there was a bad leak from the top flat into the one below but went undetected for a whole week because the downstairs tenants were away. It caused a lot of damage, the ceiling in one of the bedrooms collapsed all over the tenant’s things.
The leak was found to be from a pipe within a wall which fed the shower, it was totally unforeseen and apparently very difficult to trace.
I have had all the damage repaired through my insurance, but the tenants of the bottom flat are asking for compensation. I initially offered them one month free rent (£775) but they want £5000 for damage to personal effects, stress and inconvenience. They have admitted that they do not have any of their own contents insurance.
They have sent me a list of items they claim have been damaged beyond repair and have them all in black bin bags for inspection. I cannot quantify the value of the items they are claiming and cannot possibly agree with their estimation.
The situation has now been made worse by the tenants not paying their rent, with the one rent free I have already offered, their arrears will exceed two months soon.
If I decide to litigate, will the tenants have any recourse if I don’t meet their demands?
Liability for tenants possessions
In general terms if there was a leak from one of your properties into another one then you are liable for the damage to the property and to their possessions due to the provisions of the Defective Premises Act.
The fact that they do not have insurance is not really relevant I am afraid as they are not obliged to claim on it. Even if they did have insurance and made a claim the likelihood is that the insurance company would seek to recover all the money they paid out from you anyway.
Your only real defence is that they have made the situation worse by being away and not reporting the leak. However, going away for a week is unlikely to be seen as unreasonable so this is not a strong position.
The tenants cannot refuse to pay the rent but they are entitled to compensation.
Options for repossession
Any claim you make for possession on rent arrears grounds will probably be met by a counterclaim for compensation and this will terminate your claim.
I would suggest you seek to come to a settlement with these tenants urgently and then consider whether you wish to remove them on another basis, perhaps using a section 21 notice.