If you are a tenant, your landlord is usually responsible for most repairs in your home, although some of them could be your responsibility if you have damaged your home, even accidentally. Unfortunately there are instances where landlords, either because they are negligent, or unscrupulous, refuse to live up to their responsibilities.
What should you do in such circumstances? Here are appropriate steps to follow if you are in the UK. The advice will follow from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on tenants’ rights under local law, but the same broad tenets should apply wherever you are located.
Make sure you report repairs
Before deciding what steps to take, make sure you report repair problems to your landlord or letting agent, and give them a reasonable time to do the work.
You can inform them about the repair problem in person, by phone or by SMS message. You should also email or write to them to confirm the details too, so that you have a written record that you have notified them and when.
If you do not have their contact details, as a tenant you have the right to know the name and address of your landlord. If you pay your rent to a letting agent, they must give you the landlord’s name and address if you write to ask for it. Keep a copy of your letter, and if you don’t deliver it by hand, get proof of delivery. The agent has 21 days to write to you with the information. If they do not reply within this time, they are committing a criminal offence and could be fined.
Otherwise, Google the landlord’s name. Search 192.com for names and addresses based on information from electoral rolls, phone directories and Companies House. It is free to search the 192 directory, but you must pay a fee to access more detailed information.
Keep detailed records
Keep detailed records of the repairs that are needed to your home. These can include:
- copies of letters and emails you send and receive from your landlord about repairs;
- photographs of what needs repairing;
- receipts for any items you have had to buy to replace damaged items, for example, furniture or curtains;
- doctors’ notes if the disrepair is bad for your health or the health of someone else in your household;
- other professional reports or bills if you have them: for example, if you have had to pay for pest control or get a surveyor to check for damp.
It is always best, where possible, to negotiate with a landlord or letting agent rather than getting into direct conflict with them. A suggested way of dealing with this is to contact them and:
- check if they received your original repair request
- suggest times and dates to do the work
- remind them of their responsibility to do repairs
If your letting agent is not dealing with the repairs, you can use their complaints procedure. This may prompt them to arrange the repairs.
You can also complain to a letting agent redress scheme if you are not getting a satisfactory response or they do not reply. A letting agent redress scheme is an independent body approved by the government which can resolve disputes between letting agents and their customers. Your agent must display the name of the scheme they belong to in their offices and on their website. Letting agents can be fined if they do not join such a scheme.
Complain to environmental health
If your landlord will not undertake repairs that potentially affect your health and safety, you can ask your local council’s environmental health department to inspect your home.
The council can offer help and advice and may tell your landlord to do repairs.
You can tell your landlord or letting agent that you are going to ask the council to inspect your home. It may encourage your landlord to do the work.
Make a rent reduction to cover the repair costs
If your landlord has failed to do repairs, you can arrange for the repairs to be done and deduct the cost from your rent. You should only use this procedure for minor repairs. You are responsible for the work that is carried out. If repairs are done badly you will have to pay to put things right.
There are correct legal procedures that need to be adopted if you are going to adopt this course of action, so make sure you follow them to the letter. These include:
- Write to inform your landlord about the repairs;
- Write saying you plan to arrange repairs if you do not get a reply or the work does not start;
- Get quotes for repair work from at least three reliable contractors;
- Send the quotes to your landlord, with a letter explaining that, unless they get the repairs done within a certain time, you will go ahead with the cheapest quote;
- Arrange for the repair work to be carried out;
- Send the receipts to the landlord – keeping a copy for yourself – after paying for the work, asking them to refund the money; and
- Write to confirm the rent deductions, if your landlord does not reimburse you, and confirm that you are going to deduct the money from your future rent. Explain exactly when the deductions will start, and how long they will last.
Consider Legal Action
As a matter of last resort you can take legal action if your landlord will not undertake repairs. A court can order your landlord to:
- carry out the repair work
- pay you compensation for inconvenience or damage to your belongings and health.
However, legal action should only be undertaken if all other approaches have failed, as it can take time, cost money and irreparably damage your relationship with your landlord.
Do not stop paying rent
What you must not do if your landlord refuses to carry out repairs, is stop paying rent, however aggrieved you may feel. You have no legal right to do so, and your landlord could take steps to evict you.
Whilst most landlords and letting agencies are fully mindful of their responsibilities to carry out repairs in your home, you may be unfortunate and find yourself dealing with one that refuses to perform the work needed. In such cases, follow the steps above and remember to document everything, including all communications.
It should be noted that, in very rare cases, some landlords may take steps to evict tenants who complain about repairs or poor conditions. This is known as “revenge eviction”. You may have some protection against revenge eviction if you have an assured shorthold tenancy. So, get legal advice if you have reported repairs and are worried about the threat of eviction.
However, such instances are very much the exception not the rule. Seek to negotiate and, in nine times out of ten, the landlord or letting agents are very likely to admit to their responsibilities, and arrange for the repairs to be carried out.