- Your landlord is responsible for the structure and exterior of the house (including drains, gutters and external pipes)
- Your landlord is responsible for the water, gas and electricity supply, as well as for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary facilities)
- Your landlord is responsible for making sure that the heating and water supply are safe and working
- If your landlord won’t repair one of something, you can arrange for a professional to do it and deduct the money from your rent, as long as you follow the right procedure
Disrepair and the law: your rights
Anyone who’s rented will have had an experience where something goes wrong in their house or flat and it takes longer than it should for the landlord or letting agency to fix it. Agencies often have automated systems for reporting disrepair issues, meaning it’s hard to know exactly who to speak to, and even when you can get hold of someone, you often get passed from one person to another, with none of them seeming to know what’s going on.
In such situations, it can be really useful to know where you stand legally, as a statement of your rights will often force an agency or landlord to take the issue much more seriously.
One of the most useful pieces of legislation to be aware of when dealing with disrepair issues is Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. This section states that landlords are legally obliged:
(a) to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes),
(b) to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and
(c) to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.
What this means is that the landlord is obligated by law to keep the exterior of the house, as well as the water supply, gas and electricity supply, sanitation, heating, and water heating facilities in good working order. This covers a lot of likely disrepair issues, so it can be a good idea to remind your landlord or agency of these obligations if you have reported an issue and they are taking a long time to sort it out.
Landlords are obligated to undertake repairs within a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. Whilst this is a relatively elastic phrase, it’s best to place what would be judged as ‘reasonable’ timeframes on your request, such as 24-48 hours for the repair of really urgent issues like a broken toilet, shower, or heating, and one to two weeks for those that are less serious.
There are other pieces of legislation that you can utilise to help you with disrepair issues. For example, a piece of legislation called the Defective Premises Act 1972 states that:
(1) Where premises are let under a tenancy which puts on the landlord an obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises, the landlord owes to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises a duty to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that they are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by a relevant defect.
(2) The said duty is owed if the landlord knows (whether as the result of being notified by the tenant or otherwise) or if he ought in all the circumstances to have known of the relevant defect.
(3) In this section “relevant defect” means a defect in the state of the premises existing at or after the material time and arising from, or continuing because of, an act or omission by the landlord which constitutes or would if he had had notice of the defect, have constituted a failure by him to carry out his obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises
What this means is that if a tenant is injured because of a disrepair issue that is the landlord’s responsibility, and that they knew about or should have known about, then the landlord may be culpable for the injury caused. Again, it can be really useful to remind landlords or agencies of this if they are dragging their heels on undertaking a repair.
Tenancies are also governed by a piece of legislation called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The HHSRS is what the council uses to determine the severity of a health and safety issue at a property. You can contact the council and ask them to inspect your house/flat if you are having issues such as:
- damp & mould
- excess heat
- excess cold
- food safety
Council’s either classify these problems as category 1 (the landlord is legally obliged to do something about it), or category 2 (the landlord is advised to do something about it).
You can use the HHSRS and its classifications to strengthen your claim for the urgency of the repair works you require. If, for example, your heating system breaks down in the winter, it would be reasonable to demand that it is fixed within 24 hours, or that you are provided with alternative heating provision and compensated for any costs you might incur as a result of this.
If you don’t receive an adequate response from your landlord or letting agency, you could then remind them of their obligations under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, as well as under the Defective Premises Act 1972, and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005, using the following letter (click me!)
If you have reminded your landlord or agency of their obligations under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, as well as under the Defective Premises Act 1972, and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005, and they still haven’t fixed the problem, you can begin the process of sorting out the repair issue yourself and deducting the costs from the rent you pay. There’s a procedure you have to follow in order to do this safely - the following template letters from Shelter guide you through this process: