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A guide on housing disrepair

by | Nov 23, 2022

Introduction

On longer leases especially, it may be the case that a house simply becomes unlivable over time. However, if there are tenants actively in a property while property breakdown is taking place, a house can fall into housing disrepair.

This must be prevented by a landlord. So, it is the landlord’s responsibility that a tenant has a safe home to live in at all times and abide by the housing disrepair laws. Read our article here to find out what your rights are as a tenant and if you’ll be able to prove that your landlord is guilty as a result of the property falling into disrepair or not.

A house that has fallen into disrepair

What is housing disrepair?

Housing disrepair is where a property falls into conditions that are considered unsafe where a property is no longer able to be fit for a tenant. As a tenant, you may then be eligible to be able to file a claim against your landlord because you have been living in a premise that has put your life in danger.

For example, if a tenant signs a three-year lease and continues to live in the property for the duration of the tenancy but they notice the property has a leaky gutter the second year, the house would be considered to be in disrepair.

The effects of this disrepair could be made worse if it causes further problems like electricity damage or the introduction of mould to a property. If a landlord refused to come and fix these issues within a reasonable timeframe, the tenant could file a claim for disrepair and add further evidence that their health is affected to such an extent because of the mould. This may cause a landlord to face a fine or a court hearing.

Unfortunately, it is common for landlords to be lazy in this sense, especially when they aren’t dealing with the management of a property themself such as using a property manager. When they get lazy they may offer illegal bribes such as rent reductions in order to delay repairs or they may even ask a tenant to cover the costs of repair as well through dilapidations.

Knowing that it is not your responsibility as a tenant to conduct these repairs is essential because you should know your rights and only file a claim by producing the right evidence at the right time and making sure your landlord gets convicted.

It could be the case that a landlord has multiple properties that are all in disrepair and the claim that you make as a tenant could succeed and cause the landlord to have to conduct repairs on other properties too. Impacting the living conditions and lives of other tenants as a result.

What are the landlord’s responsibilities to prevent housing disrepair?

General planned preventative maintenance and standard safety checks are often enforced at a greater level. These include the electronic safety certificates, energy performance certificates, gas safety certificates and PAT testing of appliances if you are in Scotland.

However, the more nuanced and under the radar pieces of maintenance that aren’t necessarily required by law to be checked at regular intervals unlike these other checks are the types of things that will often result in housing disrepair.

For example, if there is mould in the property, an infestation of mice or vermin and if there are structural cracks that make the structural integrity of the house unsafe.

Some tenants do not report these things as and when they see them because they may think it is their responsibility or the landlord doesn’t have to protect their safety to that extent. However, this is absolutely necessary under the law. For a full guide and best practice for landlords click here to take you straight to the advice from the government.

What does a disrepair protocol mean?

Often tenants do not realise the full process of taking their landlord to court or getting them to act on their property. The first step for a tenant is to issue a housing disrepair protocol. This is the procedure and document that starts off the disrepair claim.

With this document, you can legally negotiate with your landlord in order to get them to take out repairs on the premises. However, this is not guaranteed and you may have to go to court if you cannot come to a resolution with the document although this is the idea of the document in the first place – to solve tenant and landlord disrepair disputes without court action.

It is important to note, that this disrepair protocol is not a breach of a tenancy agreement under the Housing Act of 1988 as you can see here. Hence, a tenant should not use this document as evidence that there is a breach in a tenancy agreement. For example, they cannot use this to delay a section 8 notice. In this way, the document is less formal and can certainly be overridden by other, more pressing matters involving the property.

A council estate that has a disrepair protocol

What should you know about housing disrepair claims for tenants?

The process of filing a claim against a landlord may seem intimidating but there is a need to know the law so you don’t feel this way and can have the confidence to maintain a safe living space. Likewise, for landlords, maintaining a safe space for tenants but also keeping costs of maintenance down to a minimum is also something that should be aimed for.

What is the process for creating a housing disrepair claim?

First of all, the tenant must identify everything that is wrong with the property. This can be done with the help of a surveyor or a building structure expert.

After this, with further legal help from a lawyer if necessary, the tenant can write up a housing disrepair protocol which is a legal document that encourages landlords to conduct repairs if they feel it is within the right guidelines. This can be posted to the landlord’s address found in the tenancy agreement they have signed or sent to them by email.

If this document doesn’t inspire the landlord to conduct repairs, the landlord will then have to go to court with the tenant where the issue will be resolved. Afterwards, further instruction may be given to the landlord to conduct the repairs or face a fine. This will be the case if the property is actually to have been found to be in disrepair.

When should you claim for housing disrepair?

You should make a claim after you have first checked that it is the landlord’s responsibility to conduct the repairs by checking what you are responsible for as a tenant in your home. Secondly, you should make sure you have given a disrepair protocol to your landlord so you know that the landlord has tried to resolve the issue before you take them to court.

The failure to issue a protocol to your landlord will mean the court won’t take you seriously as you haven’t seen to have attempted to resolve the issue with your landlord beforehand.

How much can you claim?

There is no limit to the number of faults in a property that you can claim as a tenant. As long as you genuinely and reasonably believe it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix what you’re complaining about.

Also, you must be sure the things that ended fixing are causing you to live unsafely in the property. It cannot be over minor things like the need to replace a light bulb or there being too much dust in the property either. These are things a tenant usually has to take responsibility for.

A landlord fixing a property after a disrepair claim

How long does a disrepair claim take?

Commonly, it can take up to a year for a housing disrepair protocol to be issued, for this protocol to be resolved and then for the claim to go through the court and for the landlord to issue repairs. Obviously, this may depend on how compliant a landlord is.

A fast turnaround could be as little as a month or two when a tenant issues a disrepair protocol to the landlord and they do it straight away to prevent court proceedings or just because they know they need to keep a tenant in a safe living environment legally or morally.

To conclude

Housing disrepair is something that can have legal ramifications for landlords if they don’t address these issues brought up by tenants within due time. Furthermore, if a landlord ignores these requests it could result in large reinstatement costs to repair a property over time because they ignored the early warning signs of poor property conditions.

Having said this, the laws around repair are quite relaxed because of the introduction of disrepair protocols that must be issued in order for disrepair to be taken seriously in court.

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