Having to live in a property with severe disrepair can be more stressful than many people might think. It can be very frustrating having to cope with constant leaks or mould on your walls, and even more frustrating if your landlord/landlady fails to resolve the issue.
So what can you do?
Identify the issue – is it Disrepair?
Firstly, you need to consider if the problem is because of disrepair (poor condition of a building or structure due to neglect), or is it something else. Unless it is written in your tenancy agreement, your landlord is only responsible for repairs to the following under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1979 (s.11). Therefore, they are responsible for:
- Structure and exterior of the building (including plasterwork and windows)
- Supply of water, gas and electricity
If the problems in your property do not fall in these categories, such as infestations, bad smells or noise nuisance, you may need to look at a separate procedure. These problems come under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
If your landlord does not carry out the repairs you can take your landlord to court, but only if you have given them reasonable time to fix the problems. There is a guide to what steps you need to take before considering court action. This is called the Pre-action Protocol for Housing Disrepair Cases.
In short, the protocol asks that you do the following:
1. Step one: Put your landlord on notice
It is crucial that you inform your landlord of the disrepair you are facing. Although this may seem obvious, this is a relevant step in the pre-action stages of a disrepair claim. Informing your landlord of the disrepair is referred to as providing your landlord with ‘notice’ of the disrepair. Notice should be given in writing and you should always keep records of the same whether it be test messages or emails. This will be considered good evidence later in your claim (if you make one).
Also, if you are successful in your disrepair claim, the date you provided notice will be useful in assessing how much you may receive in damages (AKA “compensation”).
2. Step two: letter before claim
If your landlord fails to complete the necessary works, you should send your landlord a Letter of Claim which sets out the issues relating to the disrepair and what you are asking them to do. You should give them at least 20 working days to respond. You would normally be asking them to carry out the repair work and to pay some compensation. An example letter can be found in the pre-action protocol (Annex A).
If the landlord proposes to enter the property to inspect the property, it is crucial that the tenant allows the landlord access.
If you think that the property needs an independent surveyor to look at the disrepair, you can propose that yourself, and you can ask your landlord to pay half of the surveyor’s fees (single joint expert). You should propose the expert in your letter of claim and attach their CV to the same.
You can get an expert report yourself, although you would have to wait until after the 20 working days have elapsed. An example of a letter to give to your expert can be found in the pre-action protocol (Annex B).
3. Step three: Schedule of works/appoint a surveyor
Thereafter, both parties can agree a schedule of works so that works are completed without delay. If you have an expert, they should advise you how long the works will take. You can ask your landlord to give you dates they intend to visit the property and how long the works will take. This will help you to organise your time and continue with your daily activities.
If your landlord has taken more than a “reasonable” period of time to carry out the repairs you can also ask that they pay you compensation.
If you want to see an example of a schedule of works, you can refer to the pre-action protocol (Annex C).
4. Step four: Make a Claim to the County Court
If the matter cannot be settled outside of court, i.e. your landlord does not respond to your Letter of Claim in full and refuses to carry out the works or pay compensation, a claim can be made to the county court.
A tenant should always bear in mind that if they are unsuccessful at court, they may be required to pay their landlord’s legal fees.
You should always consider whether you can get representation to bring a claim at court. Should you require advice or assistance from a housing disrepair solicitor to deal with your disrepair matter, you should consider whether you are eligible for legal assistance under the legal aid scheme or whether you will be eligible for a no-win no fee agreement. If you are eligible, you will not only have legal assistance but you may not have to pay your legal fees up front.