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Can My Landlord Legally Refuse To Repair My Home? Common Defences To Housing Disrepair Claims.

If you are a tenant experiencing disrepair at your home, there may come a point at which you have no other option but to pursue a civil disrepair claim against your landlord. If you are successful, they will likely be ordered to complete the necessary works, pay you compensation and reimburse your legal costs. However, oftentimes, such claims are vigorously defended by landlords for a number of reasons. Below, I have prepared a short overview of the most common defences with a guide as to how to prevent or respond to them.

The most common defences used by landlords

1. “It’s the tenant’s responsibility”

Many landlords argue that dealing with disrepair is a tenant’s responsibility and they should bear the costs of fixing it. That is why it is critical that you check the terms of your tenancy agreement very carefully.

A standard tenancy agreement should set out that a landlord is responsible for most repairs in your home, such as repairs to structure and exterior, including walls, stairs and bannisters, roof, external doors and windows. Conversely, it is common practice that a tenant is responsible for minor issues, such as changing lightbulbs and smoke detector batteries, keeping the home reasonably clean and the garden maintained, etc.

You should be aware that regardless of the content of your tenancy agreement, there are various obligations imposed on landlords by legislation, which cannot be excluded through a tenancy agreement. These would include, for example, a landlord’s obligation to maintain and repair the structure and exterior of the property, as well as to keep installations for the supply of essential services in repair and proper working order under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Further, section 9A of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, introduced by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, implies a term in all tenancy agreements that a property must be fit for human habitation.

In practice, civil disrepair claims are often made based on a mixture of the landlords’ contractual and statutory obligations. That is why, if your tenancy agreement places a larger than expected burden on you, you should seek professional legal advice as to whether these clauses would be enforceable.

2. “Tenant failed to provide sufficient notice of disrepair”

Landlords very often contest disrepair claims by alleging that tenants did not properly notify them of the defects. Such a defence, if it is proven at court, may damage your claim and, in the worst-case scenario, result in its loss. That is why, you must be able to prove that you have promptly reported any issues and gave your landlord reasonable time to investigate and take action. The length of time would depend on the seriousness of disrepair: the more severe and hazardous to your life and safety it is, the less time it should take the landlord to fix it.

Given the critical importance of notice, we always recommend that our clients keep written evidence of their reports to landlords, such as copies of emails, text or other messages. If you are only able to report the disrepair verbally, such as via phone or in person, you ought to keep a diary of these communications i.e. record the date and time of your complaints, with whom you spoke and what was said. The burden is upon the tenant bringing the claim to evidence that they have given their landlord notice of the disrepair.

3. “Tenant failed to allow access to the property”

Another defence to a housing disrepair claim is an allegation that a tenant refused to provide access to the property to investigate defects or carry out repairs. This is another situation in which you should be able to use your own evidence for communications with your landlord, their agents or contractors, so that any such accusations can be opposed.

If you schedule an appointment which subsequently has to be cancelled for a legitimate reason, such as a medical, work or personal emergency, any cancellations should be communicated to the landlord or their agents as soon as reasonably practicable. Further, we recommend that you retain evidence of these emergencies, such as a medical note from a hospital or GP, a letter from an employer, etc.

It occasionally happens that landlords or their contractors attend the property without giving a tenant prior notice, the tenant is not at home at the time and the landlord subsequently argues on that basis that access to the property was therefore denied. Under the law, tenants are entitled to reasonable notice prior to every visit, and any such bad practices should be called out and refuted with evidence.

There exist other defences to disrepair claims that a landlord may pursue, some of which rely on complex legal principles or expert evidence. That is why, if you are experiencing serious home disrepair and your landlord is refusing to take appropriate measures, you should promptly seek legal advice and representation.

Our housing team is ranked Tier 1 by Legal 500 and Band 1 in the Chambers & Partners 2024 legal directory. This makes us leading experts in the field who are dedicated to fighting on your behalf and obtaining the best outcome possible.

If you require housing legal advice and would like to speak to one of our housing experts, please call 0330 822 3451 or request a callback. 

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