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How soon should a landlord address disrepair? How long is too long?

Tenants who have experienced disrepair to their property, often find themselves questioning how long will it take for the repairs to be completed. This is a question being asked more and more during recent times, primarily due to the restrictions placed on us as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that may tenants are more often at home and so more aware of and adversely affected by disrepair in the home. It is extremely frustrating waiting for repairs to be carried out but ‘how long is too long?’

What does the law say?

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, implies an absolute and unavoidable obligation upon landlords to carry out basic repairs, and this obligation has not been removed despite the pandemic. This obligation is implied into all tenancy agreements unless the tenancy agreement began before 24 October 1961 or has a fixed term of seven years or more, i.e. a long lease.

It is the landlord’s responsibility:

  1. To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling, including drains, gutters and external pipes;
  2. To keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation and
  3. To keep in repair and proper working order the installation in the dwelling for space heating and heating water.

When must works be done?

Landlords are not liable to carry out repairs until they have been put on notice that there is a need for repairs to be carried out and they have failed to carry out the repairs within a reasonable time thereafter.

Unfortunately, there is no clear definition as to what ‘reasonable timeframe’ is and this will differ on a case by case basis. As such, tenants should allow what they consider to be a reasonable time frame in all the circumstances.

Landlords may have set their own time frames within the terms and conditions of tenancy or, in the case of a social landlord, within a published policy. It is always a good idea to have a look what these documents say about how quickly certain works should be done.

The courts will consider a number of factors when determining a reasonable timeframe, including the following: the complexity of the disrepair, the nature of the disrepair, the urgency of the disrepair, the effect of the disrepair, the particular circumstances of the tenant and the extent to which access has or has not been provided.

When considering what ‘reasonable time’ is a number of other factors should be also taken into account, including but not limited to:

  • Time of the year – If a tenant is suffering from a lack of heating or hot water during the winter, the landlord is expected to act more quickly in repairing the problem compared with the same issue in the summer.
  • Vulnerability of the tenant – If a tenant is elderly or suffers from health conditions, the disrepair may adversely affect the tenant’s health issues, so the landlord should action any repairs more swiftly.
  • Access – It is important to note that if access is not provided to the landlord to assess and carry out repairs, either by the tenant or by the occupants of neighbouring properties, it is likely and reasonable that repairs will take longer to complete.

Some common examples:

  • Leaks – If a tenant is suffering from a leak, it may be that it will take the landlord some time before they can carry out repairs as they may need to first carry out some form of investigations to determine the root cause of the leak. This may include the use of CCTV or dye testing over a period of time to investigate the cause of the leak, or put up scaffolding (for rook leaks). However this should not be the case where the cause of the leak is clear.
  • Damaged or broken front door – If the disrepair is to the front door of the property, the tenant can expect that the repairs are conducted fairly urgently, as this constitutes an issue of security.
  • Heating or hot water – If a tenant is experiencing an absence of or intermittent heating or hot water, landlords are expected to act with some degree of urgency. Given that the cause of the issue is often the boiler or heating system, landlords would normally be in apposition to repair the issue fairly promptly.

Covid – 19 – its impacts on reasonable time

With the uncertain future of Covid-19 and the restrictions and safety requirements announced by the Government, non-urgent repairs are taking much longer now than they have done in the past. The Government issued interim provisions between March and May 2020 which restricted the landlord’s ability to carry out inspections and repairs to properties unless the issues were urgent and/or health related.

The coronavirus has undeniably had an impact on the time it will take for landlords to carry out repairs, as the pandemic affects many landlords’ resources, i.e. a shortage of staff, limited access to PPE and the need to prioritise urgent cases. Furthermore, reasonable delays may occur if the tenant or occupants of the property are suffering or have symptoms of Covid-19, which will also prevent access. Conversely, vulnerable tenants at increased risk of Covid 19 may are also likely to be affected to a greater extent by certain types of disrepair, i.e. damp affecting breathing issues.

However, it is also important to note that landlords have been able to carry out all works at the property since at least May 2020 so long as they comply with safety guidelines. Tenants should be wary of a landlord who simply claims works cannot be done “because of Covid” and should ask why that has had an effect. A Court would require a much more detailed explanation as to why this has caused delays.

In conclusion

What is ‘reasonable time’ varies from case to case, there is no definitive answer. However, post Covid 19 some non-urgent repairs may have to be put off and the individual facts of each case are even more important. The key is for landlords and tenants to work together and take reasonable and proportionate measures to ensure that repairs are carried out promptly but, at the same time, in accordance with the appropriate safety guidelines.

It may be that any reasonable timeframe will be prolonged even further should a further full lockdown be imposed in the near future. However, despite the current position, the basic legal repairing obligations of a landlord remain unchanged and tenants have the right to have works done in a timely and reasonable fashion and landlords should assess each tenant’s needs and make reasonable efforts to complete repairs where possible.

If you have any doubts about your landlord’s actions or reasons for delay, you should seek legal advice. Call free on 0808 271 9413 to speak to a member of our experienced Housing team or request a call back online.