HOUSING DISREPAIR CLAIM: A GUIDE
Housing is a basic human need. It is more than just shelter. The home is the social, cultural and economic structure of the occupants; and the dwelling should be of adequate size, have sufficient facilities and amenities to enable the occupiers to create their home. It should provide a safe and healthy environment for everybody living in the household.
Since the nineteenth century, public health law has also provided protection for tenants against some of the effects of poor housing conditions.
Guidance has been issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government the purpose of which was to advise on good practice in relation to the management and delivery of housing repairs while emphasising the legal obligations in a bid to improve the landlord and tenant relationship and protecting health and safety.
It is accepted that a high-quality repairs service is a key element in the provision of good quality rented housing. It’s an essential element in achieving high levels of tenant satisfaction,
A poor repairs service may result from various factors, such as:
- poor condition of the stock and/or inadequate programmes to improve conditions;
- a failure of the repair service to respond to complaints adequately or at all;
- the way the internal complaints procedure works or is perceived to work; and/or
- the attitude of officers when dealing with tenants’ complaints and concerns (for example,
a confrontational approach, a ‘blame the victim’ attitude)
Broadly, there are currently three different sets of obligations on landlords to repair and maintain properties which they let to tenants. These are:
(a) Repairing obligations in the tenancy agreement.
The terms of the tenancy agreement may impose specific liabilities on the landlord to repair the property. These are generally known as ‘express’ obligations. Even without any express obligations in the tenancy agreement.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 gives landlords of all tenancies an absolute obligation to carry out basic repairs. It makes it an implied term of every tenancy that the landlord will ‘keep in repair the structure and exterior’ of the property and ‘keep in repair and proper working order the installations’ for the supply of water, gas and electricity, and for sanitation and space heating and heating water.
Importantly, even if a tenant owes rent or has broken an obligation of the tenancy agreement, the landlord has a legal duty to repair
(b) Legal duties of care
The law places several legal duties on landlords. The most relevant one in the case of repairs is the duty requiring landlords to take reasonable care to ensure that anyone who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises is reasonably safe from injury or damage to their property caused by a relevant defect of which the landlord knew or ought to have known. This duty is set out in section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 and it is owed to the tenant, the tenant’s family and to visitors.
Section 1 of the same Act imposes a duty on all those who carry out work in connection with the provision of a dwelling to do the work in a professional or workmanlike manner and to use proper materials, so as to ensure that the dwelling is fit for human habitation when completed.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes provision for control of premises which are considered to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance. These provisions apply to council and housing association tenancies as well as private tenancies.
EXTENT OF THE OBLIGATION
A landlord has to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling house including drains, gutters and external pipes, and to keep in repair and proper working order the installations for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation.
A landlord must also keep in repair and proper working order the installations for space and water heating. ‘keep in repair’ – this phrase amounts to a continuing obligation to keep up the standard of repair throughout the tenancy and to put the premises into repair if they were not in repair at the start of the tenancy. It includes an obligation to make good any damaged decorations or redecorate after completing any repair work.
Installations include installations for supply of water, gas, and electricity and installations for sanitation, space heating and heating water
Once notification of disrepair has been received by the landlord then certain legal obligations are triggered (such as those currently imposed by s11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985). The guidance states that it is essential that any person within the authority or association who could receive notification of a problem or disrepair deals with it quickly and effectively. If not, they should ensure it is quickly directed to the appropriate person or department.
As well as details of works that have been completed, records should include the step-by step details of works in progress, particularly where more than one trade is involved, and details of any delays that may occur.
Any system for receiving and logging complaints and enquiries should recognise that occupiers are not building experts and their reports may be vague explanations of the problem
Repairing any defects can mean that sometimes the landlord has to completely renew or replace part of the structure if merely repairing the defect is not going to provide a practicable or lasting remedy for the disrepair. ‘structure and exterior’ of the property has been taken to include the walls, windows, roof, the access steps and path to the property and in some cases the internal wall plaster.
External render, joinery gutters, drains and external pipes are included and treated as part of the exterior. If the dwelling is a flat, then the term ‘structure and exterior’ will include the outside walls of the flat and the outside of the inner party wall of the flat.
If the defect is inside the premises, a landlord only becomes liable for failure to repair it if: they have notice of it – this means having sufficient information about the problem to indicate to a reasonable landlord that works of repair are needed; and b. a reasonable opportunity to do the works required has passed.
Timescales for completion of works should reflect the nature of the problem. There should be clear timescales set within which remedial work is to be completed. Where appropriate, they should cover temporary works to remove immediate threats to health or safety, until effective repairs can be carried out
It is irrelevant whether works are carried out by in-house labour force or external contractors or a combination. What is important is that the works are carried out satisfactorily. Not only should the works be carried out to the satisfaction of the authority or association, but also to the satisfaction of the occupier (the person whose home it is).
In deciding the standard of repair needed, regard has to be had to the character, age and prospective life of the premises. But this does not justify leaving a tenant in a situation of material discomfort even when the prospective life of the dwelling maybe short. Cost alone should not be the determining factor.
A Tenant enjoys quite enjoyment of the property and therefore appointments should be made for inspections, and should be kept. If, in an emergency, an appointment has to be postponed or cancelled, then the tenant should be informed as quickly as possible and new arrangements made
Where works are carried out should take into account that they are being carried out in someone’s home. The works should be geared to ensuring the occupiers can, so far as is possible, continue their normal life and disruption is kept to a minimum.
Where works are very disruptive or may affect the health or safety of any occupant, then temporary rehousing should be provided for the duration of the work. This is known as a ‘decant’. On occasions, dependant on the type of disrepair, the decant offered may be permanent.
RIGHT TO COMPENSATION – Making a housing disrepair claim
If a tenant succeeds in proving that there has been a breach of the landlord’s repairing obligation, he/she will be entitled to compensation for the damage suffered as a result of the landlord’s failure to repair.
The main purpose of damages in a housing disrepair disrepair claim is to, as far as possible, put the tenant in the position s/he would have been in if there had been no breach of repairing obligation.
A tenant can make a housing disrepair claim for:
(a). General damages – these are assessed as the loss of value of the tenancy to the tenant, ie, the loss of comfort and convenience resulting from living in a property in disrepair. These can be calculated either by a notional deduction in rent for each week of disrepair or by a global award for discomfort and inconvenience following guidelines set by cases that have already come before the court.
(b). Special damages – this is compensation for specific items lost or damaged because of disrepair, eg, carpets or curtains ruined by dampness. It also includes other losses capable of specific calculation in monetary terms, like cleaning costs or extra heating costs. c. Interest – to be paid on the compensation, the general and special damages, awarded.
Cromptons Solicitors are housing disrepair claim specialists. We have dealt with many housing disrepair claims throughout England and Wales. If you would like to make a housing disrepair claim please contact us on 01204 589009 or email email@example.com