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Rental Repair Issues – When Tenants Can Take You to Court

Rental Repair Issues

The number of people residing in rental homes is rapidly increasing in the UK. Therefore, over the years, policies have been drafted to protect tenants and landlords.

The Homes Act of 2018

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act of 2018 became active in England to guarantee that rented properties are secure for human habitation throughout a tenant’s stay.

This shouldn’t be a problem for tenants and landlords with a good relationship and, of course, when properties are maintained appropriately throughout a tenancy.

But when landlords don’t carry out expected repairs or when tenants damage property or make it hard for landlords to carry out repairs, legal action can result. Knowing when to take legal or action or when legal action from a tenant can be expected is tricky if you’ve never gone down this road before.

What Factors Influence a Property’s Status as Fit or Unfit for Habitation?

First, let’s consider what factors influence the finding of the property being “fit” or “unfit” for human habitation.

The following factors come into play:

  • Repairs required
  • Ventilation
  • Natural lighting
  • Water supply
  • Damp levels
  • Sanitary systems
  • Safety of the structures within the home

The Homes Act ensures that landlords improve the condition of their properties to an acceptable level.

In this new law;

  • Landlords must keep their properties free from hazards that may cause serious harm to the health of their tenants or anyone living with them
  • The tenant can take legal action against the landlord when the correct process has been followed (as set out in the Act), and the landlord has not responded in a satisfactory way
  • Tenants are protected from the beginning of their tenancy throughout their stay. It expires when the tenant vacates the property

The Homes Act of 2018 allows tenants to take legal action against a landlord if they find the home unfit for habitation. A home can be considered unfit for human habitation if:

  • The supply of cold and hot water is interrupted or experiencing issues
  • Problems with lavatories and drainage exist
  • Inability to prepare and cook food or wash up after dining
  • The building’s structure is unstable
  • There is severe damp
  • There isn’t enough natural light

Landlords should also be aware of the following issues that tenants can use as the basis for complaints and legal action.

  • Presence of asbestos and metal files
  • The use mould treatments (biocides)
  • Fire outbreak or insufficient fire safety systems
  • Carbon monoxide (or faulty detection device)
  • Electrical hazards
  • Structural collapse
  • Water supply interruptions
  • Domestic and personal hygiene (refuse, pests, drainage, sanitation)
  • Presence of lead
  • Radon gas radiation
  • Physical injury from heavy amenities (think of a heavy door)

This list is not exhaustive and only lists some of the reasons you may be faced with an unhappy tenant!

How the Homes Act of 2018 Has Changed Things

The Act gives tenants the right to take their landlords to court for breach of contract because a property is not fit for human habitation. Before, only the local council could process these complaints on the tenant’s behalf.

When Can a Tenant Sue?

For a tenant to sue you, they must:

  • Have incriminating evidence against you
  • Be able to show they reached out to you first, giving you, the landlord, a request of 20 working days to either make the repairs needed or make an arrangement to do the repairs before taking any legal actions

For the suing process to begin, several phases of paperwork need to be completed, and then the tenant can either pay a legal representative or attend court themselves.

Failing to appear in court or have a representative appear for them may result in the judge dismissing their case, or the case may be considered weak.

The process is not cheap and can be time-consuming, so serious cases usually make it to court.

Is your tenant following the correct process? Not sure? Here’s a list of the steps taken when a tenant sues a landlord.

  • The tenant must write to the landlord notifying him of the repair problem and give him ample time to resolve the issue. This process is classified as a Notice of Unfitness.
  • If the landlord takes too long to resolve the issue, the tenant must write again to the landlord requesting they deal with the issue. In writing, the tenant should indicate the number of requests they made, what needs to be repaired, and the issues they have experienced due to the problem not being fixed.
  • The tenant can apply to the court to seek reparation as it is a breach of contract for the landlord not to take action.
  • It is the tenant’s choice to either choose a legal representative or represent themselves in court.

Why not visit or contact your local Ashtons branch?

The judge will decide based on how severe the problem is, how long it has lasted, and the damage it has brought to the tenant. If the process is successful and the court rules in favour of the tenant, he may order the landlord to:

  • Compensate the tenant
  • Carry out the repairs
  • Cover the tenant’s legal costs either partially or wholly

Most landlords are sensitive to the needs of their tenants when it comes to renting and leasing their property.

So, cases against a landlord are rare. And when there is such a case, it is likely to be against a landlord who is making unethical choices and breaking the law.

The government supports good law-abiding landlords who provide well-maintained and decent homes and ensures that those who do not follow the law face the consequences.

However, there are exceptions to this. A landlord is not required to remedy unfitness when:

  • The tenant is not a person; for instance, the tenant is a business, national park, local authority, or educational institution.
  • The issue is caused by unanticipated circumstances which the landlord could not control.
  • The problem is caused by things the tenant owns
  • The problem is caused by the behaviour of the tenant, which breaches the contract of tenancy
  • The landlord could not get access to the property even after making efforts to do so
  • The required repairs need freeholders and planning permissions that the landlord has been unable to acquire

Such measures have been a relief to landlords handling tenants who are not easy to deal with and who are irresponsible and reckless.

Shared Responsibility Between Landlord and Tenant

A landlord must follow the set rules and guidelines to ensure that their property is considered fit for human habitation.

The tenant, on their part, should not make intentional mistakes to jeopardise the landlord’s reputation. Both should try to coexist peacefully.

The Act puts in detail the types of issues that landlords will be expected to improve. Therefore, they need to familiarise themselves with the new policies.

Tenants should be observant when choosing a place to stay and put key factors like sanitation and water availability into contemplation before moving into a home to ensure that the home offers sufficient conveniences for their lifestyle.

In addition, if any safety issues are noted, or areas of the home are unfit, these should be brought to the landlord’s attention before the rental agreement is signed.

Final Thoughts

Should you allow your tenants to initiate legal action or take legal action yourself over repair issues?

While it is viable to do so in some cases, it’s in both party’s best interests to try to settle the issue amicably outside of court.

The process is costly and time-consuming – it might be easier for tenants to allow access to the property for landlords to carry out regular maintenance and repairs.

If you’d like to find out more about how Ashtons can help you contact one of our branches for further information.

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