The latest English Housing Survey shows there were over 75,000 ‘non-decent’ properties in the UK, and this number is significantly increasing each year. At the firm, we have witnessed first-hand the number of clients looking to commence court action against a neglectful landlord. However, our clients represent a very small percentage of renters who are living in disrepair – most tenants do not even know their own rights, and the potential actions available to them.
In regards to privately rented property, if your tenancy began after 24 October 1961, and it is not for a fixed term of 7+ years, your landlord is bound by s.11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which implies into every tenancy agreement an absolute obligation to keep the structure and exterior of the property in repair, and to keep in proper working order all appliances relating to the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating, and heating water. This is a continuous obligation which applies until the day your tenancy comes to an end.
As for Councils or other social landlords, the same applies. All social landlords have a legal duty of care to ensure that a tenant’s home meets the Decent Homes Standard, as well as all other legislation which sets standards for health, environmental health, safety, and fitness for human habitation.
It goes without saying that a landlord, social or otherwise, will not be bound by this obligation if they have not been made aware of any issues of disrepair – there are several cases which establish this as law. This does not have to be in writing, but it makes the process of taking court action more straightforward, so it is always advisable to keep your disrepair reports in writing, via email or otherwise. However, if you have not reported issues in writing, but you can prove that your landlord is aware of the disrepair in your property (or should be), you may still pursue a claim.
If you have made reports of disrepair in your property, and your landlord, housing association or local authority has failed to respond adequately, you should contact a solicitor to assist you with bringing a housing conditions claim.
A housing conditions claim involves sending a letter to your landlord, putting them on notice that you intend to take them to court, and setting out all the disrepair of which they have been notified, and which they have failed or refused to repair. The letter will include a date by which the landlord should have issued their response – if there is no response by this date, you may start court proceedings.
Depending on the type of disrepair, it might also be appropriate to organise a surveyor to come to your house and draw up a report of the issues and how they might be affecting you. If the matter goes to court, this report can be used to support your claim.
There are two things to ‘seek’ when bringing a housing conditions claim. The first is called an injunction or order for specific performance, and is essentially a Court Order telling your landlord to do the repair they have failed to do. They can be held in contempt of court if they do not complete the work ordered. If your disrepair requires urgent action, for example if you are having issues with water supply or heating, you may even be able to obtain an ‘interim injunction’ which can be obtained by the Court much more quickly.
The second is damages, which is the legal term for compensation, and can be awarded by the Court if the Judge finds that you are owed money as a result of the disrepair issues. You might be awarded General Damages, which are awarded for distress, loss (which cannot be exactly calculated) and inconvenience suffered. If you have lost specific items because of disrepair, for example, if there is mould in your property which has destroyed some of your belongings, you may also receive Special Damages, which are calculated based on the market value of actual items you have lost. Finally, Exemplary Damages are awarded when the conduct of the Defendant (i.e. your landlord, housing association or local authority) is found to be purposefully malicious. This might apply to you if you can prove that your landlord refused to take out the repairs because, for example, of a personal vendetta, or because they were discriminating against you.
It is extremely important that all tenants understand their rights when it comes to repairs and maintenance of their property, but the law can be very confusing, and this may result in people continuing to reside in properties which are unsuitable for them to live in. If you are in any doubt about the state of your property, and believe you might be able to take further action against your landlord, contact our housing team and begin the process of exercising your tenants’ rights.
Are you living in poor housing conditions? If your rented property falls below a reasonable living standard and is in need of repairs to prevent mould, damp and more, call to find out how we can help you to get the best outcome possible.
Where legal aid is not available, we may be able to take your case on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, also known as a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA).
Author Annabel Steele is a caseworker in the housing department at Duncan Lewis Solicitors and has experience handling a wide range of social housing matters. She is supervised by housing director Manjinder Kaur Atwal.
Contact Annabel on 020 3114 1243 or at email@example.com
Contact Manjinder on 020 3114 1269 or at firstname.lastname@example.org