Tenant Tips

Unfit For Habitation

David Rutland
Written by David Rutland

Lazy landlords aren’t a new phenomenon – but how can you force them to make repairs to your home?

The wind is howling through the gaps around your window panes and there’s a steady drip of water from the missing roof tiles, through the lightbulb socket, directly onto your head.

You wrap your duvet around your shivering body, and, dodging the gaps in the floorboards, head down to the kitchen to turn the heater up.

The boiler’s dead.

It’s time to phone your landlord to get the situation sorted out. But what makes you think that this time will be any different from when you called him about the dry rot creeping in along the timbers? Or about the backed up drains, the smell of which caused your pet canary to spontaneously combust?

Lazy landlords are not a new phenomenon, and they’re unlikely to disappear in the near future. After all, repairs cost money.

But if you’re renting a property, your landlord has responsibilities to you beyond simply turning up at your front door every month to collect a wad of cash.

If you have a tenancy agreement, it’s usually spelled out in black and white that that the property owner has a responsibility to maintain the property in a reasonable condition. Even if you don’t have a tenancy agreement, the responsibilities are still there.

The first thing you need to do is to actually tell them there is a problem. If your landlord doesn’t know about the mysterious fungus which lives under your bathtub, they can’t do anything about it. And if the fungus gains sentience and attempts to take over the world, it’s kind of your fault.

You also need to make a note of when you told them. Landlords aren’t obligated to act instantly to fix whatever’s troubling you, but they do have to fix the problem in a reasonable amount of time. If it’s going to end up as a dispute, you’ll need evidence of what you told them and when. Sending a dated letter or an email may help.

Most landlords would rather get on top of problems when they’re small, rather than letting them spiral out of control. It’s in their interests to stop the property deteriorating, and a couple of reminders should do the trick.

But if letters, emails, and phone calls aren’t working, it’s time to get serious.

If the lack of maintenance is causing a threat to your health or safety in your own home, then your next stop is the council’s environmental health department.

It needn’t be as obvious as nails poking out through the floor, and even damp qualifies as being hazardous. Simply telling your landlord that you’re planning to contact the council may spur them into action. But if not, the council may order them to do repairs. No. It’s not nice, and it can feel like you’re descending into a legal quagmire – but hold your breath, because it’s about to get deeper.

When properties fall into poor repair, items can become damaged. Sometimes these items are yours. Is your antique Spanish guitar mouldering to nothing because of the damp in the air? Your expensive electronics damaged by water pouring through the roof?  Are woodworm gnawing away at your original, priceless Shakespeare first folio?

Itemise it, photograph it. Get expert estimates for repair.

And then send through a bill.

Yes. You can actually sue your landlord to not only make repairs, but for damage caused by his inaction. It’s expensive, but there’s a possibility that some solicitors may take your case on a ‘no win – no fee’ basis. Or you can simply add on your legal expenses to what your landlord owes you.

Your final option is to have repairs carried out yourself, and deduct the cost from your rent. Again, you need to keep records for this. Get quotes and mail them to your landlord. Explain what you’re doing and why. Document everything. If he doesn’t respond, then have the work carried out.

The one thing you can’t ever do is simply withhold rent as a hostage against work being done. If you try this, he will probably evict you.

Photo Credit: Gareth Williams

About the author

David Rutland

David Rutland

With a decades long career as a professional writer, David Rutland has worked as a journalist on local, national, and international newspapers, before embarking as a career as a freelancer.

He has ghostwritten several books, as well as producing travel guides, manuals, humour articles, and more internet blogs than you can shake a stick at.

David maintains offices in East London, but spends most of his time in a shed near Liverpool, where he writes, as well as developing apps for Android.

What people say about him:

Arrogant and abrasive - Alan Davis, Editor in Chief North Wales News Group

An absolute liability - Matt Simms, Editor, Vale advertiser

Are you sure this won't get us all arrested? - Mohana Prabhakar, Editor in Chief, Apex News Group

Go and have a shave. You're all prickly - Mrs Donna Rutland.

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