We are often approached by tenants of privately-let city centre apartments about what they can do where there is disrepair in their flat. I will look at some frequently asked questions.
What is my landlord’s responsibility?
Your tenancy agreement will set out who is responsible for what. In general, though, the landlord will typically be responsible for the structure and exterior of the flat; basins, sinks, baths, toilets and their pipework; and water and gas pipes, electrical wiring, water tanks, boilers, radiators and other heating systems.
What is my responsibility as tenant?
Again, the tenancy agreement will likely explain exactly what you are responsible for. As a general rule, you will usually be responsible for using the flat in a “tenant-like” way (including minor repairs like changing light bulbs, making sure you don’t cause any damage to the flat, using any fixtures and fittings properly), reporting any required repairs promptly to your landlord, and providing access to your landlord for works to be done.
My landlord won’t repair the problem. Should I stop paying my rent?
My advice to tenants in this situation is often that, although it may seem tempting to withhold your rent while there are issues in your flat, you should always continue to pay your rent. You have agreed in your tenancy agreement to pay your rent, and therefore stopping payment could lead to a case of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’.
If you do have rent arrears, you may have a defence of “set-off” if your landlord issues possession proceedings. It means that you accept you owe your landlord money, but you claim the right to set-off against that debt any money due from your landlord because of their failure to do repairs.
Should I do the work myself?
If your landlord refuses to do the works, or is not responding to your messages, it may be advisable to carry out minor works yourself. If you are going to do the repairs work yourself, you will be responsible for the quality for the works, so it is important that you use an authorised contractor.
You may be able to take the cost of the repairs out of your rent, but using rent to pay for repairs is risky (for the reasons set out above), and I would not advise doing this unless you have taken certain steps on the lead up to it, to avoid a claim for possession in the future.
What else can I do?
I would recommend keeping a log of all your attempts to contact your landlord, and copies of any letters or emails sent.
If the disrepair is substantial, it may be possible to take action in the courts either for an order which will make the landlord do the works (“specific performance”), or for money to compensate you (“damages”). Also, if the disrepair has caused you health issues, you may have a personal injury claim against your landlord.
As a last resort, it may be worth considering moving out as a result of the disrepair. However, it is important to remember that you may need to give notice to leave, or you may be liable to pay rent after you have left the flat.
As a final note, all tenancy agreements are different, and I would recommend you check yours before taking any action. If in doubt, seek early legal advice.
If you are a landlord or tenant and would like to discuss any issues regarding disrepair, contact me on 0113 297 1875.
(Article first published in Leeds City Dweller Magazine – Issue 115)