In recent years we have seen a substantial increase in disrepair claims being brought against landlords, specifically against social landlords, such as Housing Associations.
As a landlord it is important to understand your obligations under the tenancy agreement and legislation put in place to protect tenants. As soon as your tenant alerts you to an issue which requires repair you should take prompt action as any delay is a disrepair claim waiting to happen. Once a letter of claim is served on you alleging disrepair, you are on notice and are required to adhere to the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims (England) (“Disrepair protocol”). This is a tool designed to avoid protracted litigation and allows for early settlement which saves both parties unnecessary costs.
Once you are aware of a claim for disrepair you should try and adhere to the Disrepair protocol and comply with its deadlines. The danger of not adhering to it is that it could result in you being liable for your tenant’s costs if the matter ever went to trial.
Your obligations as a landlord
As a landlord you are required to comply with the obligations set out in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which means keeping your property in good repair. Specifically, you should:
- Keep the structure and exterior of the property in repair.
- Keep in repair and proper working order any installations for water, gas, and electricity and for sanitation; and
- Keep in repair and properly working order any installations for heating and heating water.
In addition to the above obligations your tenancy agreement may include additional responsibilities with which you must comply.
Gaining access to carry out works
If your tenant reports an issue during the tenancy period - and before a disrepair claim is brought - you must make every effort to gain access in a timely manner and carry out the repairs promptly. Any delays could result in a claim for disrepair later down the line. Sometimes it may be difficult to gain access to carry out necessary repairs and maintenance. If your tenant obstructs your access to the property, you should consider seeking an injunction from the Court to grant you access.
Once a letter of claim is served on you, it is important to inspect the property, however you are not permitted at that stage to carry out works unless the tenant (or their adviser) confirms agreement. Usually, a schedule of agreed works will be drawn up as part of the terms of settlement of the claim. If you were to carry out repairs after a claim for disrepair is brought and without the tenant’s prior consent, you would be in direct breach of the Disrepair protocol.
Compensation and settlement
If you have been served with a letter of claim for disrepair it is important to deal with it promptly. If you require support or guidance, we can advise you and will respond appropriately to the claim on your behalf.
If you feel your tenant has a valid claim, we would always recommend trying to reach early settlement to avoid unnecessary litigation (and the associated costs). If, on the other hand, you feel their claim has no merit, we will defend it on your behalf and advise accordingly. It is important to note that if you do not deal with the letter of claim and act in accordance with the Disrepair protocol it is likely that the tenant will instruct their solicitor to begin proceedings against you in Court. This is when a landlord’s exposure to costs liability will increase significantly. Reaching early settlement where you believe a claim to have some merit will save you money in the long run.
Top tips for landlords
- Do not sit on a claim for disrepair, once a letter of claim is served you are required to act!
- If you consider there may be disrepair, then try and reach a settlement as early as possible to avoid costly litigation.
- Keep accurate records of when repairs are reported and take prompt action.
- Remember that your tenancy records are subject to disclosure whilst navigating the Disrepair protocol.
- If your tenant is not allowing you access to carry out repairs, you should be considering seeking an injunction from the Court to grant you access as a disrepair claim could still be brought against you.
Contact us if you require advice on the best way to deal with a claim for disrepair, act early and avoid additional unnecessary costs.