2020-10-16
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Managing disrepair claims

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Posted by Mary Rouse on 15 October 2020

Mary Rouse - Property Litigation Lawyer
Mary Rouse Partner

Disrepair doesn’t have to mean despair!

Are you being swamped with disrepair claims?  Responding swiftly and settling where there’s even a remote prospect of them succeeding at court is the key. 

If you don’t,  you could find yourself paying out thousands - not to your tenant, but in legal costs to their solicitors.  If liability is admitted, you are also liable for the other side’s ‘reasonable’ legal costs.  Sadly, they are rarely reasonable but challenging them simply increases the cost to you. 

We tell our RP clients at once whether we think the claim against them has legs. If there is any merit in it, we will negotiate settlement swiftly before legal fees reach astronomical heights. 

Make sure your business recognises a disrepair letter of claim and that it is referred to the right person as soon as it arrives, before it travels round your entire organisation.

Then pass it to your solicitors, and they will get you out of what could otherwise become a very big and very costly hole!

As a landlord, you have obligations under S11 of the Housing Act 1987 to keep your property in good repair. In particular, you are responsible for:

  • The structure and exterior of the property.
  • The installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation.
  • The installations for the supply of space heating and water heating.
  • The communal areas and installations associated with the property.

Your tenancy agreement may give you further responsibilities.  Your tenant also has responsibilities and these are set out in the tenancy agreement.

Increasingly, tenants are bringing claims against landlords for failing to maintain their properties and allowing them to fall into disrepair. If you fail to carry out repairs in a timely manner after your tenant has reported an issue, you could find yourself subject to a claim.

Compensation

We are seeing a trend of tenants pursuing these types of claims. Quite often the first time you will be made aware of the tenant’s claim is when a formal letter arrives in the post asking you to pay compensation to the tenant and the tenant’s legal costs.

If you receive such a letter you must act promptly. Contact us and we can review the allegations and your records or those of your managing agent to determine whether the tenant has a valid claim and advise you what to do next.

It’s not enough to say that you have managing agents and it was their job. If they haven’t done their job properly, it is you who is liable if the tenant decides to sue.

If the tenant has a valid claim, we can help you negotiate completion of any repair works and a settlement that makes commercial sense. If the tenant’s claim has no merit, we can defend the claim robustly on your behalf if legal proceedings are begun.

If you fail to deal with disrepair and your tenant goes to the council to complain, and if you are served with an improvement or works notice, this will prevent you from using a S21 Notice to get your property back so it’s vital you act promptly where you receive a report from your tenant.

Disrepair claims can also be used to halt a claim for possession.  If you have issued a claim due to rent arrears, a tenant can counter-claim because of disrepair.  This can have the effect of dragging out possession proceedings for months.  We can help you have a defence and counter-claim struck out if the claim has no merit, or negotiate a set off of the disrepair claim against the arrears for you. We will work with you to achieve a solution.

Personal injury claims

Don’t forget that disrepair can also lead to a personal injury claim and these can be costly for landlords. You should never delay in dealing with a report of disrepair

To have the best chance of defeating a disrepair claim, you need good evidence:

  • make sure you keep good records of when the disrepair was first reported.
  • Make a note of any visits by contractors and ask them for a written report – just a short one – after their visit.
  • If a contractor thinks that there is a problem because of something the tenant has done it’s important to record that.

Finally, regular inspections of your property can reduce the chance of a disrepair claim. If your tenant won’t allow access, that’s a breach of tenancy and we can help with that too!

About the author

Mary Rouse

Partner

Mary is an experienced property litigation lawyer.

Mary Rouse

Mary is an experienced property litigation lawyer.

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