Why don’t social landlords do repairs? And will their reasons stand up in court?
I am often contacted by tenants and leaseholders whose landlords have avoided doing works for years despite being aware of the problems. On many occasions contractors have visited again and again to inspect or do minor jobs without resolving the problem. Would it be cheaper to just do the repair properly the first time? Often, yes. If you add the costs of litigation then almost certainly. So why not do so?
As a starting point, many landlords do repairs effectively and quickly. I see the times when this doesn’t happen. If you have found this article it may be because you are in the unfortunate position of not having had repairs carried out quickly. Even if the majority of repairs are carried out effectively, the issue is more than an anomaly. Landlords don’t carry out repairs effectively for a number of reasons:
- Their systems may be very poor, leading to different people looking at the matter each time and not recording information in such a way that the history of the matter can be seen. Or it would be that the repair itself is a complex one to solve and they are not employing the right people to resolve it. They might not pass the right information onto workmen, so that they come ill-equipped or without authority to do the necessary works.
- By design. Only a minority of tenants will sue so overall it works out cheaper to put off repairs and hope that tenants give up, as many will. If you add up the attendances of contractors over years it may work out the same cost as employing someone to do the job properly straight away. But this will be spread over many years’ worth of budgets.
What do landlords say to justify not doing works or defend disrepair claims?
- The tenant hasn’t allowed access for the works to take place.
So long as access is needed inside the house or flat to do the works, this is a valid reason to not be able to do works, and a valid defence. Tenants are obliged to allow access on 24 hours’ written notice. This can be difficult for tenants who work, especially if they are expected to wait in for half a day or all day. However it is required. If a landlord has not given written notice but just attended, the tenant is not obliged to provide access. A tenant cannot be expected to wait in all day. There is often a dispute about whether access has been denied or not, for example with workmen saying that no one let them in, and the tenant saying they waited in and no one came.
- Mould is caused by condensation.
Prior to the Fitness Act, a landlord only had civil liability for damp and therefore mould if it formed in consequence of disrepair to the structure or exterior (such as rising damp) or damage to services (such as a leaking pipe). Landlords would therefore often argue, usually successfully, that mould arising from a design issue such as cold bridging or poor ventilation was not their problem. Since March 2020 there has been an implied term into all tenancies (not long leases) that a property should be fit for human habitation. That means that design issues causing condensation are now a landlord’s problem. Despite this, many landlords continue to deny liability for these issues. If the mould is caused by the tenant treating the property in an ‘untenant-like manner’ or breaching their tenancy agreement the landlord may not be liable. Whether mould has been caused by a tenant’s use of the heating or failure to ventilate or a design or repair issue is a factual issue to be decided in each case.
- Repairs were done and a new issue cropped up, which was again repaired.
A roof may have been leaking for ten years. A landlord may argue that the tenant reported it in May 2011, a repair was done in August 2011, a new leak occurred in September 2011, it was fixed in December 2011 and so on for ten years.
The landlord’s obligation is to do repairs within a reasonable time. This strategy is an attempt to argue that they have done so. In the above scenario, if the roof started leaking again a short time after the last repair, it is unlikely that the roof was ever properly repaired. Again, the facts of each case will be different.
- The landlord can’t afford to do the works.
This may sometimes be true, but it is no defence, whatever the landlord’s status.
- The insurers/developer will do the works or cover the costs and are causing delays.
This comes up often, especially on newly built properties. It is often the case that the landlord wants to resolve a dispute with the insurer or developer about who should pay before starting any works. Whoever is liable, it does not interfere with the landlord’s obligation to the tenant to complete works within a reasonable time. Who organises and pays for the works is not the tenant’s concern (save that if the tenant is a leaseholder they should not be charged via the service charge if a third party is paying).
- They will not show tenants reports commissioned on the property.
Landlords do not have to release these reports unless they contain personal information about the tenant, in which case that personal data should be disclosed if the tenant makes a subject access request.
If your landlord will not do repairs and you need help, call 0207 940 40460 or email email@example.com and we will see if we can help.