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Back to Basics – Landlord’s repairing obligations

Repairing obligations are often not taken very seriously by Landlords. This is a huge mistake which can result in courts awarding tenants damages for the disrepair, which in more serious cases can virtually eliminate a tenant’s rent arrears and make recovery of possession under section 8 all but impossible.

The repairing obligation applies where the tenancy term does not exceed 7 years, where the Landlord has been given notice of the issue, and been given a reasonable time to make a repair. These obligations are often contained within the tenancy agreement but even if they are not written into the tenancy agreement they are implied by the statutory obligation under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

Contractual obligation
Most tenancy agreements contain provisions to ‘repair’. It is for the parties to decide what obligations and standards to impose. However, it is important to understand what has been agreed before the agreement is signed. Keeping a property in ‘repair’ is not the same as keeping the property in ‘good condition’. ‘Good condition’ is a wider obligation which could see the Landlord carry out works he was not expecting. Most tenancy agreements also have obligations extending to white goods and other appliances supplied by the Landlord.

Statutory obligation
The statutory regime will only apply if the tenancy term does not exceed 7 years. The Landlord is required to keep:

  1. the structure and exterior of the property in repair;
  2. the installations in the property for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation in repair and working order; and
  3. the installations for heating and hot water in repair and working order.

It should be noted that some obligations require just repair where others also require working order. Working order is a higher obligation requiring that those things are able to fulfil, to a minimal degree, the function for which they were intended. The obligation to repair the structure and exterior will extend to plaster work in the property (but not decorative condition) and will cover the immediate exterior such as steps up to the front door but will not usually extend to the path or garden.

Entry to carry our repairs
The Landlord may enter a property to carry out repairs pursuant to the contractual and statutory obligations provided that they have given reasonable written notice to do so. 24 hours is usually sufficient unless the works are going to be prolonged or highly disruptive. Where a Landlord is notified of a defect he must give a Tenant reasonable notice of the intention to carry out repairs. Ideally, the Landlord should also provide the Tenant with details of the nature of the works and the likely completion date.

Housing Health and Safety Rating System
Local authorities may carry out assessments of property which they consider to be hazardous. Landlords can be subject to enforcement action which will include paying for any repair works that the local authority has carried out. In addition, a Tenant who complains to the local authority about repairs may be able to defend a section 21 notice if the local authority serves a formal enforcement notice requiring the Landlord to carry out works.

Comment
The repairing obligations on Landlords are fairly clear in most cases but can become complex in more marginal cases. Generally, a reasonable approach which demonstrates to the Tenant that their complaints are being taken seriously is effective. In more complex cases early legal advice is very helpful in order to avoid making costly errors.

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