‘We had no hot water for 3 months! We thought we couldn't sort the problem out except by trying to get the landlord to arrange the necessary repairs.’ Myriam
There are other things you can do if your landlord refuses to carry out repairs that they are responsible for or just doesn’t get round to doing them.
But before you decide what to do next you need to know what type of tenancy you have and whether that means it is easy or difficult for your landlord to evict you. If it’s very easy, you may decide it’s more important for you not to risk being evicted than to get the repairs done. If you are more secure in your home you may decide to go ahead and do what you can to get the repairs done, especially if they are affecting your or your family’s health and safety.
If you’re not sure what type of tenancy you have, you can use Shelter’s Tenancy Rights Checker to find out: Tenancy rights checker - what type of tenancy do I have? If you can’t use this tool yourself or with someone else’s help, you may want to get some advice, see Further help.
Option 1 - withhold your rent?
This may be the first thing you think about doing. But there is no right in law to stop paying your rent in protest at your landlord’s failure to do repairs. In any court proceedings you will be in the wrong, and your landlord will be entitled to start eviction proceedings before your tenancy ends. Also, even if you mean to put the rent aside for when you need it, it’s all too easy to spend it, leaving you in rent arrears.
Option 2 - use your rent to pay for repairs?
Where it is clear that your landlord has failed to carry out repairs that they are legally responsible for doing, you have a legal right to carry them out either yourself or by hiring a professional to do them. You can deduct the cost from your rent. So if the repair costs £150 and your next rent payment is £450, you can just pay the balance of £300. But – you must follow the right procedure and act reasonably, much more reasonably than most people feel like being when faced with a landlord who isn’t doing what they should. Whether you do the work yourself or get someone else to do it, you are responsible for the quality of the repair and putting anything right that goes wrong. You should get some advice before deciding to go for this option to make sure it’s the right one for your situation, see Further help.
Before you can use your rent money to pay for repairs:
- You must notify your landlord about the disrepair and give them a reasonable chance to do the work.
- Your landlord must have failed to do the repairs (and not because you refused to allow them in).
- You must then give your landlord more time to do the repairs as well as telling them that you will do the repairs yourself if they don’t do them by the deadline you give them. This is best put in writing, so you can show a court you have done it if necessary.
- If you are using a professional, get three estimates, and send copies to the landlord with a final warning that you’ll go ahead with the lowest estimate unless they do the work.
- If the work still hasn’t been done, you can go ahead and have it done.
- Send a copy of the bill to the landlord and ask them to send you the money to pay the bill. If the money doesn’t arrive, pay the bill and deduct the cost from your next rent payment. This option may not be for you if you aren’t able to pay the bill first out of your own money.
Get some advice first before taking these steps, see Further help.
Option 3 - complain to your local council?
All councils have the power to investigate complaints from private tenants about their housing conditions. The name of the team responsible for doing this often varies from council to council. It may be the environmental health team, the housing standards team or the tenancy relations service. In some councils the tenancy relations service operates via a Housing Advice Centre or the housing options team.
You can complain to your local council about your landlord’s failure to carry out repairs. You can do this in person or by phoning the council but it’s best to complain in writing if you can. See How to write a letter to your local council for help drafting your own letter. If you would like someone to help you write your letter, try contacting your local advice agency to see if they can help or asking a family member, friend or neighbour. See Further help.
You may think complaining to your council is just a waste of time, so why bother.
It’s true that councils are overstretched, but that just means you need to make a strong case. Can you attach a couple of photos to your letter showing the problem? The law means that councils must take notice of things that are a danger to health and safety, for example exposed wiring, a dangerous or broken boiler, a leaking roof, mould on the walls or ceiling, pest infestation, broken steps at the top of stairs or a lack of security.
The council can come and inspect your home and send a notice to your landlord with a list of repairs (and sometimes improvements as well) that need doing. If these aren’t completed by the deadline they give they can prosecute the landlord for a criminal offence.
As long as your current tenancy began after 1st October 2015, you may have some protection against your landlord deciding to evict you if you go for the option of complaining to your local council about your landlord's failure to repair. After 1st October 2018, it will no longer matter when your tenancy started – this protection may apply to you. If the council sends a notice to your landlord, your landlord usually won’t be able to serve an eviction notice on you for six months.
If the council decides the problem is not serious enough for them to send a notice requiring works to be done, it might be a good idea to ask them not to contact the landlord at all rather than the landlord finding out about your complaint without you having any protection against a section 21 notice. For more information about eviction notices, see our other guide How to deal with a section 21 eviction notice.
If you report disrepair to your local council and nothing happens, you can use the council’s official complaints system to complain about their lack of action. Councils often explain how to do this on their website. If you can’t find any information there or you don’t use the internet, phone your council and ask for details. Another thing you can do to chase up the council is to find out which councillor is responsible for housing and go along to their surgery. Explain to them what you are dissatisfied about. They may be able to speed things up for you.
If that doesn’t get you anywhere and your council still hasn’t done anything about the disrepair, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. This is a free service. If you want their help to make a complaint you can call them on 0300 061 0614. Lines are open Monday - Friday from 8.30am to 5pm.
Another good way of getting your council’s attention is if you think that the building you live in ought to be licensed and isn’t. There are 2 different kinds of licence your landlord might need. Your landlord may need a licence if the property you rent is lived in by more than one household. You can check on your council's website, or ask them, whether the property needs a licence and if it does whether it has one. You can also ask your council if they run a landlord licensing scheme. If they do, check if your landlord is licensed.
Option 4 - go to court?
This can be a useful option where there has been serious disrepair for a while which your landlord has failed to deal with, and there is a risk to your or your family’s health and safety. Legal aid is available, depending on your financial circumstances, if there’s a serious risk of harm to you or your family as a result of living in your landlord’s property. You should try and get legal advice if you are in this situation, see Getting legal advice.
Court action brings the risk that your landlord will serve you with an eviction notice, so you may prefer to complain to your local council. This option may give you some limited protection against eviction, see Option 3.