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How to get repairs done at your privately rented home

If you're having difficulty getting your private landlord to repair your home, you don't have to give up. This guide will help you work out what options you have and decide what could work best for you.
How to get repairs done at your privately rented home
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Introduction

If you rent a home in England from a private landlord and you need repairs doing, then this guide is for you.

If you are living in something called ‘temporary accommodation’ you may think this guide doesn’t apply to you. But your temporary accommodation is probably rented from a private landlord. If so, you are a private tenant and this guide is also for you.

This guide explains:

  • who is responsible for repairing your home,
  • what you can do to get repairs done, and
  • what you can do if your landlord fails to repair something they are responsible for.

It also helps you work out your options and decide what to do next.

Can you spare a few minutes? 

We would be grateful if you could tell us what you think of this information by completing our Feedback survey. We will use your feedback to seek funding and improve our guides and make sure they are as helpful as possible.

July 2018
What’s the point in knowing your rights if you’re a private tenant?

As a private tenant, you will usually have a 6 or 12 month tenancy and your landlord will have the right to end your tenancy any time after that 6 or 12 month period finishes, without giving any reason. You may feel you can't ask your landlord for anything for fear of losing your home. But your position is not always as weak as you may think. It costs a landlord time and money to evict a tenant and they may prefer to do what you want as long as you have been paying the rent on time and looking after their property.

There are also very good reasons why it is useful to know a bit about the law anyway:

  • When you are negotiating with your landlord, to reach an agreed way of dealing with things, it helps a lot to know the law and how far it’s on your side. See Top tips for negotiating with your landlord
  • Complaining to your local council may offer you a more practical way of putting pressure on your landlord to repair your home. And it won’t appear to come just from you - especially if your landlord needs to be licensed. See Option 3 - complain to your local council?
  • If your current tenancy started after 1st October 2015 you may get some protection from being evicted by your landlord if you take the right steps. After 1st October 2018, it will no longer matter when your tenancy started – this protection may apply to you. See, I’m worried my landlord will evict me if I ask them to do repairs.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, perhaps about the effect of the disrepair on your family or because you’re worried about your landlord’s reaction if you bring up the subject of repairs, then perhaps a friend, neighbour or family member can sit and read this guide with you. You may want to read it through more than once as you think about your options and decide what to do.

Who is responsible for repairing your home?

If you are a tenant, your landlord must carry out some repairs whatever your tenancy agreement says – and many tenancy agreements give the impression that the landlord's responsibilities are much less than the legal minimum. Whatever kind of agreement you have signed, you can’t sign away your right to the legal minimum. And you’re still entitled to the legal minimum even if you have no written tenancy agreement.

Some landlords get a letting agent to manage their property for them. Then in practice you would be dealing with the letting agent when you need repairs done, although the legal responsibility remains the landlord’s.

Have a look at our chart to find out which repairs you have the right to expect your landlord to do and pay for and which you are responsible for. (Always check your agreement as a good agreement may be clearer on the details.)

Item

Your landlord is legally responsible

You are legally responsible

Roof, walls, plasterwork, floors and windows, staircases and banisters

 

Gutters, downpipes and drains

Boiler

Replacing a light bulb

Water tank

Fitted gas and electric fires, radiators, water heaters

Basins, baths, sinks and toilets

Blockages caused by you or your visitors, for example in basins, baths, sinks, toilets, gutters, downpipes and drains.

Electrical wiring, gas and water piping and meters

Accidental damage caused by you or one of your visitors

Normal wear and tear caused by everyday living to items normally the landlord’s responsibility, for example, a tap needing a new washer.

Damage to a neighbouring tenant’s home

Responsibility could be either the landlord’s or the tenant’s depending on what caused the damage.

 

White goods, such as a washing machine, fridge or cooker.

Responsibility could be either the landlord’s or the tenant’s depending on who owns the appliance and what caused the disrepair.

 

Mouse or other pest infestation

Responsibility could be either the landlord’s or the tenant’s depending on how the pests are getting in.

Damp/mould

Responsibility could be either the landlord’s or the tenant’s depending on what caused the damp and/or mould.

What you can do to get repairs done

Tell your landlord about the disrepair and ask them to fix the problem within a reasonable time. What counts as ‘a reasonable time’ depends on how serious the disrepair is and how urgently the problem needs fixing. So, if you’ve no heating and it’s January, your landlord should fix the problem very quickly. If it’s July and the weather is warm, it’s reasonable for your landlord to take a bit longer to fix it unless you or someone living with you has a serious health condition that requires the heating to be on.

Your landlord isn’t usually responsible for the disrepair and can’t mend things if they don’t know about it. So you must tell them (or their letting agent if it is the letting agent that is responsible for organising repairs) if something goes wrong and you want something done.

Check what your tenancy agreement says about who you should contact and how you should contact them. But usually you can text, email or write to your landlord or their letting agent. See How to write a letter to your landlord or letting agent for help drafting your own email or letter.

Keep the text, email or copy of your letter so you can show when and how you told your landlord about the disrepair in case you have to take further action later. If you contact them by phone, keep a log of the calls to and from your landlord or their letting agent. It’s best to follow up a phone call with a text, email or letter confirming your understanding of the outcome. For example, ‘We spoke on the phone this morning. You are sending a plumber round tomorrow some time between 08:00 and 12:00. I will be there then. Please let me know if for any reason the plumber can’t make it.’

'I’ve had problems with my landlord in the past. I’d rather live with the problem than have to contact them again'

The difficulty is that if you don’t tell them and the disrepair gets worse, it could damage their property and you could be responsible for the cost of repairing the damage. You risk losing part or all of your deposit – or more.

'I’m worried my landlord will harass me if I ask them to do repairs'

Harassment is a criminal offence. Your landlord or their letting agent could be guilty of harassment if they behave in a way that’s intended to put you off getting repairs done. Harassment can be things like entering your home without your permission, opening your post, cutting off your gas or electricity, threats of violence, or sending builders round in the middle of the night.

Contact your council’s tenancy relations service if you are worried about the possibility of harassment, see Further help. In an emergency, you have the right to contact the Police.

'I’m worried my landlord will evict me if I ask them to do repairs'

There is a risk this could happen. But finding a new tenant will cost them time and money, so they may not be in a rush to get rid of you just because you ask them to carry out repairs.

If your current tenancy began after 1st October 2015, you may have some protection against your landlord deciding to evict you – at least for a while. After 1st October 2018, it will no longer matter when your tenancy started – this protection may apply to you. If you are in this situation, try getting some legal advice because the law in this area is complicated. And it's even more important that you complain about the disrepair in writing to your landlord. See Further help.

For more information about eviction notices, see our other guide How to deal with a section 21 eviction notice.

'I’m worried my landlord will put the rent up if they spend a lot of money mending things'

Your landlord may put the rent up in this situation. But check your tenancy agreement. What does it say about rent increases? Even if a rent increase is possible, if you’re the kind of tenant who always pays their rent on time and keeps the property looking good, your landlord may want to keep you and be prepared to negotiate a smaller increase.

Letting your landlord in to do repairs

If you want your landlord to carry out repairs you must let them in (and/or their letting agent, builder or other tradesperson), so they can look at what needs to be done and carry out the necessary repairs. You are entitled to get reasonable notice of their visit. If your landlord asks today for access to your home tomorrow and you can’t arrange to be there at such short notice, it’s fine to say no and negotiate an alternative date and time - assuming there’s no emergency, such as rain pouring through the roof.

How to write a letter to your landlord or letting agent

On the left is information to help you write a letter to your landlord or letting agent. It tells you the things you should put in your letter and how to begin.

On the right is an example of a letter asking a landlord to carry out repairs. If you want more help writing your letter, try asking your local advice agency or a family member, friend or neighbour. See Further help for information about how to find local advice agencies.

Information to help you write your letter

 

Letter asking a landlord to do repairs

Put the date you write the letter at the top of the page.

May 1st 2016

Start your letter:

Dear [insert landlord’s name or Sir/Madam if you are writing to a letting agent]

Dear [insert landlord’s name],

Explain who you are and why you are writing

I rent [insert address of the home you rent from your landlord] from you. I am writing to tell you about the repairs that need doing at my home.

List the disrepair

There is a damp patch on the kitchen wall which gets worse when it rains. There are two electric sockets close to this area of damp.

If you think the disrepair is affecting your or your family’s health, or causing a risk to health and safety explain that here.

I am worried about water getting into the electrics and causing a risk to the health and safety of me and my family.

Tell them what you want them to do

Please contact me as soon as possible, but by Friday at the latest, to arrange a time to come and see what needs to be done and agree a timescale for completing the repairs.

Tell them how they can contact you

You can phone me on [insert your phone number] or email me at [insert your email address].

End your letter:

Yours faithfully,

[Insert your name]

Yours faithfully,

[Insert your name]

When you have finished writing your letter, read it back through more than once. Does it say everything you want it to say?

Top tips for negotiating with your landlord

1. Know your rights

Before you begin negotiating, take steps to find out about your rights and obligations. This information will help you know what you must do and the limits on what you can reasonably expect from your landlord. Don’t assume your tenancy agreement has got the law right or tells you everything there is to know.

2. Have a plan

Plan what you are going to ask for and how. Anticipate your landlord’s objections or potential problems and think about how you might respond to them. Having a plan can help you remember what you want.

3. Be flexible

You may need to be flexible at certain points in a conversation with your landlord or their letting agent. For example, perhaps you want them to redecorate 4 walls following some repairs but they are only offering to redecorate 2 walls. Maybe you can agree on 3 or ask them to give you the paint so that you can redecorate the rest of the room? Decide in advance what you are willing to compromise about, and how far.

4. Be calm, confident and assertive

Some landlords can be hostile or dismissive, even aggressive. Stay calm and try not to let yourself be intimidated.

5. Ask questions

If your landlord or their letting agent presents you with new information or options, don’t be afraid to ask questions until you are confident you understand what has been said. Don’t agree to anything until you are sure you know what it means.

6. Know when to walk away

You may need to end the negotiation in order to do more research or think about your options more carefully, without pressure. If the negotiation is starting to get out of hand and feel stressful, it may be best to end the conversation and try again another time.

What you can do if your landlord fails to repair something they are responsible for

‘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:

  1. You must notify your landlord about the disrepair and give them a reasonable chance to do the work.
  2. Your landlord must have failed to do the repairs (and not because you refused to allow them in).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. If the work still hasn’t been done, you can go ahead and have it done.
  6. 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.

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.

How to write a letter to your local council

On the left is information to help you write a letter to your local council. On the right is the letter Myriam finally sent to her council to give you an example of the sort of details you should put in your letter.

Information to help you write your letter

 

Myriam’s letter about the disrepair in her home

Put the date you write the letter at the top of the page.

July 31st 2016

Tell the council who you are and the name of your landlord and their agent (if they have one).

I am a tenant of 43A, Berry St, Anytown.  My landlord is Mr M. Smith. The agents are Anytown Properties.

Explain why you are writing

I am writing to complain about the disrepair problems at my home. My landlord has not fixed them even though I have told him about the problems more than once. I have also phoned Anytown Properties and told them about the problems. They promised to get back to me but I haven’t heard from them.

List the disrepair

The water heater isn’t working and we haven’t had hot water for 3 months.

There are wet patches on the ceiling in the children’s bedroom.

Tell them when and how you reported the problem to your landlord or their agent.

I texted the landlord the day after the water heater broke and spoke to him on the phone later the same day.

I noticed the wet patches about 2 weeks later and, again, texted Mr Smith to tell him about them. I got no reply.  So I emailed him reminding him that he’d promised to get back to me to tell me when someone was coming to repair the water heater. I also told him about the wet patches in the children’s bedroom.

If you think the disrepair problems are affecting your or your family’s health, explain that here.

My daughter has asthma and I’m worried that the damp will get worse and begin to affect her health.

Explain the effect of the disrepair problems on your and your family’s daily life e.g. ability to keep clean, do homework, eat a meal together

We have to wash in cold water and bath at my Mum’s house which involves a round trip of 30 minutes each way on the bus. This is inconvenient, expensive and time consuming.

Tell them what you want them to do

Please will you come and inspect my home to check whether it is harmful or a risk to me or my children’s health or safety.

Tell them how they can contact you

My phone number is 12345 678910. Please contact me to arrange a time to visit.

End your letter:

Yours faithfully,

[Insert your name]

Yours faithfully,

Myriam Jones

When you have finished writing your letter, read it back through more than once. Does it say everything you want it to say?

Getting legal advice

Don’t be put off getting legal advice about what you can do if your landlord fails to repair your home when they should because you think you can’t afford to pay a lawyer.

Legal aid

Legal aid is a government scheme to help people who live on a low income, have few savings and meet specific other criteria, pay for legal advice, representation and other help.

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 can check if you are financially eligible for legal aid here: Check if you can get legal aid.

‘Before the event’ insurance

This is also known as legal expenses insurance and is often added to car, household contents and buildings insurance policies. It can also come as a benefit attached to some credit cards. Check your policies to see if you have it.

A lawyer or other adviser should be able to check the terms and conditions of any legal expenses insurance you have and tell you what it will and won’t cover. You may find you have access to free legal advice on a range of subjects. It’s also possible your insurer may cover the cost of claiming compensation for disrepair from your landlord. Contact them and ask.

Conditional fee agreements

You may have heard these called ‘no win, no fee’ agreements. They are a contract between you and your lawyer which means your lawyer will only get paid for their work if you win your case. You still have to pay your landlord’s costs if you lose. If you aren’t eligible for legal aid or legal aid isn’t available in your case and you don’t have any legal expenses insurance, then a conditional fee agreement may be the only way you can fund your claim.

You can find a lawyer who specialises in housing law here: Find a housing lawyer.

If you can’t find a housing lawyer to help you, there are lots of other places to get housing advice. For more information about where to go for advice, see Further help.

Further help

Shelter  - You can call Shelter's free housing advice helpline on: 0808 800 4444. The line is open from 8am – 8pm on weekdays and 8am – 5pm on weekends, 365 days a year. Calls are free from UK landlines and all major UK mobile operators. There’s also a ‘chat with us’ service on their website.

Shelter also has 17 advice centres in England where you can go to get personal, face-to-face advice from a housing specialist. To find your nearest centre see: Shelter advice centres.

There is a search facility on Shelter’s website which you can use to find other services that provide advice on housing, debt, benefits, care and health needs: Shelter - Advice finder.

AdviceUK is a network of advice centres. You can search for your nearest advice centre here: AdviceUK - looking for advice?

Citizens Advice is the national body for Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB). Scroll down their homepage to search for a CAB near you.

Community organisations – some local community organisations offer housing advice, and sometimes in languages other than English. If there’s a community organisation near where you live, it’s worth asking them if they can help. If you don’t know whether there is one, ask your local council if they know of any.

Law Centres employ solicitors and other workers who specialise in helping people with housing, employment, immigration, education, community care, and benefit problems. You can search for your nearest Law Centre here: Law Centres Network.

LawWorks connects people in need of legal advice and assistance with lawyers willing to meet those needs for free. It supports 170 legal advice clinics across England and Wales. The majority of these law clinics take place in the evening and provide free initial advice to individuals with a particular focus on social welfare issues, employment law, housing matters and consumer disputes. You can find a clinic here: LawWorks clinics network.

Lawyers - You can find a lawyer that specialises in housing law at Find a housing lawyer. You can also find solicitors that do housing law at Find a legal aid adviser or family mediator.

You can also use Advicenow’s Help Directory to find help.

What does it mean?

Conditional fee agreements – are a contract between you and your lawyer which means your lawyer will only get paid for their work if you win your case. You still have to pay your landlord’s costs if you lose.

Legal aid - is a government scheme to help people who live on a low income, have few savings and meet specific other criteria, pay for legal advice, representation and other help.

Possession order - an order made by a court ordering a tenant to leave their landlord’s property on a particular date.

Tenancy agreement – a contract between you and your landlord which sets out the basis on which you are allowed to live in the property you rent.

About this guide

Disclaimer

The information in this guide applies to England only.

The law is complicated. We recommend you try to get advice from the sources we have suggested.

The cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We have included them to help you think about how to deal with your own situation.

Acknowledgement

This guide was originally written and produced by Advicenow thanks to funding from the TDS Charitable Foundation and updated thanks to funding from Allen & Overy.

Advicenow would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide. 

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