Landlords' and Tenants' repairing obligations
When renting a residential property through an Assured Shorthold Tenancy the landlord is responsible for certain repairs to the property, including the structure and exterior of the property. The landlord is required to keep the equipment for the supply of gas, electricity and water in a safe and good working order.
The tenant must ensure the property is kept clean and carry out any minor maintenance repairs as well as any other responsibilities which may be stated in the tenancy agreement.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out the rights and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant. Section 11 of the Act sets out who is responsible for repairing a property whilst it is being rented.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 refers to all short leases for residential property and tenancies agreed for a period of less than seven years i.e. Assured Shorthold Tenancies. Short leases cover periodic tenancies where the tenant has no fixed term agreement but rents the property on a weekly or monthly basis.
This Act came into effect on 30th October 1985 and applies to all short leases (of less than seven years) and periodic tenancies.
The Act states that where a short lease of less then seven years or periodic tenancy is in place then the landlord is responsible:
- to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling, including drains, gutters and external pipes,
- to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences) but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity, and
- to keep in repair and proper working order the installation in the dwelling for space heating and heating water .
(Section 11, Landlord and Tenant Act, 1985)
Exceptions to the Act
The Act also sets out exceptions to the repair duties where the landlord is not responsible:
- to carry out works or repairs for which the lessee is liable by virtue of his duty to use the premises in a tenant-like manner, or would be so liable but for an express covenant on his part,
- to rebuild or reinstate the premises in the case of destruction or damage by fire, or by tempest, flood or other inevitable accident, or
- to keep in repair or maintain anything which the lessee is entitled to remove from the dwelling-house.
(Section 11, Landlord and Tenant Act, 1985)
The Landlord's Responsibilities
The landlord is required to keep the property in good repair throughout the tenancy, so that it remains up to the standard it was at the start of the agreement. If the property was not in good repair at the beginning of the tenancy the landlord may be required to repair these aspects. However, "to keep in repair" does not refer to the landlord having to make significant improvements to the property, to suit the tenant.
The landlord is responsible to maintain installations for the supply of:
- Gas (servicing once a year by a registered CORGI gas fitter)
- Space heating and heating water
This would include cisterns, radiators, boilers, heating ducts, water tanks, baths, sinks and all the pipes for gas and water as well as electrical sockets and wiring throughout the property.
Exterior and Structure
The landlord is responsible for the exterior of the property and any structural repairs that may be needed, but this excludes garden walls, gates and outdoor paving.
The landlord would be required to repair any structural problems to the property which may occur. This could include damage to the:
- The roof
- The guttering
- Drains and exterior pipes
- Exterior walls
- Windows and doors (only as a result of structural problems, not damage by the tenant)
The landlord is not required to repair any interior problems such as internal plaster, internal doors or skirting boards, unless these are affected as a result of the exterior of the property not being in a good repair. In these circumstances the landlord would be required to ensure these aspects were restored to good working order, had they been affected by the poor exterior of the property.
The landlord would not be held responsible for any breakages caused by the tenant not abiding by the forms of the agreement and not using the property in a 'tenant-like manner'. For example, a broken window would not be the landlord’s responsibility to repair.
Notice of Repairs
Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is not required to carry out repairs until the tenant reports the defect.
The notice of repairs can be given verbally or in writing, but it is preferable to issue a written notice as proof of the landlord being made aware of the repairs required. The tenant must then give the landlord sufficient time to carry out the necessary repairs.
If repair work fails to be carried out by a landlord, the tenant will be required to show proof of the notice given in order to put forward a claim. Letters to the landlord notifying them of the state of disrepair or a letter from the landlord agreeing to repair the property can be used as proof when making a claim.
However, if the landlord does not wish to carry out the repairs the tenant feels are required, they may choose to evict the tenant at the end of the fixed period. For more on making a claim refer to the section on Court Action.
The Tenancy Agreement
Tenants' responsibilities for repairs can differ and be specific for each particular tenancy, so it is important that at the start of the agreement the tenant understands what repairs they will be required to carry out.
The landlord can not avoid any legal responsibilities relating to repair, which are stated in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, for example, by writing in the tenancy agreement that the tenant is responsible for the gas supply.
A landlord may choose to issue a tenant with other responsibilities, such as maintaining the garden, as this is not a legal responsibility of the landlord. If unsure whether the terms of repair and maintenance in the contract are legal and fair, it is advisable to check them before signing and agreeing to the terms of the tenancy.
If no written tenancy agreement is in place, or the responsibilities for repairs are not made clear in the agreement, the landlord is still legally responsible for carrying out certain repairs to the property, as stated in Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. See section on The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
If the landlord equipped the property with certain appliances at the start of the property they may be responsible for maintaining these and replacing them if they are faulty. However, this would depend on what was agreed at the start of the agreement and how important such items were to the tenant when agreeing to the tenancy. A tenancy agreement may give details as to whether the landlord or tenant is responsible for repairs or the replacement of certain appliances.
The Tenant's Responsibilities
Tenants also have responsibility for maintaining certain aspects of the property, such as the garden, furniture (which must be fire resistant) and any equipment supplied by the landlord. The tenant must ensure the property:
- Is clean
- Is not damaged by themselves or anyone else
- Is not smoked in by themselves or others
- Is looked after and general maintenance is carried out such as changing fuses, light bulbs and unblocking sinks if required.
- That the heating system is used responsibly, ensuring that no vents are blocked.
If the tenant chooses to renovate or change the existing equipment in the property without the landlord’s permission, such as the central heating, and problems to the structure or interior of the property occur, it would not be the landlord’s responsibility to repair any damage caused.
If a tenant causes any damage to furniture or the interior of the property then the landlord has a right to charge the tenant for any repair work carried out or replacements needed, through deducting damage costs from the deposit.
Furniture and Equipment
Equipment and furniture supplied by a landlord should be safe and in good working order. Upholstery items should be fire resistant and carry the fire safety standards label.
If a piece of furniture is no longer working or unfit to use as a result of everyday wear and tear, then the landlord is required to replace or repair the item. The unsafe equipment or furniture should be reported to the landlord, who will then decide if it is worth repairing or if it would be more viable to replace the item. The landlord cannot charge the tenant or withhold the deposit for items which are unusable due to everyday wear and tear.
However, if a tenant has damaged a piece of furniture or equipment through improper use or carelessness then the landlord is allowed to charge the tenant for the damage or withhold all or part of the deposit.
All electrical equipment provided by a landlord must be safe and in good working order. The landlord is responsible for repairing any broken or faulty electrical items. However, the tenancy agreement may state that the landlord is only responsible for certain electrical appliances, so it is important that the tenant is familiar with the terms of the agreement. The tenant is always responsible for repairing any electrical items which they own and have brought with them to the property.
The tenant would not normally be required to re-decorate the property at the end of the tenancy unless stated in the agreement. If the property’s interior decoration had been damaged the tenant may be required to re-decorate the property, or the landlord may retain some of the deposit to cover re-decoration costs.
If a tenant did want to re-decorate the property they should always seek the landlord's permission first and find out what changes they are entitled to make.
If the property is in need of decoration as a result of normal use and wear and tear then the landlord is responsible for re-decorating and should not retain any of the tenant’s deposit.
Communal Areas and Gardens
With regard to communal areas such as the entrance to a block of flats, the landlord would normally be responsible to maintain these areas of the property. The landlord would normally have a shared responsibility for these areas with the other flat owners.
A tenant may be responsible for maintaining the garden, if this is stated in the tenancy agreement. However, if it is not mentioned in the agreement then it would not be the tenant’s responsibility.
If a property is damp as a result of leaking pipes, a damaged roof or wall or an existing damp-proof course which is no longer effective, then the landlord would be responsible to carry out the necessary repairs.
Dampness in a property may be caused by condensation due to poor heating, insulation or ventilation and in these circumstances the landlord would be required to resolve these problems. In such instances the local Environmental Health Department could be involved to ensure the landlord takes the recommended action to eliminate dampness. The property may be visited by an Environmental Health Officer who will assess the property and make recommendations to the landlord for repairs to be carried out.
If the dampness in the property is as a result of condensation through tenants not drying clothes properly or improper use of heating and windows then the landlord would not normally be responsible to re-decorate as a result of the dampness.
Carrying out repair work
Normally a landlord will carry out or organise for repairs to be done, but in some circumstances they may refuse to do so. This could be due to the tenant being responsible for the damage. In such circumstances the tenant needs to get the landlord’s permission to carry out any repair work.
In some cases the landlord may accept responsibility for the repair work but be happy for the tenant to arrange for the work to be carried out. If the landlord agrees that the work is needed and is happy to pay for it, then the tenant may request this in writing before paying for any repairs. A landlord may require that a tenant gets a few estimates before agreeing for repair work to start on the property.
Any repair work carried out or organised by a tenant must be done properly and to a reasonable standard.
If repair work to the property causes serious disruption to the tenant then they may be able to claim a reduction in the rent for that period of time, known as rent abatement. This is claimed after the repair work has been completed. The rent reduction depends on how much of the property the tenant was unable to have access to whilst the repair work was being carried out.
If repair work to the property is extensive then the tenant may be asked to move to alternative accommodation. If a tenant refuses to leave the property for repair work to take place, then the landlord can only ensure they leave the accommodation by evicting them, or seeking a court order.
However, if the tenancy has not ended, then it may be possible for the tenant to claim back the alternative accommodation costs from the landlord.
We have an excellent free guide on the small claims court process and you can read it here.
If a landlord fails to carry out the repair work which they are responsible for then the tenant may try and obtain a court order to ensure the work is carried out. However, this process is costly and time-consuming.
Before taking court action a tenant should firstly:
- Check the tenancy agreement to find out who is responsible for the repair work.
- Notify the landlord in writing of the repair work required, if they are responsible for it. For more information see Notice of Repairs.
- Give the landlord sufficient time to carry out the repair work required.
- Allow the landlord access to the property to inspect the problem and organise a suitable time for repair.
With Assured Shorthold Tenancies a landlord is able to evict a tenant more easily than with other types of tenancy agreement. After the initial agreed period, which is normally six months, the landlord is able to evict the tenant, providing the tenant is given at least two months' notice. For more information see Protection from Eviction.
Therefore, if the tenant would like to remain in the property, the possibility of eviction needs to be considered carefully before deciding to go ahead with court action. In some cases, a landlord may prefer to evict a tenant rather than carry out the necessary repair work. Applying for a court order does carry the risk of eviction except for assured or regulated tenants who have better rights in relation to eviction.