Landlord Repair Obligations and Access to a Tenanted Flat
Where the term of the tenancy does not exceed 7 years, landlords are under an obligation to make sure that:
- The structure and exterior of the property are kept in repair;
- The installations in the property for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation are kept in repair and working order; and
- The installations for heating and hot water are kept in repair and working order.
These obligations are often contained within the tenancy agreement but even if they are not, they are implied by the statutory obligation under s11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (repairing obligations in short leases).
Note: There is a difference between the obligations of just repair and repair/keep in working order with the latter being a higher obligation requiring those areas to be capable of functioning for the purpose of which they are intended.
All landlords must have a clear procedure in place for tenants to follow when repairs are required and whether informed verbally or in writing, both parties should keep a record of all problems reported. If no agent is used, tenants should be left with a list of the names and number of contractors that the landlord uses. Tenants should never be left with no one to contact.
The Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC) has outlined the recommended time scales for landlords to respond to a request for repairs. Depending on the problem, some need to be treated more urgently than others:
- Emergency response – gas and water leaks, serious electrical faults;
- 24 Hour response – heating and water systems and other non life threatening electrical problems eg broken windows if not caused by tenant negligence;
- 72 Hour response – kitchen appliances and other items that affect the daily life of a tenant;
- Less urgent responses – broken lawn mowers, a fallen fence panel or a dripping tap.This section does not extend to actually carrying out the repairs, because the law states that the landlord must do the repair, so it is implied he or she has the right to enter to do it.
Access to the Property
Under s11 (ss6) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 there is a process that all landlords must adhere to when accessing properties to carry out repairs which reads as follows: ‘in a lease in which the lessor’s repairing covenant is implied there is also implied a covenant by the lessee that the lessor, or any person authorised by him in writing, may at reasonable times of the day and on giving 24 hours’ notice in writing to the occupier, enter the premises comprised in the lease for the purpose of viewing their condition and state of repair’.
So landlords wishing to carry out repairs do not have the right to turn up unannounced to check on a property or a tenant. It must be agreed mutually beforehand if they wish to enter for a specific purpose, it must be at a reasonable time and after giving the tenant not less than 24 hours notice in writing. More notice can be given if the works are to be prolonged or disruptive and in such cases tenants should be given details of the works to be carried out and a rough idea of a finishing time or completion date.
If the landlord or the contractors attempt to enter without permission the tenant can launch a claim for trespass as they have the same rights over the premises just as an owner-occupier does. Therefore landlords should be wary about entering the property when the tenant is not there. Where a tenant has given permission, but has advised they will not be at the property themselves, it is recommended that landlords/agents are best accompanied by a witness.
LANDLORD FAILURE TO REPAIR
If landlords fail to meet their obligations then the tenant can take civil action in the County Court, claiming compensation for damage and inconvenience resulting from the breach. If a payment of compensation is not a sufficient remedy, then s17 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (specific performance of landlord’s repair obligations) means that the County Court can make an injunction requiring the landlord to fulfill the express or implied repairing terms of the tenancy agreement. If the landlord again fails to carry out the works required by the court order, the landlord, (or his agent), can in very extreme situations be committed to prison for contempt. The County Court can alternatively direct that the repairs be undertaken by, or on behalf of, the tenant at the landlord’s expense.
Damages (compensation) can still be claimed even if the works have been carried out by the time the case reaches court.
Note: It has been held that breach of the repairing covenants can also be considered to be breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment
Tenants can also ask their local authority to carry out an inspection of the property under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, that of the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System. This is where local authority inspectors carry out an assessment of the property to find health and safety defects that include fire risk, damp, overcrowding, poor lighting, and pests. Once the defects are identified they consider the likely harm that could happen as a result of such findings and use a scoring system to decide the seriousness of such defects of which there are 29.
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 s21 notice if the local authority serves a formal enforcement notice requiring the landlord to carry out works.