The question of responsibility for repairs can often be a bone of contention between landlords and renters. The responsibility for repairs are set out in various laws in the UK. As they are established by statute, any clauses in tenancy agreements that try to change this responsibility, are automatically null and void.
What are these responsibilities for repair in the UK private rented sector?
In essence, landlords must look after their properties and keep them in good repair, so they’re fit for people to live in. If landlords keep this general rule in mind, they’re unlikely to go wrong.
Keeping up with repairs is not just the law, it’s also good business sense. A neglected building will soon lose its value if problems, such as leaking guttering, are not dealt with, and lead onto more serious problems like damp. It’s clearly also important to look after the property for the benefit of the renters who live there.
In this blog post, I’m going to explain which repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and which are the tenant’s in the eyes of the law. I’ll also discuss what action renters can take against landlords who don’t comply with their repair obligations.
I also comment on the latest figures from the English Housing Survey published on 12 July 2023 about the state of housing in the PRS, and the wait for detail about the new Decent Homes Standard that is supposed to come with the Renters Reform Bill.
Last updated: 27 September 2023
Quick Links: Landlord repairing obligations
- Overview of landlord repairing obligations in England
- Landlord repair obligations: Section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
- What makes a property fit for human habitation?
- What are HHSRS Hazards?
- How many properties in the PRS have Category 1 hazards?
- Which repairs and maintenance are the tenant’s responsibility?
- What other obligations do tenants have when repairs are needed?
- What should a landlord do if a renter reports an item needing repair?
- How long do landlords have to carry out repairs?
- What if the landlord doesn’t carry out the repairs?
- Proposals for a Decent Homes Standard for the PRS
- The Decent Homes Standard and the Renters Reform Bill
- Final thoughts
Overview of landlord repairing obligations in England
The repairing obligations for landlords are contained in different pieces of overlapping laws in the UK. These legal obligations apply automatically by law, and as explained in the introduction, this means that landlords can’t wriggle out of them in the small print of tenancy agreements.
The three key pieces of English legislation are section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (s11 LTA), the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 and the Housing Act 2004. The first two are enforceable by tenants in court. The second and the third are enforceable by the local authority.
Tenants should report issues that need repair or maintenance to their landlord or managing agent quickly. Technically the landlord’s repair obligations don’t arise until the landlord or agent become aware of the issue. For instance, by the tenant reporting it. However, it’s in the interest of all for the repair to be done promptly. Nothing good will come from a delay, unless it is to investigate the causes of a complex problem.
As tenants can be reluctant to report small issues, I inspect my properties myself every six months. Not so much to check up on how the tenants are looking after the property, but to check what may need repairing or decorating. All of my rental properties are Victorian houses, and there’s always something needing attention. Of course once I see a problem myself, I can’t deny being aware of it. But I’d much rather solve problems sooner rather than later.
>> Related Post: Landlord Guide: How to deal with damp and mould
Landlord repair obligations: Section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
1. Repairs to the structure and exterior
Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, Landlords must carry out repairs to the roof, drains, gutters, external pipes, windows and exterior doors and main access to the property. This also includes fences, gates gates and garden sheds. It doesn’t include maintaining the garden, because that’s the tenant’s responsibility, unless the tenancy agreement says otherwise.
A common area of neglect is the guttering and downpipes. Although it may seem trivial, dripping water can do significant damage to the brick work, leading to damp and mould. It’s therefore something I always specifically ask my tenants about during my six monthly landlord checks. That way, I hopefully nip it in the bud, before it becomes a big problem.
I took the photo of the misaligned downpipe above shortly after buying this Victorian house from another landlord. The image on the left below shows the damage the dripping water had caused to the bricks. I arranged for the replacement of the down pipe, and the repointing and repainting of the wall. You can see the repaired wall in the right hand photo. Not only was it unsightly, but the damage caused damp inside.
2. Keeping gas, electrical and water installations in good repair
Landlords are responsible for keeping the gas, electricity and water installations in good repair:
- Gas installations. Landlords must obtain an annual gas safety certificate for gas installations, eg boiler, gas hob or oven. Although it’s not a specific legal requirement, it’s best practice to arrange the boiler service at the same time, and it is arguably keeping the boiler in good repair. This is often a condition of boiler guarantees. In between time, if the tenant reports a gas installation needs repair, the landlord must arrange for a prompt repair.
- Electrical installations. A condition report of the electrical installations (EICR) must be carried out at least every 5 years. The landlord must arrange for the remediation of any unsatisfactory installations highlighted in the report within 30 days. If the landlord supplies any electrical installations, such as a washing machine, they are responsible for its repair. If the tenant bought the washing machine, it’s for the tenant to arrange its repair, not the landlord.
- Water and sanitation. The landlord is responsible for repairs to basins, sinks, baths, showers and toilets. However, the tenant has a duty to take care of the property, and not cause damage to installations, for instance by flushing down the toilet wet wipes or female hygiene products. Tenants should also clean them, for instance by removing hair from the shower trap. This is not the landlord’s job. (See below for more information).
- Heating and hot water. If the boiler breaks down in between services, or if there’s no hot water, the landlord must arrange the repair.
Landlords must provide safety operating instructions for all equipment and appliances and locations for stop cocks and isolator switches. It is a good idea to include this in a property manual.
>> Related Post: Landlord Guide: Electrical Safety Testing
3. Repairs in communal areas
For flats, the landlord has responsibility for repairs in the communal areas of the building, like stairwells or halls. This may be in conjunction with the owner of the freehold, if it is a separate person.
For HMOs or bedsits/studios, the landlord is responsible for maintaining communal areas and shared facilities like bathrooms, kitchens, toilets and gardens. Some landlords include the cost of cleaning communal areas in the rent.
What makes a property fit for human habitation?
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 obliges landlords to ensure their rental properties are fit for human habitation. This is enforced by local authorities, as well as by tenants through the courts.
What does this mean in terms of a private landlord’s responsibility for repairs? Firstly, it doesn’t include those repairs that are the renter’s responsibility (see below). It also looks broadly at the state of the property and also the circumstances of the tenant.
In coming to a decision whether a property is fit for human habitation, a court will look at the following:
- The condition of the building and its state of neglect.
- The existence of a “serious problem” with damp, or inadequate ventilation.
- Whether there are problems with the supply of hot and cold water, or drainage from the toilets.
- Whether there are adequate facilities to prepare and cook food, and wash up. Click on this link here for more on what this means in terms of the landlord providing cooking facilities.
- Whether any of the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005, introduced by Housing Act 2004, are present, HHSRS Hazards.
What are HHSRS Hazards?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System is a risk assessment tool which local councils use to assess hazards in residential properties. It is a list of 29 circumstances that can give rise to hazards which have a potential for harm for physiological or psychological reasons, infection or accidents.
The HHSRS Guidance states that disrepair is likely to contribute to a number of hazards arising from the cold, falls, fire, damp and mould growth, electrical hazards, break ins and structure failure.
HHSRS assessments categorise hazards into two categories:
- Category 1 hazards pose an imminent risk to health
- Category 2 hazards are serious hazards, but are unlikely to cause direct harm in the near future.
Local councils must take action against the landlord if they identify category 1 hazards. They can also decide to take action for category 2 hazards.
Examples of HHSRS Hazards include:
- fire hazards which would involve exposure to “uncontrolled fire and associated smoke”
- health hazards arising from exposure to damp and mould growth, over-crowding, unhygienic storage of rubbish
- threats to physical and mental health as the result of noise
- falls from stairs and steps, level surfaces such as uneven patios, broken or uneven steps
- structural elements – the whole or part of the property may give way
When looking at HHSRS Hazards, the local authority will take into account the circumstances of the particular tenant(s). For instance, whether they would be vulnerable to one or more hazards due to age, disability or another reason.
Due to this subjective element, HHSRS Hazards are something to consider particularly closely if you have tenants with mobility or other health issues.
>> Related Post: Landlord Guide: How to deal with damp and mould
How many properties in the PRS have Category 1 hazards?
According to the Private Rented Sector of the English Housing Survey published in July 2023, 14% of private rented properties are estimated to have Category 1 hazards. The survey also estimates that 23% of properties in the PRS fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
>> Related Post: What the English Housing Survey tells us about the PRS
Which repairs and maintenance are the tenant’s responsibility?
Renters have responsibilities to behave in a “tenant-like manner”. This somewhat archaic turn of phrase dates back to a case at the Court of Appeal in 1953.
Clearly written a time when the assumption was that the renter would be male, Lord Denning famously explained what a tenant must do:
“The tenant must take proper care of the premises. He must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler; he must clean the chimneys when necessary and also the windows; he must mend the electric light when it fuses; he must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his waste. In short, he must do the little jobs around the place which a reasonable tenant would do. In addition, he must not, of course, damage the house wilfully or negligently.”
Examples of repairs a tenant is responsible for
Here are some examples of what behaving in a “tenant-like manner” means in terms of the repairs tenants need to do:
- Changing light bulbs and fuses.
- Keeping the inside and outside of the property clean.
- Disposing of rubbish in the bins provided and putting the appropriate bin out for collection on bin day.
- Unblocking sinks, baths and showers. This includes clearing out hair from the traps in showers and baths, and using lime scale products in appliances.
- Not flushing wet wipes or sanitary products down the toilet.
- Bleeding radiators and resetting the pressure of the boiler if and when needed.
- Maintaining the garden, including lawn mowing and sweeping leaves, unless the tenancy agreement says the landlord will arrange this.
- Keeping windows condensation-free – this means opening windows and using any extractor fans to air the room and prevent mould.
- Tenants must pay to repair damage they caused themselves or their guests. For instance, from an over-flowing bath or a flood from a shower tray due hair in the plug hole, or wet wipes blocking the waste.
>> Related Post: Tenants’ responsibilities for damp and mould
What other obligations do tenants have when repairs are needed?
It’s important that renters tell the landlord when repairs are necessary, other than those they should be carrying out themselves (eg unblocking sinks or changing a light bulb). Landlords should encourage renters to do this. It’s in everyone’s interest for landlords to attend to repairs promptly.
Tenants must also give “reasonable access” to the landlord, or someone working on their behalf, to carry out the repairs.
Renters are entitled to “quiet enjoyment” of the property. Consequently, landlords should give at least 24 hours’ notice requesting access at a ‘reasonable’ time of the day for repairs and maintenance. However, in an emergency, the landlord can give less notice. For instance if the boiler stops working, it’s for the benefit of the renter to have it fixed as soon as possible, and not wait 24 hours.
Renters also must give access for routine maintenance and safety checks, such as boiler servicing and gas safety certificates.
If tenants aren’t happy with their landlord’s response, and believe the property isn’t fit for human habitation, they can complain to their local authority. They can also take legal action themselves against the landlord in court.
What should a landlord do if a renter reports an item needing repair?
The first response should be for the landlord to thank the renter for reporting the issue. It is far better to nip maintenance problems, like a slow water leak, in the bud, than deal with the consequences of months or years of the water leak.
Assuming is not something the renter should do themselves, like changing a lightbulb, the landlord should do what is reasonable in the circumstances.
Landlords should not penny pinch on repairs. It’s a false economy. Just like a car, properties that have regular “services” perform better over the long term. Happy renters are likely to stay longer, reducing voids, when the property is unoccupied.
How long do landlords have to carry out repairs?
Landlords should do repairs within a “reasonable time” from when the tenant report the problem. The law doesn’t define how long a reasonable time is, and it will depend on how urgent or serious the problem is, and also the time of year.
If the boiler breaks, the landlord (or their agent) should organise for a qualified gas boiler engineer to visit the property to repair the boiler as soon as possible, say the same or next day. A plumber should attend the same or following day if there is a burst water pipe, as well as the tenant turning off the stopcock to prevent further damage.
If the central heating isn’t working in the middle of winter, that is more urgent to fix than if it breaks in summer.
Some issues take time to fix, and trades people or the item might not be available straight away. For instance, if a window needs replacing, there is usually a lead time of around 2 months to order a new one of the right size. (Windows might seem to be a standard size, but they’re not.)
The landlord may choose to leave some minor issues until later, if they aren’t a “hazard” for HHSRS purposes, and are not urgent. However, the delay must be reasonable.
What if the landlord doesn’t carry out the repairs?
Local council investigation
Local councils have powers to investigate properties that are unfit for human habitation. As discussed above, this includes poor housing conditions, disrepair, fire safety, no heating or hot water, and damp and mould. All of these can put health and safety of the occupant at unnecessary risk.
If a tenant reports a property to the local council as being unfit for human habitation, the council will carry out an inspection. If appropriate, the council can serve either an ‘improvement notice’ or a ‘notice of emergency remedial action’. This means the landlord cannot legally evict the tenant for 6 months using section 21. Councils have the power to impose a civil penalty or up to £30,000. They may also take the landlord to court, who will face a potential unlimited fine and/or being a ban from being a landlord.
Tenants can also take their landlords to court if the home is not fit for human habitation under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. The court can require the landlord to carry out repairs or put right health and safety problem. It can also order the landlord to pay compensation.
What are retaliatory evictions?
A small number of landlords respond to tenants who report repairs by serving Section 21 eviction notices on them, instead of making the repair. Section 21 ordinarily enables landlords to terminate a tenancy with 2 months notice without giving a reason, provided it doesn’t expire in the initial fixed term period. This is retaliatory eviction and is illegal.
In the event of a retaliatory eviction, the tenant can report the landlord to the local council under section 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015. Click here for more information from the government website.
The Renters Reform Bill contains provisions which would, if implemented, remove Section 21 from the Housing Act 1988. This would reduce the scope for landlords to evict tenants who report repairs.
>> Related Post: What abolishing Section 21 means for landlords
Proposals for a Decent Homes Standard for the PRS
The government has consulted on introducing a new Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector. The consultation asks renters, landlords, councils and housing groups what the minimum standard for privately rented homes should be.
It proposes using the same four part test as for social housing. However, instead of stipulating the minimum age for bathrooms and kitchens in its definition of reasonably modern facilities, the proposal is more general:
- a kitchen with adequate space and layout, appropriate to the property (sink, cupboards, cooker space, worktops, etc)
- an appropriately located bathroom and WC
- adequate external noise insulation, and
- adequate size and layout of common entrance areas for blocks of flats.
>> Related Post: The Decent Homes Standard
The Decent Homes Standard and the Renters Reform Bill
The press release that accompanied the publication of the Renters Reform Bill on 17 May 2023 stated that the government would “bring forward legislation as part of the Bill to apply the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector for the first time”. The stated aim was be to give “renters safer, higher quality homes and remove the blight of poor-quality homes in local communities”.
However, nothing was in the draft Bill about the Decent Homes Standard and nothing has been published since.
>> Related Post: The 10 key changes in the Renters Reform Bill
Landlords’ legal responsibilities for repairs and maintenance have developed over the years in a piecemeal way. Consequently, they’re in different pieces of overlapping legislation, making it difficult to navigate. With the proposed introduction of a Decent Homes Standard for the private rented sector, the obligations on private landlords will increase further. This is not before time as almost a quarter of properties in the PRS are estimated not to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
In short, landlords should ensure their rental properties are well maintained and fit for human habitation. They also mustn’t contain serious hazards that may harm the people living there. And when a tenant reports an issue, it’s important to respond promptly.
After all, it’s good business to look after all income-generating assets. All the more so because landlords are providing homes for people to live in.
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