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What are tenants’ legal responsibilities for repairs and maintenance?

tenant unblocking a sink

Whilst there is, quite rightly, much discussion in the media about the legal obligations of landlords, there is less recognition that tenants themselves have a number of legal responsibilities.

The relationship between landlords and tenants is two way, with both owing each other obligations.

This blog post is an objective guide to the responsibilities of tenants for repairs and maintenance, including keeping on top of condensation and mould.

>> Related Post: What are landlords’ obligations to carry out repairs?

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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.

What does a “tenant-like manner” mean?

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.”
Lord Denning, Warren v Keen (1953)

10 examples of repairs and maintenance that tenants are responsible for doing themselves

Here are 10 specific examples of what behaving in a “tenant-like manner” means in terms of the repairs and maintenance that tenants need to do themselves:

  1. Changing light bulbs and fuses.
  2. Keeping the inside and outside of the property clean. This includes cleaning windows inside and out.
  3. Disposing of rubbish in the bins provided and putting the appropriate bin out for collection on bin day.
  4. Unblocking sinks, baths and showers. This includes clearing out hair from the traps in showers and baths, and using lime scale products in appliances.
  5. Bleeding radiators and resetting the pressure of the boiler if and when needed.
  6. Maintaining the garden, including lawn mowing and sweeping leaves, unless the tenancy agreement says the landlord will arrange this.
  7. Keeping windows condensation-free – this means opening windows, clearing condensation off windows with a squidgy, if need be, and using any extractor fans to air the room and prevent mould.
  8. Tenants must pay to repair damage they cause themselves or which their guests cause. For instance, from an over-flowing bath or a flood from a shower tray due to hair in the plughole.
  9. Repairing damage beyond reasonable fair wear and tear.
  10. Not flushing wet wipes or sanitary products down the toilet as that can block the waste pipe.
tenant putting wet wipe in toilet with no sign - cicle with diagonal slash
Tenants must not flush wet wipes down the loo as this can block the waste pipe

Tenants’ responsibilities for reducing condensation and cleaning mould

Damp and mould are very common in rented properties. It’s the landlord’s the responsibility to identify the underlying causes of the damp and mould, and if it is due to water ingress leaks or disrepair, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix this. For instance, misaligned downpipes, water bridging the damp proof course, blocked guttering and leaking waste pipes.

However, tenants’ responsibilities for keeping the property in a “tenant like manner” extend to reducing condensation and cleaning mould off walls.

10 practical tips for tenants to reduce condensation and mould

  1. Heating the property adequately, which means over 14oC.
  2. Allowing the external walls to breathe by keeping furniture at least 10cm away from the walls.
  3. Wiping away the condensation from windows and open bedroom windows for at least 10 minutes every morning.
  4. Not drying clothes in bedrooms. Tumble dryers should be vented to the outside or condensing ones. If the tenant cannot dry clothes outside, the best choice is using an airer over the bath with the door shut, the window open and the heating on.
  5. Cleaning mould away with anti-mould products if it re-appears, and keeping a close eye for mould in problem areas like bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms.
  6. Checking for mould regularly behind furniture, and on the tops of skirting boards, especially on outside walls.
  7. Covering saucepans with lids when cooking, and using the extractor fan (if there is one).
  8. Putting the extractor fan on (if there is one) when having a bath or shower, opening the window for at least 10 minutes after finishing, and closing the bathroom door behind so the moisture doesn’t spread to the rest of the property.
  9. Telling the landlord or letting agent if the mould comes back or if they are unsure sure what they need to do.
  10. Reporting any new leaks, damaged sealant or damp patches promptly.

>> Related Post: Landlords’ responsibilities for damp and mould

Mould in bathroom showing black mould on grouting behind tap
It’s the tenant’s responsibility to clean mould off tiles and around the bath

What must tenants do when repairs are needed?

It’s important that renters tell the landlord or letting agent 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 makes a good tenant?

A big part of being a good tenant is being responsible. This means looking after the property, telling the landlord or letting agent when something needs fixing, paying the rent in full and on time, and complying with the tenancy agreement.

More more detail on the red and green flags when choosing tenants, listen to this podcast episode from Good Landlording on the media player below. You can read the show notes here: What makes a good tenant?

Final thoughts

Just as good landlords to comply with the spirit and intent of the law, it’s important for tenants to look after the property they rent properly. It’s part of being a good tenant.

>> Listen: Good Landlording podcast

What are tenants' legal responsibilities for repairs and maintenance? Woman unblocking a sink

5 thoughts on “What are tenants’ legal responsibilities for repairs and maintenance?”

  1. Andrea LEVY-GREENIDGE

    Thanks for imfomation but how does this effect people who lease which is now in marriage lease now is this Been spoken about to lower the price that needed to extend for 99years how does this effect us to pay less to extend the years

  2. Like the clarity on ‘ tenant like manner’. It is worth doing short video on how to bleed rads and pressuring the boiler as there are risks involved if they pressurise to too high a bar.

    I do a ‘pre-winter’ property health check up for tenants where I do bleed rads/check boiler pressure/check boiler temp for rads and hot water, check lighting as it is getting darker and no hassle to change a bulb or two (even check the cooker hood extractor bulbs are working) clear gutters and drains as it gives me a good excuse to do an informal inspection anyway.

  3. Hi Suzanne

    Your tenants’ responsibilites for repairs and maintenance blog is good.

    I suggest you add a section on repairs of white goods appliances. This is poorly understood, seems to differ between private and social tenants and there is conflicting advice on the web eg Shelter says private tenants are responsible for repairing a broken washer unless the tenancy agreement says otherwise (which I now think is correct).

    But the Open Rent Community forum and London Landlords says the Landlord is responsible if he supplied the washer and if it is listed in the inventory (wrong I think).

    Of course, good landlords may and often do choose to do the repairs and also replace broken appliances. But all private landlords need to do is make them safe – not make them work! Seems crazy to me. Has the Renters Reform bill addressed this muddy puddle?

    1. My approach is that if I supply the appliance, I fix it if it goes wrong, unless I’ve supplied it on an “as is” basis. That said, I usually don’t supply appliances unless they came with the property when I bought it, eg a fitted kitchen.

      Sure, my approach may go beyond the law, but I have long term tenants and want them to be happy.

      The Renters Reform Bill doesn’t impact any of this so far, but we’re waiting for the detail of the Decent Homes Standard for the PRS.

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