How to resolve your property repair issues?

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Repairs to properties are both an eventuality and a royal nuisance. However, the effects of repair work, including who is responsible and the costs associated differ depending on the type of ownership. Tenants of an AST, leaseholders and homeowners are all subject to potential repairs and this article identifies the obligations of each, providing some helpful links and guidance of where to turn in certain situations.

Repairs to a rented property (AST)

As a tenant, you have a legal right to live in a property that’s fit for habitation and the landlord is responsible for common repairs. These can include:

  • the structure of the property
  • basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary fittings
  • heating and hot water systems
  • anything you damage through attempting repairs provided the landlord

consented to this

These do not normally include repairs that you are responsible for causing as a tenant (unless through fair wear and tear). In order for landlords to carry out remedial works, they (or their agent/builder) may need access to the property and this should be provided by tenants, however normally with at least 24 hours’ notice.  

Despite this information being common knowledge for many landlords and tenants, there are still very disturbing situations where landlords refuse or ignore major repair work, sometimes leaving tenants without hot water, heating or living in damp/mouldy conditions.

In the Housing Ombudsman case of Ms G v Woking Borough Council, 24 February 2021, the ombudsman found the landlordguilty of severe maladministration after it left an 83 year old elderly resident with no heating or hot water for almost three years. Ms G had complained frequently about the lack of heating, to which the landlord responded by capping her gas supply. Ms G even had relatives pay for her to sleep in hotels during the winter to keep warm. Ms G was awarded £6000 compensation for her distress and was provided with an alternative heating arrangement.

Compensation is another issue for tenants as there are frequent stories of landlords refusing to engage with repairs and then only once tenants state they are taking legal recourse, do they offer a notional form of compensation. This is what happened in another Housing Ombudsman Service case, Mr G v London Borough of Newham, 3 March 2021. In this case, Mr G’s property suffered damage due to a leak and when he notified the landlord, was told to carry out repairs himself. When Mr G asked for the reimbursement of £2296.85 for repairs and redecorations, the landlord ignored him for over a year before finally offering a measly £100 in compensation. The Ombudsman found the landlord liable for £800 compensation and to set out a repayment plan for reimbursing the tenant in full.

If experiencing repairs issues as a tenant, you must first notify your landlord and give an appropriate amount of time for them to complete the works. However, if these discussions fail there is always recourse to the Housing Ombudsman, or you can take your landlord to court (County) where you can represent yourself to state your case and ask for repairs to be taken. Independent legal advice, is always recommended before action.

Structural repairs to Leasehold Properties

Leasehold repairs is an especially hot topic at the moment, given the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in 2017. In May, the Fire Safety Act 2021 gained Royal Assent, and this holds building owners more accountable to the risks posed by the external façade of buildings and individual entrance doors to flats. In tandem, the government has pledged £5 billion investment in building safety, in order to fully fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres (6 storeys) and over in England.

However, many leaseholders have not been protected from covering the costs of remedial works, with freeholders calling on leaseholders to pay for the works themselves. The Government has stated, it ‘intends to develop a long-term low interest loan scheme under which “no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding’, but this is not currently protected by law.

Other issues include leaseholders complaining of disrepair and lack of maintenance to their tower blocks and buildings, with landlords (who tend to be local authority housing associations) ignoring requests for remedial work. However, these landlords then then decide to carry out substantial work all in one go to the entire building, leaving leaseholders responsible for paying £1000s as part of their service charges. One caller to BBC’s File on Four stated she was asked to pay £189,000 for the works the council had decided to undertake all in one go. She claims if there had been proper ongoing maintenance of the property, a lot of the work would not have been needed.

If you’re a leaseholder and facing repairs issues, use the following resources for more guidance:

Repairs for homeowners

It may seem obvious that once you’ve purchased your own home, you as the homeowner are solely responsible for the repairs. But what about in a situation where the home was built with defects.

There have been growing reports from the Homeowners Alliance, that some new homeowners have had various issues with their brand-new property, including poor brickwork, with windows not being fit for purpose, structural issues with their roofing and some plumbing issues. Worse than this, in an episode of BBC’s Money Box, callers described how the building companies had paid them some compensation in exchange for signing Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”)  waivers in order not to discuss the matter publicly. This has left homeowners censored, unable to talk about their negative experience and in the worst cases, with defects that last for months or even years before they’re fully remedied.

If you’re a homeowner experiencing defects to your newbuild, there are a few routes of protection. Firstly, look into any guarantees or warranties that were provided on the property, these will normally range from 3-10 years. Secondly, use contacts such as the National House-Building Council and the government’s New Homes Ombudsman. Finally, my advice would be not to enter into any NDAs without first gaining some independent legal advice or guidance, even if offered compensation.

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