Repairs and renting - your rights and responsibilities

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With many unable to get onto the property ladder, more and more Britons are renting their homes, and while rented accommodation may not be the dream, it does mean that tenants don't have to pay many of the maintenance costs associated with owning a home.

If you rent your home, or are a landlord yourself, it's important to know where you stand when it comes to repairs - here's what you need to know.

What counts as disrepair?
Both tenants and landlords should be aware of what is meant by 'disrepair'. The basic answer is that the condition of some part of the property worsens, either due to normal wear and tear, or because of other issues such as poor insulation, ventilation or damp, although in these cases it may be down to the design of the building, causing problems for tenants. It is worth noting that replacing appliances, such as a cooker or boiler that is not broken, is regarded as an 'improvement' rather than a repair.

Tenant and landlord responsibilities
While both private and social housing landlords are generally responsible for fixing problems, as a tenant, you still bear some responsibility for the upkeep of the property. This means that you must look after the home, keep it clean, use fixtures and fittings properly in order to avoid issues, and not damage the property. The landlord, on the other hand, is typically responsible for repairs needed to the structure or exterior of the home, and any plumbing, heating or electrical issues that may arise, including damaged fittings such as sinks and basins, or heaters. In most cases, they will also be responsible for repairs to the common parts of the building. Landlords must bear the cost of such repairs themselves.

Reporting repairs
Tenants should bear in mind that a landlord is not responsible for repairs required if they are unaware of the problem, and therefore it is essential to report issues as soon as you notice them, no matter how insignificant they may seem. In fact, in private rented accommodation, unreported repairs may mean that the landlord can claim money from the tenancy deposit when you move out. Where you or someone visiting your home has caused damage, it is also wise to tell the landlord. Though the tenant will be responsible for the cost, the landlord may arrange for the work to be carried out themselves, or agree that you can fix the problem yourself.

While a phone call is all that's required to report a repair to your landlord, it may be wise to follow up in writing, keeping copies of letters or emails sent in order that you have as much information as possible if the repair is not carried out or there is a dispute. Those renting through an agency have a legal right to know the identity of the landlord, so if you don't know, contact the person who collects the rent in writing.

Carrying out repairs
Landlords, or the letting agents they employ to manage their property, have the right to access your home in order to carry out repairs or to see what needs to be done. For the most part though, they must give you at least 24 hours' written notice before entering your home, unless the problem is an emergency. How long it takes to complete the work depends, of course, on what needs to be done, but repairs should be carried out within a 'reasonable time' provided it is not an emergency situation. Sometimes a temporary repair may be necessary until the problem can be resolved on a more permanent basis.

Most landlords are only too happy to carry out repairs to their properties, but some unscrupulous types would rather evict tenants than pay to sort out problems. In most cases, your landlord must have a valid reason to evict you, or at the very least allow you to stay to the end of your fixed term tenancy agreement. If you have moved on to a periodic tenancy, whereby your agreement runs from month to month, it may be easier than you think for your landlord to evict you, so do double check your tenancy agreement before trying to enforce your rights if there has been a problem getting repairs done.

The majority of landlords are only too happy to carry out repairs on their properties, but some unscrupulous types leave their tenants to suffer. If your landlord fails to do the work despite repairs being reported, you may be able to take action. For example, as a private tenant, you may be able to get quotes for the repairs, send them to your landlord, and arrange and pay for the work yourself, again, sending the receipt to the landlord in order to claim back the cash. If he refuses to pay, you can deduct the cost from future rent, provided you send the landlord a breakdown of the amounts deducted.

Should your landlord begin possession proceedings because of rent arrears, you may be able to set-off against the debt because of the landlord's failure to carry out repairs. Bear in mind that some tenancy agreements, such as periodic tenancies where the agreement rolls on month to month, may allow your landlord to evict you rather than pay for the repairs, so do double check your paperwork. As a last resort, you may be able to take court action, usually via the small claims court.

Whatever the problem or status of the dispute, it is always wise to keep a record of conversations and written communication with your landlord, and take photos of the problem, including any damage caused to your own items, for instance because of mould, as well as keeping notes of any medical visits required as a result of the problem. That way, should the dispute remain unresolved, you will have a better chance of proving your side of the story.

Have you been involved in a dispute with a tenant or landlord? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...
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