Steps to follow
Landlords and tenants have various rights and obligations: as a tenant, for example, you have the right to have your accommodation kept in a reasonable state of repair, but you’re also obliged to look after the place.
Most of your respective responsibilities will be outlined in the tenancy agreement you sign before you move into the property but some repairs will nearly always be your landlord’s responsibility, even if they’re not mentioned in the agreement. These are: structure and exterior of the premises; drains, gutters and external pipes; essential means of access (eg paths and steps); water and gas pipes and electrical wiring; basins, sinks, baths and toilets; and fixed heaters and water heaters.
Your landlord must ensure that any gas and electrical appliances in the accommodation are safe and will also usually be responsible for fixing common parts of the building, eg, stairways, lifts, hallways or paths shared with other tenants or your landlord.
If you have a dispute with your landlord (eg, if you want something repairing), firstly try to negotiate with them. Put any requests for repairs in writing. Keep copies of this and of your landlord’s response.
If you are one of a number of tenants with a complaint against the same landlord, it’s worth joining forces and trying to generate bad publicity for him or her. Talk to the local press, your local MPs, local councillors and the chair of the housing committee (if your landlord is a local authority).
If your landlord has broken the tenancy agreement or the law and you want to take your case to court, get legal advice from the outset. You must give the landlord written notice of the problem so they have the opportunity to fix it before the matter goes to court. You will not be able to start court action until your landlord has had a reasonable time to sort the problem. If the court rules in your favour, you may get a court order for your landlord to carry out the repairs. You may also be able to get compensation. Legal aid may be available to help fund your action.
Local authority tenants can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman about their landlords, while tenants of other types of social landlord, eg a housing association, can complain to the Housing Ombudsman. Tenants of private landlords can also complain to the Housing Ombudsman if the landlord has voluntarily joined the Housing Ombudsman scheme (check the Members' Directory on the Housing Ombudsman website). In all cases, you must have gone through your landlord’s complaints procedure first.
If your landlord refuses to eg, carry out repairs to your home on the grounds of your race, sex, disability, sexuality, religion or belief, this is discrimination and it's illegal. Get legal advice from a body like Citizens Advice or a solicitor who will be able to tell you what action you can take.
If you feel your landlord is harassing you (ie doing anything they know is likely to make you leave the property or stop exercising your legal rights) this is against the law. Report them to the police or the Tenancy Relations Officer of the local authority.
Local authorities are obliged to take action against landlords – private ones included – if: your health is being affected by the poor condition of the property; or the property causes a nuisance to those living nearby. If you have such a problem, complain to the environmental health department of your local authority. If need be, they’ll issue a notice ordering the landlord to make the repairs. If s/he fails to do so, the landlord could be prosecuted and the local authority can do the repairs.
If a local authority feels a rented property isn’t fit to live in, they can order the landlord to make required repairs. If it can’t be fixed, the local authority may order that it be vacated or demolished. In this case, the local authority will re-house you.
If you’re a tenant of a registered social landlord, if you report a repair or maintenance problem which affects your health, safety or security and your landlord fails twice to make the repair within the set timescale, you’ll be entitled to compensation which mounts up on a daily basis until the repair is done. Similarly, local authorities must operate a right to repair scheme for their tenants which allows them to claim compensation for repairs which the landlord does not carry out by a certain deadline.
Private and local authority tenants, and tenants of registered social landlords (including housing associations), have the right to carry out and pay for improvements to the property they live in. You need to get your landlord’s consent in writing but if this is unreasonably withheld, you can challenge their decision in court. They would have to prove that they’re being reasonable in refusing permission.
What to watch out for
If you’re considering what action to take to sort out the problems with your home, get legal advice about the type of tenancy you have first: some tenancies, eg assured shorthold tenancies, might allow the landlord to evict you if you ask for repairs to be carried out. An adviser can tell you if it’s safe to ask for the repairs, without the threat of losing your home. They will also be able to check whether your landlord has a legal duty to carry out the repair.
Solicitor’s top tip
If the poor condition of a property is adversely affecting you, it may be possible to take out a private prosecution against your landlord. If this is successful, your landlord will be ordered to do the repairs, and will be guilty of a criminal offence if they don’t carry them out. You’d probably have to fund such an action yourself though so explore other options first.
Housing Fact Sheets
Local Government Ombudsman
The Housing Law Website
Housing Law Practitioners Association
Social Housing Law Association
I have a dispute
Problems with your landlord - private landlord
Eviction from a home you are renting
Do I need a lawyer? (personal)
Choices if you cannot afford a lawyer