Last year, after The Week the Landlords Moved In aired on BBC 1, the housing crisis was brought to the attention of the nation. Many tenants were found to be living in dangerous conditions while their landlords seemed unaware of the impact this was having on their lives.
Unfortunately for many families in council and housing association properties, this is the reality that they have to face day-to-day.
According to official government data, it’s reported that nearly half a million social homes in England fail to meet basic health and safety standards, equating to almost one in seven homes. According to an analysis by the Independent published in July last year, the severity of the issues vary and are categorised into bands, where 244,000 properties (46%) of the 525,000 surveyed have a ‘category one’ safety hazard. Category One safety hazards can be fatal such as dangerous boilers, exposed wiring, vermin, overloaded electricity sockets and more.
During these times of ‘austerity,’ many councils are struggling to find the funding to make the repairs necessary to make people’s homes safe, but the lack of repairs is making life difficult for thousands of families who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Because of this, many council and housing association tenants have to live with damp, mould, vermin, no hot water and a lack of heating, with much more besides; often affecting their children’s health and their overall well-being; causing asthma and making other conditions much worse.
Fortunately, when these problems appear, and you report them, they are usually fixed fairly quickly. Sadly, not everyone is so lucky, having to live with damp and heating problems for months, if not years, stopping them from enjoying the property and in some cases getting ill or having their possessions damaged as a result.
So why is it that when you pay your rent on time, and treat the property well, that you have to live in these conditions while councils and housing associations continue to profit?
They shouldn’t, ad you can do something about it.
If you have a problem, or if something needs to be repaired, always tell your landlord or letting agent about it right away. If they’re unaware of the problem, they can’t fix it. If you decide to call them, be sure to follow up in writing or by email so that you have evidence of when the problem was first reported. If you can, try to take photographs and send these too. If the problem gets worse, you’ll be able to prove this with the date stamped photographic evidence.
If it’s an emergency, you should be provided with an emergency number to contact in case of serious plumbing or heating problems. If you get no response, or if no one attends the problem within 24 hours, follow up.
If you’ve notified the landlord or letting agent and they still haven’t made the repairs needed, weeks or months later, despite you telling them repeatedly that there is a problem, you can ask the court to help you.
While the mention of ‘court’ might sound scary, it doesn’t need to be. Landlords have a responsibility under the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 which means that when they’re notified of a problem; they are obligated to attend to the problem within a ‘reasonable amount of time’. If you notify your landlord, council or housing association of a problem, like a broken boiler, and they don’t attend to it, you can pursue legal action if all your other efforts to speak to them have failed.
Where a problem has been allowed to go on for too long and has resulted in damage or ill health, there are a few things you can ask for from the court.
1. An order to force your landlord to complete the repairs
3. To get the landlord to cover your legal costs, which you shouldn’t have needed to spend in the first place
The results will vary, but to strengthen your case, it is important that you keep records of everything. If for example, you can prove that you sent emails and made phone calls to the landlord twice a week for three months and that despite this, nothing has happened; the judge may be favourable to your position. The same is true whether it’s just weeks or even years.
Getting an order to force the landlord to complete the required repairs is a great first step, but it’s a shame that it takes so long and requires a bitter and stressful process involving the court to get there.
But if you’re fortunate enough (or unfortunate depending on your point of view) to qualify for compensation, this comes in two forms. The first form of compensation is for ‘pain, suffering and loss of amenity’ where you are compensated for the suffering resulting from having to live in a home that is partially or wholly uninhabitable. The compensation you receive will be calculated on the rent you pay, or the market rental rate for the property, adjusting for the level of ‘disrepair’ proved. If you had no hot water or heating while extreme damp rendered your home uninhabitable, you could claim back 100% of the rent for the period; cases like this, however, are uncommon.
It’s more common for judges to award compensation within the 25-50% bracket depending on the level of damage and disruption involved. So if you had a leak that lasted two years, and you pay £500 per month in rent, that would be £12,000 you’d have paid in total (£500 x 24 months). If the judge awarded you 25% of that amount as compensation, you’d get £3,000.
The second form of compensation is for ‘lost items’, where housing disrepair has led to the damage of your personal items. It’s worth noting though that the amount you’re compensated for is unlikely to be for a new replacement; usually compensation of this kind is to cover the lost use over the remaining life of the item. So, if your £1,200 sofa was supposed to last ten years (at £120 per year), you’ve owned it for five years, and a water leak from upstairs ruins it, you could be entitled to £600 to cover the remaining five years of ‘sofa life’ that you’ve lost.
The trouble with this is that you’ll need to be able to prove you owned these items and that they were indeed damaged. Receipts and invoices are useful, as are photographs. The more evidence you can provide, the higher your awards for lost items are likely to be. But this can be difficult as people rarely keep receipts for items bought years ago.
Finally, you can ask that the court make your landlord pay the costs of your legal fees (you wouldn’t be speaking to the court if the landlord had treated you properly in the first place).
Navigating this court process can be difficult, as it’s hard to know what kinds of paperwork you’ll need to complete and what sorts of evidence you’re likely to need. Fortunately, you can find some really helpful advice at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. There are also quite a few ‘no win, no fee’ solicitors who now take on housing disrepair cases so that they can do the bulk of the work for you for a cut of your damages.
Whether you choose to do it yourself or to get legal help, the important point to take home is that if your landlord seems to have an excuse to avoid repairing your property when they’re legally supposed to, you now know what you can do about it.