A guide to landlords' and tenants' property repair responsibilities - Total Landlord Insurance

February 6, 2020
Total Landlord Insurance
A guide to landlords' and tenants' property repair responsibilities - Total Landlord Insurance

What are a landlord’s and tenant’s responsibilities in relation to repairs in a private rented property? Should tenants carry out repairs? What are the consequences if a landlord doesn’t carry out necessary repairs?

It’s quite common for landlords and tenants to be unsure of their responsibilities when it comes to home repairs. Here, we will guide both landlords and tenants through their legal repairing responsibilities in order to avoid disputes and resolve issues quickly and efficiently. Finally, we will shed some light on which repairs are covered by landlord insurance.

Landlords’ responsibilities

Our advice in this section is for landlords on their responsibilities for property maintenance and repairs. What can landlords do to avoid repairs from becoming a necessity?

Both our insurance claims specialists and our dispute resolution experts deal with a variety of repair related disputes, from confusion about what repairs landlords are responsible for and tenants’ rights and responsibilities for repairs, to a lack of clarity over what constitutes a reasonable time frame to carry out repairs, and a general misunderstanding of repair laws and obligations.

As a landlord, the extent of your responsibility to carry out repairs will depend partly on the terms of your tenancy agreement, the nature of the repair, and the property itself.

In most cases, landlords are responsible for the majority of repairs to the exterior and structure of a property. Landlords cannot opt out of their legal obligations, under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, to make repairs to:

  • The exterior and structure of the property (including walls, stairs, bannisters, doors, windows, roof and guttering)
  • Sanitary fittings (basins, sinks, baths, etc) and drains and pipes
  • Boilers, heating and hot water (read more on how to prepare your boiler for the winter months)
  • Gas appliances, pipes and ventilation
  • Chimneys
  • Electrical wiring and sockets
  • Damp and mould – this is often a contentious issue and disputes are common over whether this is the landlord or tenant’s responsibility. It can in some circumstances be both (read more about damp and mould responsibilities )
  • Any damages caused while attempting to make repairs

These repairing obligations cannot be changed by anything written into a tenancy agreement and landlords cannot charge tenants for any repairs that fall under these mandatory responsibilities.

That said, landlords are only required to make repairs that they are aware of, therefore it is important for tenants to report any repairs at the earliest opportunity to the landlord or letting agent. Make sure you provide your tenants with quick and easy methods for contacting you should they have any concerns about the property. Being open and providing clear channels of communication between you and your tenants is vital. Identifying a problem in the property early, before it escalates, will save you significant time and money.

It’s advisable to carry out periodic property inspections to make sure that your property is in good repair throughout the year. This also provides you with the opportunity to pick up on any issues in the property and deal with them promptly. Remember, when you want to visit your property and require access for an inspection, you must give your tenants at least 24 hours’ written notice, except in the case of an emergency. You should also aim to schedule any inspections or repairs at reasonable times and work with your tenants to minimise disruption. Notice times or property inspections should generally be outlined in the tenancy agreement.

Our guide, Legislation for landlords: everything you need to know covers landlord responsibilities more generally, including how to make sure that your property is compliant with gas, electrical and other safety requirements.

Time frame for repairs

As the landlord, when part of your property which is your responsibility is damaged or malfunctions, you must make sure you repair it within a ‘reasonable’ time frame.

This can be a cause of confusion as there are no clear regulations or guidelines which specify exactly what a ‘reasonable’ period of time is. Something like a boiler breaking down in the middle of a cold winter would reasonably need to be repaired in a very short amount of time.

In order to avoid confusion over ‘reasonable’ time frames, we advise that you keep your tenants well informed about any repairs being carried out and how long they may take to complete. You should be able to get this information from the contractors that you arrange to do the work.

By keeping your tenants in the picture, they will understand that you are taking the issue seriously and are committed to getting it resolved. Being clear and up front should give them peace of mind and they will likely appreciate being informed and kept up to date.

If you neglect to make necessary repairs

If you do not carry out necessary repairs to your property in line with your responsibilities, you risk damaging your relationship with your tenant. This can potentially lead to your tenants withholding rent and issuing complaints to a local authority.

“If a landlord is in breach of their responsibilities to repair a property and does not take care to sort problems out in a reasonable time, the tenant may be able to withhold rent, however strict criteria would need to be met which tenants are often unaware of.”

– Suzy Hershman, Head of Dispute Resolution at mydeposits

If your tenant has raised an issue about a repair that you are responsible for, and you have not acted on it within a reasonable time, they may be entitled to carry out the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent payments.

mydeposits’ expert guide, Can my tenant withhold rent?, provides more information on tenants’ rights to withhold rent and the process that must be followed. It also highlights the importance of meeting your responsibilities for repairs.

As tenants have the right to live in a habitable property which is kept in the condition it was in when they moved in, any negligent behaviour towards repairs can lead to your tenant taking legal action against you.

This can potentially result in you being penalised, having to compensate your tenant and incurring court fees. They may also contact their local council, who will act if they believe that the tenant’s safety is being compromised.

How landlords can reduce the likelihood of dealing with repairs

For landlords, property maintenance and repair issues can be persistent, costly, and time consuming. However, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare your property and reduce the likelihood of it needing frequent repairs:

  • Make sure the property is fitted with durable furnishings before renting it out. As the saying goes ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. Having resilient fittings will increase the likelihood of them lasting longer and may mean that they can span multiple tenancies
  • Consider more affordable and replaceable flooring over more expensive fitted floorings
  • Carry out proper background checks for potential tenants to make sure that your property is in safe hands. Problematic or careless tenants with a history of damaging homes are a higher risk to your property and could cost you a significant amount of money in the long run
  • Use reliable contractors and services to carry out repairs. You may want to opt for cheaper services or even carry out some repairs yourself, but this often does not permanently fix the problem, and at times can actually lead to further damage being caused to your property
  • Carry out maintenance inspections (with notice) and advise your tenants to inform you immediately of any issues. Regularly inspecting your property will allow you to identify and resolve issues quickly, before they get out of hand, saving you money in the process. It will also benefit you to have a good relationship with your tenants – always encourage them to contact you if they have any concerns about the property and make sure you rectify any problems that arise promptly.

Tenants’ repair responsibilities

Although landlords are responsible for the majority of serious repairs to a property, tenants also have certain responsibilities when it comes to carrying out repairs and maintaining their home.

Repairs that tenants are responsible for include:

  • Damage to the property caused by themselves, their family or their guests
  • Damage to their own furniture, appliances, or other personal belongings
  • Minor repairs outlined in the tenancy agreement.

Tenants are responsible for general maintenance such as:

  • Keeping their home, garden and outside areas reasonably clean and tidy
  • Making sure they are using electrical and gas appliances responsibly
  • Once the landlord has carried out safety tests on appliances, such as smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on the first day of the tenancy, it is then the tenant’s responsibility to regularly check the appliances and replace any batteries
  • Replacing light bulbs
  • Ventilating rooms that produce large amounts of water and steam – as mentioned above the responsibility for damp, mould and condensation in a property is a contentious issue and could be as a result of factors caused by both landlords and tenants. Identifying the root cause of damp, mould and condensation can help to prevent it spreading

Tenants may also have to pay for repairs that their landlord would normally be responsible for, if the damage was caused by them. For example, you may ask your tenants to pay for repair costs to things such as blocked drains, toilets, and pipes if the damage was caused by something the tenant did or did not do which was their responsibility. In situations where the tenant is responsible for the damage, you may carry out the repairs but charge your tenant for the costs.

Tenants are also responsible for reporting any issues or structural repairs to their landlord as soon as possible. After a tenant reports a potential repair, the landlord, or their agent, is responsible for visiting the property to inspect it. However, after being given notice, it is the tenant’s responsibility to allow access to the home. This involves communicating with their landlord to arrange a suitable time for the property to be inspected.

Top tips from our claims expert

Our Senior Claims Technician, Melissa Choules, offers her expert advice and tips on property maintenance and repairs from an insurance perspective.

What are the most common causes for repairs?

The most claims we see are generally related to faults in boilers, burst pipes, blocked sinks, toilets, roofs and guttering.

Which repairs are covered by landlord insurance, and which aren’t?

Insurance generally doesn’t cover any maintenance or wear and tear related issues as this falls under the landlord’s responsibility to make sure that the property is in a good state of repair. Insurance generally will cover damage as a result of specific ‘perils’, referred to as ‘events that can cause damage or loss to a property’, such as fire, flood or theft.

What advice can you offer to landlords so they can be sure to comply with their insurance policies when carrying out repairs?

Landlords should carry out regular inspections and keep detailed records of them, including dates and photographs. It is also important that landlords are vigilant and take all the necessary steps to keep the property in a good state of repair and prevent any damage or accidents from happening in their property – failure to do so can result in claims not being paid.

Landlords should also build a good rapport with their tenants to make sure that the tenant feels comfortable reporting incidents to them. Building a good relationship can help to highlight any issues in situations where a problem may be missed during an inspection, or occurs immediately after one.

Taking these steps can help to prevent minor issues from escalating and requiring potentially more extensive and expensive repairs. However, there is no guaranteed way of completely preventing damage from occurring. This is why it’s important to protect your property with a comprehensive landlord insurance policy.

Find out more about the comprehensive cover provided by Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance and help keep your property safe and secure all year round.

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