Non-Performing Landlords – Property Management for Tenants
In the past year we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of Landlords who fail to live up to their repairing and maintaining obligations. There are usually financial reasons behind the problem – a Landlord may for example be looking to sell the property at the end of the tenancy, and doesn’t want to spend on maintenance. For some though, it’s just sheer penny pinching, but if it’s affecting one of your employees, there are ways and means to bring the errant Landlord to task. In this review, we’ll look at some common situations, and give some examples of what action a Tenant can take.
Landlord & Tenant Legislation
The key piece of legislation is the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985, also often referred to as the Housing Act 1985, which sets out a Landlord’s repairing and maintaining obligations in Section 11, as follows:
- To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes)
- To keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity)
- To keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water
These obligations are often written into a tenancy agreement, but they exist as implied terms in any tenancy, even if there is no written agreement. Note that the Tenant must notify the dilapidation to the Landlord or Agent so as to create an obligation to repair. Have your employees protect themselves by keeping a written log of all their contact with the Landlord. The log can be very useful in the event of a dispute.
Key Issues and Tenant Expectations
The most frequently reported problems are with appliances, such as a faulty boiler, or a failed fridge or washing machine. Next most common are mould and damp, and minor leaks. As a Tenant, you should expect your Landlord or their Agent to deal with maintenance issues reasonably promptly. The response time should be appropriate to the problem – you’d expect an immediate response to a leaking pipe, for example, and a same day response to a faulty boiler, but could reasonably expect that responses to other issues might take a few days.
Health & Safety
Property issues which might affect your health, or your personal safety, deserve special attention.
How do you know that your boiler is safe and not emitting dangerous gases? Under the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 a Landlord is responsible for getting an annual gas safety check done by a Gas Safe registered engineer, who will issue a certificate. The Landlord must give the Tenant a copy of the certificate.
What about mould and damp that might affect your health? If you’ve reported mould and damp issues, a landlord’s first response is often that the Tenant is failing to adequately ventilate the property by keeping windows open. However we often see properties that have severe damp problems that are caused by property defects, rather than by the Tenant. Such defects can include cheap double glazing that doesn’t have ventilators built into the frames, or rising damp in old properties. If your employee feels that mould and damp are affecting their and their family’s health, then here’s what to do:
- Get them to see a doctor
- Get a specialist to evaluate the conditions inside the property. This will include an assessment of the damp and mould, and the fungal spores present in air samples.
- Notify the Landlord and set a deadline for action
If the Landlord fails to act satisfactorily, then notify the local council’s Environmental Health team. They will visit to assess the property under their Housing Health and Safety rating System. Category 1 failings can include:
- exposed wiring or overloaded electrical sockets
- a dangerous or broken boiler
- bedrooms that are very cold
- leaking roof
- mould on the walls or ceiling
- rats or other pest or vermin infestation
- broken steps at the top of the stairs
- lack of security due to badly-fitting external doors or problems with locks
Councils will serve a Hazard Awareness Notice on a Landlord, and if required an Improvement Notice. In extreme situations, a Council may undertake repairs themselves, and then charge the cost to the Landlord.
Protecting the Tenant
The best way to protect your employees against rogue Landlords is by seeking to impose terms and conditions at the start of the tenancy. Our favourite is to try and impose a condition that requires the Landlord to employ a recognised property professional as a Managing Agent. We also try and impose what we call "Property Management Service Standards" by adding an Addendum to the tenancy agreement. This document sorts maintenance issues into categories, and sets an agreed response time for resolution of the issue. It also authorises the Tenant to act immediately on the landlord’s behalf in an emergency, by for example calling out contractors at the Landlord’s cost in an out-of-hours emergency such as a major leak or flood.
Dealing with ongoing tenancy management issues can take up a lot of time and effort. We offer a range of support options under our FullCare programme, and if you’d like to explore these then please give us a call. We’d be delighted to help you.