What you need to know about getting repairs done if you're a tenant renting a property.
You have been living in your rented apartment for a few months. However, the toilet is broken and requires repairs. In addition, you started to notice that some fixtures around the house are also faulty. Should you hire a plumber yourself and then send your landlord the bill? Do you have the rights to withhold rent?
Neither of these are accepted practices. Whilst ongoing maintenance and repair issues often crop up during one's tenancy contract, what lies within the landlord’s responsibility can be a grey area, leaving tenants (especially first-time tenants) confused. So here's some advice on how to get things fixed when you are renting!
Understanding your landlord's responsibilities
Savvy estate agents, landlords, lawyers and property management companies have worked throughout the years to keep landlords protected and their level of responsibility fairly limited, leaving tenants with a lot of questions about their rights and obligations.
Ideally, before signing your tenancy agreement, you would have clarified any questions regarding the maintenance and management of your new property, and your landlord’s obligations. If you are about to sign your tenancy agreement, here are some clauses that will protect you. You should look for them in the contract and, if you can’t find them, you should ask the agent and landlord to include these.
What your landlord must do:
- Your landlord must keep the apartment building and units in a habitable condition.
- Your landlord should ensure that the building is structurally sound.
- Your landlord should ensure that there is a steady supply of cold and hot water.
- Your landlord needs to keep all heating, electrical, and plumbing systems in safe operating condition.
- Your landlord should resolve pest infestation cases, e.g. hiring an exterminator (poor housekeeping and your wrongdoing do not count).
Common repair and maintenance issues that renters face
- Garden maintenance: Tenants often do not check who is responsible for the garden’s maintenance. There are cases where this falls under the tenant’s responsibility and other cases where the landlord has appointed a gardener and the bills are passed to the tenant. In the case of a communal garden, landlords may pay the gardening bill which is included in other building maintenance charges. At any rate, it is important that you, as a tenant, clarify what is expected and, if you are responsible for maintenance, do check the condition of the garden tools and accessories before signing the lease.
- Leaks, rising damp, and mould: Problems associated with the structure and maintenance of the building cannot be deemed the tenant’s responsibility. Having said that, it can be difficult to prove what the source of the problem is, resulting in tenants often being held responsible. We recommend you be vigilant and make sure that you open windows regularly to allow for air circulation as often as possible.
- Defective bulbs, switches and light fittings: Unless stipulated otherwise in the contract, and provided there is no broader issue with the electrical equipment in the property, changing light bulbs is the tenant’s responsibility. Make sure, at the beginning of the tenancy, that the light fittings were found in a good working condition.
- Blocked drains: Liability can only be established after the plumber adequately reports the cause, e.g. blockage caused by tenant's hair, roots growing in gardens, etc.Liability can only be established after the plumber adequately reports the cause, e.g. blockage caused by tenant's hair, roots growing in gardens, etc.
- Tarnished or damaged paintwork: Small chips and discolouration occur over time. Both parties should take a fair and flexible approach to these issues. Additionally, record the original condition of the paint and walls at commencement of the rental as this usually falls under the wear and tear clause.
All in all, a landlord is under legal duty to repair anything that has been stated in the lease agreement. If the lease places too much onus on you (the tenant) to handle interior maintenance or repairs, you should not rush into signing it and you should make sure the landlord includes or removes clauses so is equally fair.
Tried-and-true tactics to get your landlord to act
- Put complaints and requests in writing: When you communicate with your landlord, you should put your complaints and requests in writing. You may need to take them in court in case of disputes.
- Always clearly refer to the clauses stipulated in the tenancy agreement: Knowledge is power, so if you point the landlord to the right clause in the contract, one that protects you, you will come across like a tenant who knows his / her rights and the landlord will take you more seriously.
- Get both, the agent and the landlord involved:
Contacting the landlord: If the property is managed by an agent and he / she has not been responsive or met your expectations, do bring this issue to the landlord’s attention. There are cases where agents are too busy doing other things and fail to effectively communicate with the landlord who, if he / she had been made aware of the problem, would have acted days ago.
Contacting the agent: If the property is managed directly by the landlord, who happens to be too busy to solve the issue or seems to be unwilling to pay for your problem, it may be a good idea to go and ask the agent who rented you the property for help. If the agent cares about their reputation, they may try to intervene to get the landlord to come to a favourable resolution for all parties involved.
Seek advice and report your landlord or agent to Shelter, Citizens Advice and ARLA: Shelter and Citizens Advice aim to provide housing advice. ARLA is the UK's foremost professional body for letting agents, aiming to raise the standards in residential lettings (most reputable agents are registered and regulated by ARLA).
If you are afraid of hurting your relationship with your landlord, do not hesitate to consult our knowledgeable Sherpas for professional advice. Book a free consultation here!