If your landlord doesn't do repairs or does them badly, you can take them to court and claim compensation.
How a court can help
If your landlord hasn't done the repairs they are responsible for, you can ask the court to order your landlord to:
- do the repairs and pay compensation
- only carry out the repairs needed
- only pay you compensation
The court can order your landlord to carry out the work immediately in emergency situations, for example if it's dangerous for you to live in the property.
The court could also make a declaration that you can do the repairs yourself and deduct what it costs you from future rent.
The court can order your landlord to pay you compensation. You can make a claim for compensation even after your tenancy has ended.
Using the small claims court process
Many repairs cases are dealt with in the county court under the 'small claims' track. The court decides how to deal with your case.
It should be dealt with as a small claim if you want to ask the court to order your landlord to either:
- do repairs that cost under £1000 and pay you compensation of no more than £1000
- only pay you compensation of up to £10,000
Using the small claim track means the court procedure is simpler and quicker. It's easier to represent yourself in court too.
An advantage with smalls claims is that if you lose, you don't have to pay your landlord's costs.
For more information, see the AdviceGuide to small claims.
Legal aid for repairs cases
If you are on a low income or claim benefits, you may be able to get legal aid to help with the cost of taking your landlord to court.
You can't get legal aid if you are going to court just to claim compensation from your landlord.
You can only get legal aid for a repairs case (it can also include a claim for compensation):
- if there is a serious risk of harm to you or others in your household, or
- it is part of your defence to a court action brought by your landlord to evict you because of rent arrears.
Contact Civil Legal Advice to check if you can get legal aid.
If you can't get legal aid ask a solicitor about a conditional fee arrangement. This is often known as a 'no-win no-fee' arrangement and can mean you don't pay a fee if you lose your case.
What legal action costs
You pay court fees to take legal action. Fees can be reduced or waived if you claim benefits or have a low income.
You can take legal action by yourself but some tenants decide to get legal help.
You often need to pay for an expert's report to tell the court about the condition of your home. If your health has been affected the court will also want a medical report. A solicitor can arrange these for you.
If you win your case, you can claim back what you have paid out from your landlord. You may have to take further court action if your landlord doesn't pay what the court ordered.
Some people can get legal aid to help with the costs of taking legal action.
Alternatives to legal action
If you are a council or a housing association tenant, you can complain to the Ombudsman. This service is free.
Before starting legal action
Before starting legal action you must make sure you have:
- reported the repairs and given your landlord time to complete them.
- gathered all the evidence needed to back up your claim
- sent a 'letter before action' to your landlord.
A court case to order your landlord to do repairs or claim compensation won't suceed if you don't report the repairs problem to your landlord during your tenancy.
Your evidence could include:
- copies of letters that show you reported the problem to your landlord
- photographs showing examples of the disrepair or damaged property
- receipts proving you had to replace things damaged or destroyed by the problem
- medical reports explaining how your health has been affected
- report from your council's environmental health department
Send a letter before action
You must send a 'letter before action' to your landlord, even if you have already told them you're going to start legal action.
The letter must:
- explain what the repairs problem is
- set out details of when you told the landlord about the problem
- give the landlord 20 working days to put the problem right – unless the repair is urgent
- state that if the landlord doesn't put the problem right within that time, you intend to take them to court
After 20 working days have passed, you can start your claim in the court.
How to start the court claim
Start your claim by filling in claim form N1. Ask your local county court for a form or find one online from HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
Send 2 copies of your claim form to the court where you want to start court action. Keep a copy for yourself.
You can start a claim after your tenancy has ended.
At the court hearing
Hearings usually take place in a room called chambers. This could be the judge's private room or a courtroom. The public aren't allowed to sit in.
You can be represented at the hearing by a lawyer or adviser or you can represent yourself
Before making its decision, the court looks at all the evidence you and your landlord have provided.
The court can order your landlord to:
- carry out the specified work by a certain date
- pay you amount in compensation and pay your costs
The court could also make a declaration that you can do the repairs yourself and deduct what you pay out from future rent.
If your evidence isn't strong enough, the court could dismiss your claim.
If your landlord doesn't do as the court says
A landlord who doesn't carry out the works ordered by the court will be in contempt of court and can be fined or even sent to prison.
You might have to take further court action if your landlord doesn't pay you the compensation ordered by the court.
Advice before starting legal action
Going to court should be your last resort.
Get advice before you start legal action. An adviser may be able to help you reach an agreement with your landlord. If that's not possible or acceptable, they'll advise on the best course of action.
For face to face help, use Shelter's directory to find a housing adviser at a Shelter advice service, Citizen's Advice or law centre.
Anyone can call Shelter's free national helpline on 0808 800 4444.
Some private landlords prefer to evict tenants rather than do repair work. Find out about the risk of eviction if you ask for repairs and when the law can protect you.