If your private landlord refuses to carry out repairs, consider if you can take your landlord to court to get repairs done or claim compensation for disrepair.
Risk of eviction
If you're an assured shorthold tenant, taking your landlord to court to get repairs done is only really an option if you don't mind if your tenancy ends. Most private tenants are assured shorthold tenants.
There's a risk that your landlord may ask you to leave rather than do the work. But if your tenancy starts on or after 1 October 2015, you may have some protection from eviction.
There's less risk of eviction if you are a private tenant with an assured or regulated tenancy.
Legal help and advice
Try to get advice before you decide to take court action against your landlord.
You may be able to get legal aid to help with the cost of taking your landlord to court if there is a serious risk of harm to you or others in your household. Contact Civil Legal Advice to check if you can get legal aid.
You cannot get legal aid if you are going to court just to get compensation from your landlord.
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
What a court can order your landlord to do
If your landlord hasn't done repairs that they are responsible for, you could ask a court to:
- order your landlord to carry out specific repairs by a certain time - this could be through an injunction or an 'order for specific performance'
- make a declaration that you can do the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from future rent
- order your landlord to pay you financial compensation for any loss or harm you have suffered - this is a claim for damages
In emergency situations, for example if it's dangerous for you to live in the property, the court can order your landlord to carry out the work immediately.
The court looks at all the evidence you and your landlord have provided and decides if your landlord should do the repairs.
Using the small claims court to order your landlord to do repairs
You can use the small claims court if you are only asking the court to order your landlord to carry out repairs and the cost of those repairs and compensation are together less than £1,000.
If your case can be heard in the small claims court, the procedure is simple and you can represent yourself.
One of the advantages of the small claims is once you have paid a fixed fee to the court you won't usually have to pay the landlord's legal costs if you lose.
If you win the case, your landlord may be ordered to pay all or some of your costs.
Making a claim for compensation
It may be possible to claim compensation for a number of reasons.
Damage to health
This applies if you or anyone in your household has been injured or made ill, or more ill, because your landlord failed to do repairs.
The amount you can claim depends on the severity of the illness. The health problems may be mental such as distress, or physical, for example chest infections caused or worsened by dampness or injuries caused by unsafe stairs.
You may be able to claim for loss of earnings if you've been unable to work due to health problems.
You must prove that the disrepair and the health problems are linked. The disrepair does not have to be the only cause of the illness but it must have contributed to it. You will probably have to provide reports from a doctor and a surveyor.
Damage to belongings
This applies if items belonging to someone in your household are damaged or destroyed as a result of your landlord's failure to do repairs. It includes:
- anything of yours that has been damaged or destroyed by the disrepair, such as clothing or bedding.
- anything that was damaged or broken while repairs were carried out.
You can claim the amount it will cost you to replace the property that has been damaged or destroyed. This may only be the second hand value of the goods, unless it would not be possible to buy second hand replacements. If you have original receipts, this helps prove how much the damaged items were worth.
Collect as much evidence as you can. If possible take photographs of damaged items and don't throw the items away. These could prove useful in court. Keep receipts of anything that you had to replace.
You are entitled to claim compensation if you have suffered inconvenience or have not been able to use your home in the normal way as a result of your landlord's failure to do repairs.
The amount you get depends on how serious the repairs were and the effect they had on you.
Only the tenant can claim for this, not anyone else in the household.
What you must do before starting legal action
Taking court action should be a last resort.
Make sure you have properly reported the repairs and given your landlord time to complete them.
Before you start legal action against your landlord, gather evidence to back up your claim.
Evidence could include:
- copies of letters that show you've reported the problem to your landlord
- photographs showing examples of the disrepair or damaged property
- medical reports, explaining how your health has been affected
- reports from a surveyor
- reports from your council's environmental health department
You can find surveyors in your area through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.
You may have to pay for the reports you need.
Procedure for legal action
There is a special procedure which must be followed in all disrepair cases. This is called the housing disrepair pre-action protocol.
You must first send a 'letter before action' to your landlord, which must:
- explain what the disrepair problem is
- set out details of when you previously notified the landlord
- give the landlord at least 20 working days to respond – less if the repairs are urgent
- state that if the landlord doesn't put the problem right within that time, you intend to take them to court
If your landlord still hasn't put the problem right, after the 20 working days are up (or less time if the repairs are urgent), you can apply to the county court.
The court will hear your case and make its decision.
If your landlord doesn't do as the court says
A landlord who does not carry out the works specified in an injunction or a court order can be fined or even imprisoned.
You will probably have to go back to court to take further action. You should not have to start the whole process again.
Alternatives to legal action
You can also consider other options, for example complaining to the Ombudsman.