Court action for disrepair
This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
If your landlord refuses to carry out repairs, or has started but not finished them, you may be able to take them to court.
It is important to remember that taking your landlord to court to get the repairs carried out is normally only an option if you have a tenancy with good security of tenure (such as an assured or regulated tenancy), or if you don't mind whether your landlord doesn't renew your tenancy.
If you don't have much protection from eviction, the landlord may try to evict you rather than do the work and with some tenancy types your landlord may be able to do this easily.
Is court action appropriate?
Court action should normally be a last resort – always try to get your landlord to resolve the problem before you consider it. Court action can also be expensive, unless you are entitled to legal aid (which is hard to get for disrepair cases). Otherwise, you should only consider this if you can afford it.
Court action can be complicated and is sometimes slow, although in certain severe situations it is possible to ask the court to order works be carried out promptly.
Before you start court action:
- check your landlord is responsible for the repairs
- report the problem in writing and allow a reasonable time for them to be done
- consider your other options – for example using mediation, or negotiation
It might be easier and less expensive to complain to the ombudsman instead.
It's always best to get advice before you decide to take action. Call the Community Legal Service helpline on 0845 345 4 345 for free initial advice, or use our directory to find advice centres in your area.
It is also possible that the court will need a report from experts such as an environmental health officer or surveyor. You can find surveyors in your area through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors website, and an environmental health officer through your local council.
Where do I start?
You'll need to gather evidence to back up your claim, such as:
- copies of letters showing that you've reported the problem to your landlord
- photographs - eg of disrepair or damaged property
- medical reports, explaining how your health has been affected
- if relevant, reports from a surveyor or the environmental health department.
If you can’t get legal aid to cover your costs, you may have to pay for the reports you need.
What do I have to do before I start court action?
There is a special procedure which must be followed in all disrepair cases. You must serve a legal notice on your landlord. The notice must:
- explain what the disrepair problem is
- set out details of when you previously notified the landlord
- give the landlord at least 21 working days to respond - unless 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.
After the 21 working days are up (or less time if the repairs are urgent), if your landlord still hasn't put the problem right, you can apply to the county court.
What can the court do?
The court will look at all the evidence you and your landlord have provided and will decide if your landlord should do the repairs.
You could ask the court to:
- make an injunction, ordering your landlord to do something by a certain time
- make an 'order for specific performance', to get your landlord to carry out specific repairs by a certain time
- make a 'declaration' that you can do the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from future rent.
In emergency situations (eg if it's dangerous to live in the property) the court may order your landlord to carry out the work immediately. The court may also decide that your landlord should pay you compensation.
If your landlord does not carry out the works specified in an injunction, or an order for specific performance, they can be fined. You will probably have to go back to court to take further action, but should not have to start the whole process again.
What if the landlord doesn't comply?
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, but should not have to start the whole process again.
Will it be expensive?
It depends. Taking court action can be expensive unless you are entitled to help from legal aid, or your case can be heard in the small claims court.
You can only use the small claims court if the cost of repairs or the compensation claimed is not more than £1,000. The advantage of the small claims is once you have paid a fixed fee to the court you will not be liable for the landlord's costs if you lose.
You can get more information about eligibility for legal aid from Community Legal Advice.
If you win the case, your landlord may be ordered to pay your costs. However, there is a limit to the amount of legal expenses that can be awarded, so this may not cover a solicitor's fee.
Can I claim compensation?
It may be possible to claim compensation for a number of reasons. It is possible that the claim you make will include elements of some or all of the following:
Damage to health
This applies if you or anyone in your household has been injured or made ill (or more ill) because your landlord has failed to do repairs. The amount you can claim will depend on the severity of the illness. The health problems may be mental (eg distress), or physical (eg 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 as a result.
You'll have to prove that the disrepair and the health problems are linked. The disrepair doesn't have to be the only cause of the illness, but it must have contributed to it. You may 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 will help to prove their worth.
Collect as much evidence as you can - if possible don't throw damaged items away, and take photographs of them. These could prove useful in court. Keep receipts of anything you've had to replace.
You are entitled to claim compensation if you've 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 will depend on how serious the repairs were and the affect they have had on you. Only the tenant can claim for this - not anyone else in the household.