Taking legal action over 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, it may be possible to take legal action to get repairs done or get compensation for disrepair.
Taking court action should be a last resort – make sure you have properly reported the repairs and given your landlord time to complete them.
Risk of eviction
Taking your landlord to court to get the repairs carried out is usually only an option if you have strong tenancy rights (such as assured or regulated tenants) or if you don’t mind if your landlord won'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.
Can you do the repairs yourself?
If the repairs needed to your home are small and not too expensive, you may be able to arrange to have them done and ask the landlord to pay for them. There is a set procedure for this. But if you cannot deal with the repairs yourself, perhaps because they are too large or expensive, then going to court may be necessary to force the landlord to do the repair work.
Getting legal help and advice
Try 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.
The rules on getting legal aid for disrepair claims changed in April 2013. Legal aid may not be available for you to take your landlord to court over disrepair. Use the Gov.uk legal aid calculator to check if you can get legal aid and to find a legal aid adviser.
If your case can be heard in the small claims court, you will be able to represent yourself.
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 have to pay the landlord's legal costs if you lose.
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.&
Steps to take before legal action
Before you start legal action against your landlord, 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 showing examples of the disrepair or damaged property
- medical reports, explaining how your health has been affected
- if relevant, reports from a surveyor or the environmental health department –& find surveyors in your area through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors website, and an environmental health officer through your local council.
You will probably have to pay for the reports you need.
Starting 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 serve this legal notice on your landlord, and 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.
For more information on starting legal action, see Advice Now's leaflet on Going to Court.
Decisions the court can make about disrepair
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 (for example if it's dangerous for you 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.
What if the landlord does not 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.
Claiming compensation for disrepair
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 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 will have to 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 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 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 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.