If the conditions in your council or housing association home are harmful to your household's health or cause a nuisance to your neighbours or the public, the environmental health department of your local council may be able to help, or you may be able take your landlord to court.
Disrepair - first steps to take
Before you take action, you should report any disrepair to your landlord and allow a reasonable time for the work to be done. You can also send a letter, warning that you will contact the environmental health department if the repairs are not done by a certain deadline.
What counts as 'harmful to health' or 'nuisance'?
'Harmful to health' usually includes properties affected by:
- dampness, condensation, and mould growth
- rats, cockroaches and other infestations
- broken glass, falling plaster, or dangerous or decaying stairs
- faulty or dangerous gas or electrical installations
- blocked drains or problems with rubbish or sewage
- unacceptable noise levels
- damaged asbestos
- smoke fumes or gases.
In this context, 'nuisance' has a very different meaning to the everyday one. A statutory nuisance is a problem in the property which either:
- poses a risk to the public – eg if roof tiles are falling off into the street, or
- disturbs other people in their homes – eg if a toilet leaks into the flat below.
How do housing association tenants take action?
If you are a housing association tenant, contact the council's environmental health department to report the problem – find your local council at Gov.uk.
The council must inspect your home and, if they agree with your claims, they can give your landlord an abatement notice, ordering them to do the work needed within a certain amount of time. In extreme cases, they may even do the work themselves and claim the money back from the housing association.
If the environmental health department won't help you, you may be able to take court action in the same way as a council tenant.
Use Shelter's emergency housing rights checker to see if you are entitled to emergency housing.
How do council tenants take action?
If you are a council tenant, the environmental health department can only provide limited help. Some environmental health departments will serve 'informal abatement notices' on the council. However, as they are part of the council they cannot issue a formal abatement notice on themselves.
So, if you are a council tenant you may have to take court action yourself. This can be expensive and you will need help from a housing specialist or solicitor – use our directory to find a local adviser.
If the court agrees that the problem is affecting your health or causing a nuisance:
- it can make an abatement order instructing your landlord to carry out repairs,
- fine the council, and/or
- order them to pay you compensation.
Costs of taking action over disrepair
If the council's environmental health department takes action on your behalf, their services are free.
Taking court action yourself can be very expensive, so it will only be an option if you can afford it.
Legal aid is not available, but if you win, you can ask the court to order the landlord to pay your legal expenses.
You can get free initial advice and help with preparation through the legal help scheme from an adviser or Civil Legal Advice. Some solicitors may offer a conditional fee arrangement (usually known as 'no win, no fee').
Warning the landlord before starting court action
There is a special procedure, which must be followed in all disrepair cases, called the pre-action protocol. You must serve a legal notice on your landlord. The notice must:
- explain what the disrepair problem is
- give the landlord 21 days to put the problem right
- state that if the landlord doesn't put the problem right within that time, you intend to take them to court.
If, after the 21 days are up, your landlord still hasn't put the problem right, you can apply to the magistrate's court.
Find more information on telling your landlord about disrepair.
Last updated: 1 January 2014