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.
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.
Getting legal help and advice
Try to get advice before you decide to take action.
You can also get advice from Shelter’s free advice helpline on 0808 800 4444.
Legal aid will not be available for you to take your landlord to court, unless there is a serious risk of harm to you or your family living with you. If you are going to court just to get compensation from your landlord you cannot get legal aid.
If your case can be heard in the small claims court, the procedure is simpler and you can represent yourself.
You can only use the small claims court if you are asking the court to order your landlord to carry out the repairs, and the cost of those repairs and/or the compensation claimed are both less than £1,000. One of the advantages of the small claims is once you have paid a fixed fee to the court you will not normally 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.
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 may have to pay for the reports you need.
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.
There is a special procedure which must be followed in all disrepair cases. This is called the housing disrepair pre-action protocol. You send a 'letter before action' 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 21 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
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.
Decisions the court can make about disrepair
The court looks at all the evidence you and your landlord have provided and decides if your landlord should do the repairs.
You could ask the court to:
- make an injunction, or '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
- order your landlord to pay you damages, that is financial compensation for any loss or harm you have suffered
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.
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 depends 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 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 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.