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Problems during repair work

This content applies to England & Wales

Problems that can occur during repair or improvement work.

Damage during repair work

Damage may occur during repair or improvement works arranged by the landlord; for example a plumber employed by the landlord to repair faulty plumbing might break the washbasin. If damage occurs the tenant should ask the landlord for further repair work and could consider seeking compensation from the landlord (not the person who carried out the work). It would be up to the landlord to take up the matter with the contractor. This would apply whether the damage is to the landlord's or the tenant's property.

A landlord who is contractually obliged to repair or maintain a property owes a duty of care to anybody who could reasonably be affected by certain defects. Landlords have a general duty to take reasonable care when building or carrying out work to a property to avoid defects or damage to the property.[1] If damage does occur, this could give grounds for an action for negligence or breach of the Defective Premises Act 1972. For more information see the section on Non-contractual rights.

Poor standard of work

A tenant may not be happy with the standard of repair work done or arranged by a landlord to meet contractual obligations. However, unless the landlord is carrying out work to comply with the requirements of a court or the local housing authority, it can be difficult to show that the repair is inadequate. Only when the landlord has attempted to remedy the problem on several occasions without success would it be possible for the tenant to threaten legal action and claim damages for inconvenience and disturbance.

If the work carried out by the landlord is as the result of a repair notice, the standard of repair should be that required by the notice. To avoid problems it is good practice when serving repair notices for local authorities to include in the notice a general statement about:

  • making good any disturbed work
  • removing refuse and spillages
  • using of materials that have been tested, licensed or certified by an independent body such as BBA or BSI (British Standards Institution)
  • practices following the codes of practice of a relevant body
  • the need for any Building Regulation approval
  • requiring steps to be taken to avoid damage to the existing structure, with appropriate screening and covering to prevent nuisance to occupiers and the locality
  • any health and safety requirements, particularly if any hazardous materials are being used.

The local authority must be satisfied that the work has been done to an adequate standard and has a power to do the work itself if the notice is not complied with.[2]

For more information on the notices local authorities can serve under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, see the section on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

If repair or improvement work is of such a poor standard or so inadequate that damage to property or personal injury results or continues to occur, then an action for damages under the Defective Premises Act 1972 or in negligence may be appropriate. See the section on Non-contractual rights for details.

Delays

A landlord must complete repair works within a reasonable time[3] and will be in breach of the obligation to repair if there are delays. Under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, once the landlord has been informed of the repairs that are needed, the tenant must allow a reasonable time for the work to be done, and liability only arises once the reasonable time has elapsed from the date the notice was served (ie the date of liability).[4] The length of time will depend on the scale of the work and the effect the disrepair is having. The landlord will not be in breach of her/his repairing obligation until this time has elapsed. For more information on landlords' repairing obligations, see the section Contractual rights including section 11.

If a landlord is deliberately delaying repair work (or has started repairs or improvements but not finished them) in order to harass the tenants to make them leave, the tenant could consider taking action under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 (as amended).[5] A landlord (or her/his agent) is guilty of an offence if something is done that is likely to interfere with the peace and comfort of the tenant, where it is reasonably likely that such action could cause the tenant to leave the property.[6] For more information, see the Introduction in the section on Harassment and antisocial behaviour.

Injuries caused by repair work

A landlord who is contractually obliged to repair or maintain a property owes a duty of care to anybody who could reasonably be affected by certain defects. The landlord should ensure that the tenant, members of the tenant's household and visitors are 'reasonably' safe from personal injury.[7] Landlords also have a general duty to take reasonable care when building or carrying out work to a property to avoid danger of injury to the occupier.[8] If injury does occur, this could give grounds for an action for negligence or breach of the Defective Premises Act 1972. For more information see the section on Non-contractual rights.

Disturbance and inconvenience during repair works

Tenants are also entitled to 'quiet enjoyment' of the home. This means that the landlord must allow the tenant to use the premises peacefully. If the landlord or her/his agent's activities during repair works are disturbing the tenant's quiet enjoyment, s/he can claim damages. Cutting off gas and electricity supplies has been considered to be a breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment[9] - see below. Normally only the landlord can be sued by the tenant. However, if the landlord has acted through an agent and those agents refuse to disclose the landlord's identity, the agents themselves can be sued by the tenant.

If some rooms of the property are uninhabitable during repair work, the tenant may be entitled to an abatement (a reduction or refund) of her/his rent. If the whole property is uninhabitable, the landlord may have a duty to provide the tenant with alternative accommodation. See the page Access and displacement for more information.

Right to redecoration

Where a landlord has an obligation to repair, there is also an obligation to make good any damage to decorations as a result of the repair work.[10] This duty applies both to damage that occurs because the landlord fails to comply with a repairing obligation and to damage which occurs as a result of the repairing work (consequential damage).[11]

The position is different if the damage results from improvement works. If the work is an improvement there is no obligation to make good afterwards, although advisers should check the tenancy agreement or advise clients to try to make this a condition of allowing the work to be done.[12]

Landlord occupation during repairs

Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 the landlord or the landlord's agent has a statutory right of entry to the property for the purpose of viewing its condition and state of repair, but must give the tenant 24 hours' notice in writing.[13]

The landlord's right of entry to carry out repairs is limited to such entry and occupation as is strictly necessary in order to do the work. It does not give the landlord the right to vacant possession or access to all parts of the house at the same time unless this is essential.[14] This right is enforceable by a mandatory interlocutory injunction.[15] See the page on Access and displacement for more information.

There is no right of entry to do improvements unless this is specifically allowed for in the contract. The landlord must therefore gain the agreement of the tenant before any improvements can be done. However, in situations where substantial works are intended and it is necessary for the tenant to move out in order for work to be done, there may be a ground for possession against an assured or secure tenant. See the sections on Assured tenancies and Secure tenancies for details.

Use of services during repair work

Some landlords instruct their workers to use the tenant's supply of electricity, gas and other services during repair works. If a tenant objects to the use because it is excessive or continues for a long time, it could be possible to make arrangements with the landlord to ensure that the tenant is not solely responsible for the cost of power used during repair works. However, both the Rent Act 1977 and the Housing Act 1988 state that the tenant must give 'reasonable facilities' for executing repairs.[16]

This does not apply to improvements and agreement should be made with the landlord about any additional costs incurred.

If a landlord cuts off services such as the supply of gas and electricity, this could constitute harassment. A landlord who harasses a tenant in order to make the tenant give up the tenancy is committing a criminal offence. Harassment includes any actions that are likely to interfere with a tenant's peace or comfort.[17] For more information on harassment see the section on Harassment and illegal eviction.

If a landlord has withheld the services during repair or improvement works unnecessarily, the tenant should seek damages. To defend such a claim, the landlord would have to show that there were reasonable grounds for interfering with the peace and comfort of the tenant.

[1] AC Billings and Son v Riden [1957] 3 All ER 1 and Rimmer v Liverpool City Council [1985] QBD, (1984) 12 HLR 23, CA.

[2] s.31 and Sch.2 Housing Act 2004.

[3] Granada Theatres v Freehold Investment (Leytonstone) [1959] 1 WLR 570.

[4] Calabar Properties Ltd v Stitcher (1984) 11 HLR 20 CA.

[5] s.1 Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

[6] s.1(3) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

[7] s.4 Defective Premises Act 1972.

[8] AC Billings and Son v Riden [1957] 3 All ER 1 and Rimmer v Liverpool City Council [1985] QBD, (1984) 12 HLR 23, CA.

[9] McCall v Abelesz [1976] QB, 585, CA.

[10] McGreal v Wake (1984) 13 HLR 107, CA.

[11] Bradley v Chorley BC (1985) 17 HLR 305, CA.

[12] McDougall v Easington DC (1989) 21 HLR 310, CA.

[13] s.11(6) Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

[14] McGreal v Wake (1984) 13 HLR 107, CA.

[15] Minja Properties Ltd v Cussins Property Group plc and others [1998] EGCS 23, Ch D.

[16] s.148 Rent Act 1977; s.16 Housing Act 1988.

[17] s.1(3A) Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

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