Legal action if your landlord won't do repairs

If your landlord doesn't do repairs or does them badly, you can take them to court and claim compensation.

How the court can help

Your landlord is responsible for doing most repairs. You can take court action if you've asked your landlord to do repairs but they don't.

You can ask the court to order your landlord to:

  • carry out the repairs needed
  • pay you compensation
  • both do the repairs and pay compensation

You can make a claim for compensation even after your tenancy has ended.

Legal aid for repairs cases

Legal aid can help people on a low income with certain types of legal action.

You can only get legal aid for a repairs case if:

  • there is a serious risk of harm to you or others in your household, or
  • your landlord has started a possession claim against you because of rent arrears and part of your defence is that repairs weren't done

You can't get legal aid if you only want to claim compensation from your landlord.

Contact the Civil Legal Advice helpline to see if you qualify for legal aid.

If you don't qualify for legal aid

You can take legal action by yourself but some tenants decide to get legal help.

Ask a solicitor about a conditional fee arrangement if you can't get legal aid. This can mean you don't pay a fee if you lose your case.

The Law Society has more on conditional fee arrangements.

Alternatives to legal action

Complain to the Housing Ombudsman if you are a council or housing association tenant.

This service is free.

What legal action costs

Court fees

You usually have to pay court fees to take legal action. Fees can be reduced or waived if you claim benefits or have a low income.

See HM Courts and Tribunals for more about court fees.

Expert's reports

You might need to pay for:

  • an expert's report to tell the court about the condition of your home
  • a medical report if your health has been affected

A solicitor can arrange these for you. If you win your case, you can claim back these costs from your landord.

How to prepare for your case

Going to court should be your last resort.

Report repairs

A court case won't suceed if you didn't report the repairs to your landlord.

Report repairs problems to a private landlord.

Report repairs problems to the council or to a housing association.

Gather evidence

Your evidence could include:

  • copies of letters that show you reported the problem to your landlord
  • photographs showing examples of the disrepair or damaged property
  • receipts proving you had to replace things damaged or destroyed by the problem
  • medical reports explaining how your health has been affected
  • report from your council's environmental health department

Send a letter before action

You must send a 'letter before action' to your landlord, even if you have already told them you're going to start legal action.

The letter must:

  • explain what the repairs problem is
  • set out details of when you told the landlord about the problem
  • give the landlord 20 working days to put the problem right – unless the repair is urgent
  • state that if the landlord doesn't put the problem right within that time, you intend to take them to court

After 20 working days have passed, you can start your claim in the court.

Get advice before you start legal action

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

How to start your court claim

You can start a claim after your tenancy has ended.

  • Start your claim by filling in claim form N1.
  • Send 2 copies of your claim form to the court where you want to start court action.
  • Keep a copy for yourself.

Ask your local county court for a form or find one online from HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

When the small claims court is used

The court decides how to deal with your case. Many repairs cases are dealt with under the 'small claims' track in the county court.

It should be dealt with as a small claim if you want to ask the court to order your landlord to either:

  • do repairs that cost under £1000 and pay you compensation of no more than £1000
  • only pay you compensation of up to £10,000

An advantage with smalls claims is that if you lose, you don't have to pay your landlord's costs. The court procedure is usually simpler and quicker. It's easier to represent yourself in court too.

See the AdviceGuide to small claims.

Attend the court hearing

Hearings usually take place in a room called chambers. This could be the judge's private room or a courtroom. The public aren't allowed to sit in.

You can be represented at the hearing by a lawyer or adviser or you can represent yourself

Before making its decision, the court looks at all the evidence you and your landlord have provided.

What the court can decide

The court can order your landlord to carry out the work immediately in emergency situations, for example if it's dangerous for you to live in the property.

The court can order your landlord to:

  • carry out the specified work by a certain date
  • pay you amount in compensation and pay your costs

The court could also make a declaration that you can do the repairs yourself and deduct what you pay out from future rent.

If your evidence isn't strong enough, the court could dismiss your claim.

If a landlord ignores the court

If a landlord doesn't carry out works ordered by the court, they'll be in contempt of court and can be fined or even sent to prison.

You might have to take further court action if your landlord doesn't pay you the compensation ordered by the court.

Last updated 08 Jan 2016 | © Shelter

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