Repairs and bad conditions: taking your landlord to court

The court could order your landlord to do the repairs and pay you compensation.

When you can take court action

You can take court action if you can show that:

Depending on what you claim compensation for, you may also have to prove damage to your health or property, or financial loss.

You could also get an emergency court order if there is a very serious risk to health.

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Things to think about first

Court action can be complicated and expensive.

How much it will cost

You might have to pay:

  • your court costs

  • for an expert opinion

  • the landlord's expenses and court costs if you lose

The costs can depend on what court process you use.

The small claims procedure:

  • has lower court fees than other procedures

  • makes it easier to go to court on your own

You do not usually have to pay your landlord’s costs if you lose a small claims case.

You might get some of your fees and expenses back if you win.

Larger or more complex claims are dealt with differently. Fees are higher and the process is more complicated. You'll probably need a solicitor.

What you want to happen

If you're asking the landlord to carry out work, you can only use the small claims procedure if both apply:

  • the work costs less than £1000

  • you're asking for less than £1000 in compensation

If you only want to claim compensation, you can claim up to £10,000 under the small claims procedure.

Risk of eviction if you rent privately

Your landlord could try to evict you if you start court action.

Check if you're protected from revenge eviction.

The landlord could stop looking into your complaint

If you rent from a council or housing association, they may stop looking into your complaint when legal action starts. This means it could take longer to have the problem fixed.

Getting evidence

You need evidence to support your claim.

You might not be able to get it if you've already moved out.

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Time limits for court action

You have up to:

  • 6 years for most claims

  • 3 years for a personal injury claim

The time starts from when your landlord should have done the work. This depends on how serious the problem is and how it is affecting you or people you live with.

You will need evidence of the problems.

Claiming compensation after you move out

You can start your claim for compensation after you move out as long as you:

  • have evidence

  • told the landlord about the problem before you moved out

Your claim can only:

  • cover the time when you were a tenant

  • go back 3 or 6 years from the date it was started in court

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Negotiate with your landlord

You should start by trying to negotiate with your landlord.

Negotiation gives you and the landlord an opportunity to resolve the problem without having to go to court.

It does not mean you have to agree to delays or bad conditions. But you should consider writing to your landlord and tell them what you'd like them to do before you take them to court.

The court might:

  • ask for evidence that you've tried to negotiate

  • recommend or order mediation if you and your landlord have not tried to negotiate

Using negotiation instead of legal action is called alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

GOV.UK has more information about how to find a mediator.

If you start a small claims process for less than £10,000, you could use a free mediation service.

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Try other ways of getting compensation

A letting agent's redress scheme or an ombudsman can award compensation.

Complaining to them is free even if you lose.

Complain about your letting agent

If you rent privately through a letting agent, you could ask a redress scheme to look at how the letting agent dealt with the problem.

Every letting agent must be registered with a redress scheme.

The scheme can order the agent to put things right and pay you compensation.

You will have to complain to the agent first.

Complain about a social landlord

You can complain to the Housing Ombudsman if you rent from a council or housing association.

The Housing Ombudsman is a free and independent service that can tell your landlord to:

  • fix problems in your home

  • pay you compensation

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Check if you can get legal help

Court procedures can be complicated and need to be followed correctly.

Legal aid

If you're on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to apply to court to make the property safe. 

But legal aid can help only if there is a serious risk to your health or safety in your home.

You cannot get legal aid to claim compensation.

Speak to your legal aid solicitor to check if there are other options available.

No win no fee

'No win no fee' is also known as a conditional fee arrangement.

No win no fee solicitors usually focus on getting compensation.

Ask the solicitor if you could:

  • keep all the compensation if you win

  • get an order to make your landlord do the repairs as well as compensation

Read the contract carefully.

You might have to pay your landlord's costs if you lose.

Citizens Advice have more information on finding affordable legal help.

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Gather your evidence

You’ll need evidence for the court. This could include:

  • photos of the disrepair, damage or bad conditions

  • letters and emails to and from your landlord

  • receipts for things you had to replace

  • quotes for the work needed

  • medical reports and letters

Also include letters from professionals, such as social workers or doctors who have visited your home, about what they have seen, and the impact it has had on you.

You also have to show that either:

  • you told your landlord about the problem

  • your landlord knew about it

You need to get your evidence before you move out.

Evidence from your council

If your home has been inspected by environmental health, you can use their report as evidence.

Expert reports

You may need a report to show the court there are serious hazards in your home, or there has been an impact on your health.

An expert can confirm what causes the problems and what the landlord needs to do to fix it.

Experts could include:

  • damp experts

  • building surveyors

  • plumbers or builders

  • your GP or other medical specialists

You can search for a surveyor on the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) website.

RICS is a professional body that regulates surveyors and building experts.

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Follow the pre-action steps

The court expects you to follow a set of steps before starting court action.

It's called a 'pre-action protocol'.

The court will check if you and the landlord have followed it.

If you have a solicitor, they will do it for you.

Under the protocol, you should:

1. Try to find a solution without going to court

2. Send a 'letter of claim' to the landlord

A letter of claim should have detailed information, including:

  • history of the problem, including how you've tried to resolve it

  • how the problem affects you and anyone living with you

  • details of any letters, emails or text messages you sent to the landlord or agent

  • information about any experts you will use to give evidence

You should send it even if you already tried to negotiate with your landlord.

You can read the pre-action protocol for housing condition claims on GOV.UK.

For a letter of claim template, scroll down to point (b) of ANNEX A.

If you have a solicitor, they should send this letter on your behalf.

Send your landlord a copy of the protocol together with your letter of claim if you think they do not know about it.

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Offer to settle before court action

You may still be able to avoid court action if you can reach an agreement.

If your landlord is trying to fix things, you could:

  • give them more time

  • negotiate to waive any rent arrears

  • ask for compensation for inconvenience

Reaching an agreement might save you time and money.

You could use our template in an email to your landlord.

[Use the subject: Repairs settlement offer]

Thank you for your response to my letter.

I’m prepared to settle if you do the works needed and pay me compensation.

The works needed are: [list everything that needs to be done to fix the problem].

I would like:

  • [£xxx] for what I’ve had to go through

  • [£xxx] for my financial losses

I would also like you to waive the rent I owe. [delete if you do not owe any rent]

I look forward to hearing from you within the next 10 days.

You can also send the letter as an email attachment or by post:

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Fill in the court forms and pay the fees

You can start a court claim on GOV.UK:

  • online

  • by downloading and completing form N1

You can also ask your local county court for a form.

If you use a paper copy:

  • keep 1 copy for yourself

  • send 3 copies of the form to the court

Read carefully:

  • any guidance

  • anything you get from the court

Check if there is a deadline to send more documents or evidence.

Follow any instructions you get from the court.

Your claim could be dismissed if you do not do this.

Court fees

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

Find out more about court fees on GOV.UK.

You may have to pay more if there are additional fees, for example for:

  • asking the court to order the landlord to do the work

  • court hearings

Ask the court what the fees are before you submit your claim if you're not sure.

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Go to the court hearing

You may have to wait a long time for a hearing.

It’s important to go to the hearing. You might lose if you do not attend.

If you have a solicitor or adviser, they can represent you.

What the court can decide

The court can order your landlord to:

  • fix the problem by a certain date

  • pay you compensation  

The court may also order your landlord to pay your legal costs but this does not normally happen in the small claims court.

The court can also dismiss your claim, for example if your evidence is not strong enough.

If a landlord ignores the court

You might have to go back to court if your landlord does not do what the court told them.

Ask the court what to do next if your landlord ignores an order to carry out repairs.

Find out how to enforce a claim for money on GOV.UK.

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Last updated: 27 June 2023

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