Legal action if your landlord won't do repairs

You can take court action to get work done or claim compensation if your landlord fails to deal with repairs or poor conditions.

What the court can do

The court can order your landlord to:

  • carry out the repairs
  • pay you compensation

You can take court action if repairs aren’t done within a reasonable period.

The court can also order your landlord to make an unsafe property fit to live in if your tenancy began or was renewed from 20 March 2019.

Before you start legal action

Court action should be your last resort. 

Think about the following before starting your claim: 

  • alternatives to court action
  • if you can get help with court fees or legal advice
  • whether your problem is a 'small claim' - you don't need a solicitor for a small claim  

Check if you're protected from revenge eviction. If you rent privately, your landlord might take steps to evict you if you start legal action against them. 

Small claims

The small claims procedure is designed to be easier to represent yourself.

Court fees are lower and you don’t pay your landlord’s legal costs if you lose.

If you're asking the landlord to carry out work, you can only make a small claim if:

  • the work needed costs less than £1000
  • you're asking for less than £1000 in compensation

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

Larger or more complex claims

These are dealt with differently. Fees are higher and the process is more complicated.

You'll probably need a solicitor.

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.

Find out more about court fees on GOV.UK.

Alternatives to court action

If you rent privately through a letting agent, you could make a formal complaint.

If you're a council or housing association tenant, you can make a formal complaint and ask the Housing Ombudsman to investigate further.

Free legal help from a solicitor

It can be difficult and expensive to take legal action by yourself.

Ask a solicitor about a conditional fee arrangement - sometimes called 'no win no fee'.

Legal aid

Legal aid only helps with very serious cases of disrepair or bad housing conditions. There must be a serious risk to your health or safety in your home.

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

You can't get legal aid to claim compensation.

Find a solicitor on the Law Society database

Preparing for court action

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

  • letters and emails to your landlord
  • photos of the disrepair, damage or bad conditions
  • receipts for any items you had to replace
  • medical reports

Evidence from your council

If your home has been assessed by environmental health you can use the inspection report as evidence.

Experts’ reports

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

Experts could include:

  • damp experts
  • building surveyors
  • plumbers or builders
  • your GP or other medical specialists

Send a letter before action

You must send a ‘letter before action’ to your landlord to try and resolve things.

The letter should:

  • explain the problem
  • give details of how and when you told the landlord
  • set out clearly what you're asking for in terms of repairs and compensation
  • state that you intend to take court action if they don’t put things right within 20 working days

Ask the landlord to suggest an amount if you don't know how much compensation to ask for. You can then decide if their offer is reasonable.

You can start court action once the deadline in your letter has passed if you can't reach an agreement.

How to start court action

To start a court claim:

  • fill in claim form N1
  • keep a copy for yourself
  • send 3 copies of the form to the court

You can download Form N1 and guidance notes from GOV.UK or ask your local county court for a form.

Read anything you get from the court carefully. Check if you have to send more documents or evidence by a deadline.

If you don’t follow instructions from the court, your claim could be dismissed.

Attend the court hearing

You might have to wait several months before a judge looks at your case.

It’s important to go to the hearing, even if you have already sent evidence in writing. If you don’t attend, it’s likely that you’ll lose your case.

Small claims hearings may be in a courtroom or in small private room. The public aren’t allowed in.

A solicitor or adviser can represent you, or you can represent yourself.

What the court can decide

The court can order your landlord to:

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

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

If a landlord ignores the court

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

Still need advice?

Contact a Shelter adviser online or by phone


Last updated 20 Mar 2019 | © Shelter

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