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Private tenants: additional remedies

This content applies to England & Wales

Some remedies for disrepair that private tenants may have.

Appointment of a manager

If a landlord persistently neglects her/his duties to carry out repairs then the tenant, or a group of tenants, could seek the appointment of a manager or receiver to manage the property in place of the landlord. The role of the manager is to accept rent from the tenant(s) in place of the landlord. This rental income can then be used to pay for repairs. However, if the cost of repairs is greater than the rental income, the difference cannot be recovered from the landlord:[1]

  • where premises (or the part of the premises subject to the application) contain at least two flats, then one or more of the tenants may apply to the county court for a manager to be appointed to manage the premises.[2] The tenant must notify the landlord of her/his intention to make the application to the court
  • in cases where the above conditions are not met (such as houses or single flats), it may be possible to apply to the High Court to appoint a 'receiver' in cases of extreme neglect of the landlord's repairing obligations.[3]

In both the above cases, it will be necessary to demonstrate to the court that the breach has occurred and that it is likely to reoccur if the receiver/manager is not appointed. It could therefore be a useful remedy in cases of extreme neglect, absent landlords or in situations where the landlord might be trying to use disrepair as a means of trying to get the tenant to leave. The receiver is likely to be a solicitor, accountant, surveyor or other professional and the tenant can put forward a suitable candidate at the hearing.

Vacating premises

If a property is let furnished and is not fit for human habitation at the time it is let, then the tenant can give up the tenancy and will not be liable for rent.[4]

However, it is essential that the tenant leaves before paying any rent because any payments will be treated as an acceptance of the condition of the property, and the contract. For example, a weekly periodic tenant must leave before the end of the seven-day period covered by the rent. If rent in advance has been paid before moving in, the landlord may try to argue that this constitutes an acceptance of the unfitness; however it should be argued that this cannot be the case where the tenant did not see the property in advance or where the problem was not easily visible.

The definition of 'fitness for human habitation' in common law is explained on the page on Condition on day of letting in the section on contractual rights.

Reduction in fair rent for regulated tenants

If there has been a substantial deterioration in the condition of the property, a regulated tenant with a fair rent can apply for a reduction in the registered rent.[5] See the section on Fair rents for more information.

Complaining to a redress scheme

Where a tenant is renting through a letting agency, if the agent fails to respond adequately to a request for disrepair to be remedied, a complaint can be made to the redress scheme that the agency belongs to. See the page Complaints against agencies: redress schemes for more information.

Retaliatory eviction

When advising private tenants on taking action on disrepair, it is important to check the tenant's tenancy status (see Security of tenure for more information on how to check tenancy status). It is usually straightforward for a landlord to evict a tenant with limited security of tenure, and some landlords may choose to evict a tenant who takes action on disrepair rather than carry out the necessary repairs.

With effect from 1 October 2015 and in respect of assured shorthold tenancies granted in England on or after that date only, there are restrictions on when a landlord can serve a valid section 21 notice after the tenant has complained in writing about the conditions of the property and the local authority has served a 'relevant notice' on the landlord. For more details, see Restrictions on use of section 21.

[1] Evans v Clayhope Properties Ltd (1988) 20 HLR 176.

[2] Part 2 Landlord and Tenant Act 1987.

[3] s.37 Supreme Courts Act 1981.

[4] Wilson v Finch-Hatton [1887] 2 Ex D 336.

[5] s.67(3)(a) Rent Act 1977.

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