What should you do if your landlord does not repair your home?

Damp is a common complaint of renters Credit: PA

Damp, damaged furnishings and broken boilers are all regular complaints renters have - but what should you do if your landlord is dragging their feet over repairing any issue?

Last week, ITV News revealed the horrific conditions people living in a Croydon council block were living in.

One family was forced to live in a single room as the damp had made the rest of the house unlivable.

After ITV's investigation, the council did promise to address all of the issues raised, but many more renters are suffering bad situations.

Renters have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic both economically and mentally - and with most of us forced to spend more time at home, the quality of the property where we live has become even more important.

Watch ITV Correspondent Dan Hewitt reveal the living conditions in a London tower block

A study at the end of last year by the housing charity Shelter saw third of renters saying they were living in poor conditions, experiencing electrical hazards, pests or damp-related issues.

According to the Office For National Statistics, there were around 4.5 million private households occupied by renters in 2018, with around 4.1 million renters living in social homes.While most renters are able to sort out repairs with their landlords quickly, a sizable number often face delays or worse.

Here's what you should do to ensure your property is safe.

What kind of damage should a landlord repair?

At the very least, the landlord is required to make sure the property is 'fit to live in' - this means the property does not affect your health, puts you at risk of injury and its condition sees you unable to make full use of the accommodation.

Landlords who do not provide houses fit for habitation can face fines from the local council and sometimes blacklisting (banning them from renting in the local authority altogether).

Mould and damp are common complaints but are often the result of damage elsewhere in the property.

Damp can also be caused by water penetrating through external walls or the roof, or internally with a plumbing problem.

The landlord is required to repair other faults like a broken boiler, cracked walls, or damaged doors.

A landlord is required to ensure the property is free of mould Credit: ITV

The landlord is required to do all repairs no matter how major they are, this may include replacing windows carpets or guttering and fixing damaged pipes or walls.

What should you do if the property needs repair?

The first point of call is the landlord or letting agency managing the property and you should contact them first.

Amy Hughes, Senior Housing Expert at Citizens Advice told ITV News if you believe a repair is needed keep documentary evidence of both the damage as well as your complaint.

This may mean making the complaint both over the phone and via email just so you can prove when you first raised the issue.

Once you have made the landlord aware of the issue then hopefully they get back in touch and arrange for the repairs within a reasonable time frame - this is what happens with the vast majority of rented properties.

Dan Craw from Generation Rent said: "In most cases, landlords will care enough about their property to actually do something to fix it but very often you will get landlords who try to cut corners."

What if they don't fix the issue?

If after you reached out to the property manager and they either did not respond or did respond but did not give a definite timetable to repair then there are more steps available to you.

Ms Hughes said even in the case of private tenancy the local council does have powers to inspect the property and may be able to force the landlord to carry out repairs.

While legislation differs in each local council over enforcement powers all have a department that will deal with private tenants.

All local councils will follow the health and safety rating system which outlines the basic standards a property needs to meet in order for it to be fit for tenants.

The system covers issues like the ability to heat the house, provide warm water, and appropriate measures to mitigate damp.

Mr Craw said: "If it's a serious issue and it impedes on your life there's a good chance it fails the safety standards and the council has a responsibility and powers to tell your landlord to make the repairs."

Most landlords do try and repair their property. Credit: PA

Mr Craw said most councils will ask you to wait two weeks to get a response from the landlord, but there's no hard rule for this, and in the case of emergencies then no waiting period is needed.

If you're confused about writing up the complaint to the council, then Shelter offers template letters that can provide some direction for how to properly present the issue to the council.

After complaining to the council they should send round someone to inspect the property and if they find it is not safe then they can serve the landlord with an improvement order.

This order will give them a legal reason to carry out the repairs, or face prosecution.

If the landlord drags their feet then the tenant may be able to reclaim some rent.

Crucially, if the council does find the property is not safe then the tenant is protected from being evicted for six months.

Where can you go to get advice?

  • Shelter has a range of advice available on their website covering all topics to do with renting, not just repair issues. You can view their website here.

  • They also offer a helpline to people who want to discuss their issues in person. You can find more about it here.

  • Shelter offers template letters which can be sent to landlords, letting agencies and councils covering a range of issues. You can find out about them here.

  • Citizens Advice also offers help for renting privately in general here and specific advice on repair issues here and what to do if you feel like you may be evicted here.

  • Citizens advice also has a helpline here.

  • Finally, the government also has an extensive webpage outlining all the special rules and support for renters during the course of the pandemic here.

However, in the time between you are not protected you could face a 'revenge eviction.'

Ms Hughes said: "Some unscrupulous landlords use this as a ‘revenge eviction’ when tenants complain about their living conditions."

She added: "This situation, understandably, means private tenants are very often reluctant to bring up maintenance or disrepair issues with their landlords."

The government did proise to abolish the section 21 notices used for revenge evictions in 2019 but has not made any progress so far.

Shelter housing adviser, Billy Sevens said: "Your landlord must deal with damp and mould problems that are caused by disrepair or make the property unfit to live in.   

"If your landlord isn’t carrying out repairs, or you feel worried about tradespeople coming to your home because of coronavirus, you can get in touch with one of Shelter’s expert advisers through our free webchat service or our emergency helpline.” What if the council doesn't help?

Mr Craw admitted some councils can be unreliable in responding and sending someone to inspect the property, on top of that sometimes the council is often the landlord.

The Human Habitation Act gives tenants a legal path through courts to try to force their landlord into action. 

Basics like central heating are required in a property before it can be rented. Credit: PA

It requires a solicitor and can be a long and complicated process but can result in the landlord being forced to repair the property or face a heavy fine.

The housing charity Shelter and Citizen's Advice both other guidance on how to move forward with this path, some legal firms offer free advice too.

Shelter has a large number of resources to help with complicated renting issues on its website and also offers a helpline to talk to someone in person.

The threat of legal action can often spur the landlord into action.

If not and your complaint is upheld by the court then the landlord is bound to face a heavy fine and will be forced to repair the property.

Evidence is key to all of this, which is why it is so important to keep the documentary evidence of the issue in the property, as well as the correspondence with the landlord.

You may also go to the small claims court which is designed to be cheaper but it only covers repairs that would cost up to £1000.

What if the threat of legal action does not change anything?

If you've been really unlucky and have a terrible landlord they may still delay carrying out repairs or attempt to do a quick cheap repair that does not fix the underlying issue.

Anyone who's complaint to the council about their rented property is upheld is safe from evictions for six months. Credit: PA

For example, some landlords have been known to offer dehumidifiers to tenants with damp issues rather than carrying out the often expensive repairs needed to fix the issue.

Shelter's Mr Sevens said in the case of poor repairs then you should: "Inform your landlord know as soon as you can if there’s a problem with any repair work, as this should give them the chance to rectify any poor-quality repairs."If your landlord refuses to rectify the issues, you may want to consider contacting your local council for assistance."

Essentially if poor quality repairs do not rectify the issue, then you can still request further repair work.

If the legal option is not viable and you have tried all other forms of recourse then attempting to contact the local media or a campaign group may be your final option.

If you have a story to share about housing conditions, email housingstories@itv.com