December 27, 2023

How Long do Landlords Have to Fix Problems?

How long do landlords have to fix problems?

How long does a landlord have to fix something in a rental property is a question that often turns into a bone of contention between UK landlords and tenants. This is because there is often a lack of understanding of how the repair process works, and of what constitutes urgent repairs and non-urgent repairs.

In this post we will take a deep dive into the subject of UK private landlord repair obligations, including how long landlords have to fix problems, the difference between urgent and non-urgent repairs, the responsibility of the tenant in reporting issues in a timely fashion, and typical repairs that are commonplace in a privately rented home.

Landlord’s responsibilities for repairs

The responsibility for repairs within a rental property is set out across a variety of UK laws. Because they are legally established laws, any clauses in tenancy agreements that attempt to reallocate responsibility will be automatically void and will not stand up in law.

To summarise landlord repair obligations, landlords are required to take care of their properties and maintain them in good repair, ensuring that they are habitable. Landlords who keep this general rule front of mind will usually stay within the law.

Ensuring rental property repairs are actioned is not just a legal requirement. Landlords will do well to consider it good business sense too. Aside from keeping tenants happy so that they stay for the long term keeping void periods and remarketing costs to a minimum, making sure a property is well maintained will see it retain its value. A well-kept property will always be more rentable and saleable than one that’s been neglected.

What’s more, adopting a timely approach to resolving rental property problems will help keep costs down too. A dripping tap or leaking gutter, for example, is easily remedied. But left unresolved, both can, over time, turn into major and very costly issues.

Landlord repair obligations – what does the law say?

UK landlord repair obligations are contained within a variety of overlapping laws.

The three pieces of legislation which apply in England are:

  1. Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
  2. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018
  3. The Housing Act 2004

The first two pieces of legislation are enforceable in court by tenants. The second and third are enforceable by the local authority.

Technically, landlord repair obligations do not kick in until the landlord or the managing agent become aware of the issue within the property, for example via notification by the tenant, or during a mid-term inspection.

In terms of tenant responsibility, the requirement is that the tenant should report a need for repair or maintenance to their landlord or managing agent without delay. This should be reiterated in the tenancy agreement.

Sometimes, tenants may be reluctant to report what they consider ‘minor’ issues for fear of ‘bothering’ the landlord. However, they should be encouraged to report anything that is causing them even the slightest concern, bearing in mind that even the most minor problems can, if left unrectified, turn into major catastrophes.

This is where the importance of the mid-term inspection cannot be over-emphasised. As well as checking that the tenants are taking care of the property and sticking to the terms set out in the tenancy agreement, the property inspector will be trained to identify any developing issues and document them for the landlord to review.

Which repairs are a landlord’s responsibility?

Landlords have a variety of maintenance and repair responsibilities under English law:

External repairs

Landlord repair obligations under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 cover repairs to the roof, guttering, drains, external pipework, exterior doors and windows. Also included are gates, fences and garden sheds.

Landlords are not required by law to maintain the garden. This is the responsibility of the tenant, unless otherwise agreed and set out in the tenancy agreement.

External repairs are of significant importance. Problems with downpipes and guttering for example can lead to major issues, from structural damage to internal damp and mould which are both known to cause or exacerbate health problems.

Gas, electric and water

Landlords are obligated to ensure gas, electric and water installations are maintained in good repair.

Gas – landlords are required to obtain an annual gas safety certification for all gas installations within the rental property. An annual boiler service is not a legal requirement, but many landlords do provide this in order to keep costly repair callouts to a minimum, as well as comply with boiler warranty conditions. Should a boiler break down, it is the landlord’s job to arrange its repair.

Electric – landlords must arrange for an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) to be carried out every five years as a minimum. Anything highlighted by the report that needs attention must be actioned within 30 days. For any landlord supplied appliances, the landlord is responsible for repair. For anything the tenant has purchased themselves, it is down to them to arrange any necessary repairs.

Water – sinks, toilets, baths, showers and any other sanitaryware are the responsibility of the landlord in terms of repairs. The tenant is, however, required to take reasonable care of the property and ensure installations are kept clean and well-maintained. Everyday tasks such as removing hair from shower traps and descaling showerheads are not down to the landlord.

Communal areas

Landlords are required to cover repairs in all communal areas of multi-tenanted properties, such as flats and HMOs (houses in multiple occupation).

In flats, landlord repair obligations include stairwells and hallways. These obligations may be in conjunction with the freeholder, unless they and the landlord are one in the same.

In HMOs, bedsits or studios, as well as having responsibility for the maintenance of communal areas, landlords must also take care of shared facilities, such as kitchens, bathrooms and gardens.

What does ‘fit for human habitation’ mean?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 makes it a legal obligation for landlords to make sure their rental properties are fit for human habitation. This is enforced by local authorities, as well as through the courts by tenants.

In terms of a landlord’s responsibilities for repairs, the Act doesn’t include anything that falls under the responsibility of the tenant.

To determine whether a property is fit for human habitation, or rather not fit for human habitation, a court will check:

  • The condition of the building and its state of neglect
  • Any serious issues around damp and mould, or insufficient ventilation
  • Any problems with the supply of hot and cold water
  • Problems with drainage from the WCs
  • The existence of adequate food preparation and cooking and washing up facilities

The court will also check for any of the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005, introduced via the Housing Act 2004.

Which rental property repairs and maintenance are the responsibility of the tenant?

Those who rent privately are required to behave in a ‘tenant-like manner’, according to case law. Here are some examples of what this actually means:

  • Changing light bulbs and fuses when necessary
  • Keeping the property clean both inside and out
  • Disposing of waste in line with local authority guidelines
  • Unblocking baths, showers and sinks
  • Using anti-scale products in appliances
  • Not flushing anything down the toilet that should not be
  • Bleeding radiators and resetting boiler pressure as needed
  • Garden maintenance, including lawn mowing and leaf clearing, unless the landlord stipulates otherwise
  • Keeping the property suitably ventilated and using any provided extractor fans in order to prevent condensation and mould

Tenants are also required to cover the costs of repairing any damage that they or their guests have caused, for example by neglecting to clear hair from plugs leading to a flood.

What other responsibilities do tenants have in terms of repairs and maintenance?

It is important that tenants report any requirements for repairs or maintenance to the landlord without delay, unless they are jobs that fall under their own remit.

As a landlord, you should encourage your tenants to report issues as early on as possible, and make it easy for them to do so. Inviting them to use text or email can be helpful, especially for those who may find it difficult to make calls for whatever reason.

Tenants must also give landlords or their contractors ‘reasonable access’ to undertake the repairs. Landlords are required to provide a minimum of 24 hours’ notice requesting access at a reasonable time. However, in the event of an emergency, this time can be reduced.

Tenants are also required to provide access for routine maintenance and legally required safety checks.

How long do landlords have to fix problems?

UK private landlords should carry out repairs within a ‘reasonable time’ from when they receive notification of a problem. There is no formally defined response time set out in English law, and it will depend upon the urgency or seriousness of the issue, as well as the time of year.

If a problem has resulted in the rental property becoming uninhabitable, then the repair should be prioritised as urgent.

Minor issues that do not constitute a hazard under the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005 can be left a bit longer, although they still need to be resolved in what is classed as a ‘reasonable’ timeframe.

With no clear definitions in place, it is no wonder landlords and tenants can become confused as to how long UK landlords have to fix problems. With this in mind, here are some examples of common rental property problems, and what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ amount of time to fix them.

Boiler not working, no hot water

Tenants should not be without hot water for longer than is necessary, so landlords should, in the event of a boiler malfunction, arrange for a qualified boiler engineer to visit, ideally the same day or next day.

If the boiler needs a new part and the hot water supply cannot be restored quickly, then it would be considered good practice for the landlord to arrange somewhere for the tenants to have a bath or shower if possible.

It is worthwhile for landlords to consider investing in a boiler repair plan so that callouts are prioritised whenever there is a problem. It can also prove more cost effective than paying for ad-hoc visits.

Central heating not working

If your tenant has no heating and winter is in full swing, arranging a repair should be considered a priority. This can be downgraded to less urgent during less inclement times of the year.

Burst water pipe

A burst water pipe is a serious issue due to the damage it can cause, as well as affecting the water supply to the property.

Landlords should consider this an urgent matter and arrange for a plumber to attend the same day or at least the next day, remembering to advise the tenant to turn the stopcock off to minimise damage.

Broken or misaligned guttering or downpipes

Guttering and downpipes are a common area of neglect, but they have the potential to cause costly problems when they are broken or misaligned.

As well as causing damage to brickwork, they can cause damp inside the property, which can lead to mould. As well one of the 29 hazards listed under the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005, exposure to damp, mould or fungal growths can be a major health hazard, especially for those already suffering from certain illnesses.

Broken window

The immediate issues with a broken window are security, and letting cold air in. The priority should be to get the window boarded up so that the property is secured and draughts are excluded. Remember that difficulties in keeping a property secure against unauthorised entry is one of the 29 hazards listed under the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005.

Once these priorities are taken care of, a new window can be ordered. Tenants should expect a delay of potentially a few weeks, and perhaps longer for special window types and sizes.

Extractor fan not working

An extractor fan in a bathroom or kitchen that’s not working can, over time, lead to a build-up of condensation, which can potentially cause damp and mould. Naturally, it is important to fix such issues, but replacing or repairing an extractor fan can usually safely be added to a monthly or bi-monthly maintenance visit.

However, if there is already a condensation or mould problem in the property, then having the extractor fan fixed will probably need to be raised up the priority list, again remembering that exposure to damp, mould or fungal growths is one of the 29 hazards listed under the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005.

Pest infestation

Exposure to pests is another one of the 29 hazards listed under the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005. Pests such as mice, rats and cockroaches can be a health hazard, as well as causing psychological anguish. They must therefore be considered a priority should they be reported by a tenant.

Dripping tap

Annoying as it may be, a dripping tap isn’t considered an emergency for repair purposes unless it is causing damage or wasting an excessive amount of water. Things like this can be added to the routine maintenance list for action at a later date.

What if a tenant is not satisfied with a landlord’s response?

If a tenant is not satisfied with the response in terms of how long the landlord is quoting to fix something, and they believe their property is not fit for human habitation as a result of the problem, then they are entitled to complain to their local authority, which will consider the case and, if they are in agreement, commence enforcement action.

They are also able to take private legal action.

A good landlord, however, will not let things get this far and will be responsive and courteous regarding any tenant requests for repairs or maintenance. Good landlord and tenant relations go a long way on both sides, so it’s good practice for a landlord to consider how they’d like to be treated should the tables be turned.

Looking to offload your landlord repair obligations?

Not every landlord has the time to respond to tenants’ requests for repair and maintenance visits.

If you would rather not have the responsibility for repairs and maintenance, why not hand over the running of your rental property to City Borough Housing? Not only will our expert team take over full responsibility for handling all your repairs and day to day maintenance, they will also liaise with your tenants and organise everything on your behalf. And these are not the only benefits to working with City Borough Housing.

As well as fully inclusive repairs and maintenance – and regular interim property inspections to check all is well with your property during the tenancy – you will also enjoy guaranteed rent for the full term of the agreement, with no voids. In addition, you will receive your property back in its pre-let condition at the end of the agreement, allowing for fair wear and tear.

Our guaranteed rent scheme pays a competitive rental amount every month for at least three years, with no fees or commission, and everyday repairs and maintenance included. Properties are let to local authority families, so you will be doing your bit to help the housing crisis.

To learn how our guaranteed rent scheme could save you time and money and take care of all your landlord repair obligations, and to request your free valuation, please get in touch.

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