Should tenants go to court over property repair?
When the Habitation Act came into force in England in March this year, it became a specific legal requirement that rented properties are fit for human habitation at the start of a tenancy and remain so throughout the term of the lease agreement. At the same time, tenants were given the power to take court action against their landlord for breach of contract, on the grounds that a property is ‘unfit for human habitation’.
Previously, tenants had to rely on their local council to respond and take action on their behalf. Now, they can sue their landlord directly if:
- They feel the condition of their rented home is not up to standard, and
- Their landlord has ignored their request for repairs or simply failed to carry out works
Is it worth tenants going to court?
This largely depends on how much evidence they have. They do have to be able to prove they reported the issue and have already tried to sort out problems directly with you. Citizens Advice advises tenants that before they take legal action, to write to their landlord stating that they have 20 working days to either do the necessary repairs or make a reasonable arrangement to do them. Tenants will then have to complete various stages of paperwork and either attend court themselves or pay for a legal representative to act on their behalf.
If a tenant does take action and the court rules in their favour, the judge could order you to:
- Carry out repairs
- Pay your tenant compensation
- Pay some or all of your tenant's legal costs
However, if the tenant doesn’t have a good enough paper trail or their case is considered weak for another reason, the judge may dismiss it.
All of this is time-consuming, stressful and could also be costly for the tenant, who may not have the funds to pay for the process and repairs up front. In short, unless they have a very strong case with detailed evidence, it might not be worth them going to court.
The reality is that the vast majority of landlords are ethical and professional, so a tenant taking legal action against a private landlord should be a very rare thing. If it does happen, it is likely to be against a landlord who is clearly not bothered that they’re breaking the law or doesn’t work with a qualified agent.
As experienced managing agents, we have systems in place for communicating with tenants, carrying out inspections and making landlords aware of repairs when necessary. This also forms part of our Fully Managed landlord service.
You can find further information on Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 on the government website.