Housing associations have a legal duty to ensure their properties are safe for tenants to live in and are repaired when the need arises. Once landlords are informed about a problem at a property, they must take action to begin repair work within a reasonable timeframe; how long is judged ‘reasonable’ depends on the specific disrepair issue and its urgency.
The Housing Disrepair Protocol 2003 requires that landlords at least address a tenant’s complaint within 20 working days (in an emergency situation they would be expected to act as quickly as possible), and a failure to reply or to begin repairs can be grounds for making a housing disrepair claim.
Lack of heating or hot water is one of the most urgent issues, and can make a property uninhabitable in a very short space of time. A tenant may be unable to live in their home for an extended period due to the lack of basic services, causing inconvenience and disruption in their life. There are also health risks associated with the absence of heating or hot water and excessive cold, including hypothermia and pneumonia.
Housing disrepair claims may relate to structural problems. Examples include leaking roofs, windows, drains or gutters, and potentially hazardous damp and mould problems. Landlords must make sure that installations and services are in good working order and are checked regularly for defects. Compensation awards for disrepair are likely to be high if a property has been infested by rodents or insects, including bed bugs
, particularly if young children are affected.
Where problems of this kind are caused by poor maintenance, a housing association can be held legally responsible. Tenants may be compensated for repair costs, physical or mental injury, illness, damage to personal possessions, the cost of alternative accommodation, time off work and medical expenses.
To be left without heating or hot water can be a nightmare scenario for tenants, particularly those with babies or young children. Whether the heating or hot water has ceased working altogether, works sporadically or fails to heat up to the correct temperature, the landlord is legally responsible for the problem and must fix it as quickly as possible. All disrepair situations are different, but a lack of heating or hot water is one of the most urgent, as it can make a property uninhabitable in a short space of time.
The link between cold living conditions and ill health is clearly recognised, while such conditions can also lead to the spread of damp and mould at a property. Apart from posing a health hazard, lack of heating or hot water can also result in considerable inconvenience and disruption to a tenant’s life, for example, if they are temporarily unable to live in their property due to the cold and forced to pay for alternative accommodation, or need time off work to deal with the issue.
Once they are informed about lack of hot water or heating by a tenant, housing associations must address the problem within a reasonable timeframe, and in the case of a property having no heating or hot water, this period will be a few days at most, and within 24 hours if there is an obvious and urgent risk to the health of tenants, such as when a tenant is elderly and their boiler breaks down in winter. When a landlord has been informed about the problem, but cannot immediately organize repairs, they should supply an alternative source of heating, such as electric heaters, or relocate tenants in the interim.
Carbon monoxide is a potentially lethal gas which can leak from faulty boilers, normally because of problems with the boiler flue. Because the gas is invisible, odourless and cannot be tasted, a person may not notice the fact that they are inhaling hazardous amounts of carbon monoxide until the symptoms become apparent. Headaches and nausea from carbon monoxide poisoning will often force a person to seek medical attention, while prolonged exposure to the gas can be life-threatening.
Under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, housing associations must ensure that gas appliances, fittings and flues are maintained in a safe state. A Gas Safe registered engineer should be used to install appliances, and should carry out a service inspection at least once a year. After this check is carried out, landlords should provide tenants with a copy of the gas safety record within 28 days.
When a fault is detected which cannot be immediately repaired by the engineer, there will sometimes be no other option except to turn the gas boiler off altogether. This can leave the tenant without hot water and heating until their landlord takes action to deal with the problem (see above).
Damp and mould is a common problem in British homes and poses a serious health hazard, particularly to young children. However, landlords often avoid, delay or attempt to shift responsibility for taking action to eradicate damp and mould, as it can be difficult, expensive and time-consuming.
Tenants need to be aware of their legal rights under the Housing Disrepair Protocol 2003, which imposes a duty on landlords to address complaints about damp and mould within 20 working days. They are further expected to begin work to resolve the issue within a reasonable time frame. Part of the role of a solicitor is to make sure that the necessary repair work is not delayed time and again by a housing association or local council’s excuses or refusal to accept responsibility for the issue.
Mould spores can cause a wide range of health issues, particularly infections, allergies and respiratory illnesses, as well as sore throats, coughs, sneezing, headaches, migraines, nausea and sinus problems. They can trigger asthma attacks and lead to a permanent asthmatic condition developing, which is particularly worrying for parents with babies or young children. Pre-existing medical conditions and illnesses can also be made significantly worse by exposure to damp and mould.
Tenants’ quality of life at a damp property can deteriorate dramatically as a result of persistent flu-type symptoms and related issues such as sleeping difficulties and having clothes, curtains and carpets ruined by mould (compensation awards will include damage to personal property and possessions). Another major factor for parents can be the emotional strain of living in an unhealthy domestic environment with young children, when complaints to the local council are ignored and no action is taken to deal with the problem.
Parents became concerned about their two-year-old child after he developed a loud barking cough, which was diagnosed by their GP as croup. The toddler had previously suffered from chest infections and asthma, which the parents believed were related to damp and mould at their home. The family had previously complained to their landlord about the problem, and some cleaning and painting work had been done. This did not however tackle the underlying issue, which turned out to be water seeping into the roof of the property due to damaged external guttering, causing the mould problem to recur.
Despite informing the landlord, no further action was taken to deal with the issue, and frustrated by the situation, the couple decided to seek legal advice. After considering the case, we advised that as per section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, their landlord was legally obliged to 'keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house, including drains, gutters and external pipes'. The landlord had been informed in writing about the mould problem, and of the likelihood that its underlying cause was damaged guttering, but had failed to address the problem within 20 working days, meaning they were in breach of the Housing Disrepair Protocol 2003. The family’s disrepair claim was ultimately successful, with a £3,750 compensation settlement agreed between the parties.
Babies, toddlers and younger children are more sensitive to mould spores than others, and are consequently more likely to develop breathing problems when living at a rented property with a damp and mould problem. Symptoms of mould exposure also include coughs, sore throats and headaches, all of which can have a seriously damaging effect on an infant's quality of life and general health. One of the most significant risks is that they may develop a permanent asthmatic condition linked to prolonged exposure to damp and mould, and this is why parents need to consider taking legal action if they are forced to continue living in a damp and mouldy environment because of their landlord’s failure to address the problem.
There are multiple potential causes of accidents at housing association properties for which the landlord may be held responsible. Both carpets and floorboards should be free of defects which may cause tenants to trip, slip and fall. Rotten and damaged floorboards can give way under a person’s weight, or frayed carpeting may lead to a tenant tripping over it. Problems with roofing and ceilings can cause cracks to develop and plasterboard to fall onto those below, while there is also the possibility of asbestos exposure when ceilings and walls develop large cracks or partially collapse. These types of structural problems can also result in water leaking into a property, potentially causing further disrepair issues like damp and mould. Fixtures and appliances such as cupboards and shower units must be in a safe state, with mounted kitchen units, to take one example, securely attached to the wall.
The safety of communal and outdoor areas at housing association properties are also the responsibility of the landlord. Accidents may involve falls down unsafe stairs, if, for example, they are poorly lit, lack the necessary safety railings or their surfaces are damaged. Hazards in outdoor areas include potholes, building materials left lying around, and ice and snow in winter. Housing associations are expected to keep communal and outdoor areas at their properties reasonably safe for tenants to use, as disrepair issues can pose a risk to every tenant living in a block or development.
If you are still living in the property and not planning to move out in the next month, you will need to have a house survey carried out by a chartered surveyor. If you have already moved out, you will need to have already obtained a surveyor’s report.
The necessary repair work to deal with the disrepair issue at your property will need to have a value of over £1,000. This is usually the case with damp and mould, for example.
If you have damp and mould in your home, it will help if you know the precise cause. Are there any structural issues affecting the property such as a broken gutter or leaking roof, or has the damp and mould been caused solely by condensation?
You will normally need to have reported the disrepair issue to the landlord at least three months ago. Social housing tenants will need to have made a formal complaint through the official complaints procedure. If you live in council housing, contact your council. If you live in a housing association home, check your contract for contact details.
If you have been injured due to disrepair at your property, have you visited your GP and mentioned that your injury was caused by disrepair? If you haven’t done so yet, medical evidence of this kind will be important to support your claim.
Apart from a doctor’s medical note, photos and videos can be crucial in establishing the existence of disrepair and its extent. This is particularly important in situations where a landlord undertakes repair work, and there is no photographic evidence of disrepair to support a claim.
Documentary evidence of reports to your landlord, such as copies of emails and screenshots of messages, online reports and call logs can prove that the landlord was aware of the disrepair issue, but failed to take timely action to repair it. If the matter was only reported to the landlord over the phone, it will help if you can provide the dates of the calls.
Finally, you will need to provide your solicitor with a copy of your tenancy agreement.
If a tenant is injured due to a housing association’s failure to either provide a property in a reasonably decent state of repair or to deal with a disrepair issue reported to them, then it will often be possible for the tenant to sue and receive compensation. As long as the landlord has been informed, tenants can also sue housing associations for disrepair that has not been dealt with after a reasonable amount of time. Our housing disrepair solicitors can advise you for free about the possibility of making a claim, and can represent you on a no win no fee basis in taking legal action against a housing association.
Claiming with us is easy. Get a free no obligation initial consultation about your case, your rights, and our no win no fee agreement. All information can be taken over the phone. Medical treatment is local to you. We aim to keep the claims process short by keeping claims out of court. If your claim does need to go to court it is unlikely that you will need to attend court, as cases settle before the final hearing.
Compensation will pay for private healthcare treatment. It will also cover:
Expenses (such as the cost of travel to hospital appointments)
Loss of income
The amount of compensation you receive will depend on the severity of your injuries and the likelihood that you’ll make a full recovery. We’ll seek expert opinions on what care you’ll need to ensure that the compensation we claim will be sufficient.