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, particularly if young children are affected.
Where problems of this kind are caused by the 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.
There are multiple potential causes of accidents at housing association properties for which the landlord may be held responsible. Both carpeting and floorboards should be free of surface 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. Fixtures at properties such as cupboard units and other furnishings must be in a safe state, with mounted kitchen units, to take one example, securely attached to the wall. Gas appliances must also be properly maintained to prevent issues including carbon monoxide leaks.
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 in a reasonably safe for tenants to use, as disrepair issues can pose a risk to every tenant living in a block or development.
Another common example of disrepair is where structural defects such as damaged roofs or gutters allow water to leak into a property, causing damp and mould. This is a problem that landlords often fail to address adequately, despite the fact that damp and mould can cause health problems, including worsening asthmatic conditions, a particular concern if babies or young children are living at the property. Housing association tenants have the legal right to expect that damp and mould is eradicated, as far as possible, within a reasonable timeframe by their landlord.
Find out more about: Suing a Local Council for Damp & Mould
If a tenant is injured due to a housing association’s failure to either provide a property in a reasonably 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. 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.
Only two years after a newspaper exposé and independent review criticised its repairs service, one of Britain’s largest housing associations, London & Quadrant, is still failing to address complaints from its social housing tenants about unsafe and unsanitary accommodation. These relate particularly to damp and mould issues and vermin, which have caused mental and physical health problems for a number of tenants.
The housing association’s performance was rated as bad by 89% of reviewers on Trustpilot, with residents complaining that they had spent as long as six years waiting for defects to be repaired. Despite L&Q originally promising that renovations would begin in 2018, one tenant claimed that ‘the place is falling apart’, with water leaking into properties, inadequate central heating, rotten window frames and a vermin infestation preventing rubbish collectors from accessing the basement.
Another resident was left suicidal after water leaking from the flat above caused her bathroom ceiling to collapse, while mould grew in her food cupboards and destroyed her personal possessions. Despite repeated requests to be rehoused, she had to live for three years in atrocious conditions until L&Q finally took action, with the charity agreeing to find her a new home and offering compensation for her damaged possessions following an exposé in the Observer newspaper.
The housing association acknowledged that the tenant’s experience had been ‘unacceptable’, and that it was launching an investigation into its failings in the case. It also blamed recent delays on the pressure placed on its repair and maintenance services by the COVID-19 pandemic. L&Q has announced a five year plan to improve its customer service for tenants, and aims to invest £1.9bn in improving its existing housing stock, which currently consists of 115,000 social housing properties.
A London woman sued her housing association for £150,000 compensation in a complicated case that illustrates how difficult it can be allocating blame for defects at properties and the accidents they can cause.
Ms Scales was walking home after chaperoning a neighbour’s party for teenagers, when she tripped over a large stone in the driveway and fell into bushes, spearing her eye on a sharp branch. She was rushed to hospital in agony where despite the efforts of doctors her left eye had to be removed. She sued her housing association under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 on the basis that it had breached its duty of care by failing to ensure the driveway was in a reasonable condition at the time of the accident.
Her legal team argued that the driveway was strewn with large stones and potholes, making it uneven, and that she had complained to the housing association multiple times about the poor surface and lack of adequate lighting. Despite her complaints, she claimed nothing had been done to make the driveway safe, and that even vehicles could be damaged driving down it. On this basis, her barrister argued that the housing association should have known about the driveway’s defects, and had in fact been notified about its condition on a number of occasions.
The housing association denied any blame for the accident, with its barrister arguing that recent work on the driveway shows that ‘reasonable care’ had been taken to make it safe. He cast doubt on whether Ms Scales had previously complained about the state of the driveway, despite her claim that evidence of the messages had been lost when she changed her mobile phone. He also questioned whether Ms Scales had been drinking on the night of the accident (which she strongly denied), and stated that she should have been able to safely step over the stones on the driveway.
While Ms Scales claimed that the loss of her eye proves the driveway was unsafe, the housing association argued that the trip and fall was an unfortunate accident.
Update: Ms Scales lost her compensation claim against the housing association, with the judge agreeing with the defense's argument that her fall was an unfortunate accident for which no party was to blame.
In welcome news for many renters in England, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced major reforms to support social housing tenants and make landlords more accountable for the standard of the accommodation they provide. This includes speeding up the complaints procedure, reducing the time it takes to reach decisions and ensuring effective resolution once a ruling has been made.
The social housing white paper - ‘The Charter for Social Housing Residents’ - is aimed at providing social housing tenants with the same rights as private tenants in many areas, including legal protections on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Improved access to the Housing Ombudsman should enable tenants to get faster and fairer redress for housing issues, which can currently take many months to resolve.
As with all major reforms of this kind, the proof will be in the delivery, and there is no doubt that a cultural change will be necessary in the social housing system if the reforms are to achieve their desired effect. However, compelling landlords to be more accountable and transparent is undoubtedly a positive development for those living in England’s estimated 4 million social homes.
We have won a variety of cases for clients who have been injured at rented properties, ranging from a claim on behalf of a tenant who fell down poorly lit communal stairs, to a claim on behalf of a child who was injured by discarded building materials at a rented property.
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.