Who’s responsible for repairs in a rented property – landlord or tenant? Both, potentially, but deciding exactly who has to foot the bill can cause headaches. The problem is not the repair itself; it’s understanding the situation and keeping a cool head.

Establishing the facts and coming up with solutions is pretty critical to the landlord tenant relationship. It’s not always easy getting to the bottom of a repair problem and many agents avoid doing so altogether, despite it being a major part of our job. It comes down to accountability, one of my favourite subjects!

The Tenant Fees Act

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 is a minefield to the uninitiated, particularly when it comes to repairs and maintenance. The aim of the Act is to reduce the costs that tenants face at the outset and throughout a tenancy. There’s a list of 8 things for which landlords can charge, but repairs aren’t included.

This means neither you nor your letting agent can charge a tenant for arranging maintenance or repair work legitimately carried out at the property. If the fault lies with the tenant, but you don’t discover this until after the event (as is often the case), then you may not be able to charge them.

“The party that contracts the service – the landlord – will be responsible for paying for that service…”  to quote the Government.

Some letting agents will get the work done to save time and effort then simply pass the costs on to their landlord client and deal with the consequences later. Other agents (and landlords) ignore their tenants’ pleas to help them sort their repair problems.

I don’t regard either option as being particularly accountable.

Accidents happen, things need repairing

Accidents happen, things stop working, break and need repairing. For the tenant, getting something fixed fast is important. With the proper processes in place it’s entirely possible to manage the situation. The Tenant Fees Act is a nightmare, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for lazy or rogue behaviour.

However difficult housing legislation makes our lives, we have a duty of care to both our landlords and their tenants. Accountability is key and having a logical, objective view achieves the right result for both tenant and landlord. Here are 3 examples to demonstrate what I mean.

Case study 1: The leak from the upstairs flat  

We took on a new landlord and property just before the Coronavirus lockdown. It was an empty property in need of attention, which the landlord had no time to address given the nature of her demanding job. We sorted the repairs and decoration and quickly arranged for 2 tenants to move into the property. Almost immediately they reported a leak from the flat above which, it transpires, was a problem for the previous tenants. Our landlord client’s former letting agent had done little to sort the problem and the previous tenants got fed up and gave notice. This was not a good result for the landlord, although it ended up being an excellent opportunity for us to show how different we are!

Yes, in one respect it’s someone else’s problem to deal with, but look where that kind of approach gets you! We got in touch with the occupants of the flat above (also a rented property) and identified the problem (failed shower sealant). We contacted their agent and 48 hours later the problem was solved. Our landlord client was astonished by how proactive we had been to say the least, but we don’t regard this as ‘over and above the call of duty’; we simply call this accountability to our landlord client. Clearly a view not shared by her previous agent!

Case study 2: The window wrenched off its hinges

On a Facebook forum for letting agents, the following scenario was recently posted for members to offer a view.

Tenant leaves a window open during a storm and the force of the wind breaks the hinges. Is the landlord or tenant liable for the repair? 

Most letting agents replied that they would hold the landlord liable, on the basis that it “wasn’t the tenant’s fault that the wind blew the window clear open”. They expected the landlord to cover the cost of repair and advised the forum poster (another letting agent) to get the work done, then invoice the landlord.

Sorry, but why should the landlord be responsible for the tenant leaving a window open during a storm in which a strong wind wrenched the window off its hinges?

It comes down to accountability, not blame. Whether the tenant was careless to leave a window open during strong winds, or just unlucky doesn’t change the fact that they are responsible for the property and therefore accountable for their actions.

Handling such a situation calls for clear communication with the tenant – obviously not something that the other letting agents on the Facebook forum considered a viable option!

Case study 3: The radiator that fell off the wall

“The radiator’s fallen off the wall!” claimed the tenant. “I didn’t touch it – honest!”

Ah, that old chestnut. We all know that radiators do that, don’t they?

Obviously, it hadn’t, otherwise the property would have been flooded. So what’s going on? Had the tenant been clumsy? Is there a danger of flooding if we don’t act fast?

It transpired that the radiator was slightly hanging away from the wall because it had only been fixed with screws into plasterboard, not into rawl plugs. Clearly, the cost of the repair rests with the landlord, as it had been incorrectly fitted in the first place.

Just because the tenant’s initial statement had clearly been an exaggeration didn’t mean we should ignore her obvious concern and not bother to investigate further.

We’re accountable to both landlord and tenant

We have a ‘fail safe’ method of establishing the nature of the damage / break / failure. Then we act accordingly. Are we perfect? No (although we try to be!). Do we do a very good job in return for a fair fee? Yes.

Both landlord and tenant have responsibilities towards a property and it’s our job to manage the process efficiently and effectively.

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