Housing Repairs

If you have a rented property in need of repair, you do have rights.

If something’s gone wrong in your house, you probably want it fixed. The first step is obvious – work out whose duty it is to make the repair: it could be yours as the tenant or it could be the landlord’s. If you ask your landlord to make a repair and it's really your own responsibility, you'll just look like an idiot. So, we begin with...

Your Responsibilities

If a repair is quite minor, the chances are it’s your responsibility.

Some examples:

  • if a fuse blows replace it (but if the same fuse blows frequently, there may be an electrical fault – get the landlord to act!)

  • if the sink’s blocked, unblock it yourself (your local DIY store can advise you)

  • if a lightbulb blows, replace it (but if the same bulb blows every week, there’s an electrical fault – get the landlord to act!)

  • if the kettle the landlord provided gets furred up, buy some de-scaler yourself

If something looks minor like this and looks like your responsibility, it probably is. A decent rule of thumb is: would you hire someone to do this job if you were living in a house that you yourself owned? If not, it’s probably your responsibility as a “minor” repair.

Beware of not fulfilling your own responsibilities: if failing to do this were to lead to a bigger problem, the landlord might be able to sue you for negligence. For example: a blockage that freezes in a sink pipe could burst it.

It’s your general duty to act responsibly in the house. This means doing things like making sure you agree with the landlord how you leave the house over the vacations – should you turn off the water (in case of burst pipes), or leave the heating on a little (to prevent pipes from freezing up and bursting in winter), or what?

All these responsibilities are based on a general piece of law saying it’s your duty to behave in a “tenant-like manner”. Often, your contract will say this too; but it’s the law even if it’s not in your contract.

That’s the bad news. Now we move on to the landlord’s responsibilities and your options to enforce them. 

Your landlord's responsibilities

The landlord isn’t responsible for everything – sometimes a repair job in a rented house is no-one’s legal responsibility; which of course isn’t fair.

There are two principles to guide you in working out whether the landlord has a responsibility:

  1. The landlord has a duty to do repairs to keep the house in reasonable condition. So: if the front door rots away and falls off, replacing it is the landlord's job. In particular, it’s the landlord’s duty to keep the fabric of the house repaired and keep the gas, electricity, and water systems in working order (see the Legal References section).

  2. The landlord doesn’t start with any obligation at all to make any improvements to the house (e.g. adding window locks) but might end up with some eventually if the council's Environmental Health or Housing Standards department were to feel this justified on Health & Safety grounds.