Damp can be a problem in private houses. It can cause mould on the walls and furniture, and make timber window frames rot. It encourages mites and can increase the risk of respiratory illness.
Damp can be caused by excessive condensation, leaking pipes, holes in the roof or walls, or blocked gutters. Rising damp is caused by a defective or non-existent damp course. Damp can also be present in recently built houses where water used in construction (e.g. in plaster) is still drying out. This may be the responsibility of the landlord as it relates to the structure of the house.
Dampness may be the responsibility of the landlord, particularly if it is due to poor insulation, ventilation or heating. They have a duty to keep the property wind and watertight and reasonable fit for human habitation. However, tenants also have a responsibility to keep the property in a good state of repair, and the dampness may be their responsibility as they contributed to it. Therefore it is not always the landlord's responsibility to deal with damp. It will depend on the tenancy agreement, the severity of the problem and the cause(i.e. disrepair to the exterior of the building).
You can take steps to reduce damp, too. In kitchens and bathrooms using extractor fans or opening windows can prevent a build-up of condensation. Also be careful drying lots of clothes on radiators as this too can cause a build-up of condensation, which can lead to damp.
Whatever the cause, given the potential health hazards of persistent damp, action needs to be taken. If action is not being taken to rectify the situation, you can follow the advice given in this guide’s section on 'repairs'.
If there is a dispute over whose responsibility it is for dealing with damp, you can contact the Environmental Health Department of the Council who will investigate the problem. Their inspectors will be able to measure the level of damp and the source. Where the levels are such that it is deemed to be detrimental to health they may also be able to order the landlord to take action and even fine them if they don't.
It is always advisable to seek advice before taking action. It may not be your responsibility to take action against this common problem.
Details of the landlord's duties in respect of repairs are rarely included in tenancy agreements. However, the fact that you have a tenancy agreement means that both landlord and tenant have certain responsibilities towards the repair and maintenance of the property.
- The structure and exterior of the house including drains, gutters and external pipes.
- Installations for gas, water and electricity supplies
- Sanitation and heating.
- Keeping the property wind and watertight and reasonable fit for human habitation.
- To report the need for repairs promptly and in writing.
- To avoid damaging the property, damage includes not keeping it clean.
- To protect the property during absences (against severe frosts for example). It should be clear on the contract what precautions you are required to take (turning off the water supply for instance).
- Minor maintenance: new bulbs, fuses, unblocking sinks.
- Cleaning fixtures and fittings.
- Internal decorations are subject to negotiation.
- In the winter you may have to ensure that the heating is kept on a low heat for a small portion of the day to prevent the pipes form freezing.
Usually, if a landlord has provided any fixtures or fittings with a property and they breakdown, it is the landlord’s responsibility to maintain them unless they have been damaged by the tenants.
Do not agree to any clauses obliging you to do things that you have no intention of doing or that are ridiculous demands, for example, painting all wooden surfaces with two coats of paint or repairing the guttering. You should not be doing these things and you should not agree to do them.
If you have a repair problem:
As soon as you notice repair problems, notify the landlord immediately verbally and confirm in writing. Never wait for a small problem to grow into a large nuisance before taking action. For example, do not allow a small leak in the roof to become a large leak that damages internal fittings.This way the failure of the landlord to act can be dealt with quickly before minor problems turn into major nuisances. Minor repairs can be dealt with quickly and easily with the least inconvenience to tenants.
Do everything in writing
Notify your landlord of repairs verbally initially, but it is crucial that this is always followed up with details in writing. Keep a copy of everything and make sure correspondence is dated.
You should be reasonable about what is requested and how long it will take to rectify. As a rule of thumb, 28 days should be allowed for non-urgent repairs. Urgent repairs such as plumbing or sanitation should, however, be completed within one or two days. When notifying the landlord of a necessary repair, stipulate a reasonable date by which you expect the repair to have been undertaken.
The landlord should cover reasonable costs for alternative accommodation if you need to move out during repairs. He should also make good any damage to your possessions, or the property itself, caused by repairs or a delay in doing repairs.
If you have not been negligent in reporting a necessary repair, have kept copies of all correspondence and can be seen to have acted reasonably throughout you are in a much stronger position to pursue legal remedies where a landlord has not fulfilled statutory obligations in terms of repairs.
What if our landlord fails to do the repairs? (England/Wales)
There are various options, but it is important that you seek specialist advice on which is best. You are strongly advised not to simply withhold rent, this is a breach of contract. You should seek advice from a local Advice Centre who will be able to advise you on your next step. There are many ways of getting repairs done, and an adviser can talk to you about your best options.
It is possible to use your rent to pay for repairs but this is a complicated process and you should seek advice first. If you have suffered financial loss, inconvenience or damage to your property because of disrepair, you may have a case to claim a rent rebate from the landlord. For example, if you lose cooking facilities or the hot water supply for more than a day, or you have to move out of your bedroom. You should discuss this situation with your landlord first and state clearly in writing why you feel compensation is warranted.
If you cannot reach an agreement you could deduct money from your rent. However, you must be aware that if the landlord disagrees with you they could take money from your deposit and/or take action in the County Court to recover any shortfall in rent. Seek advice regarding this.
What if our landlord fails to do the repairs? (Scottish Law)
In accordance with the Housing Scotland Act 2006, a new repairing standard for private rented accommodation has been introduced. If a landlord fails in their obligations to carry out repairs then rather than having to take court action, a private tenant may now report an alleged breach of the landlords repairing duty to the newly formed Private Rented Housing Panel.
Subject to circumstances, the panel have the authority to impose a repairing standard enforcement order requiring the landlord to have appropriate work carried out however, should the landlord fail to comply with the order, the panel will report to the relevant Local Authority and may also make a rent relief order. As with all legal issues it is recommended that tenants seek the advice of a Solicitor or local Citizens Advice Bureau.
What if you feel the disrepair may be serious?
You can contact your local authority and request a visit from an “Environmental Health Officer”, who will inspect the property, and write a report. If s/he believes the disrepair is detrimental to health and is the landlord’s responsibility, the local authority has the power to send an official notice to your landlord, requiring the repairs to be done within a set time limit. Never stop paying the rent without seeking advice first.
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