Thursday, 9 December 2021

UK: Stand Up To Your Rogue Landlord

Yup, I’m a landlord. But I’m under no illusion; I know we have a bad reputation, a real bad reputation, and much of the bad press is wholly justified. Unfortunately, it’s a tough shit-stain to wipe away while so many rogue landlords continue to operate and run wild (and “ruin it for the rest of us”).

So what do tenants do when they’re dealing with rogue landlords that aren’t complying with health and safety laws? Who do they turn to? Here’s my advice…

Over the years I’ve encountered many shady landlords do the most bizarre shit, either because they’re too lazy to do a proper job, or because they want to cut corners to save money. Of course, the reality is, operating like that is short-sighted, because it’s generally a false economy. But that’s a ramble for another day.

From my experience, most of the neglect is related to health and safety issues e.g. bypassing the Annual Gas Safety check, or failing to provide tenants with hot water and/or heat for an unreasonable amount of time.

I think one of the major contributing factors to why and how landlords get away with neglecting their landlord legal obligations is ignorance. I talk to tenants on a daily basis, and it’s clear most of them are oblivious of their rights, and consequently have no idea if they’re being mistreated in the eyes of the law. That unfortunately works in the favour of the rogue landlord. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.
Your landlord’s responsibility to comply with Health & Safety

As per the “Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018”, Landlords in Englandhave a legal obligation to ensure their rentals properties are “fit for human habitation”, which essentially means the following issues should be addressed:
repair (i.e. the building shouldn’t be neglected or in bad condition),
stability (i.e. the building shouldn’t be unstable),
freedom from damp,
internal arrangement (i.e. the property shouldn’t have an unsafe layout),
natural lighting (i.e. there should be enough natural light),
ventilation (i.e. there should be enough ventilation),
water supply (i.e. there should be a supply of hot and cold water),
drainage and sanitary conveniences,
facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water;
and the house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.

Most health and safety issues will fall under one of those points. All the most common one’s do anyways, that’s for sure. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act has given tenants the power to sue landlords through the courts if they fail to comply.

I’ve written a blog post on the ‘Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018’, which goes into much more detail. It’s written from a landlord’s perspective for landlords, but it’s definitely useful from a tenant’s perspective as well, because it will make clear what landlords should be doing to comply with the legislation and what the potential penalties if failing to comply.

While this blog post is specifically about healthy & safety concerns, I do want to mention that Landlords also have a bunch of other legal obligations (e.g. they must manage your deposit properly, provide you with an EPC etc.), which you can peruse through to better educate yourself on your rights (if you want to, that is).
How to report/sue your landlord for not complying with health & safety!

If you’re fully aware that your landlord is breaking health and safety laws, or you have a very strong suspicion he/she is, you should do the following:
1) Report the issue(s) with your landlord

I know, I know, you’ve probably already made your landlord (or letting agent) aware of the issues, but it’s gone unattended and unresolved for what feels like an unreasonable amount of time, hence why you’re here, trying to determine your next steps.

However, while that is probably the case, I just want to clarify how important it is to properly report any matters of health and safety and disrepair to your landlord. If you can’t prove that you have reported your concerns to your landlord properly and given them a fair opportunity to resolve your concerns, you may struggle to build a case for yourself and make headway anytime soon.

When reporting an issue, I recommend doing the following:
Report issues with written notice e.g. letters (send via recorded delivery), text messages, emails etc.
Document/log all communication so you have proof
Clearly explain what the issue(s) is.

It’s also important to give your landlord reasonable time to attend to your concerns. Rarely does anything get fixed overnight. The reality is, some tenants are unrealistic in these matters, by expecting things to get resolved the next day. Whatever your situation is, it’s important to be open-minded and fair.

I’m not going to specify what is or isn’t unreasonable – at least, not in great depth – because it depends on each specific scenario. But as a real ‘loose’ and generic example, I will say that going without hot water for over a month is totally unreasonable in most cases. On the other hand, dealing with a small leak, perhaps that’s not as urgent, so it wouldn’t be totally unreasonable if it gets resolved after one month. Of course, needless to say, every problem should get resolved ASAP in an ideal scenario.

Use your own discretion and common sense to weigh up your situation.

In any case, if after having communicated efficiently, your lousy landlord is unresponsive(when a landlord goes quiet, I’d say that’s the biggest sign that they don’t plan on being useful)or seems completely uninterested in dealing with your complaints, and consequently too much time has passed without any real progress, then…
2) Contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau

Before reporting your landlord, you may want to get legal advice first.

I recommend contacting your local Citizens Advice Bureau for free legal advice. They should be able to make you fully aware of your rights and clarify whether you have a case or not.
3a) If you have a gas safety concern

If you believe your landlord is neglecting their responsibility for gas safety, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the place to visit. There is an option to report a landlord online either via the website or via email. Alternatively, a designated team member will call you back within 1 hour (tested, and it works).

Bear in mind, HSE will only deal with the current problems.

Once your complaint is lodged, and assuming it’s legitimate and meets the HSE guidelines, they should take immediate action by writing a letter to your landlord. If they receive no response from the landlord, they will send a second.

If your landlord fails to respond and take reasonable actions to resolve the problem, court proceedings may commence by the HSE.
3b) If you have a health & Safety concern

If you have a health and safety concern which isn’t gas related (for example, if you have a mould manifestation that your landlord won’t address), you should contact your local council and lodge a formal complaint. Each council will have a different procedure, so it’s best to contact your council directly or go to their website and determine the best course of action to proceed with your complaint.

Once you have lodged a complaint with the council, they should assess the situation and act accordingly.
3c) Suing your landlord for failing to comply with Health and Safety

You can actually bypass contacting your local council or HSE altogether, and just go straight for the jugular by suing your landlord through the courts (if the property isn’t “fit for human habitation”). It’s actually a relatively easy process these days, you can make a claim online (follow the previous link for more details).

Or, you can first go through the local council/HSE route and wait for the outcome. Often, most landlords miraculously get their shit together when they get contacted by an official body. Funny that, aye? However, if your landlord is still being a dick and doesn’t buckle under the pressure, then they (the council or HSE) might decide to take court proceedings against your landlord on your behalf.

If the council or HSE don’t take court action, and you feel you have a strong case, you can still go ahead and sue your landlord.
Don’t let your landlord get away with it!

If you’re a tenant that is at the mercy of a rogue landlord that isn’t complying with their health & Safety legal obligations, or any matter of disrepair, report him/her. Don’t put up with it if they’re being completely unreasonable!

Remember, if you let your landlord get away with it now, they will continue to get away with it!

If you’re currently going through this shit, I’m with you, and I wish you the best of luck with your pursuit for justice! xo

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