Due to the volume of new legislation that has been drafted by the government within the property sector over the past year or two, you could perhaps be forgiven for not being up to date on the various changes. However, one piece of legislation which could prove to be extremely costly for those unaware, is the fact that tenants can now take landlords to court to seek compensation for disrepairs. In addition to compensation being payable, If the claimant is successful landlords will also have to pay their legal costs, which could total to thousands of pounds.
Regrettably, we our having our first encounter with a tenant seeking compensation through the new legislation. Therefore, we thought it would be beneficial to all our clients to share the basics of the claim to inform and safeguard against any future maintenance issues becoming disrepair claims.
One of our long term let only clients attended our office a few days ago with a solicitor’s letter in hand.
The letter stated there were various maintenance issues including mould and damp at the property. These items were reported to the landlord; however no action was taken to resolve them. Despite many attempts by the tenant to contact the landlord over a period of a few weeks a resolution failed to materialise. The tenant understandably frustrated, felt they had no other option but to escalate the matter, to instruct solicitors and make a claim for disrepair and breach of contract.
Now it may appear that, our client sounds like unscrupulous or rogue landlord, however while that may meet the narrative of some of today’s media outlets, this is not the case.
A few days before the tenant first contacted our client to report the maintenance issues, he suffered a severe and life-threatening brain haemorrhage leaving him hospitalised for over a month. Unfortunately, during this time the tenant tried to contact the landlord to report the maintenance issues multiple times via phone and email but was obviously not able to get a response. As the landlord was managing the property himself the tenant had no other point of contact, therefore they interpreted the non-response as a sign that the landlord was unwilling to carry out the repairs.
At this point it is vitally important to note that the solicitors have been instructed on a NO WIN NO FEE BASIS. Since the new legislation came into effect, we have seen many advertisements online from solicitors informing tenants that of their right to pursue landlords for disrepair claims and that the fact that they will take on their claim without a cost to the tenant. (like the PPI claims epidemic) Consequently, it is conceivable that in today’s claims culture that many claims will be made against landlords regardless of their validity.
Homefinders have now been instructed by the landlord to take over management of the entire building and thus manage the disrepair claim.
We have acted immediately to try and ensure the quickest possible resolution for all parties involved.
Surveyors have been instructed to attend the property to assess the damages and works that are required to be carried out. Once the survey has been completed the next step will be to have the works carried out and an offer of compensation made to the tenants. In these circumstances it is paramount to try and agree a settlement outside of court to avoid the extra cost that will be incurred by solicitors. The solicitors have instructed the tenants not to engage with Homefinders direct and for all contact to go through them, as the solicitors charge for all communications this ensures their cost are increased as much as possible. In addition to this, the solicitors wanted to instruct their preferred surveyor, their charge just to arrange this appointment would be £900 + vat.
Evidently, the tactics of the solicitors can cause their costs to be more than the compensation due to the tenants, remember the landlord will be responsible for this bill!
Although we hope our client’s ill health will be considered when agreeing the compensation amount, as he had a genuine reason for not responding to the tenant, this will not absolve him of his liability for the maintaining and upkeeping of the property.
We feel this case highlights the potential pitfalls facing landlords who do not have provisions in place for tenants to contact them should they be away, alternative persons to contact should they be unavailable or do not use managing agents.
We will post another article to update on the intricacies and outcome of the disrepair claim as it continues in the hope that landlords will be better informed and can mitigate themselves against potential disrepair claims.
Gassan Ojjeh, Office Manager