How to money off rent for time spent without shower and washing machine? (UK)
August 25, 2008 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Looking for information about how get to get recompense from a landlord for three weeks spent without a working shower or washing machine. (UK)

I recently moved into a new rented house. I'm sharing with 3 other people, none of whom I knew before moving in. It's decent enough, but a bit expensive considering its location and condition.

Two weeks after I moved in, I came home from a weekend away to find that the shower had been removed, and the washing machine disconnected. Apparently the takeaway downstairs had complained about water dripping down from our shower, and so the landlord came in and dealt with the problem immediately. After that, three weeks passed where we had access to neither a shower nor a washing machine. We were told that it was drying out. The washing machine was reconnected after two weeks, and the shower was fixed after three, although not very well - the hot/cold handle on the shower is fitted backwards, there's still plastic sheeting all over the place, and the landlord is now saying that he needs to re-seal it because someone used the shower before the sealant was dry. As far as we are aware, no one did.

I have been pressing the landlord for a rent reduction for the three weeks when we didn't have a shower/washing machine, both by email, phone and in person when he visits. I'm asking for a rent reduction of ~25% for all three weeks, although I expect to be haggled down a bit. The landlord's response has been to emphasize how hard he worked on fixing the problem, how he was unwell at the time, how it could have not been done any faster, how worried he was about us, etc. He has also claimed that there's nothing in the contract to say that we should get a discount, which is arguable. The most relevant-looking phrase in the contract reads: "The landlord agrees with the tenant... keep the exterior and structure of the premises in good repair and to keep in good repair and working order the installation for water, gas, electricity and sanitation..."

What do we do here to stop him simply ignoring us? I feel that we have a clear moral case for some money back, and the contract appears to agree. One housemate thinks we should simply withhold a portion of our next month's rent, but that seems like asking for trouble. However, other than that, what power can be exert over the landlord to make him start taking us seriously?

I'm in England.
posted by Urtylug to Law & Government (6 answers total)
One housemate thinks we should simply withhold a portion of our next month's rent, but that seems like asking for trouble.

This generally works if you want something fixed and the agent/landlord is being slack about it, or at least it has for me the four or five times I've done it over my renting career, but in this particular scenario you're probably right, it's not a great idea. Does the landlord own the actual apartment? Is there someone above him you could approach, such as a body corporate? That particular section of the contract seems like a fair bet. Have you documented the proceedings? Taken photographs etc?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:17 PM on August 25, 2008

"That particular section of the contract you quote", I ought to have said.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:18 PM on August 25, 2008

The following pages from Shelter should give you some useful advice Repairs and Bad Conditions
Housing Health and Safety Rating System
Disruption and Poor Work

The law does allow you to take court action to force a landlord to carry out repairs, and to claim compensation if, for instance, part of the house is unusable. This is called rent abatement and is calculated on a percentage basis, so if half your house was unusable you could claim a 50% reduction. However you have to allow the landlord a reasonable amount of time to carry out repairs and 21 days seems a standard period. In any case the repairs have been carried out and your health was not threatened so there is little point in considering a court action. However its my experience that merely knowing your rights and making it clear that you do is often enough to make landlords reconsider their position as it wouldn't make any economic sense to enter into a legal dispute with you. You should note that withholding your rent in the circumstances you describe would be a breach of your tenancy agreement and could lead to your tenancy being terminated. You would be advised to contact a local housing advice service as a first step.
posted by tallus at 4:40 PM on August 25, 2008

Did you have access to a bath in the mean time? If so, then I don't see you getting any discount. It's not like he disconnected the toilet and left you without any running water. As inconvenient as it is to not have a shower and washing machine, its not necessarily unsanitary and is not classed as an 'urgent' (within 48hours) repair. He repaired both the machine and shower within 21 days which is usually seen as a fair amount of time for a non urgent repair.
posted by lemonpillows at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

The language of the tenancy is boilerplate, and says the landlord is responsible for what he has in fact done: fixing the fixtures and fittings. It doesn't (AFAIK) say anything about instant interim measures being the onus of the landlord. Your argument is apparently that he was tardy in arranging the repairs, and so you deserve recompense(??)

You may have a moral case, but I suspect that negotiation is the only possible way you're going to get anything out of this. You could try running it by the Environmental Health dept, or tenancy relations officer, of your local authority - but it sounds like your residence was never unfit for habitation, it just lacked some amenities for a while (but!, did you also have a bath available?). Perhaps if you can prove some extra financial loss incurred, you might have something more to work with from a legal standoint.

In any event, deciding on whether it's a smart idea to take action against your landlord depends a lot on your security of tenure, and you don't say what type of tenancy you have. I suspect from what you say that you're an assured shorthold tenant at best, and if so you really need to be aware that your landlord can evict you with no grounds whatsoever, and so you should be very circumspect when trying to enforce your rights.
posted by wilko at 5:05 PM on August 25, 2008

To add the obvious: seek legal advice (and IAN it).
posted by wilko at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2008

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