No roof no rent?
January 13, 2010 3:34 AM   Subscribe

Roof leak in rented flat - can we stop paying full rent in protest?

My partner and I have been renting a flat in London for three months. Shortly after we moved in, a leak appeared in the ceiling, dripping water onto our bed. This is still going, along with further leaks occuring periodically in other rooms, including one which trickled down a light fitting!

So my question is - can we suggest or even inform our landlord that we pay half rent until the leak is fixed? He has responded to our communications but keeps sending round "handymen" who do not know how to fix the leak as it really needs a roofer to look at it professionally. He says he is on the case, but it's been two months now.

Our objective would not be to save money, more to try and galvanise him into action. I have athsma, and damp is a problem for me, health-wise. Furthermore, we are worried that if the leak progresses, it will cause more serious damage to our stuff than the superficial effects it has already had.

If we suggest half-rent, are we weakening our position at all? Is this potentially grounds for him to try and evict us and get people in who don't care about the leak? (we do want to stay if possible) Or is this an acceptable/effective way to get some results?

Disclaimer: not looking for a hard-and-fast answer, just opinions and experiences so please skip the IANYLs for now ;)
posted by greenish to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Call your council. They will have a process in place for dealing with issues like this.
posted by srboisvert at 3:42 AM on January 13, 2010

Search their website for Private Sector Housing.

This is an example of what you will find: How do I get my landlord to carry out repairs?
posted by srboisvert at 3:50 AM on January 13, 2010

That might be JUST what I need. I did not know that councils would deal with private housing. Thanks srboisvert!
posted by greenish at 3:58 AM on January 13, 2010

You could try contacting your citizen's advice bureau, too. They will probably be able to help with legal details if it gets that far.
posted by handee at 3:59 AM on January 13, 2010

Contact your local CAB - from memory, the advice is don't hold off paying rent. You're basically putting yourself in a weak position.

See here:

As for withholding the rent, Leaders note that "a tenant does have the legal right of off-set" – basically, you have the right to hire someone to do work which is the landlord's obligation and then withhold the costs from the rent.

However, withholding rent is risky and you can be evicted if rent arrears build up. There is a precise process for tenants to follow with this, which Citizens Advice explains as follows, but they warn that you should not attempt it without first talking to one of their housing advisors or a solicitor.

• Give the landlord notice of the disrepair and a reasonable time to remedy it

• Inform the landlord (preferably in writing) that s/he will do the repair her/himself unless the landlord complies with her/his obligations

• Allow a further reasonable period for the landlord to do the work

• Obtain three estimates for the cost of the work from reputable builders

• Write to the landlord again, enclosing copies of the estimates and reminding her/him of her/his obligation to do the work, giving a further reasonable period to carry it out. The letter should warn that, otherwise, the tenant will do the work her/himself and deduct the cost from rent

• If there is no response, arrange for the contractor who gave the lowest estimate to do the work, and obtain (and send to the landlord) receipts, with a request for payment

• If the landlord does not pay, the tenant may deduct the cost from the rent (but not other charges such as service charges), then send the landlord a breakdown of the amount and period of the rent to be withheld.

The tenant, they add, should avoid running into rent arrears before taking this action. If, however, the landlord takes court action for arrears and/or possession, the fact that the tenant has had to pay for repairs can be used as a counterclaim to the proceedings.

Damages caused by the landlord's default can also be set off against arrears in a defence to possession proceedings. Specialist advice will be needed.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:23 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also advise considerable caution in dealing with landlords regarding repairs.

In your case something clearly needs to be done but for other repairs you may want to avoid involving your landlord. The reason I say this is that I have lived in England for 5 years now and been evicted twice and I believe repair requests are what triggered each eviction (Hotwater heater problems and a bathroom light problem).

In my current flat i fix everything i can myself and am extremely reluctant to involve the landlord. Also even once the landlord is involved the trades are so poor here that they usually don't fix what is broken (In fact in my experiences only once has a tradesman ever fixed a problem on the first visit. Most leave things as bad or worse than when they were called.)

It is wrong that a tenant would have to eat those costs but it usually beats the expense and disruption of having to move when you get evicted at lease renewal time. This is doubly true if you are renting through estate agents because they make every repair very expensive for the property owner thanks to their charging extra fees for every bloody thing they can.

England is not a good country for renters.
posted by srboisvert at 5:43 AM on January 13, 2010

I agree with the advice of considerable caution

The building management that reigns over where I live (in the U.S.) has a tendency to raise rents of tenants who complain or request repairs. The legality of this is very dubious, of course, but for me it would be more cost effective to pay for the repair myself, as I don't have the resources to pay a higher rent or dispute the legality of it.
posted by Kateruba at 7:33 AM on January 13, 2010

As a long time renter & in various cities in England & now a landlord myself (one of my own, two for family members) I can sympathise with both sides and have seen firsthand where a lot of the problems stem from.

One problem with building repairs (e.g the roof) can be if a property is leasehold – i.e. the landlord has to negotiate with other property owners in the building or an individual company that owns the freehold & is responsible for building repairs. Getting things done with such a potentially big job and in the current climate conditions (you wanna go up on the roof?!) can take a while. However, a good landlord would acknowledge the situation and be willing to negotiate a reduction. Any sane landlord wants happy, responsible long term tenants and should be willing to work to keep them that way.

My advice? Well, it's slightly more long-term than getting the roof fixed but if the landlord is delaying needlessly and won't negotiate a reduction look at getting a better place with a better landlord. Chances are you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) for 12 months. These tend to have a break clause in them where you can give 2 months notice and leave after 6 months but check your particular contract & take advice if required.

An important part of finding a place is often overlooked by renters: Check on your landlord & the situation (agency, type of agency contract – they might do repairs or it might be down to the landlord even thought the agency deal with rent & contracts, many properties or just a second one etc.). The landlord/agency will do check on you so you should do the same to them. Ask around, talk to the neighbours, current/previous tenants etc.

Overall, I've found that the best properties & the best tenants are found via word of mouth. For me, the best landlords have been private ones that are just looking after one or two properties/buildings and are not too clingy about their place but involved enough to keep on top of things. Agencies can vary wildly.

Good luck & feel free to MeMail me if you want some more advice/info.

srboisvert: You haven't been evicted. It's against the law to evict for the reasons you give. {More on eviction advice} You had a contract and it wasn't renewed and neither you or a landlord is obligated to renew. Both parties have the freedom and the risk that the contract allows.

Also, you need to be really, really careful about what repairs you do yourself. Fixing a leaky tap, bleeding the radiators or refitting a broken cupboard door would be fine and sensible. Anything related to the electrics or gas is a massive no-no – and would void gas & electrical certificates – as are a lot of structural & water/heating-related ones.

It sounds like you've had communication issues more than anything else. If I was your landlord & found out you'd been doing important repairs without my knowledge, based on your prior bad experiences with different landlords, you'd be on dodgy ground when contract renewal time came up.
posted by i_cola at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2010

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