What is the legal situation with regards to my ceiling falling in?
October 16, 2012 3:57 AM   Subscribe

My kitchen ceiling just fell in, as a result of a month-long leak that has been building over time. About 2-3 square metres of inch-thick plaster came down at once - would certainly have caused injury if not worse had we been underneath it. The owners of the flat above have repeatedly stalled in taking any action - as far as I know they have still not called a plumber. They explicitly stated on Thursday that they were getting an emergency plumber in and hoped for Saturday morning but weren't sure. This is Tuesday and we haven't heard anything. Prior to this they were repeatedly contacted by our letting agent but claimed that they'd "been having trouble with" both their mobile and landline. Are they liable for this in any way? How do I proceed? (Further details: I'm in Scotland in the UK.)
posted by Kirn to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Just out of curiousity, what do you think they should be liable for?
They have to do repairs. They might have to pay for anything you own that was damaged as a result. But it is VERY unlikely that they are liable for your pain and suffering. This is not a windfall of money for you.

What actual damages did you suffer?

Besides liability though, I would take pictures. Start documenting everything. In the US, you have now reached the point where you can hire someone to do the repair work, and deduct the cost from your rent. But you would need to document everything, to show a judge in landlord-tenant court if they try to evict you for no payment of rent (you paid the rent to the contractor you hired to do the work)
posted by Flood at 4:03 AM on October 16, 2012

I'm not suggesting it's a windfall of money for me. It's an issue that appears to have been caused by their negligence in not contacting a plumber when it seems highly likely the problem is coming from their flat, culminating in a collapse which could have seriously injured my partner or me. Actual damages are limited to the ceiling itself as there was nothing really underneath besides a digital radio. I've got pictures of the state of the ceiling now but not before, but both the people above and our own letting agents have seen and been aware of the state of it before and the extent of the problem.
posted by Kirn at 4:11 AM on October 16, 2012

Is the building factored? Your letting agents should be contacting the factors if so.
posted by Catseye at 4:12 AM on October 16, 2012

And this has been documented in a long email chain. I'm not trying to get rich, I'm angry that the people living above have allowed the situation to develop to this point and I want to know what my position is.

The building is factored Catseye, and the factors were contacted prior to today, I don't know whether they've been contacted again.
posted by Kirn at 4:14 AM on October 16, 2012

I meant email chain obviously, rather than legal chain.
posted by Kirn at 4:15 AM on October 16, 2012

It is probably worth speaking to a lawyer/CAB/Shelter Scotland if there aren't plans to fix this ASAP. It might be worth speaking to them anyway.

My understanding of such situations (from my own experience dealing with rented flats, landlords, factors and damages in Scotland, not from any official/legal background) is that you shouldn't be the one doing the chasing around and pursuing damages here anyway. The letting agent is paid to act on the landlord's behalf, so it should be them or the landlord dealing with the factors and pursuing the neighbour for compensation for the damage, or working out how it sits w/r/t everybody's insurance. You certainly shouldn't be paying for this, but given that, there's probably not much direct action you can take against your neighbours seeing as it's your landlord's property that got damaged and your landlord who'll be out of pocket.

You can ask for rent reductions under particular circumstances, if you've lost the use of part of your flat; again, that's something to run past people who know the legal situation.

(It is also my experience that many factors and letting agents will do the absolute minimum amount possible in regards to any given situation, alas, up to and including telling you they've contacted the landlord/neighbours/each other when they haven't. If you get legal advice on this, it's worth drawing together a timetable of what you reported to your letting agents and when you did so.)
posted by Catseye at 4:32 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a solicitor to write letters to the factors and (if you're prepared for the breakdown in relations) the upstairs tenants. The solicitor could advise on cost recovery. CAB may be a cheaper way to get initial advice. Act promptly, delay can be construed as acquiesence or acceptance of the situation.

PS ensure any soundproofing is reinstated, otherwise you will fix the celiing and get a noise problem in its place.
posted by epo at 5:04 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of my close friends had nearly the exact same situation occur (upstairs neighbor had a leak, didn't fix it, and his kitchen was harmed.)

He worked with a lawyer and was fully indemnified (new kitchen to the studs).

I don't know enough about the details to know how much of this applies to you, but I'd strongly suggest contacting a solicitor before doing anything else on this matter.
posted by grudgebgon at 5:45 AM on October 16, 2012

I have had this question answered outside of AskMetafilter - under Scots' law they aren't liable for anything at all, rather the factor is, in spite of their stupidity and negligence. It should be getting taken care of now anyway. Thanks to all who replied.
posted by Kirn at 6:03 AM on October 16, 2012

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