Property repairs and maintenance: your obligations as a landlord
Kate Faulkner, who runs the property advice website Property Checklist, explains what the landlord's responsibilities are for maintaining a property and what usually falls to the tenant.
- What are a landlord's property maintenance responsibilities?
- What legal obligations do landlords have for property repairs?
- How quickly should a landlord make repairs?
- Should landlords write a letter to their tenants regarding repairs?
- Can landlords charge tenants for repairs?
- Can tenants withhold rent for repairs?
- Are maintenance and repairs to rental property tax deductible?
- Is it possible to get landlord maintenance insurance cover?
It has always been your responsibility as a landlord to keep your rental property in a good state of repair and ensure all heating, water and electrical systems are working properly.
However, since new laws around retaliatory evictions in England came into force last year, it’s now even more important that you respond to tenants’ complaints about the condition of their home. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to be able to evict them should that become necessary.
There isn’t an exhaustive list of exactly what a landlord must legally do and what the tenant’s responsibility is, but there are some rules. Other things simply require you to act ‘reasonably’ and that can be a grey area.
What I’d say is that you should always err on the side of safety and try to go above and beyond the bare minimum the law requires you to do. If anything should happen to either the property or your tenants, you need to be able to prove that you’ve been diligent and taken reasonable steps to keep both safe and secure.
What are a landlord’s property maintenance responsibilities?
You should have a maintenance schedule for each property you own, detailing what needs to be carried out and when. Gas and electric are both very important.
- Gas Safety check – this must be carried out annually by an engineer who is on the Gas Safe register (http://www.gassaferegister.co.uk). The certificate must be made available to your tenants
- Electrical installation check – this should be carried out by a ‘Part P’ registered electrician at least every 5 years. This is a legal requirement in Scotland.
The other thing you should do – although it isn’t a strict legal requirement – is carry out a fire safety risk assessment. You may feel you’re qualified to do this yourself, but it’s advisable to have a fire safety professional carry it out, so speak to your local fire safety office.
Smoke detectors, heat sensors and carbon monoxide detectors should all be tested as advised and a record kept of when those tests were carried out. You must also carry out a legionella assessment to show your analysis of whether there is any risk of stagnant water that could harbour the lethal bacteria.
For general maintenance, the tenancy agreement should list what things you’re responsible for maintaining and what the tenant needs to look after. Generally speaking, anything to do with the property’s décor and fixtures is the landlord’s responsibility – anything that was there when the tenant moved in.
For their part, the tenant must keep the property in a good state of repair, so not do anything to damage it beyond what might reasonably be called normal wear and tear. Smaller jobs, such as replacing light bulbs and keeping plugholes clear are usually down to tenants and they need to advise the landlord of problems such as leaks which need fixing.
In many cases the landlord retains responsibility for the exterior fabric of the building (the building's roof, floor slabs, walls, windows, and doors) and pruning of trees and shrubs, paths being safe. Tenants are simply required to mow the lawn and keep the garden in good order.
The important thing to remember is that your landlord insurance will likely have a ‘Reasonable Precautions’ condition. This means that the landlord must ‘take all reasonable precautions to prevent or minimise loss, destruction, damage, accident or injury and maintain the premises, machinery, equipment and furnishings to a good state of repair’.
So it’ll likely mean the property needs to be kept free from potential risks or hazards, for example by ensuring:
- gutters and drains are clear
- banisters are fixed and not loose
- pavements or internal flooring are in good order and aren’t trip hazards
- that roof tiles are replaced or repaired
- that all portable electrical appliances work and are maintained in a safe condition.
It’s in your interest to keep as much of that under your control as possible. Simply blaming a tenant for negligence won’t help when you’re trying to make an insurance claim.
What legal obligations do landlords have for property repair?
If you’re keeping on top of your maintenance schedule, you shouldn’t have too many unexpected repairs. But when things do need fixing, you should arrange for the issue to be inspected and any necessary repairs carried out as soon as possible.
You must keep the utilities in working order, make sure the tenants can heat the property effectively and keep it free from hazards. If there’s anything that affects damp, heat and safety, you must repair it as soon as possible and make sure as a minimum you respond to the tenant’s issues within 14 days of them contacting you.
If you don’t and your tenant complains to the council, you may face prosecution and/or fines.
One important thing to understand is the retaliatory eviction law that was passed under the Deregulation Bill last year. If you issue a Section 21 notice to evict your tenants after they have made a formal complaint about the condition of the property and it’s found that you didn’t make the necessary repairs, you will be unable to enforce the Section 21.
So it is very much in your own interest to respond quickly and make sure you keep a complete written record of all communication with your tenant, to cover yourself in case the matter escalates.
How quickly should a landlord make repairs?
In terms of how quickly you need to make repairs it should be fixed in a ‘reasonable’ amount of time and you can’t simply evict a tenant who asks for repairs to be made. I’d suggest you should respond to the initial complaint or report of a problem within 24 hours. Assuming it’s not an emergency, you can then aim to have the problem resolved within a few days.
Sometimes tenants forget that landlords don’t have a magic hotline to contractors, or that they aren’t available within hours. So when you do respond, state you will get someone there as soon as possible to look at the issue, but advise it may take a few days to actually have work carried out.
And you should be aware of how the Energy Act 2011 impacts landlords this year and in two years’ time. From April 2016, you won’t be able to refuse a tenant’s ‘reasonable request’ to make energy efficiency improvements, although you won’t be required to pay for these yourself – that’s down to the tenant.
In this respect the big one to prepare for is that from 1st April 2018 you won’t be able to commence a new let if your property’s EPC rating is lower than E rated. This means you won’t be able to legally let an 'F' or 'G' rated property. So if you’re required to make any repairs between now and then, check how that will or could improve the energy rating. If your property is currently in one of the two lowest bands, start carrying out works to bring that rating up.
Should landlords write a letter to their tenants regarding repairs?
It’s always been good practice to put all communication to tenants in writing, but now that the retaliatory eviction law has come in, it’s essential you keep records. These days you don’t necessarily need to post or deliver a letter – an email requesting a ‘read receipt’ should suffice – but do make sure that if a phone conversation has taken place, you follow it up in writing.
Remember that unless it’s an emergency, you need to give your tenants at least 24 hours’ notice to enter the property. We’d recommend a phone call and an email, telling them what’s going to be done and giving the details of the contractor who will be attending.
Can landlords charge tenants for repairs?
The short answer is no, not unless the damage was caused by the tenants, which should be evident from the check-in inventory report. Maintenance and repairs are the landlord’s responsibility and therefore they need to shoulder the cost.
Can tenants withhold rent for repairs?
There is no situation when a tenant is legally entitled to withhold rent. In signing their tenancy agreement, they’re agreeing to pay rent when it’s due and that’s something that is considered unrelated to any issues they might be having.
If they’re unhappy with the state of the property, your communication (lack of it), or have any other complaints, they need to go down the appropriate legal route. If they simply stop paying rent, that may give you grounds to evict them. This is unless the tenant can prove you haven’t done what you should’ve, in which case an eviction will be difficult. If not, you will be entitled to pursue the tenant for unpaid rent.
Are maintenance and repairs to a rental property tax deductible?
Property tax is a complicated and specialist area, which is why you need to take advice from a suitably experienced property tax professional. As a very general rule, your maintenance and repair bills can be deducted, but anything considered an improvement cannot.
The best advice is to have a bookkeeper and/or accountant who has had property investment clients for a number of years. Better still, get an account who invests themselves and therefore has a personal incentive to keep up with the latest changes.
Can I get landlord maintenance insurance cover?
Insurance isn’t available for most general maintenance, as ‘wear and tear’ is simply an accepted part of owning property. However, you can get cover for some issues that might result in the need for expensive repairs, such as boiler breakdowns.
It’s understandable as a landlord that you maybe unsure of what maintenance is required to ensure your property is legally compliant and satisfies everything on the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS). So it’s worth contacting your local council housing department to ask for someone to visit the property to advise you.
The overriding thing to remember is that carrying out repairs and maintenance properly and regularly is the best thing for both your property and your pocket. If you fix things quickly, tenants tend to stay longer and treat your property better, which should mean fewer overall repairs, fewer voids and your rent always paid on time. As the saying goes: look after your property and it will look after you.