Can tenants withhold rent for repairs?

Industry Insight May 11th, 2015
Can tenants withhold rent for repairs?

Tenants withhold rent for repairs is a problem Landlords face daily.

Do tenants have the right to withhold rent?

Tenants don’t have the right to withhold rent because of the landlord’s failure to do repairs. If tenants withhold rent the landlord can start possession proceedings against them.

The right to use rent to pay for repairs

If a landlord  failes to do repairs that they’re responsible for, tenants have a right to do the repairs and to recover the cost from future rent.

The tenant must follow the rules

Procedure for using rent to pay for repairs

There are a number of steps that a tenant must follow if they want to use your rent to pay for repairs.

The steps are:

  • Step 1 – Tenant must report the repairs to the landlord.
  • Step 2 – if nothing happens, tenant must write to the landlord again informing them that they will carry out th repairs unless the landlord arranges for the work to be done.
  • Step 3 – The tenant must allow a further reasonable period of time for the landlord to do the work. If nothing happens the tenant can , get three quotes for the cost of the work from properly qualified contractors.
  • Step 4 – The tenant must write to the landlord  enclosing copies of the quotes and giving the landlord a final chance to do the work, for example, within two weeks. The letter should warn that, otherwise, the tenant will do the work themselves and deduct the cost from the rent.
  • Step 5 – if the landlord does not respond the tenant can arrange for the contractor who gave the lowest quote to do the work.
  • Step 6 – The tenant once they have paid must send a copy of the receipt to the landlord and ask for the money to be paid back.
  • Step 7 – If the landlord doesn’t pay back the money, the tenant can deduct the cost from future rent, but not other charges such as service charges. The tenant must send the landlord a breakdown of the amounts to be deducted, when they will start and when they will end.

What if the tenancy agreement says that the tenant can’t use rent to pay for repairs?

A term in a tenancy agreement which says that the tenant can`t use rent to pay for repairs is likely to be unfair and could be challenged.

Offsetting rent arrears because of disrepair

If a landlord is taking possession proceedings against a tenant because of rent arrears, and there’s disrepair in the home, tenants maybe able to argue that the rent arrears should be set-off against the damages for disrepair.

Rent arrears can only be offset if there was disrepair at the time when the landlord made the possession claim against the tenant. If the disrepair happened afterwards and the tenant ask for set-off in court, the landlord could argue that the matter should be heard separately and not used as a defence to the possession proceedings.

Even if the tenant successfully argues for set-off, if the damages aren’t enough to clear the rent arrears, the judge could still make a possession order

What if your tenancy agreement says you can’t offset rent arrears?

A term in a tenancy agreement which says that the tenant can’t offset rent arrears is likely to be unfair and could be challenged.

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