Taking court action for disrepair
If your landlord refuses to carry out repairs, or does them badly, it may be possible to take them to court. You might be able to get a court order instructing your landlord to do the work that’s needed, or claim compensation.
Is court action appropriate?
You can take court action if you’ve asked your landlord to do repairs but they aren’t done within a reasonable period.
You can ask the court to order your landlord to:
- carry out the repairs needed
- pay you compensation.
In urgent situations it is sometimes possible for the court to order that your landlord carries out repairs immediately, by making an injunction.
Court action can however be complicated and sometimes slow. It can also be expensive, unless you are entitled to legal aid.
Court action should be a last resort. You should only consider it if you can afford it and have tried other options.
What does it cost?
You usually have to pay court fees to take legal action. Fees can be reduced or waived if you claim benefits or have a low income.
Find out more about court fees on HM Courts and Tribunal Service.
You might need to pay for:
- an expert’s report to tell the court about the condition of your home
- a medical report if your health has been affected.
A solicitor can arrange these for you.
If you win your case, you can claim back these costs from your landlord.
If you are on a low income legal aid might be able to help you with your fees.
You can only get legal aid:
- to order your landlord to carry out repair work that puts you or others in your household at risk
- if your landlord has started the eviction process due to rent arrears and your defence includes that repairs weren’t done.
You can check if you can get legal aid on the Gov.uk website.
If you are a council or housing association tenant sometimes it might be easier and less expensive to complain to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales instead.
Where do I start?
Taking court action for disrepair can be a long and complicated process.
You may need help from a solicitor, but if your case can be dealt with in the small claims’ court, you may be able to represent yourself.
The Royal Court of Justice Advice Bureau has produced a series of leaflets to help people understand the County Court process.
Preparing for your case
1. Report repairs
Before you start court proceedings you must report the repairs to your landlord.
You don’t have to report repair problems if they are in communal areas, like shared hallways or the lift, but it is always best to let the landlord know.
2. Gather evidence
You’ll need evidence to back up your claim, such as:
- photographs of the things that need repairing
- your belongings that have been affected (such as clothes damaged by damp), or photographs of them. Work out how much they are worth
- copies of any letters you send to your landlord, and any written response you have received from them
- notes of any conversations you have with your landlord. Include dates, and what was agreed
- copies of any doctor’s notes or hospital reports which show that your health has been affected by the problem
- receipts for any money you need to spend because of the repair problem (eg if you have to replace clothes or furnishings because of mould)
- energy bills if you have had to spend more eg because of defects to your heating system.
3. Get an expert’s report
It is possible that the court will need a report from experts such as an environmental health officer or surveyor. You can find surveyors in your area through the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors website. If possible you should try and agree the appointment of a surveyor with your landlord.
Use our sample letter Repairs 9 : letter of instruction to send to a surveyor but remember a surveyor’s report will cost you money. Find out how much it will cost before sending the letter of instruction to make sure you can afford it. In some situations you may be able to get legal aid to help cover the costs.
4. Record details
Use our schedules to record all of the important details of your claim :
Do I need to warn the landlord before I start court action?
Yes. There is a special procedure, which must be followed in all disrepair cases. This is called the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Disrepair Cases. Before you start court action you must send a letter containing certain details to your landlord.
Your letter must:
- explain what the disrepair problem is
- set out details of when you previously notified your landlord of the problem (you will need to show to the court that you have already sent an ‘early notification letter’ to your landlord setting out details of disrepair – use our sample Repairs 7 : early notification letter template)
- give the landlord 20 working days to put the problem right – unless the repair is urgent
- state that if the landlord doesn’t put the problem right within that time, you intend to take them to court.
This letter is called a ‘letter of claim’. An adviser can help you prepare this letter or you can adapt our sample Repairs 8 : letter of claim. If, after the 20 working days are up, your landlord still hasn’t put the problem right, you can start a claim in the county court.
How can a court order help?
The court will look at all the evidence you and your landlord have provided in order to decide if your landlord should do the repairs and, if so, what needs to be done about it.
You could ask the court to:
- make an injunction, ordering your landlord to carry out specific repairs by a certain time
- make a declaration that you can do the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from future rent and that the landlord won’t be able to evict you for arrears.
In emergency situations (eg if it’s dangerous to live in the property) the court may order your landlord to carry out the work immediately. The court may also decide that your landlord should pay you compensation.
What if the landlord doesn’t comply?
A landlord who does not carry out the works specified in a court order could be fined or even imprisoned. You will probably have to go back to court to take further action, but should not have to start the whole process again.