The Golden Rules for Disrepair and Access

Increasingly, we are being instructed by Social Landlords who are facing issues with access. Focusing on disrepair cases, this can be costly and frustrating. The tenant has complained of defects, so why won’t they let you in to carry out repairs? What can you, as a landlord, do in this situation?

Below are our Golden Rules to keep in mind when dealing with disrepair cases.

Letter of Claim – act quickly

When you receive a Letter of Claim, review it for anything that may be important from the outset of the case: this includes information regarding access and agreeing works through the solicitors. Most importantly, review the alleged defects for anything that could be urgent e.g., a leak or an infestation. Make an appointment to inspect and repair, but make sure to keep the solicitors updated throughout.

Don’t ignore early signs of access issues

In following the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions, an expert inspection can be agreed before you attend to carry out works. This may be your first indication of access issues – keep an eye on how many attempts the expert makes to inspect the Property and bear it in mind when arranging works. It may be best to begin warning letters for the first works raised.

Tenant engagement and customer service is vital

Tenant engagement is crucial when dealing with access issues and to make matters even more complicated, every case will be different. It is important to listen to the tenant and adapt your approach to each case. It may be that their failure to allow access is not as straightforward as it seems – it could allude to deeper issues such as poor property condition or a breach of tenancy happening within the property. It is up to the landlord to tailor their approach adequately and work with the tenant, not against them.

Know the history of the tenancy

When instructing solicitors on a disrepair matter, if there are historic access issues or even issues as simple as rent arrears, notify them immediately and provide any internal access warning letters that have been sent to the tenant. Having this knowledge will allow the solicitor to approach the matter appropriately.

Arranging works – keep trying no matter what!

If access issues become apparent when attempting to arrange works or inspections, review the tenancy agreement and see which terms are on your side. Most tenancy agreements include a section relating to access which confirms how much notice will be given and what will be done if access is not provided. If possible, it is best practice for you to follow a set procedure which will have long term advantages should legal action be required. The procedure is short, simple and as follows:

1. Book an appointment.

2. Send a warning letter confirming the date and time to the tenant and provide a copy to their solicitors.

3. Attend on the date and time arranged. If access is not gained, leave a calling card, and take a picture of the calling card in front of the entrance to the property.

Repeat these steps until there are at least three failed accesses. At this point, a Letter Before Action should be sent. This should state that this is the final opportunity for the tenant to provide access before legal action is taken. It should clarify the repercussions should access not be provided, which will include injunctive relief and possibly possession proceedings.

Following the same procedure will make the process easier to understand across the board.

Disrepair at Court and your defence

When a disrepair case is issued at Court, failed accesses can work in your favour. When defending a disrepair claim, the Court will look at whether the tenant mitigated their own loss. Simply put, they are not helping the process move forward to repairs being complete if they will not let you in to do them! If the tenancy agreement for the Property confirms a missed appointment fee, this can be used in a defence and counterclaim with the Court.

If you need any advice on this topic, please get in touch with our team of experts.

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