A guide to tenants' housing rights around safety and repairs

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, here’s where to get help and advice if you’re a social housing tenant with questions about your own home

In the aftermath of a shocking disaster like the Grenfell Tower fire, social housing tenants, including those who rent from private landlords, as well as from housing associations, councils or other registered housing providers, will be asking questions about their own homes and wondering where to turn for advice.

Here’s a guide to where you can get help, and where to go if your landlord doesn’t provide satisfactory answers.

Who do I go to with concerns about the materials in my building?
All local authorities have been asked to provide information to the Department for Communities and Local Government about the materials used in their high-rise blocks. This information is not currently publicly available, but you can call your local council to ask for further information. You may also want to contact the management organisation for the council properties in your area.

You also might want to arrange a home fire safety visit from the London Fire Brigade. Other boroughs provide local home fire checks, which you can find out by contacting your local fire service.

Who do I go to with concerns about concerns around safety and repairs?
As a tenant, you have the right for your accommodation to be kept in a reasonable state of repair. Your tenancy agreement may give more details on this. Some repairs are the landlord’s responsibility regardless of whether they are in the tenancy agreement

According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, these are:

  • The structure and exterior of the property. So things like walls, floors and window frames, as well as the drains, gutters and external pipes. If the property is a house, you are also entitled to repairs in areas that are essential for accessing the house such as steps and garden paths
  • Water and gas pipes and electrical wiring like taps and sockets
  • Basins, sinks, baths and toilets
  • Fixed heaters (for example, gas fires) and water heaters, although this does not include gas or electric cookers.

You have to cooperate in ensuring the repairs can be done – for example, by providing access for works to be completed.

After you report a repair problem, your landlord should provide information on how they will deal with it and how long it should take. Your tenancy agreement or handbook may provide details of how long a particular type of repair usually takes.

It is a good idea to collate evidence to back up your case, such as any photos and correspondence between you and your landlord or letting agent about including text messages and emails, as well as letters. Keep your tenancy agreement and any potential supporting documents – for example, if you have a letter from a health professional which relates to how the problem is affecting your health.

Right to repair
For council tenants, some small repairs may be covered by the right to repair scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to ensure that urgent or emergency repairs which would cost under £250 can be completed urgently. If they aren’t you could be entitled to compensation.

To find out if you are covered by the right to repair scheme, and which repairs are included, contact your local council or go through the government webpage.

For tenants renting privately, Shelter has a good guide to landlords’ legal obligations, including repairs. There have been some cases of tenants being evicted after making complaints but Shelter notes that if you have an assured shorthold tenancy that started or was renewed on or after 1 October 2015, you have some legal protection against revenge eviction if you complain about repairs.

What if my landlord doesn’t listen to me?
If you have reported repair problems to your landlord and they aren’t responding, there are a number of steps you can take.

First of all, ensure you have raised the case formally in writing. If you are a resident in a housing association or a housing cooperative, there should be a formal complaints procedure that should detail how to complain, but in general, the letter should include details of the problem and what you would like the landlord to do to solve it. Include details about your rights, what you feel the landlord should have done, and any evidence, such as photographs and previous correspondence, to back your points up.

If concerns are still not dealt with, there are a number of options you can take. You may want to contact your local authority for help. After raising a complaint, the case should be investigated and you may be asked for more information.

Complain to the Environmental Health department
If you believe the problem affects your health or safety, you can report the landlord to the Environmental Health department.

Your council should contact you and your landlord to discuss the problem and explain the law if you complain about repairs not being done. They can inspect your home and order your landlord to do the repairs.

Complain to the local ombudsman
If your local council refuses your complaint or you are unsatisfied with their response, you can complain to the Housing Ombudsman for free. The Ombudsman is an independent organisation that will look into how the council dealt with the problem, and whether it followed the correct procedures in doing so. The Ombudsman can recommend that the council tries to put things right if they agree with your complaint, although their decisions are not legally binding.

The Ombudsman cannot usually help you until you have gone through the council’s formal complaints procedure, or if you are already dealing with the problems through a court case.

Final resorts
Sometimes, if you have exhausted the complaints making procedure but still feel you have relevant concerns, it can help to apply pressure through an outside organisation such as a tenants’ group or through local politicians can help.

You can find your local MP here . To find out who your local councillors are, click here

You might consider going to court if you are unhappy with decisions around your housing. The alternative dispute resolution route provides an option to resolve the issues without having to go to that far. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau offers advice on ADRs here.

If you require any further advice, please call the Belvoir Macclesfield office on 01625 410 950

Source: theguardian.com