Financing Repairs; Renovations

Landlords must maintain their rented properties by carrying out necessary repairs. Tenants also have a duty to keep properties in good repair. Find out who is responsible for repairs, how to go about them, what to do if there is a dispute and who should pay.

Who is responsible for repairs?

Both landlords and tenants are responsible for keeping rented properties in good repair.

Landlords’ responsibilities for repairs

As a landlord, you must keep your property in good condition, and any gas or electrical systems must meet specified safety standards.
You are normally responsible for repairs to:

  • the structure of your property
  • basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary fittings
  • heating and hot water systems
  • any damage you cause through attempting repairs

If your property is seriously damaged by a fire, flood or other similar incident, you do not have to rebuild or renovate it. However, if you do, you cannot ask your tenants to pay a service charge for any repairs made.
If you own a block of flats, you will usually be responsible for repairing common areas, like staircases.
If a tenant is damaging another tenant’s flat – for example if they leave water to overflow and it leaks into the flat below – you should try to stop the damage from continuing. You can ask the tenant responsible for the damage to pay for the repairs. Councils can ask landlords to fix problems in common areas, or to repair a tenant’s flat that has been damaged by another tenant.

Tenants’ responsibilities for repairs

As a tenant, you should only carry out repairs if the tenancy agreement says you can.
You should take reasonable care of the property – for example, by turning off the water at the mains to prevent burst pipes if you will be away during cold weather. You are also responsible for making repairs to put right any damage caused by your family and friends.
Your landlord is not obliged to repair anything that belongs to you in the property, unless it has been damaged because they didn’t carry out their repair obligations, for example, not fixing a leaking roof.

What to do when repairs need to be made

When a rented property needs repairs, tenants and landlords should try to carry them out as soon as possible.

What tenants should do when repairs are needed

If you think repairs are needed to the property you live in, you should contact your landlord or letting agency. They should be able to tell you when you can expect the repairs to be done. If they do not carry out the required repairs, you may be able to take court action or ask your local council for help.
You are required under the tenancy to continue to pay the rent even if you believe the landlord needs to carry out repairs. If you decide to withhold rent, you should bear in mind that this will put you in breach of your tenancy agreement and your landlord could take action against you, including seeking a court order to evict you.
Tenants who are not sure who their landlord is should ask for this information in writing from the person or company they pay rent to. If you do not receive this information within 21 days, your landlord may be fined.

What landlords should do when repairs are needed

As a landlord, you have a legal right to enter your property to inspect it or carry out repairs. You must give your tenants at least 24 hours’ notice, although immediate access may be possible in emergencies.
You cannot enter the property in other circumstances, unless you have a court order.
If you have a local authority grant to carry out repairs and your tenant refuses access, you can apply for a court order to enter the property. Your tenants have the right to stay in the property during the repairs.

What happens if repairs are not done properly?

Tenants can ask their landlords to make repairs to any parts of the property that are the landlord’s responsibility. They should also alert their landlord as soon as possible to any faults that could cause serious health and safety hazards, like faulty electrical wiring.
If a landlord does not make repairs to remove hazards, the tenant can ask the local council to inspect the property under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and to take any action that is necessary.
If the council identifies serious hazards, it must take enforcement action to ensure that the hazard is removed. For less serious hazards, the council may take enforcement action if considered necessary.
Where landlords refuse to carry out repairs, tenants can:

  • start a claim in the small claims court for repairs under £5,000
  • in some circumstances, carry out the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent – tenants considering doing this should always get legal advice first as there are procedures to be followed

If tenants think landlords have not carried out repairs correctly, they should try to reach a compromise. Otherwise, the tenants can apply for a court order to make the landlord carry out the repairs to a satisfactory standard.

What if the property is temporarily unfit to live in?

Landlords can ask tenants to move out during major repairs. Before this happens, landlord and tenant should agree in writing:

  • how long the works will last
  • the tenants’ right to return
  • details of any alternative accommodation

Landlords cannot repossess a property just because they want to do repairs. If they plan substantial works, or want to redevelop the property, they can apply to the courts for an order for the tenants to leave. The courts are more likely to grant this if the landlord provides alternative accommodation for the tenants.

Can tenants carry out their own repairs?

As a tenant, you should only do repairs if it says you can in the tenancy agreement. You cannot be forced to do repairs that are your landlord’s responsibility.
If you have a regulated tenancy, you have a right to carry out reasonable improvements to properties, as long as you have your landlord’s written permission.

Can tenants withhold rent to pay for repairs?

In some circumstances, tenants may have the right to carry out any repairs their landlords fail to do and withhold rent to recover the cost of those repairs if the landlord does not repay the tenant. If a tenant plans to make repairs they must let the landlord know in writing. The letter to the landlord must include:

  • that the tenant plans to carry out certain repairs needed
  • the opportunity for the landlord to carry out the repairs
  • quotes for costs from three different builders

Once tenants have carried out the repairs, they should give the landlord the opportunity to pay them back for the cost of the repairs. If the tenant does not follow the correct procedures, the landlord may be able to take them to court and seek to evict them for not paying enough rent.
If the repairs are very disruptive, the tenants may be entitled to claim a reduction on their rent known as a ‘rent abatement’. The reduction will depend on how much of the property is unusable. If, for example, the tenants can only use half the property during the repairs, they may be entitled to pay only half their normal rent during this time.
Landlords may have the right to increase their tenants’ rent after carrying out repairs and improvements, depending on the tenancy agreement. If the tenancy started before 15 January 1989, the landlord can apply to the rent officer to register a new fair rent based on the new condition of the property.

For most people, taking on a mortgage will be the biggest debt that they are ever willing to accept. They do this not simply due to the joy of owning their own home, but because these properties are also investments that are likely to appreciate in value during their lifetime.

For the lucky few this increase in value might happen overnight or with little effort, but most of the time keeping up the appearances of properties and making necessary repairs and renovations is required. Unfortunately repairs and renovations cost a lot of money, but there are some ways to free up cash for these purposes.

Speak with a professional financial advisor regarding your specific circumstances, but most homeowners can finance repairs and renovations with the assistance of grants, loans or by releasing equity from their mortgage.

Grants

Most local authorities offer some type of home repair or home renovation assistance grants to those who live within their borders. Though the terms and conditions of these grants will vary, most grants are awarded in order for home owners to make urgent repairs, to improve insulation or energy efficiency, and/or to increase home safety and security. Generally all of these grants are means tested in some way, meaning that you would need to prove both that these repairs are required and the details of your personal finances. Grants to help make your home more eco-friendly and accessible to disabled inhabitants may also be available from you local authorities. Check government websites or call in to government offices for more information.

Loans

Unlike grants, which are usually awarded on an as-needed basis and only when funds are available, loans are a much more common means of financing home repairs and renovations. Loans are usually taken out from banks, credit unions or private lenders and they may be at a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate. Fixed interest rate loans are those that are locked in at a certain interest rate percentage, while variable rate loans are subject to fluctuations. Often homeowners take out personal loans to cover the cost of home repairs and renovations, and usually the money lender will require details of your personal finances before agreeing to the loan. Read all of the terms and conditions of a loan carefully, as some may penalise you for extra repayments or paying back the loan early.

Releasing Equity from a Mortgage

Releasing equity from an existing mortgage is another common means of financing home repairs and renovations. In order to use the equity that they have built up, mortgage holders may either ask for more funds from their existing lender or remortgage with another lender. This frees up cash to pay for home repairs and renovations, but it does mean that the length of the mortgage will be extended and/or monthly repayments will increase. To prove that they can afford these new terms, prospective buyers will usually need to prove their personal income and finances.

Financing home repairs and renovations can be tricky, but most homeowners can free up funds by applying for grants, taking on new loans or releasing equity from an existing mortgage. Anyone considering repairing or renovating their home should obtain professional estimates regarding the cost of these operations, and seek professional advice on the means of financing that best fits their circumstances. Never should a repair or renovation scheme be undertaken that is so costly that it puts the home itself in jeopardy.