When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

What to do if your landlord refuses to repair

Always make your requests for repairs in writing, either by letter or email. If you make your request in writing, there's a paper trail to show when you originally brought the problem to your landlord's attention.  Your rent book should contain your landlord's address. You need to give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to carry out the repair. There is no definition of what is "reasonable".  You need to apply common sense to this.  Urgent repairs, like solving a problem with the water or heating supplies, should be dealt with quickly  but it might take a bit longer to fix a cupboard door. 

Landlord refuses to carry out repairs

If your tenancy agreement states that the landlord should carry out the repairs and he or she has refused to do these you should tell the landlord that he is in breach of your contract. Follow these steps:

  • Write to your landlord, informing her/him of the repairs which need to be carried out.
  • If you do not get a satisfactory response to your letter, send a follow up letter giving your landlord a deadline by which you expect a reply. 
  • If you are still not satisfied with your landlord's response, you can write again, informing the landlord of your intention to involve the local council if the repair work is not carried out. 

Keep copies of all of these letters as they will be important to you if your dispute ends up in court.

If the level of disrepair in the property is damaging your health and your landlord refuses to carry out repairs to remedy the situation, you should contact your local Environmental Health Office. You may also be able to get help from the local council if the property doesn't meet the basic fitness standards.

Risk of eviction

If your tenancy agreement is due to run out, or you don't have a current tenancy agreement and are renting on a month to month basis, you can be asked to leave the property at any time. Your landlord may prefer to find a new tenant than have to carry out a particular repair.

You are entitled to a minimum of 28 days' notice to quit before you have to leave the property. If you've lived in the property for more than 5 years your landlord will have to give you more notice. If your landlord tries to evict you without giving the proper amount of notice it may be an illegal eviction.

Withholding rent

If your landlord is refusing to carry out repairs, it can be tempting to withhold your rent. This is a risky strategy and could backfire. If you don't pay your rent, your landlord is entitled to serve you with a Notice to Quit. If you are considering using this strategy, you should get advice from an independent agency. 

You must inform your landlord of your intention to withhold rent if the repair work is not carried out.  Give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to respond to your letter.  If you then decide to actually withhold rent, make sure you let your landlord know in writing and keep a copy of your letter.  You should not attempt this strategy without advice and you should be very careful about attempting this strategy if you are a periodic tenant as your landlord does not have to have a reason to commence eviction proceedings against you.

Keep the rent money separate

If you do decide to withhold rent, keep the money you should have been paying as rent in a separate bank account, because:

  • it shows that you are withholding the rent to pay for repairs
  • it proves you're not using the problem as an excuse to not pay rent
  • it will help you keep track of how much rent you have withheld.

Give your landlord a statement of this separate account every time you would normally have paid your rent.

Deducting the cost of repairs from rent

It's not recommended that tenants carry out any repairs, improvements or decoration in a property without getting the landlord's written permission first.   If your landlord isn't responding to your requests for repairs you could try using the following method to encourage him to act. 

  • Write to your landlord setting a date by which you expect the repairs to be completed
  • If this date passes without a response from your landlord, write to him again explaining that you will arrange for the repairs to be done yourself and deduct the cost of these repairs from future rent payments.  

If you decide to do this you need to make sure you get at least 3 quotes for the cost of the work and that you choose the cheapest quote.  Keep your landlord informed in writing at each step of the process and allow your landlord an opportunity to sort out the problem before you resort to this method.  Send your landlord copies of the quotes and explain that you have chosen the most affordable option.  Keep copies of everything you sent to the landlord. 

If you don't pay your full rent your landlord may try to evict you.  If your tenancy agreement has expired and you haven't signed a new fixed term agreement, you will have to leave if your landlord serves you with a Notice to Quit.  If your contract hasn't expired yet, you may be able to fight the eviction in court.  Contact Housing Rights for advice on dealing with eviction.

Deposit problems if you don't pay your rent

If you use your rent to cover the cost of carrying out repairs to your home, it's likely that your landlord will try to take whatever rent you owe out of your deposit. If you believe this is unfair, you will have to take your landlord to Small Claims Court to get your money back.

If you haven't paid your rent, a deposit dispute adjudicator will have to allow the landlord to take that money out of your deposit. The adjudicator won't be able to make the landlord give you this money back, even if you can prove that the landlord was refusing to do essential repairs. 

Make sure that you have your landlord's address and that you get advice on how to recover your deposit through Small Claims Court or through the dispute resolution scheme if you've withheld rent from your landlord.

Can you leave your tenancy early if the landlord won't carry out repairs?

If you leave a tenancy before the expiry date on your contract, your landlord may sue you for any rent you owe right up until the contract ends. You'll need strong evidence to prove to a court that your landlord broke the tenancy agreement and that's why you left.

A tenancy agreement is a legal document and both you and the landlord need to abide by its terms.  If you feel that the landlord's failure to carry out repairs means he has broken the agreement, you can't just leave, but you may be able to give Notice if the landlord has seriously breached an agreement.  

A material breach must be quite serious.  For example, if your landlord called to the property once without giving you proper notice, he may be in breach of the agreement, but since this is a one-off, it may not be viewed as a material breach.  However, if the landlord constantly did this despite knowing that he had to give you notice before calling to the property, you could accuse him of a material breach.  

If the landlord refuses to carry out any repairs which are his legal responsibility you could write to him advising that he is in breach of the agreement. You might also want to involve your local council at this stage, who can inspect the property to check that it is fit and free from serious disrepair.

If the landlord has seriously breached the agreement, you could threaten to issue Notice to Quit on the grounds that he has breached the agreement.  There is always a risk to tenants if they leave a tenancy before the term has expired so it's important that you 

  • write to the landlord first, explaining which repairs are his legal or contractual responsibility
  • write again, explaining that you believe he is in breach and will issue Notice to Quit if these repairs are not dealt with by a specified date 
  • after this time has lapsed, write enclosing Notice to Quit and clearly state that you are issuing this Notice because the landlord has materially breached his contractual obligations. 

If your landlord takes you to court to claim unpaid rent, you can defend your case.  However, it will be up to the judge on the day to decide whether or not the breach of contract is significant enough to make the lease void. 

Speak to an adviser before deciding to give Notice to Quit because your landlord isn't dealing with problems in the property.  

Need help solving a problem?

You should always get advice if you are having problems with a tenancy. You can contact Housing Rights for advice on your rights. Housing Rights can also provide a mediation service if you and your landlord are having problems and need an independent person to help resolve these.