If you’re thinking about suing your landlord over a repair and maintenance issue, you may want to read this case study first, and listen to the segment embedded below.
Daniel Barnett, a barrister, provides valuable advice to a tenant who calls into the LBC radio station, because she wants guidance on how to sue her landlord because of a faulty fuse box.
There are a lot of key takeaways for any tenant that’s contemplating taking legal action against their landlord.
Regrettably, I’m starting to notice early signs of old age; not just biological, but also social and behavioural. First came the unexpected and mortifying growth of nasal hairs, which started gaping out of my nostrils like nobody’s business!! Then came the more expected and traditional sign, a sporadic growth of grey hairs under my bottom lip. And now, most recently, my obscure interest in listening to LBC talkshow radio station whenever I hop into my car.
I’m a withering shambles.
For those unaware, LBC stands for “Leading Britain’s Conversation” It’s truly as dry, ridiculous and un-youthful as it sounds. It’s a phone-in radio station where people with largely too much time on their hands call in to put forward their passionate, and often unbearable, opinions across live on air, regarding the hot topic of the moment, which is mostly political and/or current affairs based.
LBC is quite a scary listen, because you really begin to realise how many dangerous assholes walk among us in every day life. It manages to attract a broad range of listeners and contributors, from professionals to the every day common folk, residing from all areas of the political and social spectrum. The common denominator between us all is old age and overgrown floppy ears.
Anyways, point is, I’m old and consequently listen to bullshit ‘talkshow’ radio stations.
The pursuit of suing the landlord
Last Wednesday (14th January 2015) I was driving homebound while listening to the Clive Bull show on LBC. He has a regular Wednesday night slot called ‘The legal hour’ where listeners’ can call in for free legal advice from LBC’s resident Barrister, Daniel Barnett. They cover a whole array of issues, from parking ticket disputes to… well, everything else. I’m a big fan of the duo.
On this particular night there was an interesting call from a tenant that was angling towards suing her landlord because of a disrepair issue, and the response Barnett gave was quite interesting/useful.
Why the tenant wanted compensation
The caller claimed her sleep got disrupted by fumes during the early hours of the morning, which was caused by a “fuse box issue”
She was concerned enough to call the fire services for assistance, and was then advised to leave the property until the issue was resolved.
The tenant did the right thing. Good job.
The issue was quickly reported to the landlord, but he took 6 sweet weeks to repair the problem, which meant the tenant had to stay with friends during that time. The tenant was also alledgely left with various side affects after inhaling “secondary fumes”, including disorientation and confusion, along with mood-swings at work (really? Sure you weren’t just pissed off with the situation?).
If you’re relatively bored and/or eager to waste company time, you can listen to the segment below. It’s particularly worth the listen if you’re contemplating seeking compensation from your landlord. Otherwise, I wouldn’t prioritise it over, well, anything at all.
If you do listen to it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Listen to the 5 minute segment!
Firstly, I think 6 weeks to resolve the problem was totally ludicrous; the tenant was obviously inconvenienced to an unacceptable degree. The lazy buffoon of a landlord failed to fulfill his obligations, there’s no disputing that. He would ideally be whipped for his incompetence, but not in the pleasurable way I’m subjected to on a Friday night. He freakin’ wishes!
The tenant deserved some compensation, but I also think she was fishing for a larger payout than what she was entitled to with her airy fairy, bullshit medical side-affects. I wasn’t convinced by her wallowing, but I am ultimately on her side. She seemed pleasant enough.
But what’s sad is that we’ve started adopting this whole American suing culture, where we’re quick and eager to sue the shit out of everyone for every little thing. I’ve personally been a victim of this shameless practice, and I imagine many others have too.
A few years ago I lightly bumped into the car in front of me because I momentarily lost concentration, I was completely liable. Thankfully, there were no damages and everyone involved, including the vehicles, drove away unscathed; the incident couldn’t have been more graceful. We parted the scene on friendly terms, with no incident to report. However, out of good sense we did follow protocol by exchanging numbers/details.
Two weeks later I received a call from the chap, and that’s when he dropped the bombshell on me. The douche-bag proceeded to inform me that he’s cottoned onto the fact that he and his partner (who was in the passenger seat) can claim for whiplash and sign off work for two weeks, so that’s exactly what the assholes did.
He shamelessly tried to comfort me with the assurance of knowing that the only people that will lose out is the insurance company. Seriously! At that point I let my insurance company takeover, and I never heard from the snake-oil prick again. He probably got a handsome little payout that funded a nice holiday or two.
I hope he caught a vicious Mediterranean disease that made his penis permanently inverted and dysfunctional.
Of course, I think the tenant has a genuine case, but also believe she’s trying to milk it, and I think Daniel was quick to spot that, which is why he focused on getting compensation purely for the issue of disrepair and nothing else.
What to consider when suing your landlord over damages & maintenance Issues
There’s actually a lot that could be analysed about the call and the case itself, but here are the key takeaways from my point of view, which should be considered by every tenant if they’re thinking about suing their landlord:
To sue or not to sue, that is the question?
The key point I extracted from the entire situation wasn’t the issue of disrepair. In fact, I’ve completely ignored the specifics of the case because it’s your run of the mill tenant/landlord problem. It happens every freaking day, all day long. The key was that Daniel was bang on the money when he said the experience should be chalked up as “life experience”, even though she was probably entitled to some compensation and was blatantly mistreated. It’s ultimately a shit deal, but it’s usually the way it is.
As a landlord I’ve had to waive dozens of incidents that I was probably entitled compensation for, from tenants vacating a property while leaving it in a condition that even a barnyard animal would be disappointed with, to tenants walking away with outstanding arrears.
It’s probably one of the hardest lessons to learn as a novice tenant or landlord, which is, you some times need to let shit slide because chasing losses is often futile and not worth the, often unbearable, hassle. Whether it be down to pride, greed or stubbornness, there’s something that drives many of us to seek justice, and it’s understandable. But it’s truly a fruitless practice in many cases. I don’t think the system is fair, but I know how it generally works, and I know which battles I want to pick.
From my experience, the legal system isn’t designed to handle small claims efficiently, especially if we’re talking about £800. Mostly, in this industry, that kind of loss is better marked off as collateral damage. It can be gut-wrenching to let it go, especially if your cashflow isn’t particularly healthy, but those losses are part of ‘the system’. Instead of going to battle, you might be better served concentrating on finding a better landlord and/or improving your contingency plan for the future.
By the time you go to court and calculate the amount of time, energy and stress it’s taken, the end reward usually doesn’t compensate for what you put yourself through (that’s also assuming you win). If you’re talking about a couple of thousands pounds, it might be worth pursuing (money is always relative to the individual, so you can make your own benchamrk). But before pursing any relatively “subjective” case, it’s worth weighing the variables and then consider weather it’s actually worth it.
This principle applies to both landlord and tenant.
It’s not always the landlord’s fault when things break
Another key point that tenants often don’t appreciate. I quote,
The landlord isn’t automatically liable just because something has gone wrong with the house or the flat. Things go wrong with flats; fuse boxes blow, electrical faults develop, that’s not the landlord’s fault. But if they then fail to take ‘reasonable care’ to get it repaired, that’s where you might have a claim against them
It could reasonably take a week or two for it all to be repaired, that’s not the landlord’s fault, it’s the delay that’s caused you problems.
The real problem is that the landlord didn’t take ‘reasonable care’ to resolve the problem, which left the tenant with a property that wasn’t habitable or in working order, and NOT because of the actual problem with the fuse box. It can be complicated and difficult to claim for disrepair alone. That’s a very crucial point.
I’ve had disgruntled tenants’ contact me in the past, raging and fuming because, for example, the boiler packed up and died. Judging by their reaction you’d think I took their daughter’s virginity and blogged about it (something i’d probably do, mind you). It’s almost like they don’t understand I’m NOT offering a property with infallible fittings, and that appliances naturally break with usage through no fault of my own. I know it’s inconvenient as hell for the tenant, but it’s also inconvenient for me; not only because I have to arrange and pay for the repair, but also because I now have to endure the tenant’s irrational and petulant bellowing, which I honestly couldn’t give a shit about.
However, I do believe a landlord could be held liable almost immediately if they provide a property with blatant negligence of safety. For example, if there’s a problem with a gas appliance and a valid gas safety certificate isn’t in place.
Only sue for what you’re entitled to sue for
I was pleased that Daniel was quick to stray the tenant away from chasing compensation for the damages associated with the alleged adverse affects to her health. It seemed like a sketchy claim and a losing battle, and something that may have been extremely difficult to prove. Many unscrupulous lawyers may not have been so sensible with their advise.
Sue for what you’re entitled to sue for, don’t be a hot-dog eating gluttonous American.
You can make a small claims if the value of the claim is below £10,000
Any claim under the value of £10,000 can go through the small claims court, which can be dealt with a written application, without a hearing. More details on the GOV website.
- Health & safety concerns
If you believe your landlord is neglecting their health and safety obligations, you can contact the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) and lodge a complaint. If they believe you have a case they will take the appropriate steps to resolve the situation, which could lead to compensation.
Landlords should make repairs in reasonable time
Message to landlords: don’t be an idiot by allowing repairs go unattended for too long. Act reasonably and don’t disregard your landlord duties. Your tenants are valuable and they have the power to either make or break your investment, so it’s in every landlord’s best interest to provide a certain level of good service.
Landlords duty to repair & maintain
It’s probably a good time to briefly cover what the landlord is legally responsible for in regards to repairs and maintenance. Most general queries will be covered by Section 11, Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (Repairs & Maintenance) and the electrical equipment (safety) regulation.
Repairs & maintenance
The landlord is responsible for the structure and exterior of the property; baths, sinks and other sanitary items; heating and hot water installations. The legislation requires the landlord to:
- keep the structure and exterior of the property in good repair, including drains, gutters and external pipes
- keep installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation in good repair and proper working order
- keep installations for space heating and water heating in good repair and proper working order
Every electrical appliance supplied by the landlord must be safe to use; the electrical installation in the house must be completely safe. There is no mandatory requirement for the equipment to undergo any safety testing, but that should NOT be an incentive to be careless.
For more information, go to the landlords legal obligations page.
Still want to sue your landlord?
The intention of this post isn’t to stray anyone away from suing the crap out of their tenant or landlord (whichever the case maybe), every case is unique. This post is more intended towards making people aware of the fact that it isn’t ALWAYS worth pursuing, and you may not have a case just because something breaks and consequently suffered from inconvenience. Moreover, the gold at the pot of the rainbow isn’t an easy snatch, particularly because there are often consequences beyond the financial rewards that should be taken into consideration.
In recent years, as I’ve gained wisdom (and exposing nostril hairs), I’ve written a lot about valuing life by avoiding stress. I used to get stressed and sink into a pit of depression far too often when it came to my tenant related woes, but I soon realised it wasn’t worth jeopardizing my own health and happiness over. I’d rather let some asshole get away with a couple of hundred pounds than putting myself through the meat-grinder, because the end result didn’t make me feel any better or richer.
Do I value my money? Yes.
Would I have liked that money to be lodged firmly in my mitts so I can support my hideous and unmentionable addictions? Absolutely!
Do I want that person to be held responsible for their actions, and physically tortured like a daddy longleg being departed from its legs by an intrigued 6yr old? 100%
But realistically, I value my general well-being more, and if a person is capable of doing those things to me after I was a good landlord, their life is already pitiful enough and they have bigger demons to conquer.
Also, as said, it’s good to bear in mind that letting things slide and writing things off as ‘life experience’ and ‘collateral damage’ is part of the game, and pretty much every business (i.e. out of date stock, damaged goods). I know, that can be a difficult mouth-full-of seminal fluid to swallow.
In any case, here’s a more detailed post on how to sue your landlord, if it’s still of interest. Like I said, I don’t want to sway you away from your pursuit for happiness; your idea of happiness may drastically differ from mine, and I don’t want anyone to be a doormat. But essentially, you should make your own choices based on your unique circumstance, and value accordingly based on your needs and wants in life.
Avoid the need to sue
Unless you’re a raging, psychotic sadist, it’s probably in your best interest to take every reasonable step to avoid getting tangled up in any situation where you may want/need to sue someone. The best way to achieve that is by carefully selecting your team wisely. Entirely escaping from the possibility of getting tangled with a dip-shit tenant/landlord is impossible. You won’t ever achieve it. However, the key to avoiding these incidents is to keep the odds considerably stacked in your favour, whether you’re a landlord or tenant, and that’s typically achieved by appropriate insurance policies and thorough referencing.
If anyone has any further advice and thoughts, particularly regarding how to handle old age, please make yourself heard!
Disclaimer: I'm just a simple landlord blogger; I'm not qualified to give legal or financial advice. Any information I share is my opinion based on my personal experiences as an active landlord, and should never be contrued as legal or professional advice. For more information, please read my full disclaimer.