Landlord Defence

Landlords may be used to going to court to evict tenants or to seek to serve a Section 21 Notice. However what do landlords need to do when claims are made against them? 


More tenants than ever are aware of their rights under the law and there's an increasing tendency for tenants to consider making claims against their landlord.

All landlords have a duty to provide tenants with a safe environment, but if a tenant is injured as a result of an accident caused by a loose carpet, faulty equipment, defective banisters or any number of hazards in the rented property, there are dozens of claims firms out there who will encourage a tenant to claim compensation from their landlord.

Tenants may also take you to court if they've suffered an illness caused by damp in your rented or leased property. If you are considered negligent, then the tenant can recover damages for personal injury and financial damages from your insurer or you personally.

Of course, there can be no real defence against such claims if you truly have been negligent by not repairing defective surfaces, stairways or safety support railings, not fixing leaking pipes or a roof or improperly maintaining gas or electrical equipment.

A number of tenant's claims are spurious, but they are encouraged by the fact that many claims firms are offering their services to tenants on a No-Win-No-Fee basis. In these circumstances it's not just the law relating to landlords and tenants that may apply, but the often bewildering legal landscape surrounding legal costs that you'll have to contend with.

I want to know

Apart from what is in the agreement what else is the landlord responsible for?

It is always important to look through the Assured Shorthold Tenancy to understand what responsibilities the landlord and tenant have towards one another.

Whatever is stated in the agreement, landlords are required by law to ensure that a rented property is safe when tenants move in and that it is maintained in a safe condition throughout its duration.

The landlord is responsible for maintenance and repairs to the following (the list is not exhaustive):

  • The exterior and structure of the property
  • Basins, baths, sinks, and other sanitary installations
  • Heating and hot water installations
  • Any gas appliances and electrical wiring and equipment

Landlords are also now required to install working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their properties as from 01 October 2015. This legally enforceable requirement applies both to existing tenancies and new AST agreements entered into on or after that date.

At least one smoke alarm must be installed on each floor of a property and a carbon monoxide alarm (mains wired or battery operated) must be located in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance or any other identified 'high risk' locations.

Landlords continue to have responsibilities for the control of legionella bacteria in water including hot water and cold water systems, under The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Heath 1999.

How can a landlord avoid being sued by a tenant?

As a landlord (whether renting out your own property or letting a property you have purchased for that purpose) you have many legally enforceable duties and responsibilities which cannot be avoided.

Provided you fulfil all those duties and responsibilities as set out in the terms of the tenancy agreement, the tenant will have no grounds on which to sue you. When it comes to ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ many landlords feel that the tenant has many more of the former and hardly any of the latter compared to them.

It is true that additional legal obligations have been added to a landlord’s burden, from checking a tenant’s immigration status to keeping up with legislation concerning gas safety and the installation of carbon monoxide alarms. Landlords who must register with local authority licencing schemes have costs and duties to register and respond to anti-social behaviour and face severe penalties if they do not carry out these additional obligations.

Despite these factors, becoming a landlord remains an attractive investment proposition and an appealing investment strategy for many people, but it remains a very demanding role, even if you use the services of a lettings agent.

If you are thinking of becoming a landlord, talk to Access Legal first to avoid problems by drafting and maintaining all key documentation and making sure you do not expose yourself to any risk.

What exactly does the law say?

Increasingly we are finding that tenants are becoming very knowledgeable of the law surrounding the service of information. Access Legal's Landlord and Tenant team are well versed in making sure that information served on tenants is correct and follows the letter of the law.

If your tenant brings an action against you or defends an action you have brought based on incorrect service or invalid Notices, we will be able to advise you immediately on the prospects of your case. Landlords may also have extra layers of responsibility and legal liability if the local authority operates a landlord licensing or registration scheme.

For tenancies commencing on or after 01 October 2015, the Prescribed Information must now also include a copy of a document called 'How to rent: the checklist for renting in England' as published by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The booklet is available for download on the website.

It must be presented in hard copy – it's not enough to send a link or email a PDF unless you have your tenant's agreement that notices and documents may be served by email. Unless a landlord can show that this 'How to rent' leaflet was included in the Prescribed information served to any tenant whose tenancy began on or after 01 October 2015, any Section 21 notice subsequently served will be invalid.

What steps do I take if I am sued or threatened to be sued by my tenant?

It is important to take legal advice as soon as possible. The earlier you contact our experts at Access Legal, the better.

In any dealings with tenants it is important that there is an 'audit trail' - a chronological record or set of records such as copies of letters, emails and notes of telephone conversations - and other source records that provide documentary evidence of the sequence of activities that have occurred throughout the tenancy. It should include details of:

  • Any reports of problems at the property as recorded by the tenant or anyone else
  • Actions the landlord has then taken to address these problems
  • Invoices showing works undertaken at the property
  • Attempts to contact the tenant (including dates and times of calls or other contact of the tenant)
  • The outcome of such attempts and how the matter was then progressed or otherwise chased by the landlord

The court expects the parties to have explored all other avenues of settlement. Your tenant must try and settle a claim before taking court action against you and only use the court if things cannot be resolved by negotiation. The court will also expect your tenant to have made their claim in writing, giving you a reasonable time to reply- a month is usual.

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