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Every residential tenancy for less than 7 years (which includes periodic tenancies such as weekly and monthly tenancies) has a term implied into it under which the landlord undertakes various repairing responsibilities. These are as follows:-

  1. To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property (including drains, gutters and external pipes)
  2. To keep in repair (and proper working order) the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation, including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences (this does not extend to fittings and appliances which make use of water, gas or electricity) and
  3. To keep in repair (and proper working order) the installations in the premises for space heating and heating water.

Additionally, if the tenancy was granted from 1988 onwards and it relates to a dwelling which forms part only of a building, such as a flat, the landlord is under an extended responsibility to keep in repair the structure and exterior of any part of the building in which the landlord has an estate or interest, as well as the property such as the flat which is actually let to the tenant.

This extended responsibility is subject to qualifications in that the landlord is not required to carry out any works or repairs unless the disrepair (or failure to maintain in working order) is such as to affect the tenant's enjoyment of the actual premises let or of any common parts which the tenant is entitled to use.

In situations where there is an extended responsibility to repair, the landlord has a defence if he/she can prove that he/she used all reasonable endeavours to obtain, and was unable to obtain, such rights as would be adequate to enable him/her to carry out the works or repairs in question. For example, where a freeholder prevents the landlord from accessing a part of the building he needs to affect repairs.

Meaning of structure and exterior

The compulsory contractual term requires the landlord to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling. This is the landlord's basic responsibility. This responsibility does not depend on the extent of the actual premises which are incorporated in the tenancy but on the facts. At this point, it should be noted that it may be important to determine what part of the premises are actually included in the tenancy when it comes to the question of whether notice of a defect is a pre-condition to the landlord's liability. It does not, however, determine what part of the property the landlord is responsible for repairing. Anything which in the ordinary meaning of words would be regarded as part of the structure or exterior of a particular dwelling is within the scope of what the landlord is required to repair.

Often a flat's outside wall is not included in the lease by the owner of the block and is retained by the head landlord. Nevertheless, as an outside wall is essential for the flat, the outside wall of the block of flats which constitutes the flat wall will still be the responsibility of the landlord along with the structural framework which directly supports the flat. When it comes to the question of notice being a pre-condition to trigger responsibility, if these elements are not included then the landlord of the flat who lets it out on a residential tenancy will be liable for disrepair whether they are notified by the tenant or not.

The potential liability is illustrated by a case where a council landlord owned a block of flats. The same contractual provisions applied as with a private letting. The tenant was a tenant of the top floor flat which did not include the roof void but the roof was regarded as part of the exterior of the flat. During a cold snap the pipework in the roof of the block burst. The tenant's flat along with some of his possessions were damaged by water. The landlord was liable irrespective of having no notice of the defect as the pipes were outside the extent of the property actually let to the tenant.

The rest of this guide discusses landlords who are the leaseholders on flats, the times when landlords are liable for repairs outside their property, recent court cases and advice for how to deal with repairs to areas outside the landlord's property.

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