Am I guilty of Disrepair, Being Unfair or Both?

by Gary Dully

8:02 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

Am I guilty of Disrepair, Being Unfair or Both?

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Am I guilty of Disrepair, Being Unfair or Both?

A letting agent I use in Yorkshire has sent me an email today, as they have received a letter from the local council suggesting that I am guilty of disrepair.

This is probably a complaint in retaliation from a tenant that I invoiced, £97.87, for an emergency repair to her kitchen floor that had collapsed due to a water leak from her washing machine over a period of weeks that caused the suspended floor to crumble.

On the 21st June of this year, I was asked, via my letting agent, if the tenant could replace the kitchen laminate as her washing machine had been leaking and some of the laminate flooring in the kitchen had become warped.

Simple question, simple answer!

I had no objection and said I didn’t mind to the letting agent and thought no more about it.

Then on the 20th July, I got a phone call to say that the tenant had started replacing the flooring and had fallen through the kitchen floor and the house had now become uninhabitable.

To say I was alarmed is an understatement, so I cancelled my appointments for the day and dragged myself across the Pennines to find out what had occurred.

When I got there at 3pm, the laminate had been partially been removed by the tenant, or whoever was doing the flooring, revealing a rather large hole in the floor panels, where the tenants foot had gone through down to her knee.

That resulted in a hospital journey as the hole was knee shaped when I got there.

The reason, the floor couldn’t carry her weight, was that the kitchen floor was made from fibreboard and had been subjected to water for so long it had the strength of wet cardboard , i.e. NONE.

(The floor is suspended on joists above a 3ft drop to the planet below).

As I had limited time left, it didn’t take long to trace the source, (the washing machine) and I videoed the hole and then started to rip out the wet floor panels and more sections of laminate until I came into a section of standard floorboards underneath the laminate, further towards a load bearing wall, made of good old fashioned timber floorboards.

The timber was soaking wet and so were the floor joists.

The washing machine was suspended by the existing wooden floorboards and thankfully wasn’t in any danger of going through the floor.

I told tenant that I couldn’t remove the washing machine because there was no floor left to place its weight upon. It would have to stay in position until the rest of the floor was made load bearing again.

The only option was to replace two of the water soaked fibreboard panels, (the rest were intact), so I went to Wickes and bought some flooring grade fibreboard of the same thickness and by the time I got back the surface water had evaporated from the floor joists and I then got on with what I told the tenant would be an emergency temporary repair, so that she could use the kitchen again.

Whist I was removing the ruined panels, the letting agent arrived and was shocked at the extent of the rot that had set in and told the tenant that she might expect an invoice for the work,-as she had reported the leak weeks before and had only just started to remedy the situation.

I kept asking how the floor was so wet and I was originally told that the washing machine had leaked slightly, but that didn’t justify the amount of rot.

So I kept asking the same question in a different way for a couple of hours and finally I think I got an answer that made a bit of sense.

The tenant finally told me that the waste pipe of the washing machine had come off a couple of times and the kitchen floor had become wet because of it.

The waste pipe wasn’t installed properly, but I didn’t move the machine to check because I was too tired and I assumed it would be sorted after the floor had dried out.

To be honest, I was just happy that I had just enough time to get the fibreboard panels replaced so that the house could be used again and I think the tenant was also.

That was 8.45pm and I couldn’t stay any longer.

I told the tenant that whoever was doing her floor would have to leave time for the floor to dry out thoroughly, to which she agreed and about a week later I forwarded on my invoice for about 5 hours work, (at the minimum living wage rate), and the materials used. The total came to £97.87, which I thought was fair, considering it was her washing machine leaking and not mine.

So I went back to Merseyside and carried on with my life of Landlord drudgery.

Then last week I got another email from my letting agent that said that the tenant had told my letting agent she was going to ask her home help if she should pay for it.

I didn’t give that remark much thought, perhaps I should of.

Then POW!, today I got a letter from the Housing Enforcement team declaring that I am guilty of disrepair and wanting to know what my intentions are?

I thought I had made it clear to the tenant that the work I did would only be a temporary emergency repair and I wasn’t the person that would be carrying out the repairs, as they weren’t my fault.

So before I get beaten up by the council, would any Property118 readers like to advise on what to do or say?

Thanks in advance

Gary



Comments

Mark Alexander

8:14 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

Hello Gary

Based on the circumstances you have described, I suspect your tenant and her carer are concerned that she will be evicted. She has probably been advised that retaliatory evictions now cannot take place within a year after a Council has issued a repairing order.

As for whether you are being unfair ....... YES, I think you are ........ you're being unfair to yourself.

Did you price in your call out fee and mileage at 45 pence a mile? How much did the materials cost? Why did you only charge minimum wage?

My advice is to write back to the Council and give them a link to this blog.

I also think you should write to your tenant giving her two weeks to fix the damage and state that in the event of her failure to comply you will issue a section 8 notice to evict her and an MCOL claim for the damages caused to your property plus all costs associated with the eviction and your time (at the proper rate) for dealing with this matter, including correspondence with the Council and any legal advice you may need to take.

PLEASE NOTE - the picture used in this article is a 'stock photograph' but if you would like to send me your video evidence I will be happy to upload the file at the bottom of this article.

Monty Bodkin

9:10 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1985/70/section/11

The covenant implied by subsection (1) (“the lessor’s repairing covenant”) shall not be construed as requiring the lessor—
(a)
to carry out works or repairs for which the lessee is liable by virtue of his duty to use the premises in a tenant-like manner

Gary Nock

9:21 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

Gary I think the council either only have half the story or are trying to bully you or both. Section 11 LL & T Act 1985 places repairing obligations on the landlord for structural repair - which includes roofs, gutters and floors etc. But in this case the disrepair has been caused by the tenant not acting in a " tenant like manner". In other words if it were her own house then would she not have dealt with the leak from HER washing machine sooner? I would check the inventory from the commencement of the tenancy and this will show ( if it's a good one with embedded time and date stamped photos) that there was no damage at the commencement of the tenancy. Compare this with photos you hopefully have taken when you went over - or the agent did- and you are in the "pound seats". I think once you set this out in a letter to the council they will see things in a different light. And the tenant should be made to pay for both the
(very reasonable) temporary and permanent repair.

Paul Maguire

9:28 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

Obviously been a cheap repair in the past from the fact that there were standard timber boards elsewhere in the kitchen and the laminate overlaid hid this. Chipboard is a rubbish material whether it's "water resistant" or not as both turn to soggy Weatabix when they get wet. The water resistant type just takes a little longer. If it was my property I'd pay for reboarding the kitchen myself, in timber boards.

Rod

9:40 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

Councils and the government are now after money, pure and simple. Fines have gone through the roof as everywhere has been short changed by the government (some government grants halved)! I've just been fined £1300 for filing my tax return to late. I expected a fine but not that much! If I were you, i would have a word with a lawyer, quick!

Chris Coyle

10:00 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

You indicated that the floor is suspended. If there is accommodation below this level (e.g. flat below) then I would be mindful of making good/ maintaining acoustic and fire integrity to separate between floor zones if it has been also compromised. (Whilst floor planks do not deteriorate as quickly when water saturated, interlocking fibreboard does not have `gaps` to let smoke or noise transmission through whereas traditional floor planks do have gaps. ). If it is a suspended ground floor then not an issue Re fire/ acoustics.

Chris Daniel

10:07 AM, 30th August 2017
About A year ago

A Tenant must 'Not permit waste' - allow any damage to continue and cause further damage without notifying a landlord.
See Warren v Keen 1954 LJ Denning.... a tenant is responsible for repairing damage 'they' have caused.

AP

13:51 PM, 2nd September 2017
About A year ago

Sadly I don't think proving tenant damage is ever straightforward. As another poster has commented, the fact that some of the sub floor is floorboards but some is chipboard indicates a previous repair / replacement.
If I was the tenant, I would question whether some of the damage to the chipboard and joists was not historic. As it was below the laminate, it's impossible to have been noted in the inventory. That could make the repair cost for the sub floor at least partially your responsibility.
If you did the previous replacement you should be able to explain why this was done and hopefully counter the claim that there was some historic damage not caused by the current tenant.


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