A quarter of a million private tenants a year are withholding rent money from their landlords because of delays resolving emergencies such as boiler faults and heating problems, research has found.
One in three tenants have faced a home emergency in the last 12 months with the most common problems being central heating faults, boiler problems and blocked sinks/drains, according to emergency call-out firm Homeserve.
Of this number, 11 per cent took the extreme step of refusing to pay rent because their landlord had taken an ‘unacceptable’ time to deal with repairs while nearly half said they would be willing to take this measure in the future if it happened to them.
According to the data, only one in three tenants said urgent problems were dealt with in the same day while 23 per said they were left in limbo for more than a week.
Tenants can receive wildly differing service from their landlord depending on how the property is managed.
The research found that 34 per cent of landlords say they undertake all aspects of managing the homes in their portfolio themselves – with 32 per cent using a managing agent.
Separate figures suggests there are 1.28 million landlords whose portfolios are partly or entirely self-managed and of this figure, some 45,000 own five or more properties.
Two in five tenants say their landlord arranges the engineer on their behalf, while one in five say their landlord actually looks to carry out repairs themselves.
As a result, one in three tenants report having to wait until working hours to contact their landlord to resolve their problem.
TOP TEN: TENANT EMERGENCY CALL OUTS
1. Central heating fault – 15%
2. Boiler fault – 14%
3. Blocked sinks – 13%
4. Blocked drains – 10%
5. Leaking taps – 7%
6. Blocked toilets – 6%
7. Leaking pipes – 5%
8. Pest problem – 5%
9. Electrical fault – 2%
10. Other – 2%
Jonathan King, chief of Homeserve, said: ‘Most landlords are responsible and responsive to their tenants’ needs.
‘But it’s clear that with many determined to manage their properties themselves, either to ensure the quality of the job done or to manage costs, this is creating dissatisfaction among some tenants.
‘Home emergencies can be a hassle to resolve, for landlords and tenants alike. And tenants feeling they have to take the extreme step of withholding rent is in no one’s interest.’
The research also showed that with the rental market booming, particularly in London, tenants feel that their landlords should offer more.
Eighty-one per cent of tenants expect dealing with home emergencies should be a key part of the service landlords offer, with nearly two thirds want 24/7 service from them.
Yet 29 per cent believe their landlord was unable to take the hassle out of dealing with a home emergency – and 41 per cent feel their letting agent failed to make things any easier.
The data comprised of 4,000 private tenants and 5,087 landlords.
Homeserve – which provides emergency home repairs and commissioned the research – was rocked by a mis-selling scandal two years ago with an investigation from the Financial Conduct Authority still ongoing.
The Daily Mail reported last month that Homeserve continues to lose customers in the UK – the number of people signed up to it fell from 2.5million to 2.2million during the year – and it is still ramping up its internet operations to compensate for the lack of cold-calling.
With winter fast approaching, a problem such as a heating breakdown or boiler fault can be a real headache for tenants. There’s nothing quite like having to take an icy shower in December.
How long should landlords take to repair an emergency? And can tenants withhold rent if they feel repairs are taking too long?
Chris Norris, head of policy at the National Landlords Association, said: ‘Assuming that the tenants in questions are subject to a standard Assured Shorthold Tenancy (England and Wales) then they do not have a right to withhold rent in response to needed maintenance or disrepair.
‘There are certain, limited, circumstances in which a tenant may undertake work themselves using rent money to cover the cost. However, this is a very complicated area and they should not do so without receiving qualified advice.
‘However, landlords have a legal obligation to respond to requests for maintenance in a timely manner, appropriate to the type of issue.
‘This can vary, but should be reasonable given the urgency of the repair needed and how soon an appropriate contractor etc. could be expected to be appointed and begin work.
‘Something like a boiler repair, particularly in winter, will be considered an urgent repair and should be treated accordingly.
‘Although there is no definitive time limit the courts tend to consider how long a homeowner would take to rectify the situation and assume that up to a few days is reasonable – assuming that there are not complications waiting for parts etc.’
So tenants suffering at the hands of a landlord refusing to carry out an urgent repair must still pay their rent, but could pursue a claim in the small claims court for the rent.
Source: This Money