Property repairs are part and parcel of buy-to-let property management. Having a budget and procedure for dealing with repairs is vital.
Budgeting for buy-to-let repairs
Experts recommend that landlords set three months' rent as a contingency fund for emergencies, including repairs and replacements. Doing this should cover you against all but the largest disasters, for which you should instead consider a landlord's insurance policy.
Who is responsible for repairs, the landlord or the tenant?
Your assured shorthold tenancy (AST) agreement will usually describe both parties' responsibilities.
This includes what repairs you are responsible for, what repairs your tenants are responsible for (if any), and what the procedure for requesting or making repairs should be.
As a landlord, certain repairs are automatically your responsibility:
- the outside of the property – roofs, gutters, drains, outside pipes and outside walls
- the structure of the property – ceilings, windows, doors and floors
- gas appliances and electrical wiring
- heating and hot water
- plumbing (including cisterns, water heaters, sinks, basins, baths and drains)
You are responsible for repairing common areas, such as in house shares or blocks of flats. It should go without saying, but any damage you cause whilst attempting a repair is also your responsibility.
Tenants making repairs
Some landlords might be apprehensive about allowing their tenants to make repairs to the property. If you don’t want your tenants to attempt any repairs whatsoever, outline in the AST that you will be responsible for all repairs.
If the tenant is allowed to make repairs, what should the procedure be? Will you foot the bill for a trader or pay for the materials, or can they deduct the cost from the rent? Each repair will be situational, so making provisions for clear and quick communication in each instance is important.
Requests for repairs
If your tenant has reasonably asked for a repair, don’t ignore or refuse the request – the tenant might be within their rights to take it to a small claims court, or do the work themselves and subtract the cost from the rent they pay you.
Even if the request seems unreasonable, you should address it. Put in a letter why you don’t think the repair needs to be made, and that the tenant should fund it themselves if they wish to make it (if you’re happy for them to do so).
Requests for energy efficiency improvements
Tenants also have the right under law (as of April 1 2016) to request consent to make certain energy efficiency improvements to the property. You can’t unreasonably refuse this request.
Your tenant shouldn’t withhold rent whilst they’re waiting for you to conduct repairs. This doesn’t mean you should take your time over it, however – your tenant has a right to live in a property that is ‘safe and in a good state of repair’. If you dawdle over a repair, your tenant can also apply to their local council to force you to take action.
Fear of ‘retaliatory eviction’ is often cited as a reason for under-reporting of repairs. Retaliatory eviction is where a landlord evicts a tenant in response to complaints or requests made for repairs.
No good landlord should evict a tenant just for requesting repairs. Here is why:
- You lose an otherwise perfectly good tenant. The new tenant might not ask you to make the repair, but they might not look after the property or pay their rent on time either.
- The repair still needs to be done. If it was reasonably requested, it stands to reason that it will turn off new potential tenants and might lower the value of your property.
- Retaliatory eviction is a rogue practice. It creates a negative public image of landlords against which good landlords and industry bodies have to fight.
- It might be illegal. Section 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015 protects tenants whose tenancies started after 1 October 2015 from retaliatory eviction. Section 33 will apply to all tenancies from October 2018.