Recent research reveals there has been an exponential rise in disrepair claims over the past five years, with more than £55.1m paid out across 70 English councils that own their own stock.  (Source: Inside Housing, February 2022).

Legal costs nearly doubled between 2017-18 and 2020-2021, while the number of cases increased by 132%. Of the councils that provided data for every year, 91% witnessed an increase in costs, while 93% saw an increase in cases.

The issue appears to be most acute in the Capital. Of the 29 boroughs (including the City of London) that own and manage housing stock, 17 provided the number of cases – nearly 8,000 and up 135% over a five year period. It is also primarily an urban problem with the 12 London boroughs plus Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield represent £48m, 89% of total costs. 

According to Carly Jermyn, Solicitor & Director of Woodstock Legal Services, this surge in disrepair claims is driven by both the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 and tenants using disrepair to make counter claims in possession proceedings.   

Carly Jermyn comments: “The Homes Act was introduced to ensure that rented houses and flats are ‘fit for human habitation’ meaning that they are safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. Two of the parameters used to measure property standards for Fitness for Human Habitation, include freedom from damp and suitable ventilation.

“Over the past 2-3 years, there has been an explosion in ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers representing tenants in negligence cases, driving up stand-alone claims.  While there are genuine examples of tenants living in rental property in need of repair work, increasing numbers of tenants are citing disrepair to avoid repossession by the landlord.

“Landlords and agents need to ensure that they fully record, with dates and times, their efforts to manage the disrepair of a property.  I know of good agents with great systems, facing long delays on repossession because of human error.”

Richard Murray, CEO of Veco™ comments: “It is important to demonstrate in court that as a landlord or agent, you know what you are doing and have strict processes in place.  Our software provides an audit trail of works orders, time and date stamped – essentially housing all the evidence that is needed in a disrepair claim, in one place.

“We have had occasions when agents have shown output from our software in court to provide the evidence of their disrepair reporting and processing. In essence, we are a facilitator that allows agents and landlords to be fully compliant, so they are protected in the event of a tenant dispute.

“We use notes across the system in Veco, most of which are automatically generated through user or automated actions. These notes can’t be edited or deleted and are time and date stamped and linked to a user ID. The audit trail is therefore always available and will stand up to legal scrutiny.”

Carly Jermyn continues: “As a solicitor specialising in residential landlord and tenant law I am a strong believer that stringent systems and processes are crucial to ensure tenancy compliance.

“It helps guard against problems with eviction, rent recovery and housing disrepair claims. Systems like Veco™ will become even more important with the expected reforms and the continued drive towards increased professionalism and raised standards of housing in the private rental sector.

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Annabel McGuire

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