Deposit dispute case study - withholding rent for repairs

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We offer an independent and impartial resolution service for landlords, agents and tenants who are unable to reach an agreement on how to distributing the deposit when the tenancy ends.

Each month we look at a recent case and break it down, so you can understand our approach to resolution. This month, our Resolution Department Lead, Suzy Hershman, reviews a recent case involving withholding rent for property repairs.


Deposit details

Deposit                                £1,250.00

Unresolved  amount     £620.00

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What happened?

The tenant said:

  • there was severe mould in the property which was reported to the landlord many times
  • the landlord promised someone would come out to look at it but never did until I handed in my notice
  • the landlord’s advice was to just keep cleaning it and keep the property well ventilated but it continued to get worse
  • my youngest son had asthma, so we had to stay with friends, and at a hotel on weekends, to avoid causing him additional health issues
  • there were many other repairs that I reported and asked that they be fixed, including the washing machine which was very old and just stopped working
  • in the end, we replaced the washing machine at our own cost, as we were spending too much money on dry cleaning, which I told the landlord I would take from the rent
  • as we did not have full use of the property, which we should have done, I withheld half a month’s rent which I felt was fair in the circumstances to compensate us for the washing machine and money spent on hotels because of the landlord’s refusal to address these issues


The agent responded, saying:

  • the tenant only informed us of the mould issues once it had spread throughout the top floor of the property
  • the landlord was told about the problem as soon as the tenant made us aware, but this is not something that’s easily rectified in a short space of time. An investigation had to be carried out by a specialist before anything could be done as well as reporting on the likely cause
  • a specialist was organised to attend and, at the same time, the tenant had handed in their notice
  • the landlord decided to have the necessary work carried out once the tenant had left to avoid disturbance
  • the tenant did report the broken washing machine which the landlord agreed to replace, however, in the space of one and a half weeks, the tenant decided to get a new one
  • the landlord is happy for the tenant to collect the washing machine if they would like to but there was no agreement for the tenant to reduce their rent payment


What evidence was provided?

Independent check-in and check-out inventories, contractor’s report, emails, photographs.


What was decided and why?

  1. The evidence showed that the tenant had reported the mould problem on three occasions and requested the washing machine be replaced midway through the tenancy due to it not working
  2. While there was a delay in arranging for the mould to be investigated, which is not best practice, there was no evidence from any specialist report, such as an environmental health report, to show the property was uninhabitable
  3. In addition, there was no evidence that the tenant tried to negotiate any agreement with the landlord about a reduction in rent or compensation for the washing machine
  4. In situations like this, common law rules and a strict process exists which must be followed, allowing the tenant to do the required work themselves and take the cost of this from the rent
  5. As an alternative, a tenant has the option to make an application for a rent repayment order to the First Tier Tribunal who will make the appropriate decision on rent payable
  6. Without evidence to show either of these processes were followed, the tenant remained responsible for paying rent in line with the tenancy agreement and £620 was awarded to the landlord
  7. Any arrangements for the tenant to collect the washing machine must be arranged independently by the parties


How can you avoid this happening in future?

  • As good practice, repairs should be carried out in a timely manner, with regular communication to the tenant to maintain a good relationship and avoid any issues requiring resolution occurring
  • A tenant should always try to negotiate an agreement with the landlord if they feel they should be compensated for not being able to have full use of the property. If an agreement is made, make sure it is in writing so it can be referred to at a later date if needed
  • Mid-term inspections are a great way of making sure the property is being looked after and anything out of the ordinary can be recorded, and followed up if necessary
  • Where the tenant chooses to carry out repairs themselves because the landlord will not address them, it is important that the ‘set off’ rules are followed specifically, where the tenant wishes to be refunded for this work


When can a tenant withhold rent?

There are certain circumstances when a tenant can withhold rent. We have a guide for landlord and agents to explain when can happen and a guide for tenants.