Landlord refusal to repair in reasonable time

Most councils and housing associations will carry out repairs as soon as they know about them. However, if your landlord refuses to carry out the repairs, there are several things you can do.

Collect evidence

Before taking any action collect all the evidence you can of the repairs that are needed and what you have done to get your landlord to carry them out.

Examples of evidence you could use:

  • photographs - showing the repairs that need to be done

  • damaged belongings - the damage must have been caused by the problem, eg clothes damaged by dampness

  • an inspection by an expert - eg a surveyor, an adviser at an advice centre may be able to arrange this for you

  • copies of letters sent to your landlord - such as any letter you've sent to report a repair

  • copies of doctor's notes or hospital reports - which show that your health has been damaged by the problem. For example if your landlord wont fix a bad boiler this is a serious health issue and must be addressed immediately.

  • receipts for anything you've paid for because of the repair problem - eg if you had to replace clothes or furnishings because of mould.

Negotiate with your landlord

First, find out why your landlord won't do the repair. They may have decided that the work you want done is an improvement rather than a repair. In general, if something in the property breaks or no longer works properly and needs replaced by a modern equivalent, this is a repair. However, the provision of something new for the benefit of the tenant is an improvement. So, for example, if your shower breaks and you need a new one, this would be a repair; if the property didn't have a shower when you moved in but you decide you'd now like one, this would be an improvement. However, you may be able to convince your landlord that the improvement is necessary if the problem is affecting your health.

If you're having problems dealing with your landlord speak to an adviser.

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They may be able to negotiate with them for you, and get them to agree to carry out the repair.

Use your landlord's official complaints procedure

Your council, housing association or housing cooperative should have a formal complaints procedure you can use if you're not happy about any aspect of your tenancy. Your tenants' handbook should have details of the complaints procedure, and you may also be able to find information about this at your council's website.

Getting help from the environmental health department

If you rent your home from a housing association, you also have the option of getting help from the council's environmental health department. You can find their contact details in the phone book or on your council's website.

The environmental health department will probably only agree to get involved if:

  • you have already been through the housing association's official complaints procedure, and

  • the problem has not yet been resolved, and

  • the problem is affecting your health or making your home unfit for you to live in.

Read more about getting help from the environmental health department.

Making a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

If you have gone through your landlord's official complaints procedure and are still not satisfied with the result, you may be able to complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. This is an independent watchdog that investigates complaints of injustice caused by councils not doing something they should have done, or doing things in the wrong way.

What can the Ombudsman do?

The Ombudsman will look into the way your landlord dealt with your request for repairs to make sure that they acted fairly and followed the correct procedures. If the Ombudsman decides to support your complaint, it can recommend that your landlord looks at your repair situation again, and possibly pays you compensation as well. The Ombudsman's recommendations to a landlord cannot be enforced, but most councils and housing associations will usually follow what they decide.

How do I make a complaint to the Ombudsman?

You can download a free complaint form and leaflet on how to complain from the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman website. You have to complain in writing and should include copies of any evidence (such as letters to and from your landlord) that supports your complaint.

Campaigning with other tenants

If other tenants are affected by the same repair problem (for example, dampness), you can join forces to approach your landlord. If your landlord still doesn't cooperate, you may wish to launch a campaign to get the work done. It will help your case if you can involve local councillors, MSPs and local or national media. Use the Write To Them website to find out who your local representatives are and how you can contact them. The council, housing association or housing cooperative may change their minds if they think they are likely to be exposed to bad publicity.

Withholding rent

You may be able to withhold your rent until the repairs are carried out. However, this is a risky strategy and you could run the risk of eviction if you don't follow the correct procedures.

Make sure you talk to an adviser at a Shelter advice centre or Citizens Advice before taking any action.

Doing the repairs yourself

It may be possible for you to arrange for the repairs to be done yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. If you decide to take this course of action, it's very important that you follow the correct procedure, otherwise you could risk eviction.

You should only arrange for the repairs to be done if:

  • you have already written to your landlord to let them know that the repairs need done, and

  • your landlord has not done the repairs within a reasonable time, and

  • you have made a formal complaint using the council or housing association's official complaints procedure, and

  • you have finished the complaints procedure and are still not satisfied with the outcome, or

  • three months have passed since you made the formal complaint.

Don't try to do the repairs yourself - you must use a reputable professional to carry out the work. Get three quotes for the work, and send copies of the quotes to your landlord, explaining which contractor you will be using. Once the work has been carried out, send the receipt to your landlord before deducting the cost from your rent.

It's very important that you talk to an adviser before taking any action. They will be able to help you follow the correct procedure.

Taking legal action

If your landlord refuses to carry out essential repairs, it may be possible to take them to the sheriff court to force them to carry out the repairs. However, taking court action can be complicated and sometimes slow. It can also be expensive, but you may be entitled to legal aid to help pay for a solicitor. Court action should always be a last resort, and you should only consider it if you have already tried everything else.

Talk to an adviser at Citizens Advice Your local Citizens Advice may be able to recommend a solicitor, law centre or independent firm before making any decisions. You can find a solicitor using the Law Society of Scotland website, or your local Citizens Advice may be able to recommend a solicitor to you.

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Last updated: 31 January 2020

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

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