Acting in a tenant-like manner - the tenant's responsibilities around repairs

Introduction

For private rented sector tenancies, the landlord is obligated to perform the bulk of repairs to the property. However, tenants are still under obligations themselves.

In general, tenants are expected to act responsibly and return the property back to the landlord at the end of the tenancy in much the same way they found it. This is subject to the important disclaimer that the tenant is not responsible for repairs that are needed due to the passage of time. This 'fair wear and tear' is something the landlord must absorb the costs for.

This guidance is designed with private residential tenancies in mind. It is not designed for use with commercial lets. 

What is the tenant responsible for?

The tenant is generally responsible for:

  • looking after the property by using it in a 'tenant-like manner'
  • keeping the landlord informed about any repairs that are needed
  • providing access to have any repair work done
  • ensuring the property is safe for their visitors

What is acting in a tenant-like manner?

The term 'tenant-like manner' comes from the judgement of Lord Denning in Warren v Keen back in 1953.

The tenant must take proper care of the place. He must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler; he must clean the chimneys when necessary and also the windows; he must mend the electric light when it fuses; he must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his waste. In short, he must do the little jobs around the place which a reasonable tenant would do. In addition, he must not, of course, damage the house wilfully or negligently... but apart from such things, if the house falls into disrepair through fair wear and tear or lapse of time or for any reason not caused by him, the tenant is not liable to repair it.

Lord Denning

Here we can see that acting in a tenant-like manner has a number of different components. The tenant is:

  • expected to do the little jobs around the house that someone would normally do as a householder, such as changing fuses, unblocking sinks and cleaning windows.
  • not to damage the house intentionally or through their neglect.
  • not expected to repair any damage caused through fair wear and tear or the passage of time.

As a result, while landlords can reasonably expect that tenants will look after the place responsibly and do the little jobs, they will be responsible for the bulk of the repairs in the property.

What is fair wear and tear?

One of the most common causes of dispute at the end of a tenancy is what constitutes fair wear and tear as opposed to damage caused by the tenant. This is not surprising, as damage is something the tenant is liable for while fair wear and tear is a cost the landlord is expected to absorb. 

While there is no easy definition of fair wear and tear, the House of Lords has defined it as unavoidable deterioration caused by the 'reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.' What constitutes ordinary operation or reasonable use will be a question of fact though.

However there are some sensible factors that landlord and tenants should consider before deciding what the tenant might be liable for:

  • How long was the tenancy? As fair wear and tear is linked to the passage of time, the longer a tenancy goes on, the more likely it is that furnishings will wear down and fixtures will need replacing.
  • What was the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy? Tenants are only expected to return the property in the condition it was let in, subject to fair wear and tear. As a result, landlords are less likely to be able to reclaim the full cost of an item for a replacement if the condition was worn at the outset.
  • How many occupants live in the property? The more people there are living in the property the more that wear and tear will occur. As such landlords of large HMO properties are less likely to be able to reclaim damage than someone renting out to a single occupant.
  • How has the damage occurred? Deliberate or clearly negligent activities that cause damage are unlikely to be considered fair wear and tear so it is important to find out how the damage occurred.

When does a tenant need to keep a landlord informed of a repair?

Most of the time the tenant will be required to inform the landlord that a repair is needed before the landlord is obligated to fix it or liable for any breach of contract relating to it.

However, this notice is only required in cases where the tenant has the controlling interest over the area where the disrepair has occurred and sometimes the landlord is liable immediately. Further guidance on this can be found in our guidance on landlord's liability for repairs.

Landlord Liability For Repairs

Last Updated: 06/10/2020

Guidance on a landlord's responsibility to repair.

Providing access to the property for repairs

Though most tenancies do include terms obligating a tenant to allow the landlord or his agents access to the property for repairs or condition inspections, even where they don't there will be a term implied into the contract to allow the landlord access for tenancies of less seven years.

The tenant is obliged to give access to the property at reasonable times of the day to allow the landlord/landlord's representative to view the condition of the property if the landlord provides at least 24 hours notice in writing, or to carry out repairs following reasonable notice. 

What happens if the tenant refuses to allow access?

There is no legal obligation on the tenant to grant access requests and this may prevent the landlord from attending to the repairs. 

It is important to understand that whilst a tenant refusing access is a breach of contract (which allows the landlord to potentially sue for damages), entering without their permission may be considered a criminal act.

If a tenant refuses access the landlord should make them aware that this is a breach of contract and they may be sued for damages resulting from this breach. 

Alternatively, if the tenant still refuses access, depending on the seriousness of the repair the landlord may also consider taking action to repossess the property or seek to enforce the contract via an injunction to gain access.

Occupier's Liability

As the occupier of the property, the tenant is also responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that any visitors to the property are kept reasonably safe from harm during their visit.

Access for repairs and occupiers liability during the coronavirus pandemic

At the time of writing this guide a number of safety restrictions are in place due to coronavirus. Both landlords and tenants should be aware of these restrictions when someone is entering the property to make a necessary repair.

Access for repairs

While the tenant is normally expected to provide access after the landlord gives 24 hours notice, this may not always be possible if  shielding or self-isolating due to coronavirus. In these cases, if the repair is non-essential the best advice is for both parties to arrange a date to perform the repair once the risk of infection has lessened.

For more urgent repairs then workers may enter the property but they should be mindful of Public Health England's guidance on working in other people's homes. In particular, tenants should practice social distancing and discuss with the contractor what will happen with the waste items.

Occupier's liability

As the tenant is expected to take reasonable steps to ensure a visitor's safety, it may be sensible to consider cleaning the area that the worker will be using ahead of their visit if they need to enter the property. Normal household cleaning products are sufficient according to Public Health England's guidance on cleaning in domestic settings.