Agony Agent

1st April 2017

Each week, we answer a reader’s rental property question, from first-time landlords to experienced owners.  Agony Agent, is here to help!

This week’s question seems to be a common issue, as this question has come up a few times.

Q. Please can you give me some advice regarding my tenants who are withholding rent for maintenance. The tenants have taken it upon themselves to withhold a full month’s rent after apparently being told this was ok by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau!

A. What does give a tenant the right to withhold rent? So far as the deduction is concerned, it depends on what it is for.  Tenants are entitled to get work done themselves and deduct the cost from their rent, so long as they do it the proper way and have your consent.  However, you are right, they are not entitled to make a deduction for compensation for their inconvenience.

What costs can be ‘set off’?

It is important to note that only the cost of repairs required under Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 can be withheld from the rent.  Any other deductions, such as compensation, should either be agreed between the parties or be awarded by the court (and I’m sure you don’t want them bringing  a court claim against you!).  Deductions for works not being carried out in a timely fashion, that do not fall under the Act, must be mutually agreed between the parties (preferably in writing).

Personally, I feel that you should offer an ex gratia payment to them to compensate them for the problems they have suffered.  You need to get these tenants back on your side, otherwise you are going to have a rocky ride with them.

For example, if, when the problems first occurred, you had apologised profusely, given them a couple of bottles of wine and agreed a modest reduction to the rent that month, I am sure they would have felt quite differently about things and it would in the long run have cost you less.

They may be wrong in deducting a full month’s rent from you, but it sounds as if they have had a pretty ropey experience in your property so far.

What steps must the tenants take?

The procedure has several steps which the tenant must follow in order to fully comply with the rule of ‘set off’.

It may be no-one’s fault precisely, but they are the ones paying for the service.  A fundamental part of any tenancy agreement is the tenant’s obligation to pay rent to live in the property.  In return, the tenant can enjoy a private and peaceful residency without interference and have the peace of mind that the property is maintained by the landlord and kept in a habitable condition.

The rule of ‘set off’ explained

A landlord must make repairs to the interior and exterior structure, and make any installations when required to do so.  If the landlord fails to make the repairs within a ‘reasonable’ time after the tenant has reported them, then the landlord could be in breach of their repairing obligations.

This type of situation cannot always be avoided but it is the way you handle this type of situation that matters, build the relationship and come through the other side as better landlords or tenants.

For more help and advice contact me at our office.

Richard Bond

Lettings Manager

Suresh Vagjiani
Suresh Vagjiani
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