Despite the best intentions of all parties involved, the risk of landlord and tenant disputes can never be fully eliminated. Landlord and tenant disputes can be caused by a variety of different factors, including property repair responsibilities and obligations, the property's fitness for human habitation, damage to the property or its contents, non-payment of rent by the tenant and breach of contract.
This article provides a brief overview of the common causes of landlord and tenant disputes and the different processes by which these disputes can be resolved.
Common Causes of Landlord and Tenant Disputes
Repair Obligations and Responsibilities
Even with a detailed and carefully drafted tenancy agreement in place, repair obligations and responsibilities can often be contested. In the UK, landlords are responsible for most structural repairs as well as repairs to the exterior of the property and any white goods provided by the landlord. By law, if the responsibility of the landlord to carry out certain repairs is established, these repairs must be completed within a reasonable time.
If a landlord neglects their repair obligations or fails to carry out repairs in a timely manner, this can result in a dispute, particularly where the disrepair in question significantly affects the tenant's ability to enjoy the property.
Health and Safety and Fitness for Human Habitation
Health and safety issues can also result in disputes if the landlord neglects their duty to ensure that the property is fit for human habitation. If the property consistently suffers from pest infestations or damp and mould and these issues are not adequately addressed by the landlord, this can lead to a dispute. In addition to constituting a contravention of legislation put in place to protect tenants in the UK, the landlord's inaction may expose the tenant to serious health and safety hazards.
Accidental or Intentional Damage to the Property and/or Its Contents
Accidental or intentional damage to the property and/or the contents of the property which were provided by the landlord can also result in disputes. During the course of the tenancy, the landlord will expect the tenant to ensure that no severe damage is done to the property or its contents. To ensure that any accidental or intentional damage can be put right, the landlord can make deductions from the tenant's deposit to arrange for repairs to restore the property to the state it was in at the outset of the tenancy.
Disputes that follow on from this can be very contested and often centre around which party is responsible for the damage done and how much of the tenant's deposit can reasonably and fairly be deducted by the landlord in order to repair the damage.
Non-Payment of Rent by the Tenant and Persistent Rent Arrears
Rent arrears and non-payment of rent can also lead to landlord and tenant disputes. In most cases, tenants have a contractual obligation to pay rent on time and in the full amount prescribed by the tenancy agreement. If the tenant fails to meet this obligation, this failure can not only result in a dispute, but also in statutory eviction and court proceedings initiated by the landlord.
In addition to disagreements relating to the deductions from the tenant's deposit that a landlord can make to repair damage to the property, several other factors can lead to a deposit dispute.
For example, the landlord may make deductions from the deposit for a variety of reasons. These include the collection of any unpaid rent or other monies due at the end of the tenancy, for the purposes of replacing missing contents and covering the costs of rectifying any breach of the tenancy agreement by the tenant.
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Dispute Resolution through Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes
In the UK, there are three government-approved tenancy deposit protection schemes that offer certain services to landlords and agents, primarily the protection of the deposit. By law, landlords must protect tenant deposits in one of these three schemes if a deposit is taken in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy.
All three tenancy deposit protection schemes also offer dispute resolution mechanisms that either party can trigger if there is a deposit dispute. These dispute resolution mechanisms involve adjudication. The adjudication process often begins when either party raises a claim. Both parties then present evidence that allows the adjudicator to make a final decision.
Adjudication is much quicker and cheaper than litigation, which involves initiating legal action in the courts.
The dispute resolution mechanisms offered by these schemes are only available where the dispute between the parties involves the deposit. For other disputes, the parties will have to resort to other dispute resolution methods, including negotiation and litigation.
Legal Action through the Courts
Either party caught in a landlord and tenant dispute can initiate legal action in the courts. Different disputes call for different applications to different courts or tribunals.
The major advantage of resorting to the litigation process to resolve disputes is that the process is formal and binding. However, litigation is also time-consuming and costly, particularly for the tenant. Litigation is also an adversarial process, which is not conducive to the maintenance of a positive relationship between the parties. This can present a challenge if the tenant wishes to continue living in the property after the dispute is resolved, and may contribute to an unscrupulous landlord's decision to issue the tenant with a no-fault section 21 eviction notice in retaliation.
The Bottom Line
Landlord and tenant disputes are not uncommon occurrences. When they do arise, it is important that both tenants and landlords are aware of their rights and responsibilities and seek expert legal advice where necessary to help achieve resolution and protect their rights.
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