Devonshires recently acted for Industrial Dwellings Society (“IDS”) in a case brought against them for disrepair at the property. The claim was brought against IDS for breach of their s11 statutory repairing obligations and repairing obligations under the tenancy agreement. The property was let to the Claimants who were joint tenants of a 5 bedroom house where they lived with their 5 children.
The tenants pleaded 7 individual items of disrepair and relied on the report of the single joint expert. The Defence was successful in limiting the pleaded case to the 7 items pleaded in the Particulars. These 7 items were; electric gates that had been out of use; boiler intermittently out of use; a leak from the shower penetrating the reception room below; a blocked pipe on the exterior of the property; blocked guttering in the courtyard; water penetration to the second floor bedroom; and a missing outer-cover to the front door letterbox.
IDS decided to defend the claim on the basis that they had acted reasonably to try to resolve any disrepair at the property within a reasonable period and that some of the items were outside the responsibility of IDS. Further, the Defence set out problems with access experienced by IDS’ contractors. Although it was never the position of IDS that the access issues had been deliberate, there had been considerable delays caused by the tenants being unavailable to provide access.
A counterclaim was pleaded on the basis of wasted costs for aborted contractor appointments where the tenant failed to provide access and for damages for repairs that had to be carried out as a result of tenant damage.
It is often difficult to predict the outcome of a disrepair case. However, in this case, a decision was taken to run the case to trial and this decision paid off as Devonshires were successful in fully defending the claim and recovering damages under the counterclaim.
The Court found that the Claimants had failed on each item of their claim. Significantly, the electric gates and the guttering were found to be outside the landlord’s responsibility as they were owned by the freeholder. Further, the Court found that the landlord had investigated the remaining items of disrepair within a reasonable period and had taken reasonable steps to carry out the necessary repairs in accordance with their obligations.
The Court also found that in relation to the leak to the second floor bedroom, it remained unclear as to the cause therefore the tenants had not discharged their burden of proof to establish disrepair. The Court found that although not deliberate there was clear evidence that the tenants had failed to allow access on numerous occasions and although no damages had been awarded, if they had been the court would have reduced them because of the delay caused by lack of access.
In relation to the counterclaim, the Court found in favour of IDS on two points. It was found that the tenants had caused damage to doors within the property and were therefore responsible for the cost incurred by replacing the doors.
The key points to highlight in this case are:
1. The Judge commented on the fact that the tenant who gave oral evidence at the trial had appeared to try make his claim better when in the witness box. The Judge commented that this caused her to be cautious of his evidence.
2. The officer for IDS was an incredibly well prepared witness and this contributed to the Judge interpreting the facts as she did.
3. IDS had kept extremely good records of works carried out and issues of non-access which helped to show that they had acted reasonably as a landlord and in accordance with their duties.