One of the worst things that can happen in a home is a burst pipe, particularly in winter. It can leave the landlord falling foul of Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
It also creates a Category 1 hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
Costs to fix it can vary wildly depending on the complexity of the job and the region the property is based in. Even in the cheaper areas, an emergency plumber is something best avoided.
Our call this week was a concerned a landlord who couldn’t avoid the emergency plumber.
At the start of December, his tenants had gone away on holiday for a few weeks, turning the boiler off as they did so.
During a cold snap, the pipes had burst, flooding the property and causing significant water damage to the carpeting, wood and, much of the tenant’s belongings.
When the tenants returned from holiday they contacted the landlord to complain about the property being flooded and demand the work be carried out immediately.
The landlord was keen to prevent further damage to the property and to make sure the tenants wouldn’t freeze in the cold winter so he booked a plumber immediately and fixed the issue as soon as possible. He also phoned us to ask what to do while he waited for the plumbing works to be completed; we advised him that he should provide emergency heaters in the meantime.
Once all this was done, and heating had been returned to the property, the landlord contacted us again to discuss the rather sizable bill he’d incurred due to this burst pipe. He wanted to know if he was liable for this.
What we advised
We advised him that a landlord is normally responsible for maintaining the heating system as part of Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. The only time this is not the case is where the tenant has caused the damage themselves.
Now in this case, the tenants had gone away on holiday, turning off the boiler as they did so. We asked the landlord whether they used our tenancy agreement, which they did. We pointed him to Clause B7 which states:
‘Take reasonable precautions to prevent frost or similar damage to the property. If the property is going to be empty overnight or for more than 12 hours when the weather is likely to be cold, you must leave enough heating on to prevent the water system from freezing, or turn off the water supply at the main stopcock and open all the other water taps and valves in the property to drain the tanks of hot and cold water.’
As the tenants had failed to follow these instructions we suggested billing them for the cost of the repairs. If they refused to pay it this should be deductible from the deposit at the end of the tenancy.
Prevention is better than cure of course, so we also suggested that in the future he may wish to send all of his tenants our winter letter during Autumn to get them ready for the cold weather. A huge number of people don’t read their tenancy agreements so they may need a reminder of exactly what their responsibilities are.
Rupinder Aujla, LAT Manager, said: “We’re always happy to help our members navigate through the tricky areas around repairs.
“Landlords should always remember that the most common cause of a visit from the council, and an improvement notice is excess cold. This is why it’s really important that any problems with the heating are fixed ASAP, especially in the winter months.”