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Forum Spotlight: Should my otherwise excellent tenants pay plumbing bill for unblocking a drain?

Victoria Barker
Written by Victoria Barker

This weeks Forum Spotlight takes a look at an issue a landlord member faced over  who should cover the cost of unblocking a drain.

He was seeking advice from other landlords on our Forum about what he should do next.

The situation

The landlord said that the tenants in question are excellent, and they have been renting the property from him for just over five years.

They had recently caused a blockage in the drainage pipe running from the kitchen sink, approximately three meters long from the sink.

A plumber was called out, and specialist equipment had to be used in order to clear the blockage, costing nearly £400.

The landlord in this case wanted to know if he should cover the cost of the repair work, or if it was the responsibility of the tenants.

What landlords said

The first member to reply to the post suggested that if the blockage was caused by the misuse on the part of the tenants, then it is the tenants who should pay for the cost of the repair work.

However, he pointed out that some tenants are not always willing to pay this much money.

He also suggested that should the landlord wish to deduct the cost of the repair work from the tenants’ deposit (at the end of the tenancy) then he should first check with the deposit scheme as to what proof he would need first, before doing this.

The member then replied, saying that they believe the blockage was caused not by misuse, but had built up in the five years the tenants have been living at the property.

Another forum user agreed with the initial comment, suggesting in this case the landlord would be ‘hard put’ to claim off the tenants, unless a previous formal visit had been made to the property where the speed of drainage was tested etc, and a formal warning given about putting things down the sink.

Souring the landlord-tenant relationship

She also suggested that even asking the tenants to pay for half of the bill (£200) could potentially sour the excellent financial relationship the landlord has had with these tenants for the last five years.

However, another landlord disagreed, and said that unless the blockage was caused by a structural defect to the property, then the tenants should pay for for the cost of repairs.

What an adviser in our Landlord Advice Team suggested:

After several responses from our members, an advisor from our Landlord Advice Team gave insight into the law on this issue.

They reminded this landlord that a tenant is obliged to act in a ‘tenant-like manner’, and this includes making sure things are not put down the drain that could cause it to block, for example food, waste and fat.

Meet the tenants half way

They advised this landlord that if he was able to gain photographic proof or a report from the plumber (of what was blocking the pipe) then they could meet the tenant halfway in terms of covering the cost of the repair work.

After this had been done, a tenancy warning about their obligations on this issue should be given in writing, so that if it were to occur again, the tenants would be made responsible for the full cost of the repair work.

It is also recommended that specialist products should be put down the sink often to break down fats and grease, and occasionally boiling water and bleach could be put down the sink at the end of the day to ensure that pipework is free from debris.

What happened next:

The landlord thanked all of the other landlords who had taken the time out to give advice and share their experiences, and also thanked our adviser for their help.

The landlord decided to carry the full cost of the bill himself on this occasion, but he did give the tenants advice on how to prevent the drain from blocking again in the future and a warning.

It was very important for this landlord that his tenant enjoyed living in the flat, and he felt that the long stay of the tenants was of greater value.

Find out more
  • To read the original Forum Post, see here 
  • The RLA runs a course on Property Repairs, where landlords can learn more about what is and isn’t their responsibility to repair. With selected courses now 20% off, take a look.
  • Want to learn more about behaving in a ‘Tenant-like Manner’? Check out Section 4.4. in our useful guide

About the author

Victoria Barker

Victoria Barker

Victoria is the Communications Officer for the RLA.

She is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and media review, and creating social media content. She also contributes to our members magazine, Residential Property Investor.

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