Standards of living: reputable landlords have nothing to fear from the Fitness for Human Habitation Act

Why in heaven’s name do my tenants keep washing their cooking fat and grease down the kitchen sink when they must surely be aware that it clogs the drains?

It happens so often that I’m thinking of investing in my own drain-clearing equipment and a bumper pack of Marigolds to save on plumbing fees.

I wouldn’t be so irritated but every time the sink blocks or the water stops draining from the bath or the washing machine, the tenants call me and act all innocent, like they haven’t got a clue what has caused the problem.

Then, when the plumber goes round and spends 15 minutes sucking a fatberg from the pipes, they look at the tangled mess of grease, hair and solidified oil as if it’s nothing to do with them.

Technically speaking, I believe I could refuse to deal with the blocked drains and I think I could pass the cost on to the tenants.

But as regular readers of this column will know, I wrote recently about the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, which will give tenants new powers to take legal action against landlords for failing adequately to maintain properties from March 20.

While I know that the blocked drains in my flat are entirely caused by the tenants’ behaviour, I suppose they could argue that it is my responsibility as the landlord to keep them clear, no matter who caused the blockage, and sue me if I don’t.

Of course, that’s a bit extreme, I would never let it get that far. I would sort the problem then tell the tenants off, moan to my husband for a good half hour about how useless they are, then forget about it.

Since I wrote about the new law, some landlords have contacted me to say they think it’s a Very Bad Thing.

They seem to think it will lead to “rogue” tenants taking landlords to court over “minor” issues such as, said one, “a loose stair carpet”. 

Well, all I can say to the chap who thinks this isn’t the sort of thing that should be dealt with asap, is that he needs to think again.

Just imagine —what if the tenant was holding a small child or carrying a hot drink and tripped on the stair carpet? What if they were elderly? What if they broke their leg — or worse?

Those of us who maintain our properties and respond to tenants’ requests for repairs, no matter how minor or how annoying they might be, have nothing to fear from this law.

Reputable landlord groups have welcomed the legislation. As the National Landlords Association pointed out, it could prevent less-reputable landlords from under-cutting the rest of us by letting out sub-standard properties and shirking their responsibilities.

Yes, there is a danger that “rogue” tenants might try to sue landlords over minor issues, but we mustn’t be afraid to do the right thing for the majority because of how a small minority might react.

Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas or views, tweet @vicwhitlock.

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