Home improvements and repairs: what are landlords responsible for?

Carrying out home improvements is inevitable when it comes to owning a property. From minor tweaks to big repair jobs, it’s always good to be prepared for any eventuality. But if you are letting out your property, it can be hard to know where the responsibility lies. Luckily, there are a few simple guidelines that you can follow to help avoid any disputes between you and your tenant and get any issues fixed quickly. Here is a complete guide to the home improvements and repairs that landlords are responsible for.

Basic Minimum Standards

There are clearly outlined basic minimum standards that the property must meet. These standards include things like:

 

  • The property must be free from damp and in good structural repair

  • There must be hot and cold water available

  • All rooms must have adequate heating and ventilation that the tenant can control

  • All appliances should be in safe, working order

  • Cooking facilities must be provided

  • Electric wiring, gas and water pipes must all be in good repair

 

If any issues are found that mean the property does not meet the minimum standards, then it is your responsibility to get them sorted. If a tenant does not believe the property meets these standards, then they could contact the local authority to carry out an inspection. For the full list of basic minimum standards, you can take a look at the legislation here.

Liability For Repairs

The law requires that the condition of the home at the beginning of the tenancy should be maintained until the tenancy ends, including both the interior and the exterior. So who is responsible for what?

 

To avoid any confusion, liability for repairs should be clearly laid out in any tenancy agreement. As a general rule, you are responsible for any structural repairs or anything to do with heating, gas electricity, water or sanitation systems. If there have been any fixtures, fittings and furnishings provided with the tenancy, it’s also up to you to repair these. Your tenant is responsible for keeping internal decoration in a reasonable state and for any minor repairs like changing fuses and light bulbs.

 

The tenancy agreement should also state the procedure to follow for reporting and dealing with repairs. This will include your right of access to the property to carry them out, and how much notice you will need to give them.

 

Damp

Dampness and mould are common problems in Ireland that can be a source of confusion. The key to determining who is responsible for dealing with it is to establish whether it’s down to a structural fault or the actions of the tenant. For instance, if the tenant doesn’t open the windows enough, doesn’t heat the property thoroughly or dries clothes indoors, this can all cause condensation which in turn causes dampness. Structural issues include poor ventilation or damage to the roof or walls. If you can’t come to an agreement as to who is responsible, the tenant may ask an Environmental Health Officer to inspect the property to see if they can find any structural issues.

Timeframes

If you do need to carry out repairs, you must do so in a reasonable timeframe. While there is no legal definition as to what constitutes reasonable, it’s always best to try and get it done as quickly as you can. 

 

If the nature of the problem is something that could impact your tenant’s health or causes a security concern, this is obviously a top priority. This might include things like a faulty electricity supply or faulty plumbing. Similarly, if it is something that will cause your tenant a lot of extra expense until it is fixed, this should be tackled as soon as possible. Any other routine repairs that don’t have a significant impact on the tenant’s day-to-day life should be dealt with within a couple of weeks. This includes things like damage to furniture or cracked bathroom tiles.

 

If you don’t carry out repairs quickly, your tenant may take the issue to the council, who will inspect the property and may serve you with a notice requiring you to carry out the repair by a certain date. They may also choose to arrange the repairs themselves, in which case you will have to reimburse them. If you fail to reimburse the tenant for repairs, then they can take action to have the cost taken off the rent.

Damage Caused By Tenants 

Your tenancy agreement should specify that any tenants are responsible for repairs of any damage to the property caused by either themselves or their guests. If at the end of the tenancy you find any damage that you weren’t made aware of, it’s important to determine what happened to establish whether or not the tenant is at fault. If they are and you need to pay to fix the damage then you may be entitled to deduct the cost of the repairs from their deposit. 

 

The process for this will vary depending on who is holding the deposit, but you will usually have to write to the tenant listing any repairs and expenses and explaining how much money will be deducted. If the cost is greater than the amount of their deposit then you can make a claim for compensation, although this will have to be done through the courts. 

 

Non-Essential Improvements

If a home improvement is purely cosmetic, for example painting the walls a different colour, then you are not obliged to carry it out. However, if a tenant has been renting from you for a while, you might consider freshening up the decoration for them anyway. This helps to foster a good relationship between the two of you and will encourage tenants to stay in the property on a long-term basis. If a tenant requests to carry out this kind of work themselves you should not refuse consent without good reason. It’s always a good idea to provide consent in writing and keep a copy for yourself, just to make sure you avoid any problems later on.

Avoiding Disputes

Repairs can be a cause of contention between tenants and landlords. However, this can largely be avoided by having a clear and concise tenancy agreement and by keeping the lines of communication open. Having the responsibilities for repairs down in black and white can quickly put a stop to any disagreements as it takes away any ambiguity. If you do have to carry out repairs and find you are struggling to get the work completed in a timely manner, explain the situation to your tenants. You might even want to consider reducing their rent for a period of time to compensate them if they are unable to use part of the property or some of the appliances provided.

 

If you encounter a problem and no longer feel able to deal with the issue yourself, mediation could be a good idea. Mediation is a process where an independent and neutral party will work to help you and your tenant come to an agreement that works for you both. It helps to take the pressure off and gives you some impartial insight into your predicament, focusing not on who is right and wrong but on coming to a resolution. There are various organisations who offer mediation services, although the RTB (Residential Tenancies Board) will carry it out for free.

Conclusion

Repairs on your property are going to have to be made sooner or later, so it’s important to be clear on your responsibilities when it comes to getting them sorted. Having a thorough tenancy agreement in place is a great first step, and it’s always a good idea to keep documentation of any home improvements and repairs that you carry out on the property. Do your best to deal with problems quickly and efficiently, and you’ll be rewarded with a happy tenant and a profitable rental property.

 

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