Thousands of tenants withhold rent over “delayed” repairs

A quarter of a million private tenants a year are taking matters into their own hands and withholding rent from their landlords because of delays resolving emergencies like heating and electrical faults, new research reveals.

Figures from HomeServe, the home emergency specialists, show that one in three private tenants (34%) has faced a home emergency in the past 12 months, with boiler faults and other central heating problems the most common.

Of those, no fewer than one in 10 (11%) took the extreme step of withholding rent because their landlord had taken what was seen as an unacceptable time  to deal with the repairs – and nearly half (48%) said they would be willing to do so.

Despite the urgent nature of many of the problems, only one in three were dealt with even in the same day (31%), while one in four (23%) took more than a week.

One complication for many landlords in dealing with home emergencies appears to be their desire to address problems themselves. Only one in three landlords (32%) employs a managing agent to care of the property on their behalf on a day-to-day basis, while a further third (34%) admit they undertake all aspects of managing their portfolio themselves.

Two in five tenants (41%) say that their landlord arranges the engineer on their behalf, while one in five (20%) say their landlord actually looks to carry out repairs themselves.

As a result, one in three tenants (35%) report having to wait until working hours to contact their landlord to resolve their problem.

Another factor appears to be the size of landlords’ property portfolios. A separate analysis conducted by HomeServe reveals that there are some 1.28 million landlords whose portfolios are partly or entirely self-managed, of whom some 45,000 own five or more properties – meaning that around a third of a million flats are managed by private landlords themselves.

The research also reveals how, with the rental market booming, particularly in London, tenants feel that their landlords should offer more.

81% of tenants expect dealing with home emergencies should be a key part of the service landlords offer, with nearly two-thirds (62%) wanting a 24/7 service from them.

Yet 29% believe their landlord was unable to take the hassle out of dealing with a home emergency – and 41% feel their letting agent failed to make things any easier.

HomeServe CEO Jonathan King said: “Most landlords are responsible and responsive to their tenants’ needs. But it’s clear that with many determined to manage their properties themselves, either to ensure the quality of the job done or to manage costs, this is creating dissatisfaction among some tenants. Home emergencies can be a hassle to resolve, for landlords and tenants alike. And tenants’ feeling they have to take the extreme step of withholding rent is in no one’s interest.”

HomeServe’s landlord gas policies start from £15 a month and include an annual gas safety inspection for all fixed gas appliances, with a CP12 record and an annual boiler service, backed by a 24/7 helpline for landlords or tenants and a nationwide army of approved, Gas Safe registered engineers.