It's always wise to read the small print before entering into an contract, even, or perhaps especially, if you think you already know what it's going to say. One good example of this lies in the area of tenants or landlord responsibilities regarding the repair and maintenance of white goods in a rented property. There's some confusion around questions such as does a landlord have to fix washing machine problems.
The Common Belief
If you ask most tenants or landlords they'll tell you that if the property is let with white goods, the landlord's responsibility includes keeping them in good repair. As we're about to see, that's nearly but not quite true.
Understanding the Legal Framework
Certain responsibilities always lie with the landlord and they must:
- Keep the exterior of the building in good order
- Keep installations for the supply of electric, gas, water and sanitation in good order, this includes basins, sinks, baths and toilets
- Keep installations for the supply of space and water heating in good repair.
- The landlord is always responsible for providing safe fixed electrical installations, that's things like switches, sockets and light fittings.
- The landlord is also responsible for keeping electrical wiring and gas piping in good repair
- Any white goods supplied by the landlord must be safe to use.
When it comes to the tenant's own white goods landlord responsibility doesn't exist. If it's your washing machine you're responsible for the washing machine repairs.
The Grey Area
Many websites, and landlord or tenants handbooks state that if the landlord has supplied white goods, they're also responsible for keeping them in good repair. This isn't, strictly speaking 100% true. Does the landlord have to fix a washing machine? If it's dangerous, yes. If it's just broken, maybe not...
Most tenancy agreements highlight the responsibilities of the tenant to treat the property and fixtures or fittings within it with due and reasonable care. If your six month old appliance stops working because you've overloaded it, failed to allow access for servicing, or otherwise used the item in an unreasonable manner, landlord obligations for washing machines, or other appliances don't generally apply. The grey area arises because the landlord or their designated agent is always responsible for the safety of the property.
Defining The Difference Between Unsafe and Broken
Many landlords and letting agents will err on the side of caution, as it can be difficult to define the difference between an appliance that's simply broken and one that's not safe.
As a landlord, paying for a repair that you strictly speaking don't have to may be annoying, but it's a minor irritation compared with the human cost and legal aggravation caused if a tenant is injured or worse, as a result of you failing to live up to your legal responsibilities.
The other issue is that most landlords would prefer to ensure that repairs are done properly. A badly repaired electrical appliance could pose a fire or other safely risk and while most tenants are responsible, there's always a danger that they might be tempted to get the fix done 'on the cheap'.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 states that the landlord is responsible for installations for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation, but not fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of water, gas or electricity. In practice, for the sake of peace of mind, most landlords prefer to take responsibility for appliances, but this isn't something that a responsible tenant should take for granted or abuse. Visit our Landlords & Tenants FAQ page if you have more questions.