A public landlord will include local authorities, district councils and most housing associations.

A council tenant will be a person who takes a tenancy from any of these.

There are two main types of council tenancy: secure and introductory. Where a tenancy agreement was taken out less than 12 months ago, this is likely to be an introductory tenancy. A tenancy more than 12 months old is likely to be a secure tenancy. The lease should specify what type of tenancy is held.

Repairs to council properties

The right to have repairs carried out properly and efficiently apply to both secure and introductory tenancies. In most cases it is the council’s responsibility to make major and structural repairs. The standard of repair is what is reasonable. And the extent of repair must be in proportion to the value of the property.

Obligations on both tenant and landlord to carry out repairs will be dealt with in the tenancy agreement, but the law also imposes certain obligations. Tenants are normally obliged to take reasonable care of the property. Reasonable care means carrying out minor jobs (general housework, unblocking the sink, digging the garden, changing light bulbs). Sometimes the tenancy agreement will impose extra obligations such as to paint and decorate the interior. It is important to always read the tenancy agreement which is the starting point for establishing who is responsible for repairs.

The landlord must keep in repair the structure, exterior and installations of the dwelling. This means that the council will be responsible to repair and maintain:

  • The walls, floors, roof and windows (including frames);
  • The exterior of the property. This will include brickwork, drains, gutters, pipes and the roof;
  • Installations such as the supply of water, water heating, fixed heaters, electrical wiring and gas piping. This will include plumbing repairs to sanitary equipment such as basins, sinks, toilets and baths.

Tenants may take legal action if their property is unfit for human habitation and/or prejudicial to health. Fitness for human habitation means that the property must be to an acceptable standard. Prejudicial to health means capable of causing injury to health. Many council tenants also provide an entitlement to have certain ‘qualifying repairs’ carried out. These are medium-sized repairs (such an entry phone defects and loose handrails) costing no more than £250.

Failure to have such works carried out within a reasonable time, may entitle the tenant to compensation. Where a property suffers from disrepair, the tenant should contact the local council or housing association without delay. A housing or environmental health officer will usually be sent to inspect the premises. If the council officer agrees that repairs need to be carried out, the work should be carried out within a reasonable time.

However, this does not usually happen. Extra pressure can be applied by complaining through a tenants’ association, to a local councilor or to the local government ombudsman. As a last resort, criminal or civil action can be brought in the courts against the council for failure to act. The court can be asked for an order that the works be carried out forthwith, and that compensation be granted for the inconvenience caused. It will be necessary to prove that the landlord knew of the repairs or should have known. Therefore, if repairs are needed, it is important to write to the council immediately (preferably recorded delivery).

Repossession

Councils cannot just tell you to leave. They, like all landlords, need a court order before they can repossess any residential property. The position will depend upon whether a tenancy is secure or introductory. Councils are able to repossess property for only two main reasons:

  • Substantial rent arrears (over 2-3 months);
  • Anti-social behaviour on the part of the tenant.

If the tenancy is introductory, and the council are able to prove their grounds and follow the correct procedure, the court has no discretion and must make a possession order. Secure tenancies offer greater protection, and the court has discretion as to whether an order is made. They will consider whether it is reasonable to make an order.