Landlords and tenants - who is responsible for upkeep?

Property maintenance is a perennial sticking point for both landlords and tenants. Disagreement over the upkeep of a property is amongst the most common causes of conflict in a tenancy.

Landlords have a set of important legal obligations when it comes to maintenance and upkeep – but you may also have additional, contractual responsibilities depending on the nature of your tenancy agreement.

Gardens and grounds

Tenants are generally responsible for the upkeep of a garden. As a landlord you will not, for example, be expected to go round and mow the lawn.

That said, tenants only have a responsibility to return the garden to you in the same state as that in which they found it. So if, when the tenants move in, the grass is six feet high and the shed is collapsing, the tenants cannot be expected to return it in pristine condition.

Tenancy agreements for more expensive properties often include additional clauses relating to the upkeep of garden and grounds. For example, some tenants might expect their rent to include gardening services. It is important that both you and the tenant understand the nature of the agreement before signing anything.

White goods

White goods are something of a grey area. Contrary to popular belief, there is no statutory responsibility for landlords to provide or maintain white goods like fridges and dish washers. Whether or not these items are provided is really up to you – although it is worth remembering that the vast majority of rental properties do include white goods.

If you do provide goods, you are legally obliged to make sure that they are safe. Beyond this, though, your responsibilities will depend on the nature of your tenancy agreement. If your tenancy agreement requires the tenants to repair these items, you would be well advised to point this out to them before they sign. On the other hand, if the provision of white goods is included in the rent, you will be contractually obliged to carry out repairs.

Heating

Landlords are legally responsible for the provision of safe, working heating in a property. This obligation is contained in section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985.

In practice, this means that you must install and maintain a safe heating system. The upkeep of this system is your responsibility – not the tenant’s. The only exception to this would be damage to the system that exceeds expected wear and tear. For example, if the tenant took a sledgehammer to the boiler, they could reasonably be held responsible for the cost of its repair.

Structure and exterior

The landlord is responsible for any repairs to the exterior of the property, and for ensuring that it is structurally sound.

This means that you will be responsible, amongst other things, for exterior walls, roof tiles, and the cleaning of outside windows. Tenants, on the other hand, are responsible for cleaning the insides of windows.

Kitchen and bathroom

The landlord is responsible for the maintenance of all “sanitary installations” – that is, toilets, sinks, baths and so on.

Of course, few landlords want to call a plumber out every time a toilet gets blocked. As such, it is worth leaving instructions and tools for tenants to encourage them to carry out reasonable tasks themselves. Just leaving a plunger in the bathroom can save you a lot of time and money.

Disagreements regarding the obligations of landlords and tenants are sadly very common. Make sure that you understand your legal responsibilities, and that the tenant understands the nature of the tenancy agreement before signing.