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An increase in opportunistic ‘claim farming’ combined with poor record-keeping has led to a huge rise in disrepair claims, but there are ways housing providers can prevent expensive pay-outs.
In recent months Croftons has seen a huge influx of clients coming to us in a state of despair over disrepair. The majority of claims begin with ‘claim farming’ tactics common in personal injury matters but now increasing in other legal areas too.
Unfortunately, these methods - including letter dropping, cold calling and social media advertising - are engaging tenants in huge numbers.
In a minority of cases it’s clear that tenants are claiming as a last resort after years of disrepair hell. However, controversially, the majority of claims stem from opportunistic sources that only succeed due to lack of evidence from landlord records.
The risk to social landlords is increasing, with more and more money being spent on pay-outs and legal costs, with a case costing anywhere between £5,000 and £35,000.
Are you vulnerable?
Three elements make a disrepair claim:
1. A repair that is the landlord’s express or implied responsibility;
2. That has been reported to the landlord; and
3. The landlord has failed to remedy that repair within a reasonable time.
As RPs have housing management obligations across thousands of properties, records regularly fall short of being satisfactory to disprove all three elements. Arguments such as “the tenant won’t let us in” or “we did carry out that repair” are irrelevant without the evidence to back them up. I have dealt with many a frustrated landlord who cannot prove their case and have had to reluctantly pay compensation.
TOP TIPS: Can you limit expensive pay outs?
Yes! We’ve helped many clients tailor their processes and procedures to prevent disrepair claims from succeeding. Although this is a lengthy process, our view is that preventative measures are far more beneficial in the long term than dealing with matters on a case-by-case basis.
How do landlords do this?
1. Keep good records – this is the largest evidential failure for landlords and makes easy pickings for opportunistic claim farmers
2. Check policies and procedures – ensure you are not over-committing yourself to your tenants
3. Training – disrepair awareness should be spread across all teams within an organisation.
4. Access – landlord liability does not stop because your tenant wasn’t there to let you in. Refusing access is a breach of tenancy and should be legally enforced – if all else fails, seek an injunction!
By patching up these weaknesses, landlords will be better able to successfully defend unsubstantiated claims, and only compensate tenants who have genuinely been aggrieved.
Contact our Housing Management team if you would like to discuss these issues further.
Croftons is the trading name of Croftons Solicitors LLP, a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with number OC343375. The term ‘partner’, if used, denotes a member of Croftons Solicitors LLP or a senior solicitor of Croftons Solicitors LLP with equivalent standing and qualifications. A full list of members is open to inspection at the office. Croftons is authorised and regulated by The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) number 508041. Croftons has its principal place of business at The Lexicon, Mount Street, Manchester, M2 5FA.