14 February 2023

‘Wind and watertight and fit for human habitation?’ The challenging landscape in dampness and disrepair cases

At our recent AGM we celebrated our developments highlighted in our annual report, but also considered the history and purpose of our organisation in an interesting panel discussion. The discussion was Chaired by Colin Porteous who was the first Chair of Legal Services Agency and among the founding members leading to its establishment. Led by Alastair Houston of LSA and Jim Bauld of TC Young, the discussion concerned the challenging landscape in dampness and disrepair cases.

When LSA was founded in 1989, tenants in Glasgow, and indeed across Scotland, were struggling to heat their homes and tackle dampness in their properties. It has been more than 30 years since then, and tenants are still facing the same issues.

Reflecting on the hardships that the last three years have brought, with Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis (which may well be linked to the pandemic), it may come as no surprise that we have seen an increase in the number of tenants coming to LSA seeking advice and representation for housing cases. Perhaps this is because people were spending more time in their homes and began to notice issues with their properties that they previously were not aware of. Or, maybe, when landlords effectively closed down their offices during the pandemic many tenants were left unsure of where to turn for help.

When tenants are facing dampness and/or disrepair, landlords must make the necessary repairs to the properties within a reasonable time. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected what many landlords consider to be a ‘reasonable’ length of time to carry out repairs once they have been notified of the problem by the tenant. Many tenants were left waiting weeks or even months for repairs to be carried out.

Furthermore, the cost of living crisis is resulting in contractors charging excessive amounts to carry out their work to reflect the sharp increase in price of materials. To refuse to pay the increase would mean needing to find another contractor; a task itself which is near-impossible. Due to this, landlords are further delaying repairs. However, these obstacles absolutely do not take away from a landlord’s duty to make repairs within a reasonable time, and in fact, should make landlords more proactive in rectifying the repairs as soon as they can before costs inevitably continue to soar.

It is important to make clear that tenants always have the right to request repairs are corrected and dampness is sorted to ensure that they are living in a safe and suitable property, and they must notify their landlord straight away should problems arise. Tenants should not be forced to accept the blame for dampness and mould in their properties when there are many other issues which factor into the development of this. It is paramount we move past the misconception that dampness and disrepair occur solely due to the tenants’ conduct, when in reality, the causes are complex.

Damp occurs when there is too much moisture in the air. Poor ventilation exacerbates this, and tenants cannot be at fault for the window design. For example, the glass in single glazed windows cannot warm up the same way double or triple glazed windows can, and as a result are more likely to cause condensation. Furthermore, many buildings nowadays are of a low quality and tenants are frequently faced with issues from the day they move in.

Legal Services Agency can assist with a wide range of housing law issues. Our solicitors seek remedies for landlords’ failures and strive to protect tenants and promote their rights. This may involve negotiating with the landlord in the hopes of resolving the matter before it is taken to the Sheriff Court or First Tier Tribunal. However, we also can assist in litigating the case by asking the court or tribunal to order that particular work is undertaken and/or seek an award of compensation.

Please note that our ability to assist with these sorts of cases depends on our capacity, and whether our solicitors have other work that we need to prioritise, such as homelessness or eviction cases.