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Local authority help with repairs - statutory nuisance

This advice applies to England

If your landlord has failed to do repair work, the local authority may be able to force them to take action. The local authority can do this if their failure to make repairs is a statutory nuisance. This means that your home is in such a state that it's harmful to your health or is a nuisance.

This page explains what is meant by statutory nuisance and what the local authority must do about it.

What is statutory nuisance?

A statutory nuisance is something that is harmful to your health or is a nuisance.

What does harmful to your health mean?

The state of a property is generally harmful to your health if it makes a well person become ill or if it worsens the health of a sick person.

Something can be harmful to your health if it's actually harmful or if it's likely to cause you harm. The harm can be to your physical or mental health.

Examples of lack of repair that may be harmful to your health include:

  • dampness, condensation and mould growth
  • damaged asbestos
  • faulty or dangerous gas or electrical installations
  • vermin or insect infestations
  • fumes or gases
  • unacceptable noise levels.

What is a nuisance?

In this context, a nuisance is either:

  • a public nuisance. This is where the comfort or quality of life of the public or a group of people is affected. For example, offensive smells, noise and problems with rubbish or sewage, or
  • a private nuisance. This happens when an owner or occupier of a property significantly interferes with the use and enjoyment of neighbouring property. For example, leaking overflows, blocked pipes and gutters.

A repair problem from within your home and which only affects you and anyone who lives with you, isn’t a statutory nuisance unless you can show that it's harmful to your health as described above.

Which tenants can the local authority help when there is statutory nuisance?

The local authority can best help tenants in private rented accommodation and housing association tenants. Local authority tenants have to use other options because a local authority can’t take action against itself.

In some cases, a private landlord may decide to evict a tenant rather than do repair work. Make sure you know whether you're at risk of eviction before asking the local authority for help.

What must the local authority do if there's a statutory nuisance?

The local authority has a duty to inspect properties in its area for statutory nuisance and to deal with complaints it receives about statutory nuisance. Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) usually investigate and take action where there's a statutory nuisance. They have a right to enter and inspect properties.

Where an EHO is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists or there’s a likelihood of one arising or recurring, they have a legal duty to take action. Before taking formal action, an EHO may first serve an informal notice to give the landlord the chance to deal with the problem.

A letter is available for you to contact the local authority which you can adapt according to your circumstances.

Formal action - abatement notices

The first formal step for an EHO is to serve an abatement notice on the person responsible for the nuisance (usually the landlord). An abatement notice orders the landlord to do work to stop the nuisance within a certain period of time.

If the statutory nuisance is because of a structural defect the notice must be served on the owner. If the person responsible for the nuisance can't be found, the notice must be served on the owner or the occupier of the property.

It's possible to appeal an abatement notice. The appeal must be brought in the magistrates' court within 21 days of the notice being served.

What happens if the landlord doesn't do the work?

If the work on the abatement notice isn’t carried out and the landlord doesn't have a reasonable excuse, they're guilty of a criminal offence.

If an abatement notice isn't complied with the local authority can:

  • apply to the magistrates' court to prosecute the landlord
  • take legal proceedings in the High Court to stop, prohibit or restrict the statutory nuisance
  • stop the nuisance itself by carrying out the necessary work. It can then claim the costs back from the landlord.

Landlords can be fined for statutory nuisance and ordered to pay compensation to you if you're affected by the nuisance.

Emergency action

If there are urgent repairs, for example, a ceiling may collapse, the local authority can use a quicker procedure than serving an abatement notice.

The local authority can serve the landlord with a notice about the problem and which says that the authority will do the work itself if the landlord doesn’t do it within nine days. If the local authority does the work, it can recover its costs from the landlord.

The landlord can serve a counter-notice on the authority within seven days saying that they'll do the repairs. However, the local authority can still intervene if the work doesn't start in a reasonable time, if it's unreasonably slow or makes no progress.

Complaining about the local authority

You may want to complain about the local authority if you don’t think it has acted properly. For example, if it refuses to carry out an inspection or is slow to carry one out.

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