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The ‘silent’ housing disrepair breaches that lawyers often miss

Often, the surveyor is the first – or only – person to meet a tenant face to face in their property during a disrepair claim.

These site visits can be very revealing especially when viewing in the context of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.

Housing Disrepair lawyers missing opportunities

A seemingly casual conversation with the tenant whilst on site – together with a professional eye cast upon the property – can often reveal hazards that have gone unreported by tenants. This might be because the tenant is unaware of the significance or because the hazard is not always easy to spot.

As a result, housing disrepair lawyers stay ‘in the dark’ about many potential breaches that they could otherwise be claiming for on behalf of their client – meaning both parties miss out.

‘Silent’ breaches that your surveyor can spot

Just knowing about these opportunities could see a housing disrepair lawyer providing their client with a better, more complete service that could increase the level of defect remediation required.

It could also potentially increase the amount of compensation to which the occupier is entitled, having suffered in silence for too long.

I’ve collated five of the most common breaches that I have come across that – in my experience – are often overlooked.

It might help you to keep the list handy to make sure your surveyor keeps a look out too:

1. Exposure to manufactured mineral fibres

So, what constitutes ‘manufactured mineral fibres’?

Manufactured mineral fibres have been used in building materials for over 100 years and include glass fibre, insulation wools, refractory fibres and glass-microfibres. They are known to be carcinogenic and linked to a range of health problems including lung cancer, eye problems and respiratory diseases.

Problems for tenants occur when properties have not been properly checked for materials like asbestos. Asbestos can be found all over the home including in cement, flooring, roofing and even in some old appliances, though it often lies undetected.

Whereas asbestos detection requires a specialised service, your surveyor may spot some clear signs of its presence: An Artex wall or a particular type of insulation that raises suspicion, for example.

They will then be in a position to flag up any concerns so that further investigation can be carried out.

2. Biocides

Biocides – microorganisms that kill other organism. These chemicals are widely used in disinfectants, wood preservatives and insect repellents and are used by the trade to kill viruses, bacterial, fungi, insects and rodents.

Landlords may use biocides to tackle infestations of cockroaches or vermin. A cleaning company entrusted with a local authority contract might well be overzealous when looking after public areas in shared tenancy accommodations – especially in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alarm bells would ring if I spoke to a tenant during a visit and they complained of cause headaches, sore eyes or breathing problems. I’d look for any evidence of biocide use even if not problems have been reported.

3. Uncombusted fuel gas

Poorly maintained or inefficient heating systems can easily lead to problems with carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and smoke poisoning. The trouble is these gas pollutants can be difficult to detect – and can be fatal.

Sufficient ventilation is vital if the rental property has an open fire or wood-burning stove. Gas and electric fires need to be regularly serviced. A surveyor knows to look around to check that the appropriate alarm systems have been installed in and around the property.

4. Entry by intruders

Perhaps more covert than silent, properties need to be sufficiently protected against trespass or intruders.

Only recently, the media reported on a privately rented property in Manchester that had doors held together with padlocks and broken windows – failing to protect the tenants against burglary and break-ins.

Such things often go unreported, mainly because tenants often think they will be held financially responsible for any damage to the property, whether accidental or not.

Regardless of whether the tenant is at fault, the responsibility for the upkeep of the property lies with the landlord. They need to maintain buildings so they are properly secure.

A claim can be made against them if they fail to carry out sufficient checks although a visit from a surveyor might be the first time any breaches come to light.

5. Ergonomics

Further breaches that often fall off the radar and go undetected resides in the ‘ergonomics’ category.

Beds and mattresses if provided by the local authority should be suitably firm; tables and chairs need to be comfortable; fixtures and fittings such as light switches, plug sockets, staircases, counter tops and windows should be positioned and installed to avoid repetitive strain injury or accidents.

Again, a reliable surveyor will know to look out for any obvious signs that the ergonomics of a property could have a detrimental effect on the mental and physical well-being of the occupant. As such, they could raise the alarm on any potential issues, should they appear.

Finding the right surveyor will pay

As someone who is on the ‘front line’ of housing disrepair law, I often see housing disrepair breaches that would go unnoticed if it were not for my site visit. Nothing compares to having the chance to evaluate housing disrepair defects holistically.

It might not be something you’ve thought much about as a housing disrepair lawyer in the past, but professionals like me end up acting as your ‘eyes and ears’ whilst we are on site. Our acumen can greatly increase your chance of winning a case.

So when it comes to choosing your next surveyor, just make sure they’re an astute and thorough one!

About the Author:

David Deacon is a chartered surveyor who supports lawyers with housing disrepair claims through the provision of housing disrepair surveys and reports.

He is also the director of Housing Disrepair Surveys – a surveying practice that specialises in housing disrepair cases.