How to get home repairs carried out if you’re renting or have a council house during coronavirus

Guidance on how to get urgent home repairs carried out safely has been issued to those in rented accomodation and council houses.

The ongoing lockdown won't stop any unexpected problems happening in your home.

In fact, increased usage of certain appliances may make them more likely to break down or develop issues.

As a result, social distancing has made arranging repairs more complicated than usual.

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Here's everything you need to know about repairs during the coronavirus lockdown.

  • What to do if you're renting from a letting agent or private landlord

Government guidance states that "landlords’ repair obligations have not changed" during the coronavirus crisis, adding that "tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards".

However, the guidance also urges tenants and landlords to take a "pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by Covid-19 related restrictions."

This means it is unlikely you'll be able to get any non-urgent repairs made to your rented home during the lockdown period.

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Non-urgent repairs might include minor issues with doors, or repairs to plaster work.

If you're renting with an agency, they may have already contacted you regarding repairs during lockdown. The information may also be on their website. If you can't find any information from your letting agent online, you should contact them directly to ask what their current policy on repairs is.

In the majority of cases, letting agents are now only taking request for emergency repairs to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Repairs that constitute an "emergency" usually include anything that is putting the health, safety or security of household members at risk – such as a total loss of electricity, blocked toilets, or the smell or presence of gas or carbon monoxide.

Your letting agent should have a regular repairs line you can call as well as an out-of-hours line in case of emergencies.

Private landlords have the same responsibilities for repairs in your home as a letting agent. It's likely that they'll be operating in a similar way during the lockdown by only taking requests for emergency repairs. You should contact them in the usual way to request this.

If you choose to make your own repairs or pay someone else to do it, you may be responsible for any damage or further repair issues caused by that work.

  • What to do if you live in a council home or housing association home

Most councils and housing associations will also be operating an emergency-only repairs system during the lockdown period, and will often have a list of what constitutes an "emergency" repair on their website.

You should, however, check with your local council or housing association to see what their coronavirus policy is regarding repairs.

  • If you own your home

Your ability to access repairs from an external contractor will vary depending on the business or individual's current coronavirus policy.

To keep yourself and others safe from viral transmission, it may be sensible to follow government guidance and hold off on any repairs, unless they are particularly urgent.

  • How can I keep myself and others safe if repairs are carried out?

If repairs are necessary to your home, you should try to maintain a two metre distance from the contractor while the repairs are being carried out, to minimise risk of transmission.

Cleaning 'high-touch' surfaces such as door handles after the contractor leaves may also be a sensible precaution.

It's likely, however, that most contractors will have their own safety measures in place while carrying out work during lockdown, including using gloves or, in some cases, wearing personal protective equipment while carrying out repairs.

Your landlord, letting agent or contractor may ask you some questions regarding any exposure to coronavirus before attending your home.

If you're in self-isolation, they may ask you to remain in a separate room while carrying out repairs, in order to minimise the risk of transmission.

  • What should I do if I need an emergency repair, but my landlord or letting agent won't respond?

Your landlord's responsibilities for repairs have not changed as a result of the coronavirus crisis. This list from housing charity Shelter explains which repairs your landlord is responsible for, and which you are responsible for.

If you make a request for an emergency repair and you have not heard back, you should follow up the request to make sure they have received and understood it. You should give them a reasonable deadline to respond based on the urgency of the issue.

Shelter also recommends keeping evidence and records in case you have to take further action, including photos of the damage, correspondence between you and the landlord, and doctor's notes, if the problem is making you unwell.

If you're renting from a letting agent who won't respond to repair requests, Shelter has guidance on complaining to to a letting agency redress scheme here.

If you're renting from a private landlord who refuses to respond to you or won't make an emergency repair, you can report disrepair to your council's private renting team.

For tenants living in council or housing association housing, Shelter also has detailed guidance on how to begin a complaints process.

Photos, correspondence and other evidence can be useful for backing up your complaint. In some cases, you can take your landlord to court if you can't get the repairs you need. However, Shelter recommends this as a last resort, given that it usually costs a lot of time and money.