As a relocation agent I frequently hear horror stories from tenants about leaking taps that never get fixed, blocked toilets or broken down appliances that never get replaced or repaired. Many of these tenants end up leaving the property and falling out with their landlords.
First I should point out that many landlords and lettings agents do operate in good faith and have the interests of the tenants at heart. However like in every other sphere of life, there can be bad apples.
In the days that I used to manage properties (on behalf of the landlords), I can remember one particular tenant who was either very accident prone or just plain clueless – she managed to break a clothes dryer three times, flood her flat (and her neighbours below) by leaving the bath overflowing and block the toilet several times. The landlord was very accommodating until he totted up all the expenses he had paid out over 12 months on various repairs. From that moment on, the tenant was made aware that she would have to pay out of her own pocket for any further mishaps of her own doing.
Landlords are obliged to keep all appliances in working order and all plumbing and electrical appliances safe to use. However if a tenant causes the bath to overflow and floods the neighbours below, the tenant can be held liable for repairs. In the case of burst pipes (very common in our old buildings in London), the landlord will be able to seek relief from his insurers and if the property is part of a block of flats, for example, the building’s insurers will probably contribute to the repairs.
In the case of broken appliances, there is a rule of thumb that certain appliances such as toasters, kettles, vacuum cleaners should be replaced rather than repaired. It is not unreasonable for a landlord to refuse to replace an appliance more than once during the term of the tenancy. Furthermore, if the item was brand new at the commencement of the lease, the landlord can refuse outright to replace it. Common sense should prevail in all instances.
For larger appliances such as washing machines, dryers, cooking stoves and ovens, the landlord is advised to obtain a service agreement with the manufacturer. The originals of the appliance manuals should be left in the property so the tenant is aware of how to properly use the appliances. Normally the lettings agent is in charge of arranging the servicing agreements with the manufacturers or organising repairs of the appliances. The agent pays for these repairs from a small float left in their care by the landlord (or deducted at source when the agent collects the rent).
Finally, landlords should expect their lettings agents if they are managing the property on their behalf, to inspect the property regularly- at least at three month intervals. I recently did a viewing with a client at an expensive flat in Chelsea where the outgoing tenants clearly had an aversion to cleaning. In such a case, the lettings agent could have sent a cleaner round and charged it to the tenant plus insist that the tenant employ a cleaner to go in at least once per week. The outgoing tenants were obviously damaging the prospects of the landlord finding new tenants and were also in breach of the terms of their lease.