‘A Practical Guide to Responding to Housing Disrepair and Unfitness Claims’ by Iain Wightwick
Publication due: September 2021
Disrepair (or more properly “housing conditions”) claims are on the rise. This book should be helpful to those receiving and responding to them.
Such claims increased by 44% between 2012 and 2017 in England and Wales and they have continued to proliferate. In those five years Southwark LBC paid out about £10,000,000 in damages and costs. Sheffield City Council has disclosed that it has spent more than £1 million fighting disrepair claims within the last 2 ½ years. There has been a 322% increase in cases, which they blame on claims management companies using “aggressive marketing tactics” to attract tenants who are unhappy about the state of their homes during the pandemic. That has been greatly exacerbated by the inability on the part of all landlords to do repairs other than urgent works.
Housing conditions claims are not just wasteful in terms of officer time and finances. They can be very stressful for those involved, particularly where landlords face large numbers of claims and their staff are already busy planning and carrying out repairs, maintenance and improvements. I anticipate that all landlords would prefer to direct their resources to repairs rather than legal fees.
The book is more about the strategies needed to deal with disrepair litigation rather than the substantive law.
If you are a tenant’s representative, I hope that the book will help you to weed out good claims from the many which are at present gratuitously and unnecessarily issued.
Fortunately, the Court of Appeal has just handed down a very helpful decision on an application for permission to appeal. In Hockett v Bristol City Council (2021) unreported, Ref: B2/2021/1025, Lord Justice Bean agreed with the approach which I conceived a number of years ago, and which has been approved of by many judges in the County Court.
I hope that the application of that philosophy to disrepair claims will dramatically reduce the legal bills currently being paid by social landlords. Many of the complaints which tenants are making about housing conditions should never have involved lawyers. You’ll need to buy the book to find out more about it though!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Iain Wightwick is a barrister and mediator working from Unity Street Chambers in Bristol. He is a specialist property lawyer, with particular interest in landlord and tenant issues. His practice includes all areas of residential disputes especially in social housing, with a focus on neighbour nuisance and related anti-social behaviour matters (‘neighbours from hell’), housing disrepair and homelessness.
This is his second book. He wrote “A Practical Guide to Antisocial Behaviour Injunctions” in 2019.
He has thirty years’ experience of acting for social landlords and tenants and a reputation for creative, cost-controlling approaches to litigation and to alternative dispute resolution.
He has been instructed to advise and appear in many disrepair claims, mostly for landlords but sometimes for tenants. He has a unique approach amongst his colleagues to the issue. This centres around his belief that social landlords should be able to devote their resources to providing quality accommodation rather than paying lawyers’ fees.
Shortly after the first Housing Disrepair Protocol was published, he concluded that tenants should be directed to alternative dispute resolution rather than instructing lawyers to pursue the steps set out in the Housing Conditions Protocol and going to court.
This approach has saved his clients very substantial sums in legal costs, which in turn has benefited the tenants of those landlords. He wants to share the method with all landlords, with the aim of reducing the number of these claims and helping others to do the same.
The book also addresses how to respond to a disrepair claim in the event that ADR is not appropriate or fails to appease the tenant.
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