Dilapidations Week: Will we see more tenants forcing landlords to repair in 2020?

The short answer to the question posed in the title, is yes.

The 2019 case of Blue Manchester v North West Ground Rents, while not containing new law, strengthens the case for tenants asking the court to order “specific performance”, obliging their landlord to comply with its repairing covenants and obligations.

The case refers to Manchester landmark, Beetham Tower, the tallest completed building in the UK outside London.

Its 47 floors are owned by North West Ground Rents (NWGR) Limited and comprise a hotel and residential units. When windows became unstable, a dispute arose between NWGR and hotel leaseholders Blue Manchester Ltd around who was responsible for repairs.

As the judgment showed, however, there are a number of issues and hurdles that tenants and their dilapidation surveyors must prove and overcome. In this case, safety as well as aesthetic considerations were important when determining whether actionable disrepair arose.

What can a tenant do?

Invariably, timing is key, and the court will be unsympathetic where tenants delay.  Suitable evidence must be assembled. Diaries and chronologies should be kept and, if requested by the landlord, access to inspect should be granted speedily.

The landlord should be put on written notice of the disrepair, and the consequence of the landlord failing to act be made clear. The significance of the disrepair will affect the likelihood of the landlord’s need to repair.

The tenant will need to prove that the payment of damages (a monetary sum) would not be a suitable remedy and recompense for the landlord’s breach. The tenant will also want to consider the availability of any other lawful remedies, e.g. self help (doing the repairs itself), and potentially deduction and set-off.

While landlords have long recognised that it is hard to get an order for specific performance compelling a tenant to comply with its repairing obligations (the case of Zinc Cobham Limited v Adda Hotels 2018 is a reminder of this), a resolute and properly advised tenant can, in the right circumstances, force its landlord’s hand to repair.

To discuss your dilapidations query with an expert, please get in touch with a member of Thrings’ Dilapidations team. Our wider Property Litigation team is on hand to help with other property related disputes.

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