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Challenging insurance company's decision re: habitability of house

(7 Posts)
SmiteYouWithThunderbolts Sun 07-Apr-13 17:59:51

I'll try to keep this concise, but there's quite a lengthy background.

Basically, we have had a problem with sewage leaking up through the floor into our lounge due to a blockage in the drain over which the extension was built some 25 years ago.

We first noticed the problem and reported it to the property managers almost 3 weeks ago; since then they've sent out engineers to clear the blockage and contractors who have confirmed that the entire floor needs to be ripped up (laminate flooring), part of the wall replastered and everything chemically treated before new flooring can be laid. However, it is almost two weeks since any work has actually been done because everyone's hands are tied by paperwork and the insurance company taking their merry time to process stuff.

In the meantime, we have asked for our rent payment this month to be refunded, partly because we can't live in the house but also because it has cost us a lot of money in fuel (travelling to stay with family) and storage materials for our belongings (we've had to empty the lounge of every scrap of furniture and 'stuff'). The property managers said this would only be possible if the insurance company declared the house uninhabitable as then the LL will be able to claim for loss of rent. However, they also advised us that the last contractor ticked a box on his report saying "alternative accommodation not required" and this usually means the insurance company will see the house as fit to live in.

My argument is:

1) The lounge is the only reception room, so we currently have no usable downstairs space.
2) The only access to the kitchen is through the lounge
3) Though the blocked drain has been cleared, there's still a massive hole in the floor and the boards are all soaked in sewage water. Walking through the lounge means exposure to this & potential cross-contamination of the upstairs carpets.

You couldn't present this house to prospective tenants if it was empty & market it as ready to live in, so how could we be expected to live in it with four small children?

The woman I've been dealing with at the property management company agrees that living in the house is unbearable; Environmental Health said it sounds like the insurers should cover alternative accommodation. Basically everyone I've asked seems staggered at the idea that we could be made to pay full rent & live here until the floor is replaced but the insurance company are very likely to say just that, based on this one stupid tick box hmm

What can I do? We don't want to move to another house altogether, but once the work ripping up the floor starts, we'll lose access to the kitchen so will need to move in with PIL (who live on the opposite side of town to dc's school, meaning that the school run will entail £160/month of train fares at the very least). I just can't see how they could reasonably expect us to continue paying as full tenants.

Any insight would be much appreciated. I'm going to speak to the CAB tomorrow if I can too.

greenfolder Sun 07-Apr-13 20:27:08

If I have understood this correctly, you have 2 issues confused.
The house is uninhabitable. Therefore you should not be paying rent as you are unable to use it. The terms of the insurance the ll has is not of your concern. I would take photos, document the series of events and send it in a recorded delivery letter to the agents. State that you will be moving out and await their advices as to when it is habitable. The insurers are not arbitrators here.

SmiteYouWithThunderbolts Sun 07-Apr-13 20:38:19

Thanks for the reply.

The insurance company's decision is relevant to us in that the landlord has told the agent she will only agree to refund this month's rent (which we paid on the same day the problem started) if the insurance agree the house is uninhabitable and she is therefore able to claim for loss of rent under their policy. If they say the house can be lived in, she can't claim the money back and therefore will want us to continue paying it. I'm hesitant to just withhold next month's rent unless I know I have a legal right to do so because my FIL is our guarantor and I don't want to get him into a sticky mess.

I've taken photos and been keeping a record of events since everything started, so I can send that on to the agents though.

RedHelenB Mon 08-Apr-13 07:37:50

If anyone loses out it should be the LL. You do nit expose children to sewage!

BabyRuSh Mon 08-Apr-13 07:54:35

What does your tenancy agreement say? If it does not have the insurance bit as a clause then I think the ll will have to beat the extra cost. It's their loss really and their responsibility to enure the property is habitable. To expect you to stay there is the current condition sounds extremely unreasonable. I would get proper legal advice ad check your tenancy agreement if I were you. I suspect your ll is in the wrong.

SmiteYouWithThunderbolts Mon 08-Apr-13 10:18:17

Thanks all. I've read through the tenancy agreement this morning and found 2 clauses that I think I can argue puts the LL in breach of contract.

Section 4.3:

To maintain the Property and Contents therein in good repair during the tenancy, except in respect of damage, or through misuse or negligence by the Tenant.

Section 4.4 To comply with requirements of Section 11 of the Landlords and Tenant Act 1985 which imposes obligations on the Landlord -

a) to repair the structure and exterior (including drains, gutters and external pipes) of the Property

ALSO (just spotted this!)

Section 6.1 Reinstatement of Property rendered uninhabitable

If the Property is destroyed or damaged by any of the Insured Risks, making it unfit to live in, the rent shall cease to be payable until the Property has been rendered fit again for occupation.

I'm not sure what "Insured Risks" means in that last part. Any ideas? I've spoken to the property managers again this morning and basically said what you guys have suggested, that the insurance company's decision is irrelevant to us and if the LL can't claim for loss of rent, the cost is theirs to bear, not ours.

Many, many thanks for all the help so far thanks

SmiteYouWithThunderbolts Mon 08-Apr-13 11:00:07

Also the Landlord and Tenant Act has a bit which says this:

10 Fitness for human habitation.

In determining for the purposes of this Act whether a house is unfit for human habitation, regard shall be had to its condition in respect of the following matters—

freedom from damp,
internal arrangement,
natural lighting,
water supply,
drainage and sanitary conveniences,
facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water;

and the house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.

Do you think I've got them there?

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