Housing Disrepair Disputes
Housing Disrepair Disputes
Housing disrepair disputes between tenants and local authorities, housing associations and other social landlords can be fractious and complex, especially if there are allegations that poor property maintenance has negatively impacted the health or safety of the tenants. A tenant can take proceedings in the local County Court for an order requiring the landlord to carry out the necessary repairs and they may be also entitled to financial compensation.
Common issues that result in disrepair claims include:
Cracks to the external walls
Rotten window or door frames
Leaking roofs or dampness resulting in mould
Woodlice or rodent infestation
In these cases, an expert witness can be invaluable in providing professional advice and evidence to either support or defend a claim, as their testimony can influence the outcome of a case. They should act as an independent party and help the court understand the technical details relevant to their expertise and the case.
However, whilst most expert witnesses adhere to the principle that their duty is to the court, it has been reported that a significant percentage have reported that they have been pressured to favour the instructing party to influence the end result.
The Role of an Expert Witness in Housing Disrepair Cases
In the context of housing disrepair claims, expert witnesses are typically professionals with experience in building surveying or construction. Their primary responsibility is to provide an impartial assessment of the condition of the property, the cause of the disrepair, and the extent of the damage.
Tenants and landlords can jointly instruct a suitable expert to inspect a property and prepare a report of the defects, as this saves both time and money, or they can each appoint their own. The expert should undertake a property inspection, identify and asses any problems and their likely causes, and provide estimates for the overall cost of the repair work that may be required.
Impartiality in Expert Witnesses
One of the key responsibilities of an expert witness is to provide an unbiased and objective professional opinion based purely on their professional expertise and the evidence gathered during their assessment. In some cases, the expert witness may also be required to testify in court, presenting their findings and answering questions from the parties involved.
However, surveys of expert witness surveys have uncovered evidence of pressure being placed on experts by instructing parties to provide opinions favourable to their clients. A survey of expert witnesses by Bond Solon showed that 25% had felt pressurised to change their report in a way that damaged their impartiality. There have also been issues with experts not being paid by instructing solicitors when their reports have not supported the client’s case.
Examples might be that an expert witness may use tropes to suggest that black mould in a property is caused by tenants using excessive amounts of hot water (to cook or clean) and they have not ventilated a property properly whereas it was in fact caused by penetrating dampness.
In 2020, two-year-old Awaab Ishak tragically died after being exposed to toxic mould in a housing estate flat managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), despite his family repeatedly reporting the mould issue over a three-year period.
In Awaab’s case, prior to his death RBH had acknowledged that there was mould in the property but stated that the family had caused it with their lifestyle and “ritual bathing” habits, despite not seeing the advice of an expert witness at the time. At the inquest, however, expert witnesses made it clear that there was no evidence that the family’s lifestyle was the cause of the excessive and unacceptably high amounts of mould in the home.
Proposed changes to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill have been drafted referred to as ‘Awaab’s Law’, to impose a legal duty on landlords to fix hazards to health within a set deadline. Hopefully, if there is any doubt as to whether disrepair issues are caused by e.g. structural defects or failure to ventilate a property, impartial expert evidence can be relied upon to confirm the true cause and recommend how the issue can be fixed.
The involvement of an expert witness can significantly impact the outcome of a housing disrepair claim and their role must remain that of an impartial professional. When Awaab’s Law is passed, the onus on landlords to properly investigate and fix serious problems within strict time limits will help to hopefully resolve disrepair matters much more quickly, and expert witnesses can assist in this process by presenting evidence that is not biased to either party.
Iftkhar Ahamed is a professional building surveyor with over 13 years of industry experience working with a wide range of domestic and commercial clients, from both the private and public sectors. He is experienced in acting as a housing disrepair expert witness, undertaking assessments on housing condition and disrepair, either on behalf of a claimant, in counterclaims or as a pro-active measure before any legal action, to assess the exact nature of any problems and any remedial or maintenance action necessary.
His reports clearly describe the conditions and detail the action required (whether this be for work, or for further investigations into the cause(s) of defects identified) and, if required, a schedule of work together which a clear outline of the landlord’s obligations.
Rectory Surveyors are experts in building and surveying, friendly and experienced, with a high degree of professionalism for all your surveying requirements. Learn more >
T: 020 7249 4954