Tenant's liability for repairs

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A well-drafted Lease, particularly if it is for a long period of time, will contain detailed covenants (see leasehold covenant) allocating responsibilities for repair and maintenance of the property between the Landlord and the Tenant. If the agreement does not contain such covenants -- and this is common in informal leases -- then the question often arises who shall be responsible for repair and maintenance. There is no straightfoward answer to this question, except where there are specific statutory provisions. Where there are not, then we have to turn to the case law, and the findings are not always easy to reconcile with one another.

If the lease is for less than seven years, then s11-14 of the landlord and tenant act (1985) make the landlord responsible for maintaining the external structure and utilities (walls, gas supply, etc) of the property. The question then will be limited to the tenants responsibilities to maintain the interior of the building. Where the lease is for longer than this, the tenant might have to accept responsibility for the exterior of the building as well.

We also have to distinguish between different metas of 'Waste' (alteration). In the case law on this subject, the term 'voluntary waste' refers to deliberate acts of the tenant (for example, knocking down a wall). 'Permissive waste' means deterioration of the property caused by the tenant's ommission to maintain (for example, allowing a wall to fall down through disrepair).

Where a tenancy is renewable more often than annually (e.g., weekly or monthly), the general rule is that the tenant is liable for voluntary waste. He is also liable for permissive waste if he has behaved in an un-tenantlike manner (for example, allowing spilled water to pool on the floor and cause rot).

Where a tenancy is renewable annually, the tenant has the same obligations as a tenant under a shorter period, but with the addition that he will be liable for permissive waste if he does not keep the premises windtight and watertight. However, this obligation does not extend to making good damage to the structure caused by 'fair wear and tear'.

If the tenancy is for a fixed term of years, it is most likely that the parties will explicitly have covenanted to allocate responsibilities for maintenance. Consequently, there are few cases in which the courts have been asked to render an opinion on the matter. The most recent cases seem to suggest that a tenant of a fixed term will be liable both for voluntary and permissive waste.

Land and Property Law