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Who is responsible for blocked drains? Landlord or tenant?

Property | tenant responsibilities landlord responsibilities

Deciding where a landlord’s responsibilities end and the tenant’s begin can sometimes strain the relationship between the two. A tenancy agreement generally outlines what’s expected of each party. However, sometimes issues arise that blur the lines of responsibility. For instance, when the drains back up, who carries the can?

A good relationship down the drain

Imagine it: a rented property with backed-up drains. Sinks full of stagnant water and a foul reek in the air. The landlord is convinced the tenant poured cooking fat down the sink, which solidified. The tenant is sure there’s a blockage in the pipe further down the street. Each believes the other one is responsible for getting it fixed. Meanwhile, the dishes are piling up.

These are the types of situation that most landlords and tenants navigate at some stage. In most cases, issues are dealt with quickly and in a friendly manner. Sometimes, however, tempers get frayed and expectations clash. Repairing a damaged relationship between landlord and tenant can sometimes be much more difficult that fixing the problem that caused it.

Back to that blocked drain. Depending which side of the argument you’re on, the answer might seem quite obvious. The landlord could argue the drain was blocked by whatever it was the tenant put down it, therefore, the responsibility of the tenant to have it fixed. The tenant would argue that the drain is part of the structure of the house and clearly the landlord’s problem.

Frustrated woman having a problem with the kitchen sink

A matter of perspective

The answer is: they’re both right, to a point. Most tenancy agreements clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant. There is generally a section that states clearly what the landlord must do and what the tenant must do.

It will probably list the landlord’s responsibilities as including something along the lines of:

Maintaining the structure and exterior of the property, which includes gutters, drains and external pipes, external walls, roof and foundations.

They will also be responsible for maintaining the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation - including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary ware.

Tenant signing lease agreement

Give and take

So, the landlord is responsible for making sure their tenant has access to running water and proper sanitation. Case closed? It’s the landlord.

Well, no, not entirely. On they other hand, landlords aren’t expected to repair things the tenant broke through misuse or carelessness.

What makes an odd job odd?

The law says tenants must mind the property and do odd jobs for which the landlord is not responsible. Which leaves us defining ‘odd jobs’.

Is a blocked sink an odd job? Considering there are fairly simple fixes for jobs like this, it’s reasonable to assume it is. However, something like a cracked pipe in the run-off would fall to the responsibility of the landlord. A handy rule of thumb is the catchphrase of a certain cartoon builder called Robert. ‘Can you fix it?’ If the answer is ‘yes, fairly simply’ then you probably should. If not, call or write to the landlord and explain the issue.

Remember, a landlord may be within their rights to ask a tenant to contribute towards, or pay in full, the cost of repairs if the tenant was found to be responsible for the damage in the first place.

When dealing officially with your landlord, it’s always a good idea to write and keep a copy of the letter for your records. It also makes sense to take a couple of photographs of the issue, if you can.

Although very useful in defining expectations and responsibilities, tenancy agreements aren’t strictly necessary. Many tenants happily rent without ever signing one. The important thing to remember is the laws that relate to landlords and tenants stand above any agreement you may or may not have signed. Ultimately, if it came down to a court appearance, the judge would use the law to decide whose responsibility it ultimately was.

Did you know, as a tenant, it’s your responsibility to inform your landlord if there are any leaks that may lead to further structural damage, or create a risk of flooding for your or nearby properties.

Man digging up burst pipe

So who looks after what?

Landlords are responsible for the structure and exterior of the premises: this includes repairs to the roof, walls, doors and windows, chimneys and gutters.

Damp and mould can be a serious health hazard. The cause of damp determines who’s responsible for fixing it.

Gas and electricity, Pipes and drains: most of the time, unless stated in the agreement, the landlord is responsible for maintaining water, gas and electricity. This includes heating systems, showers, flues, drains, pipes, toilets, ventilation and electricity.

The tenant is responsible for any appliances they own.

The tenant should usually look after minor repairs to the décor.

Tenants are also typically responsible for: Taking care of the premises; fixing any damage caused by the inhabitants; keeping it reasonably neat and tidy; informing the landlord in advance before making any changes to the place.

It pays to be nice

It can be difficult to figure out who is responsible for what in a rented home. Knowing your rights and communicating in a clear and reasonable way is the best way to maintain a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship between landlord and tenant.

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