Broken windows are a cause of great contention between landlords and tenants; they also make a good property look run-down and can be a security risk. A landlord recently questioned me, when I said windows were part of the exterior of a property and therefore the landlord’s responsibility to repair, should one be broken. He clearly has had some problematic tenants, who have broken windows following relationship breakdown or to intimidate a new partner they believe had moved into what had been the ‘marital’ home.
This is clearly where the confusion arises. Obviously, in circumstances like those outlined, where the damage has been caused by a known person, the tenant could be held responsible, though whether the tenant would accept that is another question! The tenant also has a duty to repair broken windows when he ‘accidentally’ kicks a football at it or when a friend throws a stone at the window to attract his attention and misjudges either his strength or the fragility of the window.
Whilst the occasional tenant may admit to damage, it may be beyond his means to repair himself. Glass replacement needs to be done by a competent person which most tenants will not be. Therefore, to avoid problems with enforcement services, have the work done and make a payment agreement with the tenant to pay, possibly in instalments.
Whilst I usually am on the landlord’s side and feel tenants should be held liable for the actions of their guests and acquaintances, one broken window I heard of I felt should definitely be held to the landlord’s account. The tenant was in a first floor flat; the flats did not have individual door bells so actually gaining entry to visit was very hit and miss. The visitor threw a stone to the window – which was not of the correct gauge and sadly broke. The landlord was understandably upset, but had there been a door-bell, had the glass been of the correct gauge, it probably would not have broken.
So when is a landlord responsible for broken windows? If windows are broken by an unknown assailant or by an accident which was not of the tenant’s doing, for example, where a stone is thrown-up by a passing car, the tenant cannot be held responsible and whether this is written into the tenancy agreement or not, the duty to repair is the landlord’s. It is an unfair contract term to expect the tenant to undertake repairs that are the landlords’ responsibility.
Of course, tenants may deny that the broken window is down to them. If that is the case, has the incident been reported to the Police? There should be a crime incident number, and without that, the tenant should be told he is liable. When signing the tenancy agreement, the issue of repairs should be raised and the possibility of malicious damage. It should be made clear that any incidents of malicious damage must be reported to the Police, and failure to do so will be taken as an admission of involvement in the damage that has occurred.
Be crystal clear about your responsibilities and those of your tenant, and hopefully, you will not be ‘looking through a glass darkly’ when windows are broken.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon