Who is responsible for maintaining drains and sewers in a rental property?

First some definitions..

A drain is a pipe that carries waste water away from a building.

A lateral drain is the part of a drain which lies outside the property boundary, and in some cases, can be located under someone else’s land or a road. Your sewerage company is responsible for maintaining lateral drains.

A sewer is a pipe that carries waste water from more than one property. Most sewers are publicly owned and are maintained by your sewerage company.

Private Drains

Under S11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 the landlord must keep in repair the structure and exteriors of the dwelling, including drains gutters and external pipes. ‘Keep in repair’ means that the landlord must keep up the standard of repair from the start of the tenancy. This provision is implied into all tenancies entered into after 24 October 1961 and imposes an obligation on landlords to effect basic repairs, which is absolute. Section 11 cannot be excluded from any residential tenancy and a landlord cannot negotiate with the tenant that section 11 will not apply to the tenancy.

Defects in Design or Construction

Defects in design or construction will not be actionable under s11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, as the property will not be in disrepair.

Tenant’s Repairing Obligations

Warren vs Keen was an important case in defining tenants repairing obligations. In this judgement, Lord Denning LJ stated:

What does ‘to use the premises in a tenant-like manner’ mean? The tenant must take proper care of the place. He must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler. He must clean the chimneys, when necessary and also the windows. He must mend the electric light when it fuses. He must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his waste. In short, he must do those little jobs about the place, which a reasonable tenant would do. In addition, he must, of course, not damage the house wilfully or negligently; and he must see that his family and guests do not damage it; and if they do, he must repair it. But apart from such things, if the house falls out of repair owing to fair wear and tear, lapse of time or for any reason not caused by him, then he will not be liable to repair it.

It is widely held that a pipe which is blocked is out of repair, although the tenant would normally be responsible for keeping the drains, pipes, gutters and channels in or about the property clear and not to cause blockage to any sink, basin, toilet or waste pipe which serves such fixtures. Additionally the tenant is normally responsible for unblocking the drains from all buildings that form part of your property (known as a private drain) that become blocked by the tenant’s waste.

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