Blocked toilets are bad news. Not only does a blockage put a very necessary amenity in your home out of action (especially if it is the only one), it also has the potential to cause serious, not to mention unpleasant, consequences.

If a blocked toilet leads to water backing up and overflowing out of the bowl, usually as a result of repeated flushing to try to shift the problem, you are faced with a flood of sewage water all over the bathroom floor. If your bathroom is on the first floor or higher, this can easily seep through to the ceiling below, perhaps requiring the whole thing to be ripped out and replaced.

Responsibility for blocked toilets can be a bone of contention between landlords and tenants in rented homes. No landlord relishes the prospect of being called out to handle such a problem. Their first instinct will often be to tell their tenant - if you blocked it, you fix it!

Law on liability

This is precisely where the potential for confusion stems from - determining who or what caused any blockage. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which sets the legal foundations for shorthold tenancy agreements, states that a landlord is responsible: 

“to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences).”

Given that “sanitary conveniences” is a rather odd way of saying ‘toilets’, this passage seems to make it clear - responsibility for keeping them in working order lies with the landlord. However, the Act also sets out certain exceptions, which include stating that the landlord is not liable:

“to carry out works or repairs for which the lessee is liable by virtue of his duty to use the premises in a tenant-like manner, or would be so liable but for an express covenant on his part.”

Again, digging through the convoluted language, this means two things. First, the Act sets out a principle of ‘if you broke it, you fix it’, or in other words, tenants are responsible for fixing anything that is damaged through their misuse. 

Second, the ‘express covenant’ part refers to the terms and conditions in the tenancy agreement. Landlords can use this to set out their own rules for how repair and maintenance responsibilities will be split between themselves and the tenant - an important part of the small print tenants all too often overlook.

So where does that leave us with the need to get a blocked toilet working again, fast? In practice, no landlord can realistically refuse to repair such a problem on the grounds that the tenant caused it without carrying out an inspection. It could be nothing to do with the tenant, in which case the law is clear - the landlord is obliged to keep sanitation facilities in good working order. 

In the case of a blocked toilet, inspection and repair are the same thing - you have to remove the blockage to see what has caused it.

But while a landlord or their plumber may well end up sorting unblocked pipe on these grounds, if they find the problem was caused by something the tenant put down the toilet (wet wipes are the most common culprit), they are entitled to charge them for repair.

*The information in this blog is designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. Please seek a professional for expert advice as we can not be held responsible for any damages or negative consequences upon following this information.

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