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Subsidence is when part or all of a building begins to sink into the ground, resulting in enormous strain being put on the building and the formation of cracks. This damages the structure and foundations of the building making it dangerous to live in and liable to further problems such as flooding, plumbing and electrical problems and roofing issues.

There are a number of occurrences that can cause a house to subside. The most common triggers are soil shrinkage, trees and plants, and leaking pipes and drains.

Soils that shrink or swell under certain conditions (known as cohesive soils) change volume when either wet or dry. This can result in it pulling away from foundations and weakening the support of the property. Cohesive soils include clay, peat and silt. Non-cohesive soils (such as sand or gravel) may not change volume but usually consist of finer particles which can be washed away in harsh weather conditions, again damaging the structural integrity of the property.

Trees and vegetation can be problematic if planted too closely to the property. Their roots can suck too much moisture from the ground causing any cohesive soils in the vicinity to shrink and compromise the building’structure.

Leaking pipes and drains can also cause subsidence. If water is not properly drained from the house the ground below can become oversaturated and can soften its load bearing capacity. This can result in the downward movement of foundations as the weight of the house becomes too much to contain. Damaged pipes and drains can also result in water washing away particles of non-cohesive soils like sand, which as mentioned can drastically affect the property’s structure.

Subsidence develops over a long period of time and can be difficult to notice. Tenants certainly will not ‘feel’ the house sinking or dropping. The most common sign of subsidence is the formation of cracks appearing on the building. Not all cracks found around a house mean that it is subsiding, many buildings develop cracks by means of the natural shrinking and expanding of the property throughout the year. Cracks pertaining to subsidence are more likely to be;

  • Diagonal
  • Occurring close to doors and windows
  • Visible both internally and externally
  • Wider at the top than the bottom
  • Wider than average – often as thick as 3mm

Other visual signs include;

  • Cracks where an extension meets the house
  • Doors and windows sticking due to warped frames
  • Wallpaper crinkling or peeling towards the ceiling

Subsidence can be avoided by the general upkeep of the property. Ensuring that all drains and gutters are up-to-standard and that large and/or invasive plants are kept at bay should stop the building from subsiding. It is a landlord’s duty to ensure that the property is safe and fit for purpose at all times. This includes dealing with any disrepair that occurs within a reasonable amount of time and to an acceptable standard.

Tenants must inform their landlords of any detected disrepair and should swiftly notify them of signs of subsidence. Following notice the landlord should rectify the problem as soon as possible (usually within 2-3 working days) this can include calling in professionals to deal with the issue or carrying out the work themselves should they be capable and/or qualified to do so.

If your landlord fails to carry out repairs after receiving notice, you may have a potential claim for disrepair against them.

If you think you have a potential claim, you should get in touch with a specialist housing solicitor. Our team of dedicated housing lawyers at LAWTEC Solicitors have the knowledge and expertise to effectively deal with all manners of housing disrepair including cases involving subsidence. They can advise you on what actions can be taken and how much – if any – compensation you may be entitled to.

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