“Whether you let one property or several, it can sometimes feel like a landlord’s responsibilities never end! Organising new tenants, sorting out emergencies such as burst pipes, broken boilers or leaking taps can be time consuming aspects of a landlord’s role – so much so that it can be easy to let important issues such as security fade into the background.
“However, as a landlord or agent you will also be aware that security is a critical issue for landlords – for your own protection as well as your tenants’. It is a landlord’s responsibility to ensure security in a residential letting is fit for purpose. Legally, landlords and agents are responsible for ensuring their property lives up to health and safety regulations, not to mention the fact it is good practice to ensure your property is a secure and safe residence for your tenants.
“Physical security can not only protect your property but it is also likely to increase the likelihood of tenants saying in the home for longer if they feel safe. Whilst, as a landlord, retaining tenants is of course paramount as an unoccupied building isn’t bringing in money. Creating a safe, secure and pleasant environment for your current tenants makes them more likely to stay, saving you time and money on finding new ones.
“It is easy to presume that if your property has locks on its doors and windows and alarms and fences fitted that your property – and therefore your tenants – are safe but unfortunately this is not always the case. At the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) we understand that the legislation around rented property and houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) can be a minefield, especially for new landlords. Over the next few months we will be running a series of columns to help guide you through the security issues which concern landlords. This month we start with an overview of the key issues you should be aware of so you can be sure your property – and your tenants – are adequately protected.”
• Ensure keys can’t be copied
Although a lot of tenancy agreements will stipulate that tenants are not permitted to copy a key without written consent from a landlord or agent, in reality there is often no system in place to actually stop them from doing so.
There will be instances where tenants lose keys and replace them or make spare copies to give to friends or family, which makes tracking keys incredibly difficult.
A sensible way of combating this is to engage a security professional to install a patented key system on your property. Patented keys carry legal protection which prevents copies of the keys being made without proof of ownership. These systems can often be reconfigured if the original key is lost or stolen, rendering lost keys ineffective and eliminating the expense associated with replacing the whole lock.
Using a patented system, as the landlord you have control of exactly who has keys to your property. By installing such a system you are not only protecting your tenants but you are also looking after your investment.
As a landlord it is always important to be able to access your property should a situation arise whereby you need to inspect it or fix a problem so retaining at least one key to your property is a must. It’s important to note that landlords cannot enter a property without permission from a tenant or without providing a set amount of prior notice – make sure you are familiar with what is specified in your contract.
• Seek advice on HMO regulations
If you own and let an older property, the chances are that it may not meet current building regulations for new builds. However you will not be expected to rush out and change everything each time a new regulation comes into effect.
That said, it’s vitally important that you seek professional advice to ensure that you comply with health and safety stipulations and the regulations which apply to houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) – properties shared by three or more tenants who are not part of the same family. For example, you will need to ensure clear and suitable emergency exits are fitted and they are appropriate to the size and number of occupants within a building.
You should also be aware that HMO regulations include the requirement that bedroom and main exit doors must open from the inside without the use of a key (termed keyless egress), to allow for easy escape in the case of a fire. Fire doors with self-closers must also be fitted on all bedrooms.
Depending on the size of your property, you may be required to ensure there are multiple escape routes. On all these issues, it’s worth seeking professional advice. Your Local Authority and your Fire Authority will be able to send someone out to compile a report and schedule of works to be carried out on the property to bring it in line with HMO policies. In addition, professional security advisors such as MLA licensed locksmiths will be able to advise on suitable locks, escape routes and fittings such as door closes.
• Streamline your key systems
However organised you try to be with colour-coding and distinctive key rings for different properties, it’s still possible to find yourself in the ironic position of having compromised your own property’s security through losing or mixing-up the keys. A failsafe solution to this is to have a master-key system installed across all of your properties (this can even include your home and office too). This way you can give tenants keys which will only grant access to the property they are renting, while your key will enable you to access all the properties you own, making those last-minute panics hunting for the keys to a particular property a thing of the past!
• Work with the experts
It may be tempting to take a reactive approach to security and only address it in the unfortunate situation of keys being lost or a property broken into. It’s worth bearing in mind that you could save yourself hassle and expense by taking a more proactive approach and working with a trained professional to carry out regular security reviews. The MLA have just launched a user-friendly resource through their website www.locksmiths.co.uk, where you can search by postcode, region or area of specialism to find approved, vetted and inspected locksmiths local to your property. As there is currently no Government-approved licensing of locksmiths, it really does make sense to work with professionals approved by an organisation such as the MLA. That way you protect yourself from being scammed by rogue operations, which are sadly on the increase, and also ensure that your tenants are protected by security which is appropriate and correctly fitted.
Article by Justin Freeman, technical manager at the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA)