There are some very compelling reasons why landlords (and agents) should make absolutely sure that their properties are entirely safe for tenants. They should also be aware of all the safety issues and the legal requirements surrounding the letting of property.
Manage your property well and the risks to you as landlord or agent can be minimal, but manage the property badly and your risks are high.
Safety aspects come under criminal law – if a criminal offence is committed landlords can face a term in jail, a heavy fine, or both. In addition, there could be a liability to the tenant for civil damages – these can be substantial.
Civil liability in safety matters is becoming an increasingly important issue for landlords. Now that lawyers actively promote their services and work on a no-win no-fee basis there is an increasing number of accident claims. Damages can be substantial so you must carry appropriate and adequate insurance.
The Consumer Protection Act (1987) and The General Product Safety Regulations 1994 (European Communities Act 1972) require:
- products supplied to consumers in the course of business must be safe.
- consumers must be supplied with information and warnings about the use of products supplied.
- suppliers must make themselves aware of the risks associated with the use of products supplied.
The main areas you need to be concerned about are:
- Gas safety and annual Gas Safety checks.
- Fire safety – escape routes, alarms, fire fighting equipment and fire doors (when supplied or fitted).
- Electrical safety – wiring and appliances.
- Operating instructions and user warnings provided for all appliances and equipment.
- Furniture and furnishings – meet the regulations.
- General internal and external building safety for tenants, visitors and the general public.
- Landlord and Public Liability insurance.
- Houses in Multiple Occupation – special legal regulations apply – see (HiMO).
In addition to the statutory annual Gas Checks it is advisable to carry out an annual inspection (Risk Assessment) of the entire premises and surrounding grounds for obvious safety hazards:
- Fittings and appliances for loose or dangerous parts.
- Wiring/plug sockets, and fuses for correct size.
- Doors, entrances and free exit escape routes.
- Upper floor windows for safety bars/catches.
- Fire doors (when fitted) their seals & closers.
- Smoke alarms & fire equipment (if provided).
- Stairs and stairways, handrails and carpets for the possibility of causing trips and falls.
- Roofs, chimneys, gutters and down spouts for possibility of falling objects.
- Paths, driveways, stairways and fire escape surfaces for possibility of trips and falls.
- Gardens, walls, gates and fences, outhouses, garages, and any tools provided, for general safety.
Having a Safety Checklist for an annual inspection (Risk Assessment) would be very useful evidence of your due diligence in these matters in the event of an accident.
None of the safety regulations in force give landlords or agents a right to enter premises without the tenant’s permission. It is always advisable to give tenants at least 48 hours notice of a requirement to enter for maintenance or inspections – see harassment.
It is advisable to have the electrical wiring system professionally inspected every 5 years and brought up to the current Electrical Regulations standard.
Think carefully about the equipment and furnishings you are providing with the property. There are now no real advantages to letting residential property fully furnished. Many properties will let perfectly well unfurnished or partly furnished – indeed tenants with their own furniture will often prefer it.
It is a criminal offence to supply any item with a property which is unsafe. Some items such as oil heaters, portable LPG heaters, DIY tools, glass furniture and garden tools are particularly hazardous – you would be well advised not to supply any of these.
Don’t forget to check the property before a new letting to ensure that no items have been left by previous tenants, which could be defective. You should pick this up when you do the Inventory.
By keeping the items you provide to a minimum, especially upholstered furnishings and electrical appliances, you are reducing your risk considerably.
Regulations regarding safety in tenanted properties are enforced locally by the local authority: Trading Standards, the Health & Safety Executive, Environment Health Officers, and local Fire Officers.
In the event of a tenant complaint or an incident the defence of “due diligence” may be accepted where it can be shown that the landlord or agent took all reasonable steps to avoid committing an offence – you will need documentary evidence of this.
A private owner letting a single dwelling (not in the course of business) may have a defence, whereas an agent acting on his behalf will not.
It is always advisable to assume that as a private owner you are letting in the course of business. If you let to a second tenant you may well be deemed to be operating a business.
Generally speaking an agent would be deemed to be a professional acting in the course of her business and should, therefore, know better.
However, an agent merely introducing a tenant and not becoming involved in the inventory or management of the tenancy my well be exempt from liability.