We regularly see press reports where landlords are fined or even have jail sentences imposed when serious accidents have occurred in their rental properties and it can be shown that they have been negligent.
At the time of writing a Newham landlord (Belal Salik Choudhury) was fined over £25,000 and Bristol landlord (Ashiq Mohammed Sadiq) was handed a suspended jail term, 200 hours of community service and a near £8000 fine because there was a death in his property caused by his negligence.
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) have a far more stringent safety regime than is the case with individual household tenancies, but nevertheless landlords of both must be highly vigilant.
When a landlord is paying a professional agent to manage the property, then the agent takes responsibility for ensuring that the property is safe and the necessary regulations are being complied with. But there are some instances where a landlord is ultimately responsible even for the agent’s actions.
However, around 50% of all lettings are managed by their owners, the landlords. If you manage your own tenancies you can save yourself quite a lot of money and it’s perfectly possible for landlords, even when holding down a full time job, to manage their rentals properly. But this calls for a good knowledge of the regulations and some basic administration systems which provide good documentary evidence of due diligence.
Landlords need to be safety conscious as they have a duty of care under common law, as well as under the statutory rules, for the health & safety of their tenants. More often than not all that’s required is paying attention to obvious dangers, doing regular checks and maintenance (mainly between tenancies), complying with regulations such as annual gas checks, and ideally documenting what you have done – basic safety checklists and risk assessments are the ideal way of doing this.
The main danger areas in rentals are:
Gas systems, flues and appliances – these must have annual safety checks carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer. As well as they all gas appliances need regular servicing. It’s a good idea to provide carbon monoxide detectors, though this is not currently a legal requirement. www.hse.gov.uk/gas/landlords
Electrical systems and appliances – though not strictly a legal requirement it’s a good idea to have the system checked by a qualified electrician every 5 to 10 years, and appliances checked when the gas inspection is carried out or at least between tenancies. The electrician will issue, depending on the requirement, an Electrical Installation Certificate, a Periodical Inspection Report (PIR), a Domestic Installation Certificate, or Minor Works Certificate, plus PAT testing certificates on electrical appliances.
Fire Safety – for houses built after June 1992 it is a legal requirement to have hard wired mains operated smoke alarms on each level of the property, usually top and bottom of the stairs. For individual rental properties built before 1992 there is currently no requirement to have a fire alarm system.
However, landlords are advised to supply them anyway, even if this is simply battery operated smoke alarms. If you do supply battery alarms, make sure your letting agreement states that the tenant is responsible for regular testing and replacing of batteries.
Fire Doors and safe means of escape in all rental properties should comply with current building regulations, especially where additional rooms have been added, for example in attics. If you are in any doubt about compliance you should contact your local building inspector at your local authority town hall.
Furniture and Furnishings in Rental Property – items of furniture supplied in rental accommodation must meet certain fire resistance standards. Items such as chairs, sofas, mattresses etc., should all have a fire label attached.
Legionella – a relatively new hazard which has been identified as applying to rental accommodation is the risk of occupants contracting Legionnaire’s Disease. www.landlordzone.co.uk/information/landlord-checks-for-legionella
Cold, Damp and Condensation
This is a common problem in homes. Older properties tend to suffer more than new ones, but rental properties are particularly prone. The problem is often a matter of degree: from a small patch of mould or discoloured wallpaper behind the wardrobe, in the very top corner of a bedroom, to serious amounts of mould growth but mould is a serious problem for both landlord and tenant.
It’s a serious problem because of the health risks associated with mould spores. The mould fungi have been identified as the source of many health problems, including infections, asthma, allergies and sinusitis. Moulds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins that may cause reactions in humans.
Multi-occupied commercial properties and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) where there are common areas come under a more stringent regime governed by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This states that the landlord or property manager is the “responsible person” who has to ensure all fire safety inspections and an annual risk assessment are carried out.
Safety is an issue which is too important to overlook as a landlord or agent. It’s something you need to be aware of and do something about. Having the necessary documentation to show what you have done is very important.
These guidelines apply primarily to England. Other regions and jurisdictions are similar but there may be important differences. This is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject or definitive interpretation of the law. If you are in doubt about your responsibilities, seek expert advice.
By Tom Entwistle