Is your property safe? How to rent a safe home - Total Landlord Insurance

April 3, 2020
Is your property safe? How to rent a safe home - Total Landlord Insurance

Your number one priority as a landlord is of course to ensure that your rental property is safe and free from health hazards. The safety and security of rental properties is a matter that is taken very seriously in the UK. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, fire safety in particular has become a matter of significant concern for landlords and a stark reminder of the legal responsibilities landlords have when it comes to their tenants’ safety.

Not only are tenants less likely to rent a property if it does not meet safety regulations, but hazards ranging from the absence of a safe exit route to a failure to supply gas and electrical certificates endanger tenants’ lives. Landlords who do not comply with their legal duties to keep their properties safe risk hefty fines and potentially a prison sentence.

How can landlords ensure their properties comply with legal safety requirements?

The Government provides a useful reference document for tenants, How to rent a safe home, which gives a detailed explanation of the legal requirements and main hazards that apply to a rental property.

As a landlord, there are three key areas where you must carry out checks at least annually: gas safety, fire safety and electrical safety. Landlords are also required by law to provide an Energy Performance Certificate.

What are a landlord’s legal duties when it comes to providing a safe rental property?

1. Gas safety certificate – Landlords must make sure gas appliances and flues are safely installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer and that they provide the tenant with a copy of the gas safety certificate at the start of the tenancy and within 28 days of each annual gas safety check, if there is a gas installation. Surprisingly, some tenants will refuse to allow access for landlord gas inspections. Find out what to do if this happens to you in our article, How to gain access for a landlord gas inspection.

The Government’s Health and Safety Executive provides useful guidelines and FAQs on gas safety for landlords and letting agents. You can also find out more in our guide, Landlords, do you know where you stand on gas safety?

2. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms – all properties must have working smoke alarms on every floor used as living accommodation, and a carbon monoxide alarm in rooms using solid fuels. HMOs usually require additional safety measures. The London fire brigade also has some really useful information about fire safety best practice for landlords.

3. Electrical safety – landlords have a legal duty to make sure that electrical installations and electrical equipment supplied is safe at the outset of a tenancy and kept in good working order. Electrical safety inspections and reports will most likey, become a mandatory requirement for all new tenancies in England signed on or after the 1 of July this year (2020).

Under the new regulations landlords will need to have their electrical installations inspected every five years and provide safety certificates to tenants and their local authority for all new tenancies (and for existing tenancies from 1 April 2021). This will bring electrical testing in-line with the gas safety check regime and the electrical regulations already operative in licensed Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), as well as the electrical testing regulations in operation in Scotland.

Check out Total Landlord Insurance’s advice on why you need an electrical safety certificate.

4. Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – landlords are required by law to order an EPC for potential tenants before marketing a property to rent. As a result of new regulations introduced in April 2018, landlords are breaking the law if they grant a new lease on properties that have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating below E, unless the property is registered as an exemption. From 1 April 2020 these regulations also apply to existing tenancies, not just new ones. It is important also to note that landlords who do not have a valid EPC may be unable to serve a Section 21 notice to gain possession at the end of the tenancy.

The Government advises tenants not to rent from landlords who cannot show they have met their legal duties and not to accept a reduced rent in exchange for poor or dangerous conditions.

It is also important to take out a residential landlord insurance policy as standard homeowners’ policies most likely will not cover damage to a rental property.

What are the landlord’s duties when it comes to potential hazards in a rental property?

In addition to their legal duties, there are a range of potential hazards that could harm the health and safety of tenants living in a property.

The universal local authority risk assessment tool – the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) – is used to assess if a rented home has hazards that could put a tenant’s health at risk. There are 29 hazards which have been divided into four groupings: physiological, psychological, protection against infection and protection against accidents.

From 20 March 2019, tenants were empowered under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation Act) 2018 to take direct action against landlords who fail to maintain their property adequately. When it was implemented, the Act applied only to new tenancies. From 20 March 2020, it will apply to all private and social periodic tenancies that existed before 20 March 2019. This legislation applies to all human habitation tenancies lasting up to seven years. You can avoid any potential safety or enforcement problems by ensuring that you are aware of the range of potential hazards in a property that could harm the health and safety of your tenants.

The HHSRS acknowledges that some hazards are more dangerous or common than others. For example, while pollutants such as radiation may be very serious, they are less likely to occur than some of the more common hazards such as damp and mould.

What are the main hazards landlords should be aware of?

1. Physiological requirements (these relate to the condition of the property)

  • Damp and mould growth
  • Excess cold
  • Excess heat
  • Asbestos and manufactured mineral fibre
  • Biocides
  • Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
  • Lead
  • Radiation
  • Uncombusted fuel gas
  • Volatile organic compounds

The HHSRS identifies an extensive list of physiological hazards, some of which, for example radiation or asbestos, have the potential to be serious. If you think your property is affected by any of these hazards it is very important that you seek professional advice. The hazards in this category that landlords are most likely to encounter are damp and mould, excess cold or excess heat.

Damp and mould is detrimental to the health of people living in a property, contributing to respiratory problems, allergies and asthma. It can also affect the immune system, particularly in children. Landlords have a responsibility for making repairs to leaking gutters and wet on the outside of walls which contribute to causing damp and mould. Tenants meanwhile should be advised to look out for damp patches and ensure that the property is well ventilated. Total Landlord Insurance’s Demystifying damp, mould and condensation, contains more advice on this issue.

Excess heat in a property is particularly hazardous to elderly tenants, causing dehydration, stroke and heart attacks. Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the heating supply is kept in good working order.

Excess cold can lead to flu, pneumonia and bronchitis as well as hypothermia and even death. A cold property is one that cannot be maintained at a temperature between 18 degrees Celsius and 21 degrees Celsius at a reasonable cost to the occupier. A low EPC rating would indicate that your property does not retain heat well and may be very cold, particularly during winter.

2. Psychological requirements (these refer to space and security issues in a property)

  • Crowding and space
  • Entry by intruders
  • Lighting
  • Noise

Overcrowding can cause accidents and increase the spread of contagious disease, as well as preventing quick and safe exit in an emergency. It is illegal for landlords to overcrowd a property and councils are being given tough new powers to tackle the small minority of rogue landlords who rent out overcrowded properties – the latest English Housing survey revealed that in the last 20 years, overcrowding has increased in the rented sectors, and remains at the highest rate it has ever been in the social rented sector.

Landlords should make sure there is adequate space for sleeping and that the communal areas such as the kitchen and bathroom facilities are sufficient for the number of occupants.

Security of a rental property is extremely important both for the safety of the tenants and to protect the property itself. Windows and doors must be able to be securely locked with suitable locks and the access to the property should be well-lit. Find out more about How to keep your property secure.

Inadequate lighting can cause accidents as well as headaches and eyestrain. Meanwhile, excessive noise causes sleep disturbance which can lead to stress and anxiety. While landlords are responsible for providing adequate lighting, tenants are usually responsible for replacing light bulbs once the tenancy has started.

3. Protection against infection

  • Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
  • Food safety
  • Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
  • Water supply

Effective hygiene and refuse disposal are vital for preventing the spread of infection and disease as well as asthma and allergies. Landlords are responsible for providing adequate cooking, bathroom and waste disposal facilities and there are specific regulations relating to HMOs that require landlords to provide sufficient means of disposing of rubbish. Landlords should make sure their tenants know about arrangements for refuse collection and disposal of rubbish and food waste.

Pests and vermin can cause vomiting and diarrhoea by contaminating food and preparation surfaces, not to mention a great deal of stress. Landlords should make sure that the structure and exterior of the property is kept in a good state of repair to prevent entry by pests or vermin and provide secure waste disposal facilities.

Safe water supply, provision of sufficient space for personal washing and clothes washing and facilities for the removal of wastewater are all important when it comes to preventing infections and diseases. Landlords are responsible for keeping the water supply in good repair and ensuring that the property has an adequate water supply. It is also very important to ensure that drinking water is supplied from the mains instead of a water storage tank.

4. Protection against accidents

  • Falling on level surfaces etc.
  • Falling on stairs etc.
  • Falling between levels
  • Electrical hazards
  • Fire
  • Flames and hot surfaces etc.
  • Collision and entrapment
  • Explosions
  • Position and operability of amenities etc.
  • Structural collapse and falling elements

Trip and fall hazards can be particularly significant for the elderly and small children, potentially leading to significant injury.

Landlords should protect their tenants against trip and fall hazards as much as they feasibly can, by ensuring that floor surfaces are kept in good repair, providing adequate lighting and a handrail on stairs, and restrictors/safety rails on low-level large windows.

Fire risks should be minimised as a priority by landlords, who must provide working smoke alarms on every floor and regularly test appliances to maintain them in good condition.

Cooking, heating and other electrical appliances should be situated away from flammable materials. It is vital that tenants know how to escape in the event of a fire. Any furniture supplied should have the required labels and fireproofing. For more advice on mitigating against fire risks read Total Landlord's guide How to minimise the risk of fire.

What is the tenant’s role in ensuring that your rental property is safe?

While the responsibility for carrying out repairs and addressing any hazards lies with the landlord, it is sensible to encourage tenants to be vigilant and to take their share of responsibility for ensuring that any issues are dealt with efficiently. Encourage your tenant to inform you of any concerns before they turn into a major problem and to let you know if any repairs need carrying out. Citizens Advice has a very informative website on repairs in rental housing. It explains the tenant’s and the landlord’s responsibilities and covers some common disrepair problems.

Our guide to Landlords’ and tenants’ property repair responsibilities also contains lots of useful tips. If you have any concerns about hazards in your rental property, it is advisable to seek advice from your local council’s environmental team.

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