Is your property safe? How to rent a safe home
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.
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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.
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. Hamilton Fraser’s guide on how to minimise the risk of fire contains more in depth advice on this issue. 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.
Check out Hamilton Fraser’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 will be 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. 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. Find out more in ‘Minimum energy efficiency standards are changing: are you switched on?’
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 will be empowered under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation Act) 2018 to take direct action against landlords who fail to maintain their property adequately.
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.