From March 2019, tenants will have the right to sue their landlord if their rented home is unfit for human habitation. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill was passed by the House of Lords and received Royal Assent shortly before Parliament broke up at the end of December.
We believe this is very welcome news, as we have long supported changes that help to drive up standards in the private rented sector. Tenants should have the right to live in safe homes that are appropriately maintained and as demand for rented homes increases, there should be no driving down of standards.
But as a landlord, just what are your responsibilities when it comes to the safety of your tenants?
You have an obligation to upkeep the structure and exterior of your properties, and you must also ensure the property has a running water, heating and sanitation facilities; and in the event that any of these fails, then you must repair them.
If there is an issue with your rental property which isn’t resolved, then the local council may undertake an inspection, using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). The rating system requires Local Authority Inspectors to assess 29 health and safety areas - these include a wide range of checks, from testing the building for mould and damp, ensuring the building has adequate fire prevention, right through to checking the stairs are level. In the event of an inspection taking place, the local council will assess whether there are any hazards which need to be rectified and has a range of powers to rectify any issues. Non-compliance can lead to fines of up to £30,000.
We’ve looked some of these health and safety areas in more detail:
As a landlord, you must take reasonable steps to prevent water becoming contaminated. The risks to tenants include gastro-intestinal illness caused by drinking contaminated water, and Legionnaires’ disease. Legionella is caused when water in cold or hot water tanks becomes contaminated; and when small droplets of the water are inhaled leading to the risk of a fatal form of pneumonia.
The risk of Legionella is present in all homes however, landlords have a responsibility to risk assess the likelihood that a tenant can catch Legionnaires’ disease and take any necessary preventative action.
This can include fitting a tight-fitting lid to cold water tanks and setting the temperature of hot water cylinders to 60oC.
Tenants also have a responsibility to reduce the risk of Legionella by regularly cleaning the showerhead using disinfectant. This is because showers create and disperse water droplets which can be inhaled. The risks are low, as showers are typically used regularly, however clean showerheads help reduce this risk further.
Landlords should also take steps to prevent water from stagnating, which is a particular risk when properties are empty for an extended period.
Fire and Carbon Monoxide
It is a requirement to ensure that the risks of fire are mitigated against as far as possible. This means that as a landlord you should – for example - ensure the cooker is located away from flammable materials, as well as checking the wiring has been properly installed, maintained and is regularly checked.
Additionally, all rented properties must have a smoke detector fitted on every floor of the property to provide an early warning in the event of a fire.
Meanwhile, rooms with a solid fuel burning appliance – such as a wood burning stove, or a log fire - must have a carbon monoxide monitor and the room must also have adequate air supply. This is because high concentrations of carbon dioxide can cause unconsciousness and have been known to result in death.
House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)
There are additional requirements for HMO’s and the HHSRS contains specific guidance on HMO’s in each of the 29 areas which the inspection covers. It’s also worth reminding you that the definition of an HMO was changed in October 2018 meaning more landlords are impacted.
Whilst this is isn’t an extensive list of your requirements as a landlord, fortunately where a landlord selects our fully managed service, we can help to look after many of the requirements for you. Speak to your local haart branch for more information.