One of my favourite roles here as Branch Manager, is taking new landlords under my wing. When I meet them at their properties for the very first time I try to spend at least an hour with them to go over all the main aspects that a new landlord has to know for their tenancy to run smoothly. My number one subject has to be ‘compliancy’ and landlords are often amazed by the pitfalls they leave themselves open to, simply through their own lack of knowledge.
As would be expected, a property has to be ‘safe’ in order for a tenant to move in. Poor decor and a dated kitchen may well delay a property being let but it won’t land you in court like a dangerous property will. If a landlord only has a limited budget then the safety aspects must be addressed before the decorative issues are even considered. A dated property will let, albeit at a lower rental figure than it’s neighbours which are in a more modern state but at least if the compliancy has been addressed, then it’s occupants will be harm free and the landlord can have a clear conscience and sleep easy.
When advising a landlord of the various regulations relating to renting, there are two confusing grey areas within the Housing Act laws, which we encounter. Currently there are no clear demands to comply with these two areas within ‘The Act’. However when looking deeper into the many ‘sub laws’ which sprout off The Act, the need to comply does become far more apparent. These two grey areas are the need for tenanted properties to have regular “Electrical Testing” done and to be fitted with “Mains Operated Smoke Detectors”. The below information enables me to convince landlords that they’d not only be more legally protected if they fit them, they’d have a clear conscience that their tenants are safe and they’d be downright foolish to ignore my advice.
Landlords must remember that they are the supplier therefore are always responsible for ensuring their tenants safety. It cannot be assumed that the ‘innocent’ tenant has any knowledge on how to keep safe themselves. With regards to Health and Safety, the courts will always rule in the tenants’ favour, landing harsh penalties on the landlord who refuses to comply.
One of the most common debates that I have with landlords is their denial or lack of knowledge for the need for Mains Operated Smoke Detectors. When a landlord says to me that “surely the tenant has a duty of care to look after themselves”, I’d have to reply that no matter which angle you view it from, legally the onus lies with the landlord as ‘the supplier’.
Simply put, the requirement is similar to owning a shop or a restaurant, where the owners must ensure that the premises are safe for their visitors. Amongst many aspects concerning safety, this will include supplying an adequate fire alarm system. By putting battery operated smoke alarms in each room is allowing for error if the tenants remove the batteries from the alarms. However, if the alarms are hard wired into the mains then removing the battery will not prevent the alarms from working. Many tenants admit to removing the batteries when the alarm begins to bleep to say its batteries are running low. Because the battery has been removed, the alarm no longer bleeps and the tenant isn’t reminded to replace the battery. Far too often when conducting valuations, I see old batteries placed on the hallway or landing window sills gathering dust after being removed but not replaced.
Any house built after June 1992 automatically has a mains operated smoke alarm with battery back-up installed on each floor, as part of the current building regulations. Regarding rented properties of any age, all three or more storey houses must have their ceiling mounted alarms interlinked (hardwired or radio interlinked) so that all floors alarms sound simultaneously in the event of a fire, giving residents occupying the upper floors, a better chance of escape. Currently a medium sized two storey house (with no extensions) can be fitted with two ceiling mounted independent mains operated alarms (not interlinked at this stage, however this may well change in the future, once the new regulations are in use and alarms may well then require to be linked) and can be hard wired in to the existing lighting circuits, thus being a fairly inexpensive task. Flats and bungalows of small to moderate size just need one ceiling mounted alarm, centrally positioned for maximum effect. Your chosen electrical engineer will decide where best to install these alarms. Some properties fall out of these categories, for example, Victorian villa residences’ ground floors can tend to be of substantial length and may well require an additional ‘heat alarm’ to be installed in the kitchen at the rear of the building, again the electrician can decipher this circumstance.
Ceiling mounted alarms operate far more effectively when placed in a horizontal position, so landlords should avoid vertically and diagonally positioned (ie, on staircases) appliances as these have a significantly reduced effectiveness.
I always revert back to the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to establish the need for the above and make the landlords fully aware that I will have no hesitation in refusing their business if they refuse to comply. Simply put, they have to do everything within reason to ensure that the property is “safe and not to cause injury or death to humans or pets” as the law states. If asked to, they must be able to prove “due diligence” in a court of law, should a fire ever occur within their property and the tenant becomes injured as a direct result.
Should a tenant be killed or injured at the result of a fire where inadequate fire alarm systems can be proven, then harsh fines, in some cases in excess of £100k in addition to prison sentences can be given to the ‘responsible owner’. In turn, the landlord could take their agent to court if they feel they’ve been ill advised by the agent on the subject, resulting in the death/injury which could have been avoided, had they received the correct advice.
There have been several cases on a national level where death or injury have been suffered by tenants of poorly protected properties, these horrendous, eye opening cases can easily be viewed on the internet.
Once fitted, most alarms are guaranteed for 10 years, giving the agent, landlord and the tenant peace of mind and security. The inventory clerk will test that the alarms work before the tenancy commences, then the tenancy agreement should demand that the tenant performs regular checks on the alarms throughout the tenancy to ensure their correct functioning.
Additional items such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets can also be provided within the property. I see it as being a sign of a caring landlord but at the same time a tenant could tackle a small fire (ie, chip pan) rather than allowing more damage to be done to the property than if left untackled.
We at Lawsons pride ourselves on the level of advice we supply to landlords and will not accept corners being cut. When it comes to compliance and tenants’ safety, ignorance is never accepted as being an excuse. If your chosen agent didn’t spent an hour with you during your property appraisal meeting, then it stands a very good chance that important legal advice may not have been given to you. Unfortunately, too much focus is put onto ‘presentation’ and not enough information is passed on relating to tenants’ safety. More worryingly, many letting agents themselves aren’t even aware of these laws, yet everyday there they are, out meeting landlords, giving their scanty advice.
Good quality Landlord Insurances offer legal protection against the above mentioned claims but this is obviously not a substitute for being compliant in the first place. They may well stipulate that compliance is met before agreeing to pay out for a claim. Good landlord buildings insurance should cover the costs of repairing all of the damage (landlords’ and tenants’), cover all lost rent whilst the property is under repair and also cover the tenant’s additional costs of their hotel stay etc for the whole duration.
Next time I’ll explain Lawsons take on the other ‘nasty grey area’, the need for Electrical Testing within a rented property and why we refuse to take on properties whose landlords refuse to have them done.