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How Do I Make My Rental Property Safe?
As can be expected a significant part of making your rental opportunity more appealing to potential tenants, and upholding your legal obligation as a landlord, is ensuring that your property is safe to rent. Whilst it is essential for new and seasoned landlords to understand what makes a house unfit for human habitation, knowing the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and being able to identify HHSRS hazards within your property can go a long way towards tenant safety and reducing liability.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System
When determining the safety of a rental property, the local authority will use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System or HHSRS as a barometer for the numerous risks that can come with the poor condition of the property. If the owner of the rental property is reported to the local authority by a tenant due to consistent neglect of the rental property, or a disregard for maintenance work after multiple requests, an environmental health officer will carry out an inspection of the rental opportunity. Implemented as an extension of the Housing Act 2004, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System was introduced to the private renting sector in 2006, allowing local authorities to not only more accurately evaluate the safety of a rental property, but hold landlords more accountable for repairs, legally compelling them to conduct the work if needed.
The HHSRS evaluates the condition of rental opportunities through assessing the prominence of specific hazards. These hazards could present an immediate risk to the safety of the occupants, or could be as simple as insufficient lighting. A more common example would be the growth of damp and mould throughout the property, the associated effects of toxins, infections and allergic reactions would be the grounds upon which the significance of the issue is determined. Further to this, if the property is found to be overcrowded there would be an increased risk of domestic hygiene and sanitation issues, alongside compromises in privacy. With this being said there are of course more obvious violations that could arise relating to the gas, electrical and fire safety of a rental property but more on that later.
When the safety of the rental property is being determined by the environmental health officer, they will “judge the likelihood of an occurrence over the next twelve months which could result in harm to a member of the relevant vulnerable group.” It is also important to note that the judgement of the environmental health inspector is reserved to exclusively evaluating the likelihood of an occurrence that would result in the occupant, guest or party otherwise in the rental property to need medical attention. This is because the HHSRS is applied to hazards within the property “which could cause significant harm outcomes.”
Government guidance on the HHSRS further establishes a threshold for the condition of a rental property stating that; “As a minimum, a dwelling should be capable of satisfying the basic and fundamental needs for the everyday life of a household. It should provide shelter, space and facilities for the occupants. And, it should be suitable for the spectrum of household and individuals who could normally be expected to occupy a dwelling of that size and type.”
The regulation also dictates that “the dwelling should not contain any deficiencies and consequential hazards which interfere with the household establishing a home or which might endanger the occupants and any potential occupiers.”
What Are Category 1 and 2 Hazards?
As mentioned the Housing Health and Safety Rating System is a measure put in place to ensure that all prospective tenants are able to rent their next home with full confidence in its safety. To this end the rating system evaluated the potential threat of 29 hazards that can be commonly found across rental properties. Each of these possible hazards is considered in regards to the detrimental effect they could have on an occupant of the property alongside the most appropriate way of addressing the safety concerns to ensure the wellbeing of current and future residents. Upon inspection of the rental property the environmental health officer will determine the risk posed to a tenant, categorising those deemed to pose the most immediate and significant endangerment as a category 1 hazard; with less urgent threats falling under category 2 hazards. Providing that the local authority reveals a category 1 hazard during the inspection of the rental property, they will be legally required to take action against the landlord to ensure that the appropriate work is conducted.
In most cases a landlord will address any safety concerns or damage throughout the rental property once they have been informed by a tenant or it has been highlighter during an inspection. As can be expected, if this is not the case the damage to the property will often lead to more significant issues, exacerbating the problem by making the rental substantially more dangerous and coming at a far greater cost to the landlord. However, if these issues are only brought to light after a housing health and safety rating system assessment the landlord will need to promptly address these issues in order to avoid further, arguably more aggressive enforcement action imposed by the local authority. The landlord will be provided a reasonable amount of time to take action and make the property more habitable, with the tenants also being required to provide the landlord, letting agent and appropriate traders access to the rental property in order to carry out the appropriate remedial work.
What if the Landlord Fails to Act?
If the environmental health officer deems the rental property to be severely detrimental to the occupants, they may be less forgiving with the landlord due to these unacceptable conditions, serving them with a notice. When the local authority is debating which notice to serve to the owner of the rental property, specific considerations will be made. The body will evaluate the context of the observed risk and how this would influence the health and safety of those that reside in the property, alongside if any of the occupants are considered to be vulnerable.
The local authority could impose an improvement notice upon the owner of the rental property. This notice details any necessary repairs that need to be conducted, alongside a time frame for the highlighted work to be completed. If the owner of the rental property neglects to carry out these remedial works the local council is able to conduct the repairs themselves and recover the associated costs from the landlord. Additionally, if the landlord has failed to adhere to the served improvement notice it will be treated as an offence if they have not complied within 21 days of the notice being issued.
The local authority may also deem it appropriate to serve the landlord with a Prohibition Order. Once issued with a prohibition order, certain areas, if not all of the rental property will be deemed too unsafe and will need to be vacated until the appropriate work has been carried out. The order may also go as far as to specific the maximum number of people that could occupy the space at any one time.
If the Housing Health and Safety Rating System assessment revealed a minor risk the local authority may deem it appropriate to issue the owner of the rental property with a Hazard Awareness notice. Whilst this notice does not legally compel a landlord to attend to any highlighted damages in the rental property, it does clearly detail any issues found within the rental, and recommended ways to proceed. With this being said, the Hazard Awareness notice is only typically issued in specific eventualities and more often than not the landlord will have either already dealt with minor risks, or the tenant will have sought action over a far great threat.
If the rental property is found to be in an exceptionally poor condition, the local authority may impose a demolition order on the landlord, as the name suggests, resulting in the demolition of the rental property. Similarly, a clearance area may be declared, however this will not only apply to the landlord’s rental property but all buildings in its immediate area.
The local authority may also deem it appropriate to take emergency remedial action on the property. If the evaluation of the rental brings to light risks that could pose an imminent danger to the occupants, the local council will carry out the necessary remedial work and charge this cost back to the landlord.
Gas and Electrical Safety
It goes without saying that a landlord has a duty of care towards their tenants, providing them with a safe environment to occupy over the duration of the rental period. To this end landlords must ensure that all electrical outlets, appliances and systems are safe for the occupants of the rental property to use. Current regulations dictate that a landlord must have their electrical appliances, outlets and supply inspected every five years by a qualified engineer before the renal opportunity is advertised to aspiring tenants. The landlord will be required to provide the current occupants of the property with the Electrical Inspection Condition Report within 28 days of the inspection being carried out, or the outset of a tenancy. If the inspection reveals an appliance or outlet that could pose a possible danger to the user, it must be removed from the electrical supply immediately and reported to the landlord so a replacement or appropriate repairs can be arranged.
Rental property owners will be further required to have the gas safety of their rental evaluated annually by a certified Gas Safe engineer. Once the heating systems, flues and boiler of the property have been inspected and found to be in working order, the landlord will be issued with a gas safety certificate. Similarly to the Electrical Inspection Condition Report, landlord is required to provide this documentation to the occupants of their rental property within 28 days of the gas safety inspection being carried out, or a new tenancy agreement being signed.
When letting out a rental property landlord are required to ensure their rental property is suitably fire safe. To this end alongside having a smoke alarm installed on each floor, rental property owners must also have a carbon monoxide alarm in any area that contains a solid fuel burning appliance. With this duty in mind, of the landlord is letting out a HMO, they will also be required to provide the tenants with a fire blanket and extinguishers in communal areas and high traffic areas such as the kitchen.
For landlords that choose to offer renters a fully, or partly furnished property these additions to the rental property must abide by the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988. Most commonly applying to sofas, beds, pillows, cushions, curtains, chairs and in some cases garden furniture all of these items must meet a minimum level of resistance to ignition. With this being said the landlord will not be held accountable for any items that the tenants bring into the property themselves, and therefore they will not be required to meet such regulations.
Established in 2018 the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act prevents landlords for letting out a rental property that would be unsafe to occupy. Amending the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the new regulations, whilst largely comparable to the HHSRS, now empower tenants to be able to take legal action against landlords is the rental property is in a state of neglect and disrepair.
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