The idea for mandatory electrical checks in rental properties was first announced by James Brokenshire in summer 2018. Following that announcement, there was a long period of silence (despite an update in January 2019) as Brexit took hold, alongside other more high-profile rental sector matters such as the Tenant Fees Act and the plans to scrap Section 21. However, on January 14 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) finally confirmed that mandatory checks in rental properties would be introduced later this year.
This update comes largely as a result of the Conservatives' December election victory, in which they won an 80-seat majority which has provided them with a smoother and quicker route to introducing legislation. The new rules are designed to improve the safety of rental properties for tenants and crack down further on rogue landlords who provide sub-standard and hazardous accommodation. Many responsible landlords already carry out similar checks, but the new rules may mean they need to do more checks or carry them out in a slightly different way. That's why it's important to know what you need to do and when to give yourself plenty of time to prepare accordingly so you can be compliant from the outset.
What is required of landlords?
The top-line obligation for landlords will be to organise for a professional to carry out an inspection and test of all electrical installations and then ensure they are subsequently inspected and tested every five years. For new tenancies, the tests will need to be carried out from July 1 2020, while for existing tenancies, they will need to be carried out from April 1 2021 and then again every five years.
The regulations are currently in draft form and have been laid before Parliament - they require approval from the House of Lords and the House of Commons before officially becoming law, but this is expected to be a formality over the coming weeks.
Key points to consider:
- The regulations will apply to all private rental sector (PRS) properties except lodger agreements where the renter shares accommodation with the landlord.
- The new rules will replace existing House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) requirements for electrical installations.
- Installations will need to be tested more often than every five years if the latest safety report recommends it.
- If faults are identified, landlords must investigate further or order repairs within 28 days of the inspection.
- Confirmation of repairs or further investigation must be supplied to tenants within 28 days of the work being undertaken.
One of the most stringent processes landlords will need to follow relates to what they are required to do after the tests have been completed by a professional. They will need to make sure they receive a written report from the professional carrying out the inspection. The report should include the results of the tests and the date for the next inspection. A copy of the report will need to be issued to all tenants living in the property within 28 days of the inspection and if a local authority ever requests a copy of the report, landlords will be required to provide it within seven days.
When it's time for the next inspection, you'll also be required to provide the professional with a copy of the most recent report. Meanwhile, if you are organising a new tenancy, you will need to provide a copy of the most recent report to renters before they move in. And if any prospective tenants request to view the most recent report, you must provide it to them within 28 days of their request.
The draft regulations, which you can view in full here, will be enforced by local housing authorities - which will be able to order remedial action if required. If it is proven that a landlord has breached the regulations, their local authority could issue them with a penalty fine of up to £30,000.
How did the lettings industry react?
David Cox, ARLA Propertymark chief executive, said: "We are supportive of this concept and believe it will create a level playing field for all agents and landlords as well as ensuring improved safety standards for tenants."
"Mandating inspecting and testing of every fixed electrical installation should have a limited impact on good professional landlords and agents in the market, many of whom already voluntarily undertake these inspections."
"We did raise concerns about the number of engineers available to undertake these reports by the April 2021 deadline but have received assurances from MHCLG about capacity in the supply chain."
How can landlords prepare?
Although these are currently draft regulations, they are expected to be formalised very soon in time for the July start date. There is not long until landlords organising new tenancies will have to comply with these regulations, while those managing existing tenancies have a little longer to prepare.
The first thing to do is set some time aside to read the regulations and ensure you fully understand everything that is going to be required of you. If you have any queries, it’s advisable to speak to your letting agent, a legal expert or a trade body such as ARLA Propertymark, the National Landlords Association or the Residential Landlords Association.
Once you’re happy with the expectations of the requirements, you will need to get your procedures in place. You will need to think about who you will employ to carry out the checks and having a back-up list of contractors in place if your chosen supplier is unavailable to carry out inspections at any point.
As detailed above, another important part of the regulations is the reporting to tenants, so you will need to think about how you can implement procedures to make sure this part of the checking process is seamless and efficient.
At this stage, it’s also worth compiling an inventory of all your electrical installations and appliances including all the information you currently have on them. This should help to implement the checks quickly and without additional hassle.
For many landlords, these new rules will not represent a huge change from what they currently do when it comes to electrical checks. However, it’s important to make sure you’re ready to be compliant with all the steps set out in the regulations from the proposed introduction date later this year.