As a landlord, maintaining your rental property and keeping it free from hazards will be one of your main priorities. Not only do you have a duty of care to ensure the safety of your tenants, but you'll also be keen to protect the long-term condition of your property investment.
The majority of rental properties are well maintained and free from safety hazards. However, there are some which aren't and even the best maintained properties sometimes have maintenance issues or safety hazards to contend with.
These issues could relate to anything from damp and mould to pest infestation or roof damage. Whenever a problem like this occurs, it's important that as the landlord you try to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.
In the Private Rental Sector (PRS), hazards are measured by the Housing Health & Safety Rating Assessment (HHSRS). The HHSRS was introduced in 2006 as part of the Housing Act 2004. It is intended to provide local authorities with the means to check health and safety in residential properties, recovering costs from landlords for repair works or ordering them to carry out improvements.
The HHSRS lists 29 hazards, including things like damp, overcrowding and fire risks. Issues are ranked in categories, with a 'category 1' hazard being the most dangerous. Last autumn, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced an ongoing review of the HHSRS. It is due to be considering whether the system needs updating following the huge growth of the PRS since its inception and whether to introduce minimum standards for common health and safety problems in rental accommodation. However, at the time of writing, there have been no updates on the progress of the review.
What are the most common hazards in rental properties?
Last year, VeriSmart – a property inventory and compliance specialist – conducted over 60,000 rental property reports and inspections. Of these, 4,521 resulted in HHSRS assessments with at least one issue being identified (some properties had more than three). From this data, VeriSmart has worked out some of the most common hazards found in rental properties.
The most common issue related to smoke detectors, with 40% of all HHSRS assessments flagging either a missing or non-functional smoke detector. The next most common hazard related to stairs, with 26% of assessments identifying a danger of falling on stairs between or on separate storeys of a property.
Electrical hazards were the third most common, accounting for 11% of issues found during health and safety assessments.
Other common issues included damp and mould (found in 4% of assessments), water hazards in uncovered ponds or swimming pools (identified in 2% of assessments) and the threat of structural collapse or falling elements (uncovered in 2% of property assessments). Other hazards that were found in a minority of properties included: fire hazards, domestic hygiene and excess cold.
The research also revealed the most common category 1 and category 2 hazards being ignored or neglected:
Category 1 hazards:
- Smoke alarms missing or not working
- Carbon monoxide detectors missing or not working
- Falls on stairs between and on the same storeys
Category 2 hazards:
- Structural collapse and falling elements
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
What should you do if these hazards arise?
If any of these hazards are present in your rental property, you should aim to get them rectified as soon as possible.
Your tenants may report the issues to you or you may uncover them when carrying out a regular property inspection. If it has got to the point where council offers have uncovered issues during an HHSRS assessment, you will be under pressure to fix the problems quickly or face the threat of further enforcement action.
Some hazards you may be able to fix yourself, although for anything significant you should hire the services of a reputable tradesperson. You can also instruct your letting agency to look after the maintenance process – it's likely they'll have a list of trusted traders and contractors that they can contact to carry out the necessary works.
Once a maintenance problem or safety hazard has been identified and you've acknowledged its existence, you'll be given a reasonable time to fix it. Moreover, the tenant will be required to give you access to the property so you – or a hired tradesperson – can carry out the works.
Of course, it's within your interest to fix problems as quickly as possible. Maintenance issues and hazards which are ignored could get worse over time. This could put your tenants' safety at heightened risk and cost you more to repair the issue.
What's more, the longer you leave a hazard, the more likely a local authority could get involved and you could potentially be issued with a fine or enforcement order.
Sorting problems quickly is also beneficial to protecting the condition of your property and keeping your tenants happy, subsequently improving the chances of them treating the property as their own and renting for longer.
To make sure any maintenance problems and hazards are not ignored, it's important that you establish a good line of communication with tenants so they can report issues as and when they occur.
Moreover, it's important that they know their responsibilities when it comes to general property upkeep and their obligations to report necessary repairs.
The importance of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act
Earlier last year, new legislation named the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 – was introduced, meaning it’s now even more important for landlords to maintain the condition of their rental properties.
The Act introduced changes to the existing Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, requiring landlords to ensure that all rental accommodation (including common parts of buildings) is suitable for human habitation at the beginning and throughout a tenancy.
The hazards that could see a property deemed as unfit for human habitation are much the same as those outlined in the HHSRS – overcrowding, damp, structural issues, drainage problems and pest infestation.
The Act also covers homes which have unsafe layouts or have been neglected, as well as those which don't provide enough natural light or those with minimal space to prepare or cook food.
Homes cannot be deemed unfit for human habitation if the tenant has caused the problem or if it was caused by an 'act of God' such as a storm or flooding.
One of the key aspects of the new Act is that it provides tenants with powers to sue their landlord for breach of contract if their property is not up to scratch.
If the court rules in the tenant's favour, you could be ordered to pay compensation and carry out the necessary improvement works. On top of this, you could still also be pursued by your local authority and hit with a separate fine.
As we can see, the Government is keen to make sure that all rental properties are let to a minimum standard. Therefore, as a landlord, it's more important than ever to make sure your property is fit for purpose and that you deal with any maintenance issues or safety hazards as soon as they arise.