Private landlords have long been expected to keep their properties to a reasonable standard, but up until fairly recently what this meant in practice was open to some degree of interpretation.
Now, however, modern health-and-safety rules give much clearer guidance on what is required of residential landlords and property investors are expected not only to adhere to these rules, but to be able to prove that they have done so.
With that in mind, here is a brief guide to the health-and-safety obligations of a residential landlord.
Residential landlords should be aware that fire-safety rules can and do vary not just according to location but also according to building type, so they should always check which specific rules apply to any given property and follow them exactly.
That said, here are some general rules which are likely to apply in all situations.
There must be a smoke alarm on every floor and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room where there is an appliance which burns solid fuel, such as an aga or a wood stove.
There must be clear escape routes from each habitable room.
Any furniture or furnishings supplied by the landlord must meet appropriate fire-safety standards.
For houses in multiple occupation, landlords must also ensure that there are sufficient fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
Any appliances supplied by the landlord must be (at least) CE approved. Landlords should note that any appliance means exactly that, not just large appliances. For example, if a landlord supplies any form of plug-in heating, even a small fan heater, then this must comply with the relevant standards.
All electrical installations such as sockets and light-fittings must be installed and maintained to a safe standard.
For houses in multiple occupation, the electrics must be inspected and tested (at least) once every five years.
The landlord must ensure that there are annual gas-safety checks undertaken by a Gas-Safe registered engineer (Gas Safe is the successor to CORGI). The landlord must provide tenants with a copy of the gas-safety check before they move in and/or within 28 days of the check taking place.
Landlords must ensure that all gas work, pipes, chimneys and flues are installed and maintained in a safe condition. Landlords must also ensure the safe installation and maintenance of any gas appliances they provide.
The tenant’s own appliances are their own responsibility but the landlord is still responsible for the gas infrastructure, e.g. piping.
When it comes to the law in general and health-and-safety law in particular, there are two key points which residential landlords are strongly advised to keep in mind at all times.
The first is that laws can and do not only vary according to circumstance, but also change according to place and time.
The second is that the law is often very much about being able to prove that you have done what you were supposed to do, so essentially residential landlords should make it a policy to keep any and all paperwork relating to their property and especially to any work carried out in it (which should only ever be done by qualified, registered and insured professionals). They can, of course, elect to keep this documentation in digital form.
Peter Watson is a senior health and safety consultant at Watson & Watson Health and Safety.