As a landlord, you have a general legal responsibility for ensuring that your accommodation is safe and free from risks to the health of your tenants – and this applies whether you are letting a self-contained dwelling or just a room in your own house.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for the regulation and enforcement of the relevant legislation and makes clear in its guidance that there are specific regulations regarding certain safety aspects (such as gas supplies and appliances).
Implications for your landlord insurance
Because the law sets out so clearly many of the safety measures you need to take to keep your tenants safe from harm, you need to keep them securely in mind when it comes to the landlord insurance you use to protect your property and the buy to let business you are running.
If you have blatant disregard for the law, or treat it recklessly, for example, even the buy to let insurance protection you have may be invalidated or you may be held responsible for contributory negligence.
The law and safety measures
It is sensible, therefore, to familiarise yourself with just what the law requires with respect to the following aspects of your let property:
- all gas appliances, flues and pipework must be repaired and maintained to a safe standard, by an engineer registered with Gas Safe;
- a similarly registered engineer also needs to inspect the gas appliances and gas installation in general every year and sign a certificate to the effect that the inspection has been done;
- if you employ an unregistered gas fitter to install a gas appliance and the Gas Safe registered engineer signs off the work as safe during the annual inspection, both the unregistered and the registered engineer may face prosecution;
- you must arrange for an inspection annually and keep the gas safety certificate for a minimum of two years, making a copy available to tenants who are already in occupation within 28 days and giving a copy to any new tenants when they take up residence;
- the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA) notes that with effect from the 1st of October 2015, landlords have been required to install a fire alarm on each floor of their let property and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in any room with solid fuel heating or appliances – failure to comply may lead to a fine of up to £5,000;
- maintaining a safe electrical installation and appliances in your let property is an example of somewhat less formal or specific regulation, buy you have a general duty under the law to ensure that both the wiring and any appliances you provide are safe for use;
- no formal inspection regime is laid down, but for your own protection – and for tenants’ peace of mind – it clearly makes sense to have the supply and appliances checked periodically by a qualified electrician;
- although no annual inspection is required, electrical supplies, cables and switches all need to be safe and so too do all appliances you supply – such as cookers, electric kettles and so on;
- you have a duty to follow and comply with all fire safety regulations and advice – whether these are issued nationally or at a local level;
- any furnishings and furniture which you provide for tenants’ use must be certified as fire safe;
- you must ensure that tenants at all times have access to an uncluttered and unobstructed escape route; and
- if you are the landlord of a large house in multiple occupation (HMO) – that is, one which extends over three storeys or more – you must provide multiple fire alarms and extinguishers;
- in addition to these statutory requirements, you also have a duty of care under common law to ensure that every measure is taken by you to ensure that tenants, their visitors or members of the public come to no physical harm or have their property damaged because of your actions – or in actions – as a landlord;
- if it is alleged that you have been negligent in adhering to this general duty of care, and someone suffers an injury or has their property damaged as a result, you may be held liable;
- if your liability is upheld, you may be ordered to pay a substantial sum in damages – especially where serious or long-term physical injury is concerned – and it is for that reason that landlord insurance typically provides an indemnity of at least £1 million against such claims.
It is clear that, as a landlord, you have a number of important duties and responsibilities for providing your tenants with an environment that is safe and free of health hazards.
Further reading: Landlord Legislation Guide.