It’s invisible, colourless, tasteless, odourless – and highly toxic. That’s what makes carbon monoxide (CO) gas so lethal.
Unfortunately, it is also a gas that is so readily generated when you’re doing something as normal and straightforward as burning carbon-based fuels – such as oil, gas, coal, and wood – to heat your home or provide hot water. To burn safely, without the production of carbon monoxide gas, these fuels need a steady flow of fresh air.
Carbon monoxide is less dense and lighter than air, so it rises to the top and fills a room from the ceiling down.
Some idea of the seriousness of carbon monoxide poisoning is given by the most recent figures published – on the 5th of August 2021 – by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). These reveal that there were 116 recorded deaths from such poisoning in 2020 – but it is widely recognised that the actual death toll may be even higher, since some people may be dying from CO poisoning symptoms that are difficult for doctors to detect.
The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) updated a press release on the 15th of July 2022 reminding all landlords that, with effect from the 1st of October 2022 – following the amendment of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 – carbon monoxide detectors must be installed in every room of a let property where there is a solid fuel heating appliance. (That includes any open fireplace that has not been blocked up and therefore remains available for use).
With dangers as high as these in normal living conditions, landlords bear a particular responsibility for ensuring that their let property is always a safe environment for tenants, free of health hazards and free from any of the risks associated with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Furthermore, existing legislation already requires an annual inspection and certification of any gas installation in a let property. The supply and its appliance must be inspected each year and a safety certificate issued by a registered Gas Safe engineer. A copy of the inspection certificate must be given to your tenants, and immediately any new ones move in. Failure to carry out these annual inspections may incur fines – and other difficulties with the tenancy, including your ability to evict a tenant, for example.
In addition to the legislation relating to CO detectors and gas safety inspections, landlords also bear a more general responsibility for ensuring the health and safety of their tenants, any visitors and, indeed, members of the public. If any individual suffers an injury or has their property damaged, as the landlord you may be held liable and ordered to pay compensation – and if injuries or even deaths are involved that compensation may be substantial.
Landlord’s liability insurance
To indemnify you against such claims, landlord liability insurance is widely used and typically offers at least £2 million of indemnity – and frequently much larger sums.
Even with such indemnity included in your landlord insurance, however, it is essential to remember that the cover does not absolve you from your responsibilities and obligations towards the health and safety of your tenants.
Blatant disregard of the legislation requiring you to install carbon monoxide detectors, the need to carry out annual gas safety inspections, or failure to exercise a due duty of care towards tenants’ health and safety may invalidate your landlord insurance.