The responsibility for maintaining the heating in a tenants’ property is rightly the responsibility of the landlord under Section 11 (c) of the Housing Act 1985. It states a landlords obligation is: “to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water”.
A recent post in the Landlord Legal Forum about the requirements of landlords heating provision.
However, I was shocked to discover that that Local Authorities already have powers under the Housing Act 2004 to force landlords to upgrade their property if they are ‘considered’ to be inadequately heated.
Heating controls on landlords
The Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HH&SRS) introduced by the Housing Act 2004 came into effect on April 6th 2006. It introduced 29 categories of housing hazard. It is a 'risk and evidence' piece of regulation conceived in 1998 and brought in by New Labour (remember them – Labour without the cloth caps).
The regulation is set down in over 170 pages of unfathomable tick boxing designed by a bureaucrat who was let loose by a new government desperate to regulate everything without have a clue how to achieve anything. I’m not surprised most landlords haven’t heard of it. I would imagine most Local Authorities find it unfathomable and without massive extra resources unimplementable. As a result it largely sank without trace. For anyone interested in reading the full document be my guest. - Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HH&SRS)
Controls over landlords
To my surprise however what the HH&SRS does is allow a local authority to enforce a regime of improvement over a private landlord. Powers under the legislation allow a local authority to give a landlord 24 hours notice and then enter their building and if they consider it necessary to require them to install energy efficiency heating system and loft and cavity wall insulation. As recently as 2008 the Director of Housing Strategy at the Communities Department wrote to all Chief Executives urging them to act on the estimate almost 1 million properties in the private rental sector containing a perceived hazard with many suffering from what is perceived as excess cold.
Latest ruling – heating costs
In relation to the above a local authority (Liverpool City Council) has recently won an appeal that suggests not only can councils enforce higher standards of heating and insulation but they can also force landlords to change the type of heating installed if it is perceived to be too expensive for the tenant.
The case relates to a hearing placed originally in front of the Residential Property Tribunal (RPT) in which the LA took action against Liverpool landlord Anwar Hadj Kassim. The landlord ignored advice from environmental health officers when fitting panel heaters on standard tariff electricity. The Tribunal heard evidence that the house dated before 1920 and was poorly insulated. Kassim however, won the case and the Council then appealed to the Upper Tribunal (UTLC). They included a cost benefit analysis of the heating of the home.
The council claims providing heating and hot water for a two bedroom house on a standard electricity tariff costs an average £1,826 per year, while fan-assisted storage radiators on an Economy 7 tariff would cost £896 per year and gas central heating would be priced at £623 a year.
The UTLC concluded that the RPT made a mistake in their ruling and that they should indeed consider the running costs of the heating system when judging it against ‘excess cold’ under the HH&SRS.
This could be a ‘game changer’ for landlords where the Local Authority takes action against them. Depending on the outcome from the RPT landlords could not only face the prospect of having to provide additional insulation and upgraded heating but also a completely updated heating system where the existing one is perceived to be too expensive!
To my mind this represents a step too far in the balance between rights of the landlord (as the property owner) the tenant and the power of the State to intervene.
What do you think, post your views below.