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Safety in a Rental Property

Introduction to safety in rental property

Landlords are expected to consider the safety of their rental property and of their tenants and any other individuals visiting their rental property. Landlords do have a legal duty of care to their tenants.  There are some very compelling reasons why landlords should make absolutely sure their rental properties are entirely safe.

Minimising risks in a rental property

Potential risk to tenants and their guests can be minimised by good property management practice. Landlords need to make regular checks of their rental property, looking out for any safety issues that arise;  whether through wear and tear,  any structural issues relating to the property, regulatory issues in terms of utilities or required servicing, or to do with tenant behaviour. Landlords should act promptly to fix any potential risks they pinpoint during these visits. Don’t adopt a ‘fingers crossed’ attitude.

Accidents in rental property can lead to legal action

Accidents at a rental property can put a landlord into a whole lot of trouble. Any aspect of safety comes under criminal law –  if a landlord is proven to being negligent to a general safety issue at a rental property, they could be put forward as having committed a criminal offence. Where found guilty a landlord could be faced with a jail term, a heavy fine, or both. In addition to any legal case a landlord could also face liability from the tenant for civil damages, and these can be substantial.  The smallest injury can bring an expensive fine.

Safety in rental property extends to guests

To put this into context, I recently had one case where a drunken visitor to a rental flat I own, successfully claimed thousands of pounds after grazing his knee falling in the communal hallway. The claimant required no hospital visit. In fact I have never seen an ounce of proof that he grazed his knee at all. However, he was able to argue that a hallway light had stopped working. Having reported the issue, the electrician who had been arranged had failed to turn up, the letting agent hadn’t realised and a further two days had passed.  Fortunately for me, my landlords insurance company was able to pass the claim onto the letting agent for failing to check the issue had been fixed and it was their insurance that subsequently ended up paying out the fine.

Civil liablity of a landlord increasingly important

Hopefully this shows just how easy a claim can happen, and that civil liability in safety matters is becoming an increasingly important issue for many landlords. Now that lawyers actively promote their services, on a ‘no win, no fee basis’, there is an increasing number of accident claims, and damages can be substantial if a case can prove negligence on the side of the landlord, even for something minor, such as a grazed knee ( I ask you, what is the world coming to? .. Landlord shakes head and huffs).

The issue also emphasises the importance of paying out for comprehensive landlord insurance cover. Don’t skimp on a limited cover policy. I like Alan Boswell’s cover, because they offer a 5 star Defacqto cover, and are a specialist landlord broker who are used to dealing with the issues that result from tenanted properties.

Whichever landlord insurance cover you go with, make sure it is a specialist landlord insurance product, and not a general household insurance, which will not cover a tenanted property.

Okay, enough of the scare stories.

Safety Regulations in Rental Properties

Safety regulations affecting a rental property come under the Consumer Protection Act (1987) and The General Product Safety Regulations 1994 (European Communities Act 1972).

They require:

  • Products supplied to consumers in the course of business must be safe.
  • Consumers must be supplied with information and warnings about the use of products supplied.
  • Suppliers must make themselves aware of the risks associated with the use of products supplied.

Items supplied in rental property

It is a criminal offence for a landlord to supply any item with a rental property that might be considered as unsafe. Some items such as oil heaters, portable LPG heaters, DIY tools, glass furniture and garden tools are particularly hazardous, and my advice to be landlords are best not to supplying any of these. They are all high risk and therefore best avoided.

Landlords should not forget to check the rental property before any new letting, just in case any unsafe items have been left by a previous tenants. It these are defective it would be the landlord who is liable.

Landlords should pick up on any risks when they prepare a Property Inventory and Schedule of Condition. Any safety issues should then be either taken away or dealt with then.

From my own experience, keeping the items provided to a minimum, especially any electrical appliances and upholstered furniture in the rental property. It will help to reduce a landlord’s risk of liability.

It is important for landlords to remember that by providing an appliance or furniture that does not comply with the respective regulations  may result in a criminal offence the consequences of which:

  • A fine of £5,000 per non-compliant item
  • Your landlord insurance may be invalidated
  • A possible manslaughter charge in the event of a death.
  • Six months of imprisonment.
  • The tenant may sue you for civil damages

Due Diligence by a landlord

Safety regulations  regarding a tenanted property are enforced locally by the local authority: Trading Standards, the Health & Safety Executive, Environment Health Officers and local Fire Officers.

What landlords should be aware of in ensuring that they are not open to prosecution is that they can demonstrate that they have carried out their duties with “due diligence”.

This legal term refers to them having taken all reasonable steps to avoid committing an offence and what is more, a landlord has kept the documentary evidence to prove this.

The main areas of safety that landlords need to be concerned about are:

Gas safety in a rental property

Electric safety in a rental property

Furniture regulations in a rental property

Fire safety in a rental property

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