Residential: home safety certificates

Are you acting responsibly?

18 May 2016

Frank Bertie outlines a new industry-led initiative to help landlords carry out regular safety checks and meet their legal obligations

Conditions for England’s 9 million tenants in private rented accommodation are currently worse than in any other housing sector. Around a third of properties fail to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard, and millions of tenants experience potentially life-threatening risks, such as electrical hazards and gas leaks.

While some of these failings may be caused by rogue landlords who flout the law, others may simply be unaware of their obligations. Not only can this result in serious health and safety risks, but if a landlord puts a substandard property on the market they may also experience diffi•culties with selling it.

Many hazards that plague the sector, such as faults in hidden electrical wiring systems, will not be immediately apparent from a visual inspection. Surveyors should, therefore, seek to make the best use of time-saving resources to guard against potential claims of negligence.

The legal landscape

But what are a landlord’s legal obligations? Surprisingly, they  are not always clear cut. In terms of utilities, for instance, the Landlord and Tenants Act 1985 simply states that short-lease landlords must:

'keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house [they let] for the supply of water, gas and electricity'.

There is no mention of regular checks.

Industry guidance regarding electrics has long been that an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) should be carried out by a competent electrician every 5 years. This is in line with other legislation such as the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations. However, a lack of clear obligations increases the likelihood of landlords forgoing appropriate checks and hazards going unnoticed as a result.

Defusing hidden hazards

Most hazards are entirely avoidable if a schedule of checks is carried out and appropriate action taken.

Historically, property owners have not had access to a single point of reference to detail their health and safety responsibilities, but following an All-Party Parliamentary Home Safety and Carbon Monoxide Group seminar in 2014, a Home Safety Sub-group of the Electrical Safety Roundtable (ESR) was formed to consider a new, whole-house solution.

With the support of insurance providers, landlords’ associations, mortgage lenders, trade associations and professional organisations, including RICS, a Home Safety Certificate was created, along with supporting checklists and guidance documents. Designed for landlords but useful for anyone with an interest in property safety, the resources are primarily intended to encourage those who may be unaware of their legal obligations to carry out appropriate checks.

The Home Safety Certificate recommends an EICR every 5 years, for example, along with an annual visual check, to bring much-needed clarity to this otherwise uncertain area. A similar approach is taken with other specified checks.

It enables landlords to prepare, among other things, an up-to-date:

  • EICR;
  • Gas Safety Certificate;
  • Legionella risk assessment;
  • falls-prevention risk assessment;
  • record of the presence of safety devices such as carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.

The certificate allows landlords to confirm that they have completed important industry-recommended checks and acted in compliance with both their explicit and implied legal obligations.

The ESR is continuing to work with insurance providers, landlords’ associations, mortgage lenders, trade associations and RICS to ensure that Home Safety Certificates are used to best effect and become more closely aligned with house buying and sales.

Master of all you survey

Easy access to records of the detailed checks carried out by trade professionals can provide essential information when an accurate Homebuyer Report or building survey is being compiled. It is worth enquiring whether landlords are using the Home Safety Certificate resources when you next appraise a property. These will help you ensure that a property is both safe and saleable, as well as saving you valuable time when assessing its condition.

Frank Bertie is Chairman of the NAPIT Trade Association for the building services and fabric sector

Further information