Health and safety in privately rented properties

Rented properties must meet certain health and safety standards by law.

If the landlord doesn’t meet these standards the health and/or safety of their tenants and visitors or passers by may be at risk. In such cases the landlord would be committing an offence and legal action may be taken against them.

Housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS)

Housing health and safety rating system guide
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This is the way in which councils assess housing conditions. It uses a risk assessment approach. It provides a system to enable risks to be assessed and was introduced by the Housing Act 2004, which came into force on 6 April 2006.

  • gas safety
  • electrical safety
  • damp
  • condensation
  • asbestos
  • Legionnaires' Disease
  • fire safety
  • furniture safety
  • smoking in rented properties

Gas Safety

Carbon monoxide from unsafe appliances can kill.

There is a legal duty on landlords to carry out a safety check each year. Further details can be found in the Gas Appliances leaflet produced by the Health and Safety Executive:

Gas appliances leaflet
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To meet legal duty, a landlord must make sure:

  • an annual gas safety check is carried out on all appliances (e.g. boilers, fires, cookers, water heaters), flues and pipe work provided by the landlord
  • safety checks are carried out by a Gas Safe registered contractor registered to carry out the works requested
  • the safety checks are proof that all gas appliances should be in a safe condition
  • a record is kept for two years
  • evidence to all tenants is provided within 28 days of the checks
  • new tenants are provided with a gas safety record

Landlords are not responsible for the maintenance of installations and appliances owned by tenants and flues solely provided for these appliances.

You can check whether a contractor is registered on the Gas Safe register web site or by telephoning 0800 408 5500. You can also request a free gas safety check.

What to do if you smell gas or suspect a faulty gas appliance

  • stop using the appliance immediately
  • open the windows to ventilate the room
  • shut off the gas supply at the meter control valve
  • don’t smoke, use naked flames or turn electric switches on or off
  • if gas continues to escape call National Grid on 0800 111 999 

If a landlord does not take action swiftly then the tenant can call the number above. If there is any reasonable doubt about the safety of the appliance they will disconnect it, issuing a warning notice to the tenants and landlord. They will not fix the appliance. The landlord will be expected to arrange for an engineer to attend to the problem.

Tenants are advised to report all unsafe gas safety incidences to the council’s Private Sector Housing Team on 01302 862031. The team can chase up the landlord on the tenant’s behalf or contact the Health and Safety Executive on 0800 300 363.

Electrical safety

A landlord is required by law to ensure:

  • that the electrical installation in the property is safe when the tenancy begins
  • that the electrical installation is maintained in a safe condition throughout the tenancy, and
  • that any appliance provided is safe and has at least the CE marking (which is the manufacturer’s claim that it meets all the requirements of European law)

In order to meet these requirements, a landlord will need to carry out regular basic safety checks to ensure the electrical installation and appliances remain in good working order.

A landlord should have an electrical inspection carried out by an electrician before a new tenant moves in. A copy of the inspection report (known as a periodic inspection report) should be made available to a tenant upon request.

If appliances are supplied, the appliances should be checked and each electrical appliance supplied by the landlord in the property should have a PAT (portable appliance test) sticker on the plug showing the date it was tested.

If the electrical installation in the accommodation has not been tested, a tenant can ask their landlord to get an inspection done, although they are under no obligation to do so unless a tenant lives in a house in multiple occupation. If a tenant is really concerned about the safety of the electrical installation and a request to the landlord does not result in any perceived problems being resolved, a tenant can make a complaint by contacting us [LINK]. Council officers will then liaise with the landlord to resolve any problems and can take enforcement action if the problems persist.

There are three main acts that impose a statutory duty on landlords with respect to the safety of electrical equipment or the electrical installation of a property.

The Comsumer protection Act 1987
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Electrical Safety First's website has lots of information on electrical safety as well as guidance on how to find and hire an electrician.

Damp

Damp results from water coming through the floor or walls, either from above (for example, rain and snow) or from below (for example, by ground water rising). You can often see damp as ‘tide marks’ on walls and ceilings. It is usually caused by the damp-proof course (DPC) or membrane (DPM) not working or as a result of damage to brickwork or rendering allowing water to get in. Old buildings often suffer from damp especially in basements because old buildings were not built with damp-proof membranes or damp courses.

If the house does not have a damp-proof course or it is broken, there are other measures that can be taken (for example, tanking and dry lining). A landlord will need to call in a professional builder to give advice and to carry out any work needed.

Condensation

Condensation is caused by warm, moist air hitting cold surfaces, which causes the moisture in the air to condense and form water droplets. On soft or absorbent surfaces, you cannot see the water droplets as they are absorbed, but they can be clearly seen on non-absorbent glossy surfaces (for example, window glass and tiles). If you do not deal with condensation, it can rot wood such as doors and window frames as well as damage furnishings. Mould will grow as a result of condensation, and you can see this on walls, furnishings and clothing. The spores from some types of mould can be bad for your lungs and affect people with breathing problems such as asthma. Condensation gets much worse in cold weather.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a strong fibrous mineral, which can resist heat and chemicals. It was commonly used in building materials between the 1950s and 1980s. Many buildings constructed or altered during this period may contain asbestos.

Materials containing asbestos are generally safe if they are in good condition. However, if they are damaged or broken they can release fibres and dust into the air which can harm the lungs and lead to serious diseases. Most instances of asbestos in the home are of low risk and unlikely to be harmful to health

The most commonly used asbestos product in homes is asbestos cement (containing 10-15% asbestos). It was widely used as a cladding material and can still be found in garages, sheds and around the home. It is also found in things like guttering, down-pipes, corrugated sheets, wall panels, flue pipes and soffit boards.

If you believe that you have any materials in your home that my contain asbestos, it is best to assume that they do contain asbestos and to leave them alone. Moving or disturbing asbestos materials can release fibres which could be harmful to people.

Please visit the Health and Safety Executive for more information.

If you are the person responsible for building repairs, this managing asbestos guide provides useful advice.

Legionnaires' Disease

Legionella are bacteria that are common in natural (rivers and lakes) and artificial water systems (hot and cold water tanks, pipe work, taps and showers). They are usually associated with large water systems such as in factories or hospitals, but can also live and multiply in smaller water supply systems used in homes and other residential accommodation. The bacteria can then be dispersed into the air during the use of showers and taps. This, although rare, is the most likely cause of Legionnaires’ disease in residential accommodation.

Legionnaires’ Disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that can affect anybody, although the elderly and immuno-compromised are most at risk.

Information on Legionnaires' Disease and how to prevent it is available from the Health and Safety Executive.

Fire safety

A landlord must keep to specific laws about fire safety. If property is rented out that is occupied by more than one household and more than two people - known as a ‘house in multiple occupation’ or HMO, additional fire safety requirements will be needed in addition to that of a single person/family let home.

General fire safety advice

  • both landlords and owner occupiers should ensure that there is adequate fire warning (fire alarm or fire alarm system) for all homes. This should be properly maintained, tested and kept in working order for the emergency when it is needed. A safe means of escape from fire should also be provided; this will usually be the main stairwell, which should be kept free of flammable materials and obstructions. The means of escape should be kept free of smoke and fire to allow occupiers time to leave; this may require physical separation (for example doors or fire doors) to separate this area from rooms where a fire may occur
  • owners should also take steps to minimise the risk of a fire occurring; electrical wiring should be safe with sufficient sockets to prevent overloading. Kitchens should be safely arranged with cookers properly sited. Adequate heating should be installed to minimise the use of portable heaters. Furniture should comply with current fire safety standards
  • occupiers need to be aware of the fire safety precautions in their homes, how to check that they are working and what to do in the event of fire. They must not interfere with the fire precautions provided. Neither should they bring unsafe furniture, appliances or materials into the home
  • tenants have a legal duty not to damage their accommodation. Disabling fire alarm systems, damaging fire doors and misuse of fire fighting equipment will not only put all occupiers at risk from fire, it may lead to eviction and possible prosecution
  • landlords have a duty of care to their tenants. In some types of housing (for instance flats, shared housing and bedsits) they have other duties

Fire safety standards

The national standard for fire safety is described in the document ‘Housing – Fire Safety – Guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing’, which describes appropriate measures for fire safety which may be required in a range of housing situations, including single family houses, self contained flats and HMOs.

Housing fire safety
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The guide does not set prescriptive requirements for works. It describes a standard of fire safety and provides examples of achieving those standards. In most cases there are alternative works that will achieve an equivalent standard.

The guide is mainly concerned with the issues of fire protection, fire warning, means of escape from fire and fire fighting. Frequently works are also required to reduce the risk of fire occurring; owners will also need to ensure that there is adequate fixed heating, safe electrical wiring and there are properly arranged cooking facilities (this list is not exhaustive).

Furniture Safety

All furniture (except furniture made before 1950) included in the accommodation must meet all the current fire resistance requirements and carry permanent labels confirming this. This applies to anything that is upholstered or has a filling - like sofas, armchairs, mattresses, pillows, padded headboards and cushions.

Any new or second-hand furniture provided by a landlord must be fire resistant.

Smoking in rented properties

A landlord can choose whether to allow smoking in their properties. If smoking is not permitted, there will be a clause in the tenancy agreement that states this. This would apply both to tenants and to their guests.

In HMOs, additional regulations apply: under the recently introduced smoke-free laws, smoking is prohibited in the shared areas of HMOs, such as stairs, corridors and communal rooms. No Smoking signs should be displayed in these areas.

For further information, please contact us: 

Last updated: 14 December 2016 14:20:42