Is your let property up to standard?
Although house prices have fallen over the past few years, it is widely recognised that there are problems of affordability for first time buyers. Interest rates for investors are at an all time low. It is therefore not very surprising that a large number of properties have been brought as “buy to let” properties, and in the Midlands there is a very healthy residential lettings market. Quite often once a house or a flat is let, the tenant will stay in occupation for many months, perhaps even extending their stay to years. In most instances these houses are constructed and finished to a very good standard, indeed we as managing agents would be quite happy to live in the property ourselves, which is indicative of the standard reached.
As always however, there are some problems at the lower end of the market, particularly in the older housing stock perhaps dating back to Victorian times. These buildings built in the 1860’s to early 1900’s were finished to a good standard at the time of construction, but as with everything else, technology has moved on, and both windows, heating systems, and insulation products have improved beyond recognition.
The problem arises when particular houses have not been updated to the modern standards, and the tenant suffers from cold caused by the failure of the heating system to keep pace with external cold. This has been very prevalent over the last two winters, where we have seen temperatures down to minus 20 degrees C. What heat is generated inside the property is lost either through the single glazed windows, or the cold roof and walls, where no insulation has been installed.
I thought this week it would be a good idea to look again at the backstop from a Landlord’s perspective, and make you aware of a document issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government. It’s called “Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Guidance for Landlords and Property Related Professionals”, (HHSRS for short). The document can be sourced via the Internet; just tap the title into one of the search engines, and you should find it relatively easily. It was published in May 2006, as an explanatory document prepared in the light of the Housing Act 2004, and aims to provide guidance to Landlords of what is expected of them, when they provide residential property to the letting market.
The Housing Act 2004 provided Local Authorities with new duties and powers to tackle poor housing conditions. When a Housing Standards Officer inspects a residential property, they will look for potential sources of risk, which may cause harm to the tenant- occupier, and use a rating system to calculate the chances of this risk causing harm to the occupier over a 12-month period. If they deem a problem to exist, they them have several options available to achieve a remedy to prevent harm from occurring to the occupier. These range from informal advice and persuasion, the preferred option, to actually carrying out the improvement works themselves and charging the cost back to the Landlord, particularly where there is a category 1 risk present, the classic being no controllable heating system being present in the property.
If a landlord offers a residential property for let, he or she will accept certain responsibilities for keeping the property in good order. Under an Assured Short hold Tenancy he or she will be expected to look after the exterior of the property and any structural elements required to keep the property upright. He or she will also have to maintain the internal facilities, these will include Utility supplies, and any appliances present in the property must be in good working order. Normally we as Letting Agents would expect to see a cooker, washing machine (although not obligatory) hot water cylinder and heating system. Anything provided by the Landlord is regarded as being an installation, and the Landlord will have responsibility for ensuring it is in good working order.
Personal Hygiene is also a major consideration there must be adequate washing facilities within the home. Many tenants prefer to take showers rather than baths, in an ideal world the house would have both available. Sanitation and drainage covers lavatories, wc basins, drains, waste pipes, rainwater goods inlet gullies and inspection chambers. Any problems occurring with these items remain the Landlords responsibility, and they will have a duty to correct any problems that exist.
Other areas of concern include Food Safety, kitchen equipment, sinks, working surfaces, refrigerators where supplied by the landlord. Ventilation is also a major problem, particularly in the older houses dating back to the 1950’s. There must be airbricks, trickle vents, opening lights to windows, and mechanical and non- mechanical ventilation equipment present. If these are not present, then black mould growth can very quickly occur.
Another major area for concern is space and water heating installations. This area covers any kind of fitted space heating appliances or central heating system. Any heating system installed in a property must be fit for purpose, that is man enough to heat the space it is installed in. It has to be a controllable system, either using thermostatic control, or time clocks, or both. It also has to be economic so that the tenant can afford to run the system. Many houses have a gas central heating system installed, but this is not obligatory. Modern properties are increasingly using electric systems, such as night storage heaters. Whatever system is installed in the living space, it must be capable of maintaining a temperature of ideally 21 degrees centigrade. If the temperature falls below 10 degrees centigrade there is a risk of hypothermia setting in for the tenant, not good news, either for the tenant or in the long term the Landlords pocket, because rental income flows are likely to be interrupted as Tenants move out to find better accommodation.
At this point I must emphasise, most properties offered for rent have little trouble achieving the standards required. Where they do fail to reach the minimum standards, it is very much in the Landlords interest to up grade the property so that it complies with the requirements of the Housing Act 2004, because a happy comfortable tenant is more likely to stay in a property, rather than move to an alternative one, moving costs money. Keeping the property let maximises financial return, whether it be used as income or for repaying a mortgage. And from a capital value point of view, you are more likely to obtain full market value for a property when marketing it, if the property is up standard. The one thing it does do is emphasis the role of a professional letting agent, and as ever, if you have questions relating to property standards, please feel free to contact us and we will endeavour to answer them.
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