by Jen Lemen
Hot Topic Highlight - Residential Health & Safety
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This week, we are going to look at health & safety considerations specific to residential property.
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What RICS guidance exists in relation to residential health & safety?
RICS publishes RICS Guidance note Surveying safely (1st Edition), which is the core guide to health & safety for surveyors of both commercial and residential property.
We have already considered this guidance (including the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974) in a previous blog article.
However, there is additional guidance within the RICS Guidance Note, Health and safety for residential property managers (1st edition, January 2016).
We will focus on the specific health & safety considerations that residential surveyors should be aware of in this article.
What type of residential property does the guidance relate to?
Houses, flats, residential blocks and HMOs, in addition to more specialist residential property types. In properties occupied by multiple occupants, health & safety considerations tend to become more onerous and responsibilities become wider.
Why is health & safety important for residential surveyors?
Residential surveyors have a duty of care towards those they provide services for, which includes resident occupiers and tenants. Health & safety issues can, therefore, be a life and death matter, particularly when residents are sleeping.
Furthermore, Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out repair standards for property leased for less than 7 years. This relates to the structure, exterior, mains services supplies, sanitation, heating and heating water. Tenants are expected to deal with day-to-day housekeeping issues, e.g. changing lightbulbs and replacing smoke detector batteries.
How often should residential property be inspected?
Not excessive nor breaching a tenant’s ‘quiet enjoyment’ of a property.
Generally, this should be one or two times per year, unless circumstances dictate more frequent health & safety / condition inspections.
Surveyors should always make access arrangements in line with the terms of the lease, ensuring that sufficient notice is given to the correct parties.
What issues should be considered during an inspection for health & safety purposes?
- Fire/smoke detection installations
- Fire escape routes
- Generation condition
- Slip and trip hazards
- White goods
- Electrical safety
- Gas safety
- Legionella - showers, taps, boilers and water tanks
- Situation-specific issues
What is the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) was introduced by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005 to meet the requirements for the assessment of hazards under the Housing Act 2004.
The HHSRS is a risk-based evaluation tool that local authorities can use to identify and manage health & safety risks in rented property. Tenants can request that their local authority carry out an assessment of their rented property.
Hazards considered include damp, mould, excessive cold, overcrowding, slip and trip hazards, faulty gas appliances, fire risks and dangerous electrical installations.
The most serious hazards, e.g. leaking roofs, rats or broken steps, are allocated a Category 1 rating and pose a serious threat to the health and safety of occupants and any visitors. The council must take enforcement action in relation to Category 1 hazards, including hazard awareness notices, improvement notices, emergency remedial actions, probation orders and demolition orders.
What are the requirements around gas safety?
Landlords must keep gas pipework, appliances and chimneys/flues in a safe condition. Any appliances owned by the tenant will remain the tenant’s responsibility.
Landlords must commission annual gas safety checks by a Gas Safe registered engineer. From April 2018, the check may be carried out any time between 10-12 months after the previous check, without affecting the original expiry date. A check carried out before 10 months or after 12 months after the last check will ‘reset’ the expiry date to be 12 months from the date of the latest check.
The tenant must be given a copy of the gas safety check before they move in and subsequent checks must be provided to existing tenants within 28 days. Copies should be kept for at least 2 years or if the new flexible timing requirements are utilised, then the last two checks must be kept on file.
If a landlord fails to provide a tenant with a valid gas safety check within the required timescales, they may lose their Section 21 rights.
What are the requirements around fire safety?
Landlords must comply with the requirements of HHSRS around fire safety. This ensures providing clear fire escapes and ensuring there are no fire hazards.
The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2010 require any furniture or furnishings, with the exception of mattresses, bed-bases, pillows and cushions, have the appropriate fire safety labels.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires landlords (or an appointed ‘competent person’) to carry out periodic fire risk assessments and ensure that any recommendations are carried out.
The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 place various requirements on landlords, including installing and maintaining a smoke alarm on each floor and installing carbon monoxide alarms where ‘solid fuel burning combustion appliances’ are provided.
Surveyors should be aware that there are increased fire safety requirements in HMOs, particularly if they are licensed.
What are the requirements around electrical safety?
For HMOs, whether licensed or not, 5 yearly periodic electrical safety checks, by a registered electrician (e.g. NICEIC or ELECSA), must be carried out. This is also advised for all other rented property.
Landlords must also ensure that electrical appliances and installations provided at the start of a new tenancy remain in safe working order. Any appliances provided should have, at least, the CE marking, regular Portable Appliance Testing is advised and any new installations must comply with Part P (Electrical Safety) of the Building Regulations.
What other health & safety considerations should surveyors be aware of?
- Access provision
- Automated gates
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
- Contractor management
- First aid
- Food safety
- Responsibility for people with disabilities
- R22 and air conditioning
- Waste management
- Water hygiene management and legionella
- Working at height
Where can I find out more?
Also ensure you read the full RICS Guidance Note, Health and safety for residential property managers (1st edition, January 2016) and the RLA guidance.
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N.b. nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.