Landlords must gear up for new safety checks
Residential landlords must get their houses in order with the arrival of further legislation to protect tenants through electrical and building safety requirements.
New electrical safety standards are rolling out for private sector tenancies and the other upcoming challenge for residential landlords is fire safety compliance for building structures. Both safety aspects have been accelerated following tragic outcomes. Electricity causes about half of the UK’s 37,000 house fires a year, according to the charity Electrical Safety First, and faulty electrics cause some 70 deaths and 350,000 injuries each year in Britain. An electrical fire was also the reason for the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, which has since placed flammable building materials in multi-level accommodation in the spotlight.
The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations came into force earlier this year. New tenancies since June 2020 should have complied with the new standard, but by next April it will apply to all existing tenancies as well. It applies to most residential tenancies with a few exceptions, such as when the landlord shares the property, student accommodation, long leases and hostels or care homes.
Landlords must now ensure that electrical installations are checked by a qualified person to ensure they meet the standards set out in the BS 7671 : 2018 Wiring Regulations and an Electrical Safety Condition Report – or EICR – must be provided to existing tenants within 28 days and before a tenancy starts for new tenants. For tenancies which commenced before June this year, the certificate must be in place from 1st April 2021. The electrical installation must be visually checked on a regular basis, and a full check undertaken by a qualified person at least every five years.
If any fault or potential fault is identified by the report then further investigations or repairs must be completed by a qualified person within 28 days of the inspection. This timeframe could be reduced if the report requires it be undertaken more urgently. Once undertaken, the landlord must obtain written confirmation of the works having been completed and provide this to the tenant within 28 days of the completion of works. Where regulations are breached, local authorities will have powers to impose financial penalties of up to £30,000 for each breach.
Landlords have a duty to provide properties that are fit for purpose, but until now there has not been a specific requirement for testing of electrical installations. An up to date electrical safety check now joins gas safety checks and energy performance certificates as a prescribed requirement, which marks a significant tightening of the rules.
Another significant legislative shift for landlords is the draft Building Safety Bill, which is demanding attention. Since the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, which was thought to have started from faulty wiring on a fridge, fire safety in buildings has been the focus of legislators. New requirements are expected to be in force from next autumn, even though the Bill is still at the draft stage. While the fine print has not been agreed, landlords with properties that will be affected should be getting up to speed and taking the necessary steps to get buildings up to scratch.
The Bill will cover residential buildings of at least 18 metres or more than six storeys above ground level, with two or more units. A building safety manager will be a requirement and there will be various new reporting obligations and building safety standards. Tenants will be required to contribute towards building safety charges, on top of existing service charges, and this will be held in a separate, designated account. It looks as though the Government is looking to ensure upgrade of historic defects within as little as two years from implementation of the Bill. If so, landlords will have little time to progress works, which is why they should be looking to understand the new environment and get a move on now.