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The Landlord and Tenant Act from 1985 (section 11) state property owners need to maintain and keep in good working order (safe) the utility systems. This includes the basic installations for electricity, gas, water and heating.
Landlords must maintain the electrical systems and wiring. Switches, power sockets, fuse boxes and electrical appliances must be in good functioning order. The law requires them to make regular checks of the electrical supply. For HMO properties, this electrical check must be made at least once every five years and performed by a certified electrical engineer.
If there is a malfunctioning electrical appliance, it must be turned off and disconnected from the network immediately. Property owners need to repair the basic equipment for preparing food and heating living space. Any non-essential electrical equipment like the TV may or may not be repaired at the landlord’s discretion.
What signs tenants need to look for:
- Light bulbs that pop frequently
- Light bulbs that blink or flicker
- Switches that don’t work or make bad contact
- Power sockets that spark or output unstable current
- Dark yellow or brown burn marks around light switches or power outlets
- Burned or molten plastic covers
- Tripped fuses
- Exposed electrical wires
- Appliances which give you a shock upon touch
- Loud buzzing or crackling sounds from power boxes and electrical appliances
- Frequent power jumps or failures
The above are all signs that the electrical supply or part of it, or a particular appliance malfunctions. If you see signs, don’t wait for an accident to happen. As a tenant, you must be proactive and notify your landlord of the smallest issues with the electricity wiring. Then, the landlord can take preventive actions to mitigate the risk of an electrical accident.
When viewing a property, look for any of the above listed signs. Take a phone charger with you and test all the sockets. It’s best to avoid properties with obvious electricity problems.
What should you do in case of an electrical emergency:
If you’re experiencing an emergency, it’s important to cut the power to the problem area. If it’s an appliance, pull it’s power plug out. If you cannot safely unplug it, or turn it off, you should deactivate the fuse for the given room, or the main fuse for the entire property. A short circuit can produce fire in the property. If you’re attempting to fight the fire, DO NOT use water. If it’s not safe for you to fight the fire, exit the property immediately and call the fire service, and subsequently, your landlord. Electrical safety is paramount for tenants. Landlords should treat the matter with due diligence.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Electrical Safety – Repair of Rented Properties.
Gas safety is absolutely critical for every property (rented or not) that uses any kind of gas supply and appliances. Landlords are demanded to maintain and repair the slightest gas issues in their property. Additionally, they must perform an annual gas safety check of the supply and equipment. This safety check needs to be performed by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Engineers who work with gas systems, but are not part of the Gas Safe register, are working illegally. Any gas safety check performed by such a worker is also illegal and invalid. When the check is finished, and if everything is fine, the engineer will issue the landlord with a gas safety certificate. It’s an essential document required for legally letting a property on the market.
Tenants need to receive the gas safety certificate no later than 28 days after signing the tenancy agreement. Make sure to request it when you sign your tenancy. A best practice is to ask for it during the viewing stage, as well.
The gas safety certificate will contain information regarding:
- The name, signature, registration number and contacts of the gas engineer
- The contact details of the landlord and the address of the property
- The model, description and location of all gas equipment in the property
- Defects and irregularities with the gas supply and equipment
- Recommended and due repairs
- Repairs done on the spot
- The next service date and confirmation of the performed safety checks
Without this document (and it’s confirmed validity), your landlord is in serious breach of the Gas Safety Act of 1998. It’s validity is one year, after which, a new gas safety check must be performed.
Improper gas installations can exhaust the very dangerous CO (carbon monoxide) gas. It’s subtle and extremely lethal. It has no colour, smell, taste or scent. A human cannot detect it on their own, only it’s effects on the health.
What signs tenants need to look for:
- Loss of consciousness
These symptoms should appear at home or around a faulty gas appliance and get better outside. If you notice such a behaviour, you must take action immediately.
What should you do in case of a gas emergency:
- Shut down the appliance immediately
- Open all doors and windows in the room
- Shut down the gas supply at the main valve
- Exit the property
- Contact the National Gas Emergency number: 0800 111 999
- Contact the landlord and explain what happened
Carbon monoxide alarms are required in rooms and areas where solid fuel is burned (e.g. a classic fireplace in the living room). However, gas safety laws do not obligate the landlord to install a CO alarm near gas appliances. You should negotiate with them for this, since it will provide you with peace of mind.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Gas Safety – Repair of Rented Properties.
Fire safety is the result of many other factors. Obviously, the top of the list are electrical and gas safety, which we talked about already. They are the main security milestones for mitigating fire accidents.
There is no fire safety certificate and few laws relate to the matter in rented properties. The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations from 1988 sets the conditions for furniture and upholstery items in the property. They must be manufactured from flame resistant materials. If not, the manufacturer has to treat them with flame retardant coatings. Otherwise, your landlord cannot let you the property (legally). Check the manufacturer’s non-removable label and read about the materials and coatings used to create each item.
All furniture has to pass the cigarette and match test, before it’s declared as flame resistant.
This regulation is valid for:
- Three piece suites
- Sofa beds
- Arm chairs
- Convertible furniture
- Furniture for a nursery
- Bed bases
- Garden furniture
- Scatter cushions
- Pads for seats
- Stretch covers, loose covers and fitted covers for items of furniture
The landlord is not responsible for tenant-owned furniture, loose mattress covers, sleeping bags, pillow cases, curtains, bed covers, duvets and carpets and antiquities (made before 1950s).
To ensure tenant safety in case of a fire emergency, the law requires all landlords to install a minimum of one smoke alarm on every level of the property. HMO properties also require more alarms in the shared facilities and the designated emergency exits.
Tenants play a huge role for maintaining fire safety at the home. Since most fires happen due to bad exploitation and unsafe practices, tenants are expected to follow the basic rules of fire safety. You need to use all electrical and gas equipment only for their intended purposes. Highly flammable materials need to be kept away from all sources of ignition, best in a sealed, flame resistant container. Renters must not live fires and flames unattended under any circumstances. Tenants should test the smoke alarms on a monthly basis and replace dead batteries when needed.
What should you do in case of a fire emergency:
- Fight the fire, using a provided fire extinguisher
- Limit the fire by surrounding it with non-flammable objects and materials
- Remove all possible fuel and combustible materials from the fire’s reach
- Call the fire service – 999
- Warn your housemates and neighbours and escape the property with them
- Call your landlord and inform them of the accident
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Fire Safety and Furniture Regulations – Repair of Rented Properties.
Other Health Hazards
Health hazards are not limited to extreme, life threatening emergencies. Everything that has a negative impact on your’s and your family’s health is a hazard. The landlord is required to remove it and prevent it from reoccurring.
The landlord must secure the property – both its interior and exterior for any dangerous objects like:
- Loose roof tiles, masonry, gutters
- Sticking nails
- Unstable stairs
- Broken windows
- Loose cabinets, chairs and other furniture
- Rotten wooden joists and supports
- Leaning (bowing) walls
The landlord has a responsibility to repair the property. The lack of it can produce unsafe conditions, where you can get harmed in an accident.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Structure and Exterior – Repair of Rented Properties.
Damp and mould
This is the most common problem in rented properties. Many of the instances occur due to bad exploitation from the tenant, in which case, they may be liable for the repair costs for removing it. However, bad construction and serious structural defects are also frequent reasons for damp and mould in the property.
Although not seriously dangerous, mould is detrimental to the health and respiratory system and should be removed the first chance you have.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Damp and Condensation – Repair of Rented Properties.
The law is very clear. The property owner has to supply running water and facilities for sanitation – toilet, bathroom (shower), sink and other equipment. The lack or disrepair of the listed will interrupt you to maintain basic personal hygiene. It’s the leading cause for disease, illness and pest infestation.
The lack of sanitation facilities makes a property uninhabitable and your landlord holds the responsibility to not allow this to happen.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Basins, Sinks and Sanitary Equipment – Repair of Rented Properties.
Space and water heating
To live a normal life, you need to have access to hot water and heat your living space. The law demands for rented properties to facilitate these conditions, or it is not fit for human habitation. During cold months, lack of heating can cause a variety of common illnesses. For families with children, it’s unthinkable to continue living in such a property.
Thus, it’s a high priority for landlords to maintain heating of space and water functional and running.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide on Heating and hot water – Repair of Rented Properties.
Asbestos is a highly toxic material that can cause permanent damage and even death after prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibres. Tenants need to know that if their properties have been built prior to 2000 and no major asbestos removal has been done over the years, then their property is likely to contain asbestos in some form.
The farther back the year of construction of the property the higher the chance of coming across asbestos in the structure and interior of the property.
If you need more information, check out our dedicated guide – Asbestos in Your Home.
Where to go for help
If you’re concerned with your safety in the property you rent, your first action should be to get in contact with your landlord. Send them a written letter, or an email to validate the date on which you made contact. Then, call them by phone, so you get a faster response. Try to stress on the situation and pressure them to provide a resolution to the problem.
Tenants usually have to provide plenty of time for their landlord’s to organise a repair, however, health hazards require the repairs to happen as fast as possible. Don’t wait too much.
If you cannot get your landlord to remove the hazard, you can seek help from the Environmental Health Department in your local council. They can enter the property and do emergency repairs and even provide you with a temporary accommodation if your rental is deemed unfit for living.
If you have more questions that our articles cannot answer, you can always seek the help of our industry professionals in the forum section.
This article is provided as a guide. The Tenants’ Voice is NOT a legal advice specialist site and our content authors are NOT housing law specialists.
The Tenants’ Voice advises that Tenants act courteously and reasonably in all communications and dealings with regard to a tenancy but if you suspect you are experiencing an infringement of your rights that you seek advice and support from a regulated professional. The Tenants’ Voice recommends Shelter https://www.shelter.org.uk/ 0808 800 4444