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Privately Renting an Unsafe or Hazardous Property? Know Your Rights!

Who can become a landlord of a rented residential property in England and Wales?

Anyone, regardless of their character, can become a landlord. Special requirements will only apply when a landlord is applying to a local authority for a licence in respect of a house in multiple occupation. One of the conditions of such a licence is that the landlord is considered to be ‘fit and proper’ i.e. they do not have a criminal record or have not breached landlord laws or code of practice.

What responsibilities does a landlord have?

A landlord must:

  • Comply with all relevant legislation including their obligations pursuant to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 including ensuring the property is fit for human habitation at the start of and throughout the tenancy
  • Comply with the terms of the tenancy agreement
  • Keep their rented property safe and free from health hazards
  • Make sure all gas and electrical equipment is safely installed and maintained
  • Provide an Energy Performance Certificate for the property at the earliest opportunity and ideally before a tenant views the property
  • Protect their tenant’s deposit in a government-approved scheme within 30 days of receipt of the deposit
  • Check their tenant has the right to rent the property if the property is in England
  • Give their tenant a copy of the How to rent checklist at the start of the tenancy
  • Fit and text smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Follow fire safety regulations for the property in a purpose-built block of flats or for houses and property adapted into flats

These responsibilities have not changed because of coronavirus but the government’s coronavirus advice must be followed. With regards to repairs, maintenance, health and safety landlords are able to carry out normal services to properties including urgent and routine repairs and safety inspections, and planned maintenance during the national lockdown which is in force in England, provided these are undertaken in line with public health advice and relevant coronavirus (Covid-19) legislation.

Who should be keeping a check on certain landlord’s responsibilities?

It is a local authority’s responsibility to keep the housing conditions in its area under review. In addition, a local authority has a duty to inspect a property if it considers it appropriate to do so. Local authorities will use The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), introduced by the Housing Act 2004, when checking the safety of properties in their area.

Tenants can ask their local authority to carry out a HHSRS inspection however local authorities are not obliged to undertake one.

If a HHSRS inspection does take place the local authority inspector will look at 29 health and safety areas and score each hazard they find as category 1 or 2, according to its seriousness. If a serious hazard is found the local authority can:

  • Issue an improvement notice
  • Fix the hazard themselves and bill the landlord for cost
  • Stop the landlord or anyone else from using part or all of the property

What are the consequences for landlords failing in their responsibilities?

A landlord who fails to comply with an improvement notice or a prohibition order without reasonable excuse is committing an offence. These offences can result in a criminal prosecution or civil penalty.

They may also result in a ‘rent repayment order’. Rent repayment orders, introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, if granted will mean the landlord will have to repay an amount of rent paid by a tenant or pay an amount to a local authority to cover the element of rent paid under universal credit.

The said offences may also result in the landlord being issued with a banning order. Banning orders, also introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, ban a landlord who has committed relevant offences, including those listed above in this paragraph, from letting or managing residential properties. A banning order must last for at least 12 months and there is no upper time limit. A banning order will also result in the relevant local authority placing the banned landlord on the national database of rogue landlords and agents.

Despite the above some landlords are still failing their tenants

Unfortunately, despite the legislation in place to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords, too many tenants, including families with young children are still living in unsafe and hazardous accommodation. Some of these tenants may not know their rights and those that do may be anxious about contacting their local authority to report their unsafe living conditions, instead preferring the unsafe roof over their head to the uncertainty of their landlord’s actions once they became aware the local authority has been contacted. And rather frustratingly, in the event where a tenant has contacted their local authority to report their unsafe living conditions, the local authority may simply not have the resources to act immediately or act at all.

How might Hodge Jones & Allen be able to help you

We at Hodge Jones & Allen receive numerous enquiries every day from privately (and social) renting tenants seeking help with their unsafe living conditions. For those cases we can take on, we offer 3 types of funding depending on the facts of the case and means of the applicant i.e.

  • (i) Conditional Fee Agreements (also known as “no win no fee” agreements
  • (ii) Free help paid for by the Government Legal Aid Agency (legal help or legal aid) and
  • (iii) private funding.

We take these cases on with the aim of following the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Conditions Claims (England) to seek engagement from your landlord and an independent expert report on the condition of your home. Where the law and funding of your case allows, we will do our very best to achieve the necessary repairs, compensation and payment of your legal costs, which can include issuing a claim in the County Court if appropriate.