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Property Maintenance – Ask Sharon


 

Property maintenance and improvements

  ASK SHARON

Scroll down to find the advice you are looking for. Most recent questions and answers are listed first.

 

Health and Safety Risk Assessment

I am the owner of a 2 bedroom property in a purpose built block of 6 x 2 bedroom properties, on 2 floors plus the roof space.

There are 2 properties on the ground floor and 4 with living accommodation on the first floor and bedrooms in the roof space.

Each property has its own private entrance/exit door, with no internal communal areas.

There is off street tarmaced private parking in front of the block for 4 cars, allocated to 4 of the 6 properties.

There is a management company for the 6 properties in the block, but no employees.

Is there a legal requirement to have an annual Risk Assessment and Health & Safety Audit carried out at the properties ?

A recent property purchaser believes there is. The other 5 property owners including myself given the specific circumstances don’t believe there is.

Please can you advise given the specific circumstances if there is a legal requirement to have an annual Risk Assessment and Health & Safety Audit carried out at the properties.

It is always good practise to implement regular inspections of the property, during which as a matter of course, I would expect that you are undertaking risk assessments every time.

However, other than drawing up your own risk assessment which you could complete, I am not aware of a mandatory requirement for a risk assessment, other than for the Risk Assessment for Legionnairs Desease. This can be undertaken by a competent person (ie you!) though some agents are insisting on a professionally completed certificate. Again, there is no mandatory requirement for this provided you make a record of the checks made, which should be before a new tenancy commences. It is adequate to run hot water through the system for a few minutes and cleaning shower heads and the water carrying tube leading to the head, with bleach.

Obviously, the gas system should be inspected every year and a new gas safe certificate issued.

There is no mandatory requirement for an electrical safety certificate; undertake your own, noting that sockets are firmly fixed and not broken in any way, that light fittings are fitted firmly, light flexes not frayed in any way.

Keep on top of any repair issues reported to you and stress to tenants that they must notify you of any issues that arise.

Ask the person who is insistent that this is needed exactly where he has read about this; if it is a legal requirement, there will be an act specifying it. Possibly the person concerned is a first-time landlord, wanting to do what he believes is right and unduly influenced by an accreditation scheme or an agent, who has a connection with a company that will do the certificates.


Does a change of light fitting require an electrician to do it?

Can a landlord change a light fitting – like for like – in the kitchen of his rental property or does he have to have a qualified electrician to do this?

Part P of the Building Regulations for England and Wales applies and states that where electrical work is carried out in rented properties, it must be carried out, inspected and certified by an electrician registered with NICEIC, the electrical contracting industry’s independent body. I am aware that many landlords would feel this was unnecessary and something they have done themselves for years, but your tenants need to know that it has been done properly and complies with the legislation that is in place.


Victorian windows

A property has old victorian sash casing windows; the owner sealed shut two of the windows in the property for security and to keep the draughts out. The windows are 1 bedroom window and 1 dining room window, the other windows open in the property. A tenant has moved in recently and is asking for these windows to be opened for ventilation and as a fire safety measure in case of fire.

Do these windows have to be unsealed or is there sufficent ventilation in the property with the other windows? Is this a legal obligation?

There is a legal obligation to ensure that there are sufficient exits from the property to allow for escape in case of fire. It is not usually necessary to have every window with sufficient opening to escape, though there should be at least one (depending on the size of the property) which will open fully. Most local fire services have an officer that will be happy to come out and discuss the situation with a landlord anxious whether the property meets legal requirements.

The ventilation, however, is another issue. If the tenant is used to sleeping in a bedroom with the window open every night, the fact the room next door has a window will not be sufficient. It is possible that this was not raised as an issue at the interview to agree a tenancy; had it been, the tenant may have withdrawn at that stage. If this is a good tenant, it may be worth doing what is necessary to open the windows up.


Safety Glass

A property has a large, aluminum framed, double glazed sliding patio door.

There is a small child of 18 months old in the household and there are concerns that the glass in the patio door is not laminated safety glass and would not comply with current building regulations and could prove dangerous, if not fatal, should an accident occur.

Should the glass comply with current regulations irrespective of when it was originally fitted and if so is it the landlords responsibility to ensure it does meet current requirements and subsequently meet the cost of replacement?

If the local Environmental Services inspected, if they felt the door did not meet the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System standard, they would ask that it be replaced. This system only came into being in 2006 and is the standard now that must be adhered to. It is part of the structure of the property and is, therefore, the landlords responsibility to replace. Ask the landlord (politely) to address your concerns – he may be able to provide receipts/guarantees that specify the thickness and safety standard of the glass. If he is unable to satisfy you that the glass meets the required standard, discuss with your local Environmental Services/Housing and Public Health Unit. If this happens, he may take action to evict the tenant (though this could be classed as a retaliatory eviction and he will not be able to use a section 21 to re-possess) which is why it is important to try and keep the discussion on a reasonable level.


VAT on repairs

I let a property out with a local letting agent and they are charging VAT on all the repairs that are being done there. After speaking to a CORGI engineer the agent used for a rather complicated repair I found out that the company isn’t actually VAT registered.

Looking through my agreement with the agency I see there is nothing to state that it will add VAT on to any repair that has been completed, regardless of whether the company is VAT registered.

Should the firm be charging VAT and if not, can I claim any back any VAT on repairs that has been charged.

A company that is not registered for VAT may not charge VAT. So your agent should not add VAT to its own charges. However, it is likely that repairs will be a different matter since your agreement is likely to commit you to reimburse the agent the cost of repairs. Since the CORGI engineer was obliged to charge VAT this was part of the cost that you are obliged to reimburse.

The fact that the agent is not VAT registered does raise another issue. If its turnover is in excess of £67,000 (the 2008 threshold) the firm is obliged to register. Is it really that small or is it not VAT compliant – something that should cause you concern about compliance with other requirements, such as tenant deposit protection? I think you should check the agent’s invoices to verify that there is not a valid VAT number and if not, that VAT has not been added to the agent’s own charges. I suggest you ask the agent to explain its VAT status.


Positioning fire escape

I am currently in the process of cleaning a house up I own to rent it out. It is a pretty standard terraced two up two down. The problem I have is the central heating boiler is in the back bedroom and the flue is about five feet to the right of the upstairs rear bedroom window.

I am in the process of having the windows replaced with double glazing and I have been advised I will need windows that can be opened and used for fire escape in an emergency. The existing window has just a top opening window about a foot deep and the length of the window.

When they came to measure the windows up to replace them the installer said a bottom opening window with hinges half way up the unit would be ideal for a fire escape but I fear this would be too close to the gas flue to pass the gas regulations. Can you suggest any options where I can satisfy fire and gas regulations without having to move the boiler.

Also any info regarding measurements and distances away from opening windows for gas flues would be appreciated.

The best people to discuss this with are Environmental Standards. It may no longer be acceptable, but certainly a boiler in the back bedroom was a standard procedure, or at least, not uncommon, at one time. Environmental Services will have exact details of what is, and is not, acceptable, and are usually very happy to help a landlord who they feel is trying to improve standards. If you would rather feel a little more confident about approaching them, a good Corgi registered plumber should be able to give the information about the flues, distance from windows etc. – you may then feel easier about discussing the situation further.


Water meter costs

My tenant asked if she could arrange for a water meter to be fitted. I said fine and she arranged it all with the water company. Six months later she told me that her water bills were huge and the water company had noted excessive water use. It turns out that there is a leak underground between the water meter and the point at which the pipe enters the house. The leak is on my property, but would never have been discovered without the water meter. Her water bill for six months is over £700! What are my obligations to her over this bill? I feel she should have noted a high bill earlier than six months.

I think it is your responsibility to have the pipe repaired as it is your property. Discuss the bill with your water supplier and see if they can come up with a sum that would be fair to both of you. I don’t know how quickly you could say she should have realised that her water bill had increased substantially – certainly, for single people, metered water usually works out at a good saving. Again, this may be worth discussing with the water company. I know it must irk you that this was only discovered due to the water meter, but we all have to do our bit for the environment.


Lost in fire

My rented out one bed bungalow has been burnt and needs to be demolished and rebuilt. I am keen to clarify what I can claim for under the section landlord’s fixtures and fittings that have been insured in addition to the building. For example would the bathroom suite and kitchen cupboards be included?

I would expect the bathroom suite and kitchen cupboards to be considered as part of the structure, rather than fixtures and fittings, and therefore should be included. I think I would ask advice of the insurance company, or perhaps your landlord association, and if in doubt, include it in your claim. The worst that they will do is say it is not covered, but again, an open discussion with the insurance company should set your mind at rest.


Safety glass

Can you advise if a tenant bumped into sliding patio doors and they broke in shards (not safety glass) would the landlord be held responsible for the replacement of the doors on the grounds that they were dangerous? Or would he be able to charge the tenant for this?

I am inclined to say that if you get away with only replacing the doors, rather than a claim for injury and complaints regarding the health and safety issues, you have been lucky! I think there is little likelihood of the tenant paying, unless there were circumstances which make you feel they were negligent – for example, inebriation. If you suspect that was the case, then you may get the tenant to pay half. You can only gauge from the responses of the tenant, how likely it is that he or she would accept this and cause no further trouble. For any other properties you have, have a chat with Environmental Services to make sure all other doors and windows have the correct gauge glass in them.


Fire safety requirements

My wife and I are struggling to establish the requirements re fire safety measures for three properties we let to students (one for five students – two floors, one for four students – two floors, and one for five students – three floors).

The district council is progressing licensing arrangements and appears happy with a much lesser requirement than does the fire service. The latter’s expectation calls for fire alarm systems with break glass, smoke (or heat) sensors in all rooms and hallways and fire doors. We have a fire alarm system in our three storey house and consider it inefficient as a fire safety system. It makes so much noise when triggered (or rings for seemingly little provocation) that the students repeatedly disconnect or damage it. We would like to change this for a hard wired system with sensors.

We should appreciate your comments about:
1. Would a hard wired system with sensors that beep be acceptable in our three storey house? Is this property unquestionably an HMO?
2. Do our two storey houses count as HMOs? Would hard wired sensors that beep be acceptable in the hall and landing (and kitchen) only rather than in all rooms? Would break glass sensors be required? Is a fire alarm system required?

Please note that all houses have fire doors.

How do we resolve the difference in requirements of the council and of the fire service?

Any property shared by two or more people that are not related/connected counts as a HMO. Mandatory licensing only applies to properties of three stories with five or more people resident.

Go through what the fire safety people have sent you/said. Are they recommendations or requirements? Fire officers will always recommend the highest level of fire safety that they know of – that is their job, after all. But recommendations do not, necessarily, have to be accepted. Only what is a statutory requirement must be done by you.

I would discuss fully with the council, who will know exactly what is a requirement for a licensed property.

Hard-wired systems are much preferred as much harder to disarm.

Take advice from the council regarding the sighting of hard wired alarms – I think in a HMO, individual alarms in each room are best, but if the council do not believe it is necessary, then they will advise.

I don’t think the two storey, four person house would come under mandatory licensing, but it may come under special licensing, but again, query it with the council and they will explain.


Fire precautions

I have let my three bedroom terraced house via a letting agent on a full management basis. I have been told by a friend that the door connecting from the hallway to the kitchen must be fire proof – currently it is a glass panel door. Do I need to change the Door?

Also I have installed a smoke detector in the hallway, but this is not connected to the mains and only works off a battery. Can you advise if the responsibility lies with me to make regular checks to see if the smoke detector is working? And if it is law that I must install a mains connected smoke alarm?

Is it law that I need to have an NIC EIC electricity check done or a PAT test on appliances that I have provided such as the fridge, cooker, and boiler.

The house is currently being rented to a family and the lettings agent has never advised me of these.

Quite a few points here. I must start by surprise that the agent seems to have been unable to answer you or advise properly on what is required.

1. The door needs to be of an appropriate standard, and I would have thought that needs to be reinforced safety glass, possibly with a grill in it. Speak to Environmental Services and they will advise. It is probably the same sort of door currently as thousands of us have, but when you are renting, the standard must be higher.
2. As the property is let to a family, I would not expect that you need a mains connected alarm, though there may be a local requirement – Environmental Services can help with that. I feel it is up to the tenants to check the alarm, but it may be good practice to check it when you do inspections for repairs, which I recommend you do every few months.
3. It is not mandatory to have a NICEIC check done, though it is good practice. I don’t think that you can have a PAT test on appliances which are not portable. If you decide to have an inspection, perhaps they could look at the appliances too and make sure all are wired correctly.


Hole in the wall

I have been letting my property via a letting agency for over a year now. Before I let my flat out I had all the rooms plastered and painted, so it was in a pretty good condition. Initially a gentleman rented my flat out for six months and immediately after a woman moved in with her two children. She has now been there for around nine months.

I have not had a major problem with either tenant and have been fairly satisfied over the course of the let.

But a couple of weeks ago I visited the flat. When the front door was opened I noticed a ‘significant’ hole in the wall, there was a cable coming out and this was leading through to the mains supply. I was pretty annoyed at this gaping wound and phoned my letting agents to determine the cause and who would fix it. They said they had nothing on their inventory and that it was not their responsibility. The current tenant said the hole was already there when she moved in and it was also not her responsibility either.

My problem is I have damage to my flat but no one taking responsibility to fix it. Do you know what rights I have and if I can legally place responsibility on someone. I am of the opinion that the letting agents should take responsibility until they determine whose fault it is.

The agent surely went through an inventory when the woman and children moved in and I would not expect that a gaping wound, rather than a neat accommodation for a cable, would have been accepted without comment. Were you able to ascertain what the cable was for? If you know what it is used for, you may get a good idea of who would gain from doing it. They should also have had an end of tenancy inspection with the chap, and again, did they not notice? I am with you on this, hold them responsible and see whether this helps them to decide who actually went at the wall with a lump hammer. I would be concerned at the safety aspect and you must get the wall tidied up at least.


Finding alternative accommodation

We have a property, which due to a leak is in need of repair to both the bathroom and kitchen. During the works which will take three to four days, we obviously need to find alternative accommodation for the tenants.

What standard of accommodation do we need to provide? The property is a three bedroom house. Does the alternative accommodation need to be similar to this or is there a minimum standard that we can provide?

For three or four days, it just needs to be adequate for their use. It is often cheaper to use a hotel than place them in alternative accommodation. The standard is very difficult to judge. For example, if my kitchen was out of action, (which it has been), I would not be happy leaving my lounge and bedroom and the rest, and would probably manage with the microwave in another room. If a damp proof course is needed, families will try and manage in the rooms not being touched, as owner-occupiers rarely have the means to provide alternative accommodation. However, for tenants, it is different, of course. I think you need to look at what you can provide, with a choice if possible, and discuss it with the tenants. The minimum standard must be that it is suitable for their needs, so correct no. of bedrooms etc. without overcrowding. Obviously, have them out of the property for as little time as possible.


Compensation claimed for inconvenience

I have been a landlord for just a year so I’m not too knowledgeable as to my own and the tenants’ rights.

My tenants are refusing to pay the full rent because they are claiming they were without hot water and heating for 10 days. The boiler broke down last winter and we offered to send our plumber in the following day. He couldn’t make it on the day it broke down and they refused for him to come the next day because they were at work. They eventually arranged to get a plumber through our agent. They had to pay the plumber themselves and without asking they took the payment from the rent owed. I was OK with this as I would have had to reimburse them anyway.

Then the boiler broke down again and without asking they called in a plumber and passed the invoices on to us to pay.

What I wasn’t pleased with was that they further reduced the following month’s rent by a quarter to compensate themselves for the inconvenience of not having a boiler. They have now left and I am refusing to return their full deposit as I believe they had no right to reduce the rent when the delays were caused by themselves. They are insisting they have every right to do this. Are they right?

I think they were wrong to take it upon themselves to get the boiler mended the second time and further reduce your rent. However, they could argue that they had no reason to think this would be unacceptable to you as this is what they had done previously. I think after the first time, you should have sent a firm letter clearly stating that repairs should always be notified to you and you would authorise repair work. Are you holding the deposit yourself because they moved in before 7 April 2007? Any deposits after that time should have been protected. If it has been protected, I would leave it to the dispute resolution service to decide. If you are holding the deposit, I would trying to resolve it by perhaps trying to get agreement on a mid-point, so you retain something for the money they have withheld, but not trying to keep it all. They may not be happy with that, but at least if they go to the small claims court, you can show you have tried to be reasonable.



Pat testing & energy assessment

I am an inventory clerk and have been asked this by one of my letting agents. When will Pat testing be made a legal requirement for rented properties, and also when will energy performance certificates be required?

There do not appear to be plans, at present, to make PAT testing a legal requirement, though it is good practice to do as much as possible to make tenants safe. If your properties are Houses in Multiple Occupation, possibly licensed, if bigger properties, the Environmental Services may ask for a PAT certificate. Discuss with them, they will be happy to help.

Landlords will have to provide Energy Performance Certificates from October 2008 – see our article www.residentiallandlord.co.uk/feature15.html.


Electrics test

When letting a house do we need an electrical test certificate similar to that required for gas?

It is not, currently, mandatory to provide an electrical test certificate. However, accreditation schemes can ask for a certificate as a condition of the scheme, but these are voluntary. There are different requirements for a house in multiple occupation so discuss with your Environmental Health Service if it is not let to one family.


Flood prevention

We rent a wooden lodge in the Cotswolds that was flooded during the last heavy rains. There was no need for any one to get flooded if some controls had been put in place (say pumps and sandbags). However, the management on site was non existent, in fact at midnight one went home and the other went up the pub until 02:00hrs. Have we got a case under the landlords ‘Duty of Care’?

You need to discuss this with a solicitor. You could try and negotiate it with the landlord, but you may not want the him or her to know what you are considering. I think to be fair that whilst, with hindsight, it is obvious that pumps and sandbags may have helped, if this is the first flooding the site has experienced, it may just have been an unforeseen incident. A solicitor will be able to assess the likelihood of success.


Fitting alarms

I am a landlord who has recently had some electrical work done. The electrician who did the job told me that I need to install an electric alarm and a gas alarm, as this is now a legal requirement for landlords of renting property. I have never heard of these alarms. What are they and are they a legal requirement?

The legal requirement is that hard-wired (ie mains) alarms are installed in houses in multiple occupation (ie not a single family home). If your property is for a single family, this may be a local requirement of the Environmental Services or accreditation scheme. Contact Environmental Services – they will be happy to clarify. Whatever the legal and local requirements, I believe it is desirable to have good fire safety precautions in place. In this instance your electrician may, of course, be trying to increase the size of the job he is undertaking – it is Environmental Services who are the ones to say what must be done.


Temporary accommodation

I inherited a property about five years ago. It has a sitting tenant who has been there since 1945. I have never had access to the property and am therefore unaware of its condition except via an annual report from the agency that looks after the property on my behalf.

There has never been any mention of the electrics until recently when the tenant’s daughter forwarded a ‘flyer’ from a company offering ‘free’ electrical checks on properties in the area. She scribbled a note on the ‘flyer’ saying she suggested I have the property re-wired as it’s not been done for a long time and it may now be illegal.

I have spoken to the agent about it and he said that because I have never entered the property or asked for an electrical company to check the electrics I will not be held responsible. So my question is: ‘am I liable?’

I am thinking of having the property rewired and gas central heating installed some time in the future – the daughter is saying that at the moment her mother is too old and ill to have the disruption.

I understand that I am liable to pay for temporary accommodation for the tenant if I go ahead with the update on the property. Is that correct?

I think the agent is being short sighted here and really, there should be some kind of checks done at regular intervals anyway. Heaven forbid, but what happens if there is an electrical fire because of the poor state of the electrics? After 62 years, they cannot be safe. And if there was a fire? Almost certainly, you would be held responsible. The problem though, is getting the works which you have already decided on, done.

I think paying for temporary accommodation seems a little hard on you, the landlord. And would she go? She is obviously very old. Is it worth discussing with the daughter? She brought the electrics to your attention – what did she think you could do about it? Is there nobody in the family that would prefer to accommodate her – she is likely to prefer to be with people she knows, rather than her being placed in a bed and breakfast? Or do you have other properties that you would be happy to place her in temporarily for the rwo or three weeks it would take to do the work? I think daughter needs to be clear about what actions you can take, but her mother also has to party to it.


Mandatory ‘recommendations’

In March this year we had a tenant move in who from the first day started to make complaints above the property. After three weeks she called in the council saying that there were Health and Safety issues.

We went to the property together with a council official, our agent and a workman. The tenant had placed a bucket of water under the light fitting in the kitchen claiming that there was water coming through the light fitting. The workman took the upstairs floor up and established that she was lying.

The council representative inspected the property and told us that it was in good condition. He later sent a letter to our agent listing some recommendations, for example, we had installed battery operated smoke alarms and he suggested having alarms wired in. Our agent told us that we were not under any legal obligation to carry out any of the recommendations at present.

We subsequently found out that the tenant had been making allegations to avoid paying the rent and she finally did a ‘moonlight flit’ owing a considerable amount of rent. She also caused damage to the property which we had to pay to have put right.

Although there is a deposit held, the matter has to go to arbitration and will not in any case cover the amount owing.

The council has now been in touch again. I have explained that the tenant has left and that the new tenants are happy with the house as it is. Our agents are still insisting that the council only made recommendations and that legally we do not have to implement them at present.

When we asked them to substantiate their recommendations they were very vague. For example, their representative had referred to lack of lagging in the loft. But although there a ladder by the loft hatch he did not use it to check in the loft and when spoken to the council could not confirm exactly what lagging it believed was there and what the standards should be. The representative kept quoting the Health and Safety Act of 2004 but had no copy to refer to at the time of the visit.

However, the council is insisting that we have to implement its recommendations straight away and is saying it is going to visit the property either with or without me. I do not wish the council to upset the present tenants. Can I stop them visiting without my permission? Also is it in order for the council to make recommendations and then alter its mind and say that these are mandatory.

They are only recommendations, so I am surprised that they are now saying these are mandatory, which would normally only be so where there was a health and safety risk. I understood they could only take action where the current tenant is asking for it. I think you need to put your case in writing to the manager of your Environmental Services, clearly putting your case:
Last tenant lied;
Recommendations only, how have they become mandatory?
New tenants making no complaints;
Understand your obligations as a landlord and will do what is necessary.

Then say that as your current tenan’s are happy, you have no wish for them to be disturbed by this.

However, I believe they have a statutory right and may enter the property anyway. I wonder could you tell your tenants they want to have a look just to check on insulation? But they may say differently to the tenants, of course. Sorry and Good luck.


Interest offset

I rent out my semi detached cottage. My next door neighbour tells me that whilst investigating water infiltration into her upper house, the roofing contractors found that my roof is in a bad state of repair and is probably the cause of her problem – her own roof is fairly new and the contractors could not find any reason for it to leak.

I do have very damp walls in the upstairs rooms and my tenant has admitted this to the neighbour. He has also called out a roofing contractor who says the same thing. Am I under any legal obligation to re-roof this property as the contractor says it is beyond reasonable repair?

I have also had complaints about the state of the gardens which are overgrown and in need of quite a lot of tidying. Am I again under any obligation to do this?

Your property is deteriorating if it is not in wind and weather-proof condition. Your tenant could report it to Environmental Services, who may put an order on you to undertake the work, if they consider it is having a detrimental effect on the health of the tenant. Failure to do so could then mean them having the work done and charging you. I would get a couple more contractors in and get their opinion – there may be some work that they can do to improve the situation. My main concern would be that a roof in such a bad state could have lose tiles which in winter weather could be a very serious safety hazard, not only to your tenant but to passers by. If you are not prepared to do some work, I think you should give your tenant notice and leave the property empty.

Did your tenancy agreement make any reference to the garden? It should have specified that the gardens will be kept tidy. I would say the tenant has a responsibility to keep it tidy but if he fails to do so, then you as landlord need to take action. It also, of course, depends on the nature of the complaints – is there refuse which could lead to vermin infestation, or is it just the garden is so overgrown it is not nice to look at and is aiding the spread of weeds? I would suggest you have a plain speaking interview with the tenant and find out why he is prepared to live like this – he may have no tools, he may not be fit to do any gardening or he may just not want to – but you need to know which it is so you can lend him tools or perhaps get someone in to clear the garden (billing the tenant, of course). If he is totally uncooperative, serve him notice.



Lighting regulations

We bought a terraced house a month ago, already renovated, with a view to letting it as soon as possible.

We realised that the bathroom lighting may not be up to legal standards as the spotlights are over the bath and are not Zone 1 lights, so we asked an electrician to change them over. When he got to the property he said that the whole lighting was sub standard and not earthed correctly. He said that the vendor should have given us a letter from the council to say that they had been advised of the work in an essential area and if not the electrician who put it in initially could be prosecuted if the work is sub-standard.

We want the work done but is the electrician right in saying the council should have been informed about this new lighting? We do have a certificate but it appears now it must have been done before this new lighting was installed.

New regulations came in force last year which stated all new electrical installation work must be undertaken by an electrician who is a member of a Competent Person Certification Scheme with NICEIC registration. A certificate dating from before the new lighting installation is really not worth having. Ring NICEIC on 0800 013 0900 or British Standards Instituted on 01442 230442 for further information. Environmental Services should be notified as they can advise where you go from here; they may want to take action against the electrician. You may have some recourse to the solicitor who handled the conveyancing, as I think he should have been aware of the regulations.


Certifying the electrics

I have a property to rent out and I would like to know if I require a Landlord’s Electrical Certificate. The property is a one bedroom house on two floors and is completely electric. The installation is quite new and perfectly ok.

It is not yet a legal requirement to have an electrical certificate, though it is good practice to have one. If your property is going to be accredited, the accreditation scheme may make that a requirement. As it is only a single/couple property, there are fewer requirements anyway, but check with Environmental Services if in doubt.



Access denied

The tenant of a property I let out has complained to Environmental Health saying repairs are needed. I have tried to arrange access but the tenant is not letting me in, so I cannot carry out the work.

Environmental Health say they can gain a warrant to check works are complete but not to gain access for me. I have given written notice and arranged for workman to do the work. Do I need to go to court and apply for a warrant and if so, can I recharge this to the tenant?

This is the frustration of the legal system, which can order you to do works, a warrant can be issued for Environmental Services to enter to ensure work is done, but there is little you can do with an awkward tenant.

My first advice is to check where he is in his tenancy – when does the fixed term end? If it is not too far in advance, I would issue the two month’s notice necessary to end the tenancy. Send a brief, non-threatening letter with it, explaining that as this work needs doing, and the tenant has indicated he wanted it doing because he made a complaint, his failure to give you access means that the only way you can have the work done is with vacant possession. Should he now feel able to tell you when you can gain access, you will not act on the notice.

If the tenancy is not due to end for a while, send the same letter, but add a paragraph that should it be necessary for you to obtain a court order to gain access to the property, you will look to him for the costs. Stress that you only wish to be a good landlord and undertake the necessary works at his convenience. Good luck.

For future tenancies, always ensure that there is a clause in your agreement that states that you can inspect every month for repairs and that failure to obtain access will result in a section 21 notice being issued to obtain possession at the end of the first period of tenancy.



Bother with bugs

I have a tenant who has very recently reported of an infestation of woodworm bugs. These have appeared under the carpets over the past few days. He called me as he presumed that it was my responsibility to get rid of them. All I can say is that the place was totally re-decorated from top to bottom and the carpets were brand new when he moved in just over a year ago, so I know the place was totally clear of any small creatures at that point.

I have already asked him to use an appropriate pesticide to get ride of them, however, I’m not sure whether I was right in doing this? Also, I’m now quite concerned as I don’t want them eating into the property!

I would be grateful if you could tell me where the responsibility lies here and for the related costs associated with termination of these bugs?

I think whose responsibility this is must rest with where the bugs have come from. If you believe the tenant has brought furniture in which was infested with bugs, then obviously it is his responsibility. However, it is probably unlikely, unless he has very ancient furniture!

If the tenant has not caused the infestation, I think it is probably your responsibility. I appreciate that the place was decorated and the carpet was new, but it is possible that things have hatched out. I think I would discuss with Environmental Services – they may allow you to take a sample of the things in, and be able to tell you exactly what they are and the likelihood of where they have come from.

I personally would not object to my landlord advising me to get some pesticide, in fact, I would probably not wait for the advice! However, knowing exactly what the bugs are could indicate the need for a particular pesticide, maybe not generally available. If a specialist treatment is needed to eradicate, for which a charge is made, then I think this is your responsibility, unless you are positive that the infestation is down to actions or inactions of your tenant.



Protected tenant

I have a flat let to a tenant who has been there since before 1989 and is therefore protected.
However the tenancy agreement contains ‘repair and maintenance provisions’ that are extremely onerous for the tenant. For example, all decorations, fixtures and fittings, doors and windows are the responsibility of tenant, as are all landlord’s fixtures. And the tenant must pay the buildings insurance.

Are these provisions enforceable? What if the tenant has no funds? And what if he has instructed legal aid solicitors to sue the landlord over alleged poor conditions including condensation and a faulty boiler? And what if this tenant is a nuisance to neighbours?

Although this is a protected tenancy, the responsibilities for repairs and the like are covered by the 1985 Landlord and Tenant legislation. Upkeep of the structure and exterior of the building are the landlord’s responsibility and this would include doors and windows;(which could affect conditions and condensation), installations for the heating of space and water, and all sanitary installations. Also I would not expect a tenant to pay buildings insurance it is not his building.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect a longstanding tenant to decorate to his own taste, but it if he has no funds it would be difficult to enforce. If eviction was sought on the basis that he had not decorated, a court may feel that it was not reasonable, though there is a ground that the property has deteriorated due to neglect.

There is a ground for eviction, ground 2, that might be used. This is for nuisance and annoyance to adjoining occupiers or conviction for immoral/illegal use, but the case would have to be well supported for a court to feel it is reasonable to evict – so make sure you have copies of warning letters, and statements from other residents.


Rats under the floorboards

I am a private tenant living on the top floor of a house with three flats. I discovered last Friday there are rats underneath my floorboards in the bedroom.

I called my landlord leaving a message about the rats but did not get a response for three days. I have a three year old son and do not want rats in the flat!

As the landlord did not immediately respond I contacted Rentokill which arrived with poison and a whopping bill of £271 – although the preventative measures taken at least mean the rats didn’t chew their way through the floorboards into the flat. The Rentokill person confirmed rats were present and said the problem was not confined to my flat, but affected the building as a whole.

When my landlord did finally call, he instantly rejected responsibility, arguing it was my home, saying that I was responsible for the upkeep of it. I however argue, that a) he’s the owner of the flat and needs to look after it, especially potential damage caused by rats and b) it’s the responsibility of all three flats in the building to share the cost. I have paid for Rentokill for now – can I offset this cost against my rent?

Not sure about this one, in that the one occasion, 25 years ago, when a rat got in my property, I rang pest control who came out and put poison down and then inspected on a daily basis until they were sure that they had removed the creature, dead. There was no charge for this service then. I believe they may now charge, but not to the extent of £271. I would be inclined to ask Rentokil for a statement of some sort, indicating that the whole building was affected and that the treatment given has eradicated it from the building. With that in hand, write a brief letter stating that whilst you do not believe that it was your responsibility to deal with rats – this was the landlord’s responsibility – you are prepared to cover one third of the bill and expect recompense for the rest. See what response you get. I never advise withholding rent because all that will happen is that the tenancy is ended at the expiry of the shorthold period when the amount will be deducted from the deposit.


Boiler chaos

I moved into a rented property in August and have had five different incidents with the boiler breaking down (one incident resulted in me being without central heating and hot water for two weeks!). Last Sunday the boiler broke again and I informed the agent who in turn called their plumber who said the pressure had gone (on a combi boiler) and that I was responsible for keeping an eye on the pressure and had to raise the pressure using a scewdriver on a pipe!

Not being a plumber I was a little concerned by this. However within half an hour of the plumber leaving, the pressure dropped again and I was left without hot water and central heating AGAIN. The plumber has since been around and said there is a leak under the floor boards. Is there anything I can do about the rent I pay? I feel that I am paying for a flat with gas central heating and not actually getting it.

This is really annoying for you. I think if I had had situations like this over the winter, I might have been looking for a new tenancy for when this one expires. However, as you are asking about the rent, consider what you think would be fair and put it to the landlord. He can only say no, though I hope the discovery of the leak will mean the system is given a thorough checking and faults rectified very soon.


Minor repairs

My tenants call me for every single minor repair – even to change light bulbs!
The latest is that the wind has blown down the external television aerial (which was there at the start of the let). Do I have to pay for the repair or is it for the tenants either to repair it themselves or make do with an indoor aerial?

Changing light bulbs is not part of your responsibilities – in the same way a council or housing association are not expected to change them either. However, an outdoor aerial is different. The tenant took the house with a working outdoor aerial and can expect the same standard of television service to continue. I think you need to have a discussion with the tenant; make it clear that you will not respond to requests to change light bulbs. Take an indoor aerial and try it out. If the service is comparable, then leave it for the tenant – since you will have provided an adequate replacement. If it is not a comparable service, then you will have to get the aerial replaced – the tenant would not be taking the aerial with him if he moved, so it would be unreasonable to expect him to have it repaired. I would not want a tenant trying to make a repair – it takes skill to work on a roof without causing more damage.


Kitchen units

We are agents for a landlord and have a tenant who has occupied the landlord’s property for over 15 years. The property was brand new build when the tenant moved in. Although he looks after the property and keeps it nice he is now requesting that the landlord replace all the kitchen cabinet facia which have been there since new. He says there is nothing wrong apart from one draw front coming off and a few little chips on the bottom edges of some of the base unit doors, but he feels the kitchen lets the house down – he has decorated the rest of the house.

Is the landlord responsible for replacing a kitchen for cosmetic reasons to please the tenant. The tenant has advised us that should his request not be granted he will make sure that the landlord pays far more in other repairs to the house but does not specify what they are.

I have to be honest, I think my immediate reaction would be that this sounds like a threat and, assuming this is a shorthold or statutory periodic tenancy, I would evict. A landlord has no duty to replace a new kitchen for cosmetic reasons, though I would try and get the door replaced or put back on. You will know how good the kitchen was when it was put in, but 15 years does not sound old from a new build. Discuss with the owner – is there a programme in place that says in 15-20 years it will be replaced? You could also mention to the owner that he has undertaken re-decoration, which could expect to be done every five years at the landlord’s expense. If the landlord does not want to get the kitchen replaced, perhaps some compensation can be made for the work the tenant should not have done. Of course, what he said may not have been intended as a threat, and merely that in future, he will do no small jobs and just report them. That may cost more in the long run, but is preferable to having someone feel they have something to hold over you.


Leased property in need of repair

I bought the lease of a hotel from the previous tenant. Since moving into the property we have notified the landlord of all the repairs that are needed – windows ready to fall out and are not air tight; the gas heating has packed up and we have no hot water in the kitchen; and we have blocked drains in bedroom sinks.

We have been waiting for our tenancy agreement to be written up for six months and still don’t have one.

Can I hold back the rent until we get repairs done and what is our position if we don’t have any formal agreement. If all else fails can I claim back the money I spent buying my lease from the landlord?

We have a feeling that the landlord is in desperate arrears with his mortgage and perhaps has to sell property or lose it. Where do we stand?

I think you need to see a solicitor on this one – obviously if the property is repossessed you are likely to few rights – although you should check out purchase contract. But if repossession does occur, it seems unlikely you will be able to recover any money from the landlord.

In housing law, you have the right, having followed a procedure involving several letters warning the landlord of what you intend to do, to have the repairs done and withhold the rent until you have recouped the cost, but as this seems a very precarious situation at present, you will have to balance the desirability of having the repairs made against the risk of repossession.

A solicitor who specialises in commercial law should be able to assist.


Right to repair

A friend of mine who is a private tenant has just had her annual gas check on all of her appliances. It was discovered that her boiler was potentially lethal, and it has therefore been turned off until a new one can be fitted. This has left her with no hot water, and no supply at all to the shower.

How long would it be reasonable to allow for replacement of the boiler bearing in mond that in the interim my friend has no hot water in the house other than by boiling saucepans?

The boiler is currently in the bathroom above the bath taps. This is a very small room. Should this be located where someone may stand in water and touch the casing of the boiler in case there could be an electrical short? Or should it be located in another room, or at least in some kind of lockable cupboard if left in present location?

The engineer who is to make the replacement has also mentioned that to replace the boiler where it is currently located, he will have to seal up the bathroom window, leaving the doorway the only means of venting the room. Surely the bathroom must have either the window for ventilation, or some kind of extractor fan fitted?

My friend is currently has about £700 in arrears with her rent, but if the boiler is not replaced within a reasonable timescale can she arrange for it to be done herself and deduct the cost from her rent (or arrears)?

The boiler must be replaced, of course, but it is difficult to be precise about a reasonable timescale at a time of year when plumbers will be busy with bursts and the like. I would have hoped it could be done within a week to 10 days.

The best safeguard for a landlord is to take out the cover such as that provided by British Gas which includes annual checks and a fast repair service if something goes wrong.

The boiler position seems very odd and I wonder whether this was fitted professionally? However, the engineer who inspected the system and found it unsafe would surely have commented on this also when at the property? He advised on blocking the window off, so I would have thought if he saw anything to concern him about replacing it where it was, he would have said so.

I have seen many bathrooms without windows, but they have always had an extractor fan and again, I would not have expected someone to block a window off without discussing this aspect.

I think your friend needs to discuss all of this with the landlord. By all means, she can offer to have the work done herself to clear her arrears, but this must be with the landlord’s agreement and she must get it confirmed in writing that this is what is happening.


Being present

I am living in a rented property and have been without a fully functional boiler for almost three weeks. The managing agent has finally agreed to fix it and two plumbers are due to come next week to carry out the repairs. We are not happy about having strangers in our flat without the managing agent being there. However the agent refuses and we cannot take off work to be there. Is there anything we can do about this?

I understand your concerns, but if plumbers refuse to do the work at a time convenient for you to be there (evening or weekend), I don’t think there is a lot you can do. Whilst the agent being present sounds as though it would satisfy you, personally I would be less happy about the agent being sat there doing nothing than letting plumbers in.

Have you a friend or relative that would be prepared to see to them whilst in your property? Do any of the internal doors have locks? Would it be possible to keep your valuables away from where they will be working? You are right to be concerned about security, but sometimes, if there is no alternative, you have to go with what is suggested. Speak to the agent and the plumbers and see if an arrangement can be made.

It is a complaint often made by landlords, that they are willing to do repairs but are denied access.


Windows

My tenant has broken several windows in my property. It is an old cottage and the front window in particular had old glass in it. Who is liable for repairs please?

If your tenant broke them, then he is. The issue about the age of the glass would only apply if he felt they had shattered for little or no reason. Current safety standards will insist on a higher grade of glass being re-fitted.


Section 21 notice dates

I have read elsewhere on the Internet that you need to be careful with the dates on a section 21 notice, and that it’s advisable to allow at least two months and three days.

I am currently preparing my County Court accelerated possession claim and wondered if I am going to come unstuck with the dates:

1) The Assured Shorthold Tenancy started on 20 December 2005
2) My father hand delivered a notice to end tenancy five months and four days later – on 24 May with the expiration date as 24 July.

Question one – As the notice is for two months exactly, could this mean it gets rejected and I will lose the court fee?

Question two – As the notice was hand delivered, my father can swear an affidavit of service, but did the hand delivery need to be witnessed?

My drug dealing, non rent paying tenant has told me she’s not going without a fight, so I need to make sure I get this right!

You do need to be careful and in my view:
Question one – I think it will be rejected because it does not follow tenancy dates; it should have been issued from 20 May to end 19 July, proceedings not to commence until after this date. I may be wrong and hope that a Judge would see that as the tenant actually got longer in the property and did get what the law required, two months, then it would be all right – but unfortunately, some judges go by the letter, whilst others would look at the intention.

Question two – A witness to delivery is always useful, but not strictly necessary, in my judgement.
I hope the notice you issued also made reference to grounds 8, 10, 11 and14, which hopefully will cover all the other things the tenant has done! If owes over eight weeks, always, always use ground 8 and 10 and 11 – only two weeks notice and a mandatory ground. A section 21 notice gives the tenant carte blanche with another landlord – you give no reason why he is being evicted. Eviction on a ground 8, and with 14 included, gives the next landlord a very good idea of the kind of tenant she will be. Good luck.


Rats

I have just noticed two rats in my rented flat (assured shorthold tenancy). Is it the landlord’s responsibility to get this dealt with or is it mine? I have been in the flat for two years.

Ugh – rats, closely followed by slugs, are my least favourite things. You must inform the landlord – this could indicate a problem with sewers or could be affecting a whole terrace of houses. He should inform Environmental Health/Pest Control and they will soon get rid of them.

I am, of course, presuming that you are doing nothing to attract them, such as leaving rubbish to accumulate, and have advised the landlord of any build up of rubbish outside.


Shabby carpets

I moved into a rented flat two years ago, and at the time the carpet was quite worn. However, as the rent was reasonable and as I was desperate to get the flat, I didn’t insist on having the carpet changed. Two years on, it really looks terrible and I wish to know whether it’s my responsibility to change the carpet or whether it’s the landlord’s responsibility. I have an assured shorthold tenancy for a furnished dwelling.

You were not, of course, in a position to insist on having the carpet replaced – the landlord need only do this if this carpet is in an unsafe condition and ‘quite worn’ would not necessarily be unsafe. I think after two years of good tenancy, you are within your rights to discuss it with the landlord. If he refuses to replace the carpet, ask if can you dispose of it and put your own down, which you would expect to take with you. Good luck.


Unwanted kitchen replacement

My husband and I have been renting a flat for just over seven years. We have kept the flat impeccably and pay our rent on the due date each month. In December 2005 our landlord said that he was going to replace our kitchen. There was nothing wrong with the existing kitchen apart from the necessity to replace the hob which had badly rusted and needed replacing. We advised our landlord several times that we did not want a new kitchen, but he pressed on. In March he advised us that he had already purchased all the appliances and fittings. This was done without our knowledge or consent. The landlord then informed us that the work was going to be done in early May, which was in the middle of our busy working term.

We wrote to him, asking for a waiver of rent for the period when we would not have any kitchen facilities or the use of our living room. Each time we approached him he prevaricated, saying that he would not discuss the matter until after the work was completed.

He had indicated that the work should take only four days, but in actual fact the last of the workmen did not leave our flat until almost three weeks later. During the initial week, on the very first day, the whole of the kitchen was pulled out, our living room was smothered in dust sheets and filled with appliances waiting installation and the kitchen fittings which had arrived in kitset form. The living room was then used by the carpenter to assemble the units before erecting them in the kitchen. We had six men, including the landlord, coming and going all day long, traipsing up and down our small hall and using the bathroom facilities. My husband’s study was inaccessible because we had had to store most of our kitchen and living room belongings in there, including all our electrical equipment from the living room. Our computers were completely out of operation because we had nowhere to place them or operate them. Consequently, neither my husband nor I could further our term’s work or access our emails. The only room available to us for living purposes was our small bedroom, where we had already had to store some of the excess belongings from the kitchen and living room. Consequently, there was no space left in this room either and we had nowhere whatsoever to sit except on our bed for the whole of the first week.

It was a nightmare. Although we were able to put some of our belongings back at the end of the first week, the job was not finished and we still had to have workmen coming and going each working day of the following two weeks. We were subjected to continual noise from their electrical equipment and their constant talking. They left our front door open the whole time to passers by. We were obliged to give the men morning and afternoon teas and biscuits as one would do of course. But the landlord had made no arrangement for this himself or arranged with us to be reimbursed. He simply took it for granted.

The landlord had indicated, somewhat unwillingly, prior to the commencement of the work, that if there had been any ‘excessive inconvenience’ to ourselves he would look at it after the job was complete. When the work was completed, therefore, we wrote a formal letter to him, indicating the extreme distress and trauma we had suffered from being confined to our bedroom and the fact that we were unable to continue with our normal work, which had put us behind of course. We also referred to the fact that we had lost the use of both the kitchen and living room during the period of installation and therefore the value. We had consulted the local Tenancy Relations Officer and she had confirmed that the waiver of rent we were to suggest to our landlord was very fair. We set out our suggestion in our letter. We also enclosed our cheque for the rent which was due for the coming month, deducting the list of expenses incurred, as had been the arrangement with the landlord for other expenses in the past, since he had agreed this would be fair enough.

We received a furious phone call from our landlord, shouting at us, accusing us of being niggardly and ungrateful and suggested that ‘we should just go!’ He raved on and on about what the flat had cost him in the last year, nothing whatever to do with either the replacement of the kitchen, which we had not wanted. Nor did he once mention the waiver of rent. With regard to the expenses he had caused us to incur, he denied ever having said that he would reimburse them (we had fortunately written up the phone call in our phone book), and has since tried to suggest that he will ‘grant’ us £50 towards this!

We have several questions:

(i) Is a landlord permitted under the Housing Act or Private Tenants’ Act to enter our flat during our occupation to make major alterations?

(ii) Is he entitled to do this without our permission and when he has been told we do not actually want the alterations?

(iii) Is the landlord entitled to choose whether he will allow a waiver of rent under the above conditions or should it have been a necessary requirement, due to the fact that he had taken away from us our use of the facilities and rooms indicated?

(iv) Should he make full restoration to us for the expenses he forced us to incur?

(v) Since we suffered a great deal of trauma and exhaustion during this whole period, and indeed are still doing so since the financial problem is still ongoing, should we also be entitled to damages or compensation for this as well?

In brief – the landlord is not entitled to enter the flat without permission, but with your permission, yes he can enter. My view would be that where this is unwanted by the tenants, it is easier to evict the tenants. The fact he did not shows that he wanted the rent and probably did not want to lose good tenants. However, the reverse is also true – if you do not like the way he is trying to treat you, you could move out – but obviously, you do not want to do that.

I am afraid I can find nothing on rent waivers – this leads me to think it would be good practice, rather than a necessary requirement. I think in your position, I would be inclined to deduct what appears a reasonable sum from the rent – but this could inflame an already ugly situation and lead to him serving notice.

It is difficult to say whether a request for expenses would be reasonable as you do not mention how much your expenses were. The best builder I have ever dealt with always instructed the people he was working for not to brew up for his men – they were told to take their own drinks with them. Do a careful, not exaggerated list of the expenses incurred. Ask to discuss it. Maybe if the figures are in black and white, the landlord or builder might be more amenable to a request for reimbursement.

Regarding damages and compensation, you need to discuss with a solicitor.

I realise this must have been a very trying time for you and you feel justified in being angry. However, I do not think it is unreasonable that after seven years, the landlord feels that the property needs some updating. He may feel that should you leave, sale or re-let will be much easier if the property has a new kitchen – he does have to safeguard his investment, but it is obviously easier and more cost effective for him to do that whilst you are in occupation


Soundproofing

There seems to be a fair few issues raised on your website regarding soundproofing. I, too, have a problem in this area.

I am a shared ownership resident with a housing association (who are the landlords). I moved in six years ago. It was soon apparent there was no soundproofing. In my bedroom I can hear my upstairs neighbour’s very loud, creaking, rotten floorboards. I think they have also laid down laminated wooden floors about two years ago, which doesn’t help when they stomp around and drop things on the floor. I have resorted to sleeping on my sofa in my lounge, which I am angry about. I complained to my landlord about the lack of soundproofing and asked if a test had been undertaken prior to residents moving in. I was told no such test had been undertaken.

I have asked them if they can provide some sort of better soundproofing as my sleep, health and no work is suffering. They weren’t very helpful and just blamed the creaking floor on the laminated flooring the neighbour had put down. When I complained that the problem was there before the neighbour had moved in, they still tried to fob it off onto the neighbour. When I asked them what they planned to do about sorting out the real problem of the old rotting floor their letters and all communication stopped.

Does the housing association have a website? I would have thought that you could get what you need, which in this case is the full complaints procedure, over the web. Take it as far as you can, which mean going to the Housing Ombudsman. That will teach them to stop communicating! You could also ask your local environmental services to put some sound monitoring equipment in – and they may have the solution to effective sound proofing.


More Soundproofing

I am a private tenant and live in a lower ground floor flat of a very large Victorian house for the past 30 years. My landlady sadly died, and the house has been sold to a property developer who has completely renovated the upper floors and installed wooden floors without any soundproofing.
The property has been resold again. The noise due to the wooden flooring and lack of soundproofing has become unbearable. I am not blaming the new owners, but the property developer. I am also disabled and spent most of my time at home. What can I do?

I appreciate you do not blame your landlord, but I think only the landlord can address this issue. He may have some comeback on the developer. Environmental Health may also be able to assist and put monitoring equipment in.


Electric shower

Can you please advise what safety checks a landlord must make relating to an electric shower and also how often those checks should be carried out?

A landlord has to comply with Part P for any electrical installation in the bathroom. If you have any fears over any electrical work, speak to you landlord or go to the Institution of Engineering and Technology website (http://www.iee.org/Publish/WireRegs/PartP.cfm). Be guided by the Institute with regards how often the installation needs to be inspected.

All electrical work in the bathroom has to comply with Part P regulations.


Living above a dry cleaners

We like a flat that is on the second floor above a dry cleaner. What are the health and safety implications? I have heard a horror story about someone living above a dry cleaners dying from the chemicals!

Some commercial properties could potentially be classed as a property that an industrial or commercial activity is not suitable for a rented accommodation to be above. You are right to be concerned about chemicals from certain industries including dry cleaning however your local authority Environment Health service will be able to provide further information. If they have no concerns, neither should you.


New locks for old

We have been renting our flat for the last six months. We are having problems with both the Chubb lock and the main lock on the front door, and have requested our landlord to change them. His reply was that it is up to us to do maintenance. Is this the case?

I do not feel safe as a previous tenant lives not far away. He has asked if he can remove some items from the loft, but we suspect he might have a copy of the keys. Certainly, when we returned home one afternoon we found the Chubb had been put on, although we had not locked it ourselves.

This situation is obviously not ideal and may depend on your tenancy agreement, though generally I would feel such things are the landlord’s responsibility. However, as the landlord has stated you are responsible for maintenance, and you have fears for your own security, I take it that his response allows you to install a new lock as soon as possible. I would recommend changing the locks but get a key cut for your landlord. You could always do what some landlords do – change the locks now but change them back when you leave, taking your lock with you!


Boiler problem

Two weeks ago I moved into a flat with my partner and enjoyed having hot water for about 10 days before it stopped. The estate agent called out an engineer to fix the electric boiler. He suspected the problem was to do with the meter and said it was our responsibility to contact the electric supplier to sort out the problem of not having hot water.

I thought that under section 11 of the Housing Act 1985 this would be the responsibility of the landlord. Is this not the case?

In fact I have spoken to the supplier which promised to arrange for someone to inspect the problem – but not for two weeks.

I would like to know if it really is the tenant’s responsibility to sort this problem out.

I would say it was the landlord’s responsibility, unless the meter is not working correctly because of something you have done. If in doubt, discuss it with Environmental Health, who will usually take action to sort things out. It is possible, though, that even if the landlord accepts responsibility, he would not be able to get anyone out sooner to inspect the meter.


Smoke Alarm

A smoke alarm was installed in my property recently by the Fire Brigade. My tenant has removed it because he said that it was activated when he took his daily shower! He said he has contacted the manufacturer. The bathroom is about four yards away. I suggested he kept the door closed so that steam did not enter the hallway. He said he did this. Surely the alarm would have to be stimulated? He also said he had a right to remove it and I would still be complying with the regulations. I am seriously concerned. Your thoughts please!

My thought is that you should discuss this with the Fire Brigade. The alarm is not in compliance with regulations if it is not in a position to work properly. Perhaps the Fire Brigade could suggest a different position, where it is not so easily activated.


Noisy neighbours

I recently moved into a new housing association property and was not aware at the time that my upstairs bedroom is situated next to my upstairs neighbour’s living room. When I go to bed I can hear their TV, music or people talking (I can even tell whether it is male, female or children talking).

In the morning I am woken up by very squeaky floorboards upstairs, plus noise from the living room next door. I have tried to get my housing association to remedy this by soundproofing, but it is going to put me on a waiting list for review next year when they will choose four cases out of 1000s.

Discuss with Environmental Health – they may be able to suggest something, or at least put pressure on the housing association. Is there a mediation service you can discuss the situation with should Environmental Health be unable to help – although from what you say, this sounds live only normal living noise, and with the best will in the world, no family can live without any noise. Probably bad planning is the main culprit.


Freeholder problems

We are currently living in Australia, and have had some tenants move into our property in London. The property is a conversion flat (one of four) and our tenants have been complaining for some time about the front door to the common area not locking sufficiently. As we are leaseholders, I have written to our freeholder to request he have it fixed, however he only replied to say he was planning on selling the freehold therefore would not pay for the repair.

Our tenants are now withholding rent until it is fixed.

I have had two quotes to have the door repaired – it needs to be replaced. These have come in at £1,600 and £2,000.

We are not prepared to cover this amount. Could you please advise who I could contact to give the freeholder a push? (I assume this is legally his responsibility)?

I would send a strongly worded letter, enclosing copies of the quotes. If they still refuse to take action, then I think you will have to seek legal advice – It may be that your current situation, of living in Australia, is giving the leaseholder the idea that there is little you can do over such a distance.


Reasonable notice for necessary repairs

Please advise on what you think would be reasonable notice to give a tenant to gain access to make a necessary repair (in this case a dripping overflow/leaky ball valve). I will do the work which should take no more that two hours. But because the tenant has a dog in the house she is insisting on being present, which means taking time off work, and claims to need more than a week’s notice (she works very close to the property so no commuting is involved.) I believe that for this type of repair I only need to give two day’s notice, but I have agreed to keep an eye on the drip and fix it when the Corgi checks are done in a couple of months (precise date not fixed.

This amount of notice seems very unreasonable – often it is specified in the tenancy agreement that 24 hours notice will be given. My concern would be any detrimental effect of drips/leaks on the property. If you are happy to leave it – fine, but I would be giving two or three days notice and insisting on the repairs being done.



Smelly flat

We’ve recently moved into a flat with a 12 month assured shorthold tenancy. The flat is newly decorated and in quite good condition.

Just a few weeks after moving in I started sensing a bad sewer-like smell in the stairs leading up from the door to the living area. It seems to be getting worse, and I can now feel uneasiness when sitting in the living area due to the smell.

I’ve contacted the landlord and he says if the smell is due to a leak in one of the houses close to this, but not on his property, he can’t and won’t do anything about it. I’m now wondering if it comes to the point where there’s no solution to this problem, what are my options of terminating the lease early to move somewhere else?

I think you need to be very clear with the landlord. How does he know that the leak is from somewhere else? Has he investigated? If the leak is not in his property, there is little he can do, though he could perhaps put pressure on the owner of the other property. Land registry could give him the contact details, though I think I would first the asking Environmental Health to investigate.

If the landlord won’t contact them, I think you need to do so yourself. Once you have something definite, you can enter negotiations with the landlord about terminating your lease, though if it is not his fault and there is nothing that can be done to remedy the situation by him, and he may not be happy to release you. Smells are not nice, but may not necessarily be a health risk. Negotiation works best – would he release you if you give one month’s notice, say? Good luck.


Noisy floors & tenant

Is there a law requiring landlords to carpet floors from the second floor and above?

How do I lodge a complain against a tenant who has toddlers running, jumping, and playing with their shoes on sometimes as late as 11 pm.?

I am not aware of a law that states that, and personally know of flats with wood floors or laminate on the third and fourth floors. However, there should be adequate sound proofing. Speak to Environmental Health.

They are the people that ultimately would deal with the noise from the toddlers upstairs, but I wonder whether there are any mediation services in the area that could intervene? They are very good where it is lifestyle noise.

The poor parents are probably having a very hard time too with toddlers that are up until 11.00pm – have you tried talking to them about the noise, suggesting the children wear slippers. Sympathy for the parents does not mean you should have to put up with the noise, but being pleasant with them now may mean that they give more respect to your complaints in the future, when it is not toddlers but teenagers causing a nuisance.


Unauthorised work

A leak was recently discovered at the property I rent. I did not attend, but did authorise a friend of the landlord to enter the property and inspect. He was unable to find the problem, and so told me that he would contact the landlord.

The next thing I heard was that the landlord had sent in a plumber. The plumber blamed my washing machine inlet and fixed the problem. The landlord now expects me to pay the plumbers bill.

I don’t wish to pay as I did not authorise the plumber to attend, or to carry out any work. Where do I stand?

I don’t think you have much of a case on the basis you did not authorise the plumber to attend – a repair was needed and the work was done. Had this been neglected, it could have caused damage to the landlord’s property and if the washer is owned by you, I think you would be expected to make good as I think it is your responsibility.

If you lived in social housing, the same would be said. Be quite clear about why you are unhappy to pay – do you believe he has charged too much? If so, get a quote for the work and discuss with the landlord – if it is significantly less than the plumber is charging, you could discuss this with the landlord on the basis that if you had had the repair done you would have paid this much, and feel you should not have to pay more (though you may find the charge is quite reasonable).

Is it purely because in your opinion that he has transgressed by having his friend take a look? He may have believed that by allowing this, you were happy for him to take the next step, which was to get the plumber in. You are within your rights to make it quite plain that in future, your permission is for one visit only and further workmen visiting must be agreed with you. However, really feel that in this case, you should pay.


Ant Infestation

My daughter’s flat has become infested with ants. She has an eight week old baby and is concerned about the ants. Is the landlord responsible for dealing with this problem or is it down to her?

Ants do not count as an infestation – they are a natural phenomenon. I have never seen a tenancy agreement that made any reference to ants – only wood boring insects. By all means ask the landlord would he deal with it, which he may as a good will gesture. But all he will do, if anything, is what I would do, or what you would do – get some ant-killing powder and spread it over the ant-run. Ants will be attracted by any food left out, so be careful not to leave anything around.


Building Insurance

We live in a semi detached property. My immediate neighbour in the attached property has told us that he does not have buildings insurance as he cannot afford it. Is he legally obliged to have buildings insurance?

This is obviously quite worrying for you – if your house catches fire and burns your neighbour’s house, your policy is intended to cover some of the re-building costs of his property. If his catches fire and burns your house, presumably it will be your insurance pays again!

By not having a policy the neighbour is effectively a self insurer, and you or your insurance company would be able to any damage to your property caused by his negligence. But that assumes he has the means to meet any such claims.

I think I would discuss it fully with either your mortgagor or your own buildings insurance company – it is a safe bet if it is a legal requirement, they will know the avenues to go down to issue suitable warnings and state your position.



Dirty water supply

We rent a house in Manchester and have had problems since we moved in. First the gas safety check was not done until we had been in the property for nearly two months – and when it was done the gas fire in the front room was condemned due to insufficient ventilation. As we also have central heating we did not make a fuss about this. However the central heating system is so old and inefficient that our bills are currently £165 per month. There are no thermostats so we cannot control the amount of heat and no thermostats on the radiators so they are either on or off. In addition the water is so hot we have had problems with the water boiling so much that the radiator water and the domestic water is getting mixed together (report from gasman) so that the water now coming out of the hot taps is dark brown and smelly – my partner and I have both had conjunctivitis which we think is due to having to bath in this.

The landlord came to see us and is not willing to do anything about this. We have taken to having baths at the houses of friends and family. Meanwhile the bath in our own house is becoming badly stained and we are worried that the landlord will try to keep our deposit to pay for a new bath.

Is there anything that we can do about this other than find somewhere else to live?

There are also no smoke detectors in the house and the stair carpet is very frayed and dangerous on the top step – so much so that when we had an elderly relative visit recently he nearly fell headlong down the flight of stairs.

We are currently looking to move to other premises but would like to know if we have any rights over these issues whilst we are still here.

Smoke detectors – no. In a domestic house only lived in by you, the landlord does not have to provide them, though it is good practice to do so. The other issues are health and safety hazards and if the landlord is refusing to take any actions even to investigate them, then I would speak to the Environmental Services or Housing Aid at the town hall – hopefully they can do something to persuade him.

What you may be wondering is whether you should hold back rent until the work is done. I am not in favour of this and rarely advise it. The procedure would be quite lengthy – say a minimum of three letters reporting the issue, then one asking why has he not responded and stating that you have the right to repair and will therefore get the work done yourselves and withhold the rent until you had recouped your costs, and finally a letter saying that if the work has not been commenced by such and such a date you will exercise the right to repair and will be withholding rent. This means that in the process you will almost certainly fall into arrears and therefore risk the unpleasantness of a notice and court case. Neither would be get a reference from the landlord when you move on. I would go the enforcement route through Environmental Services.


Combi query

Are there any rules relating to the type of combi boiler that should be installed in a buy to let property?

Discuss with your local environmental services, though I am unaware of a particular type, provided it is a sufficient size for the property.


Fire doors

Is it a legal requirement for fire doors to be fitted in a privately rented house with a live-in landlord?

Generally not, as the property would still constitute a domestic home. But if in doubt, or if there are a number of people sharing the property with the landlord/owner, speak to environmental services.


Boilers in bedrooms

My boyfriend has been letting his property for some time. The boiler is in a cupboard in the spare room. I read somewhere that when a property is rented, the boiler cannot be in the bedroom. Also, I was under the impression that the rented houses are required to have smoke alarms. Is this a legal requirement, and if so, will he be negligent if the tenants have a fire and suffer personal injury?

We are also considering purchasing another property to rent out. I would like to know if I can carry out credit checks on the prospective tenants, how to do this, and what to do if there are only two people on the tenancy agreement and I have suspicions that they are subletting a room?

Boilers in bedrooms used to be quite a common occurrence, but I think times have moved on and they should not be positioned thus now. Speak to your local environmental health people to confirm what the local position is.

Be aware that the new Housing Health and Safety Rating System now applies to all residential property and will be taken into account, for example, when licensing houses in multiple occupation.

HHSRS covers 29 different areas of risk, considerably extending the former nine point housing Fitness Standard. Assessment of these risks will culminate in a ‘hazard rating’ applicable to each property. Within each area of risk possible harm or adverse health consequences are categorised according to the perceived severity, and scored accordingly.

There are four classes of harm, of which ‘category one’ are the most severe. These are risks that could lead to death, permanent paralysis below the neck, regular severe pneumonia, or 80 per cent burns or worse.

Generally, it is good practice to apply the same standards to property you rent out as you do to your own home – and few people do not now have fire/smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in their own properties.

You can credit check prospective tenants – don’t give them the keys until you have had a response and are satisfied. Look in your local yellow pages under ‘credit investigation services’. Write into your tenancy agreement that you will conduct monthly property checks for repairs – that should reveal who is living there and, if there are any doubts, end the tenancy after six months by issuing a section 21 notice (issue this after four months).

Your tenants are entitled to have guests stay over and may not necessarily be sub-letting.


Kitchens and bathrooms

We are currently trying to sell our property in Exeter and have had many interested viewings. However, a few of our viewings have been looking at using our house as an investment property once purchased and renting it out. They have informed us that due to our downstairs bathroom being connected directly to our kitchen it does not comply with letting rules and regulations.

Please could you kindly let me know what the regulations and rules are for downstairs bathrooms for letting purposes? They mentioned we may need another door access so it’s not directly joined to the kitchen.

Discuss this with your local environmental services. It did use to be the case that a bathroom should have two doors to separate it from a kitchen but this changed about two years ago. Environmental services will advise you fully about local requirements, although your viewers may only be saying such things to get the price down!


Taking the heat

Is my landlord legally required to provide a working extractor fan in my kitchen?

I am not aware of a legal requirement to provide a fan, but it may depend on whether it is a house or flat, or a house in multiple occupation (HMO). You should make an enquiry to your local Environmental Health Department – they will know of local regulations regarding this. I would always say it is good practice to provide one, and many landlords do, but some don’t.


Fire doors

I have bought a flat that I intend to let. I have noticed that all the internal fire doors have been set into pine frames. In your opinion should the frames be changed?

Pine is a very soft wood and therefore very flammable, so probably not the best frame for a fire door – the door may resist flames but if the frame burns, the door could fall in. However, I would always suggest you take advice from the experts – speak to your local environmental services and Fire Service. They will appreciate your asking them and it will set your mind at rest, one way or another.


Decorating in preparation for new tenants

With my partner I have been renting a property for the last two and a half years. We have now decided to buy our own property. We have not given any formal notice as yet, however our landlord is requesting to carry out decorating and maintenance – painting and changing the carpet in our bedroom. This will cause us obvious disruption that we could really do without.

The landlord obviously wants to make the property as desirable as possible whilst advertising it but does he have the right make these requests while we are still his tenants.

We have no written tenancy agreement although I believe we had an assured shorthold tenancy for six months that has converted to a statutory periodic tenancy of one month at a time. I don’t know if this has any bearing.

Most landlords would prefer to do work like this whilst the property is empty – an outgoing tenant may steal the carpet or damage the decorating whilst taking possessions out. You have obviously been good tenants. I do not think you have to allow this work to be done, though if you could reach some kind of accommodation, where you allow access in the last two weeks of the notice, both for viewing and for the work to be done, I think this shows good faith as tenants to your landlords. I am also surprised he is so desperate to advertise if you have given no notice yet – he obviously cannot guarantee when a new tenant could move in.

 


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