October 6, 2016

Landlords beware: Don’t be a ‘penny pinching profiteer’ – criminal sanctions apply

That said, landlords do owe a duty of care to their tenants to provide a safe environment to live in.

One of the main statutory provisions making this position clear in relation to short leases is Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. This implies covenants into every short lease that the Landlord will:

(a) keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes),
(b) keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and
(c) keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.

If any works or repairs affect the lessee’s enjoyment of the property, the landlord can be held to be in breach of covenant and the tenant may be entitled to an abatement of rent and, since the enactment of the Deregulation Act 2015 on 1 October 2015, can prevent the landlord from serving Notices to Quit without penalty.

In addition to the above, there are many statutory regulations which place obligations on a landlord to ensure that their tenant’s safety is protected, for example the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 (ESR) and Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 (PSR). Further, a landlord is potentially liable under the Defective Premises Act 1972 if a tenant or resident suffers death or injury or has personal belongings damaged as a result of a defect in the electrical system in the premises. This can also potentially apply to open fires and log burners.

Ensuring that all proper checks are carried out prior to a letting and at regular intervals during the letting by suitably qualified persons can ensure the obligations are fulfilled.

In some cases, a landlord has to go so further and carry out proper risk assessments to demonstrate that it has properly considered the safety of its tenants.

A failure to do so, can result in criminal sanctions and a hard lesson was learned recently by one landlord in Humberside who was described by Judge Kelson QC as “a penny pinching profiteer” who was “concerned with his own wealth than the welfare of his tenants”.

Mr Newsum appeared at Grimsby Crown Court on 19 August 2016, sentenced to 5 months in prison and ordered to pay £100,000 in costs when convicted of offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire) Safety Order 2005 (“the Order”).

The Order is generally thought of as protecting employees in the workplace but in fact, it can also protect tenants.

Article 31(10) of the Order states that the definition of “premises” within the Order includes domestic premises other than premises consisting of or comprised in a house which is occupied as a single private dwelling.

It covers all premises where the main use is to provide sleeping accommodation but excludes single private dwellings. It would therefore cover hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, hostels, holiday accommodation, but also the common areas of flats, maisonettes, and Houses of Multiple Occupation, which caught Mr Newsum to his significant detriment.

The facts of this case were that a fire started in one of the rear rooms and spread above and into neighbouring buildings through a common roof void. A fire investigating officer concluded that the cause of the fire was discarded smoking materials. No fire alarm sounded.

Luckily between 10 and 20 people escaped from the property without serious injury or worse.

However, on investigation by the police, it was found that no fire risk assessment of the property had taken place since 2004, that alterations made to the property in 2010 had reduced the number of exits from 3 to 1 and, Mr Newsum had attempted to cover up his lack of the required assessments, which the Judge commented was due to cost.

These assessments do cost but the affect of failing to comply can be much worse.

The government website on the subject provides detailed advice and all landlords are advised to assess whether their property could be caught by this Order and to ensure that it is fully complied with.

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