Your Rights As A Tenant | Health and Safety In Private Rental Accommodation
by Property Investments UKThe Property Investments UK editorial team have been researching and writing about the UK's property market for more than a decade.
Every property on the rental market must meet certain standards that ensure that it is safe and fit to live in. Health and safety in rented accommodation are assessed, normally by a local authority using the HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System). As someone who is renting, however, it is better that you know your rights as a tenant and not just relying on some third party to make sure that everything in your house is as it should be.
About this Document
It's important to note that the rules around health and safety in rented accommodation can and do change regularly. Also how the law is interpreted, implemented and enforced can be different for different local authorities.
The Law Vs. Health and Safety Best Practices
Not everything in this document concerns things that landlords are required to do by law.
Some of the things that are discussed concern best practices - which is to say, they are things that landlords commonly take care of, to make sure that their properties are properly taken care of and maintained.
Whilst you can not force a landlord to follow best practices we have included them in this document as we consider them to be important things to consider when you are choosing your future home.
Common Hazards Inside the House
Below are the most common problems that rental properties (or indeed, any property) tend to have inside the house.
Generally, these things are fairly easy to resolve and they are easy to spot if you know what you are looking for.
As a tenant, it is good practice for you to raise these issues with your landlord as soon as you recognise that there is an issue. As the property owner, most landlords will be keen to fix any problems as they could impact the value of their house. And, of course, the earlier such problems are found the less expensive they will be to fix.
This is also true when you are looking at a property. If you recognise any of these problems when you are viewing a new property the best thing to do is to alert the landlord to them and if you still want to move to that property give them a chance to put such problems right.
But, in order to do either of these things you need to know what you are looking for first.
The Causes of Mould
Mould is most often caused by condensation building up inside the home. This build-up tends to be the result of a cold/warm air imbalance and/or poor airflow around the affected area.
Mould and dampness are very common in UK housing. This is particularly in Manchester and the North West where I do most of my business where dry weather can be rare.
But, the weather is only a small factor. Every home creates plenty of moisture which can lead to mould.
Baths, showers, kettles, ironing and cooking are all contributing factors. Even breathing has a significant effect.
Moisture expelled into the air inside a house generally does not cause a problem if there is decent ventilation. But if that moisture is held in warm air which then meets a cold surface such as a window or a wall, then it condenses and becomes water droplets on that surface.
If this is happening a lot within a house then mould will start to grow, usually on cold walls, window ledges or surfaces.
Mould and Health
Mould produces spores which can seriously affect your health if you breathe them in. As such it is important that you shouldn't live with it in your house.
Allergic reactions to are the most common health problems associated with breathing in spores. They can cause eczema and asthma attacks as well. There is even some evidence that mould can cause a person who did not previously have asthma to develop it.
And, of course, the presence of mould becomes a much more serious issue if there are babies or elderly people (or anyone with a weakened immune system) living in the house.
Produce Less Moisture
The first way could be to simply try and reduce the amount of water vapour in the home. This may not always be practical. I'm not suggesting that you stop showering. But, there is often something you can do.
For instance, you might have a tumble dryer where the flue is not connected properly. If when you turn on a machine like that you can feel the air getting damp then it's possible that a quick visit from a plumber will make the problem go away.
But, in a busy family home, in most cases, producing less moisture is going to be simply not possible.
Make Sure the Moisture Has Somewhere To Go
The second solution is to not let the moisture that is being produced, linger in the house.
Installing air vents can certainly help. A small window in the areas of the house that produce the most moisture (the bathroom and the kitchen) can certainly help.
Windows and vents will help to draw the damp air outside.
As a tenant, you can also make sure that doors are kept shut when you're showering and cooking. Even keeping lids on pans while they're boiling will help reduce the amount of moisture in the property.
The landlord or course can only do so much to control things like this. If your landlord has installed a window in the bathroom you, as a tenant, should be opening it when you shower. If the landlord has installed an extractor fan, then you should be turning it on when you need it.
And, keeping the central doors shut when you are steaming or boiling food is good practice whatever your living arrangement.
Keep the Home Well Ventilated and Warm
This may sound counter-intuitive but a well-ventilated home (where moist air can escape outside) should not mean that the home is cold.
Because if the home is cold then there are going to be cold surfaces on which the moisture will condensate upon.
By keeping the house at a warm stable temperature throughout the year you stop condensation from forming and mould won't get the chance to grow.
Tips For Preventing Mould
- Installing trickle vents in the windows.
- Making sure that air bricks aren't blocked. If an air brick is causing an issue with draft then installing a smaller one can help a great deal.
- Opening windows slightly when you are cooking, showering or doing something else that produces a lot of moisture.
- And finally, not drying your washing on a radiator and doing it outside whenever possible.
Problems With Damp
Damp can lead to mould and other problems. If it's spotted then it needs to be dealt with.
It generally shows as wet patches on a wall and tends to occur when a fault in the basic structure of the building has let water in from the outside.
The Two Types of Damp
- Penetrating Damp
Penetrating damp occurs either when water gets into the house through defective parts of the walls, roof or chimney or when there is a water leak, for instance from a burst pipe.
If the water is leaking into a wall cavity then penetrating damp can take a long time to show in the liveable areas of the house. And if it's the case that the water is coming in from a damaged roof then the signs of damp can be much more pronounced after heavy rain.
Penetrating damp which occurs if water is coming through the walls, roof or chimney. This can happen at times of heavy rain and may take a while to show, or if there is a water leak from a pipe or other water source.
- Rising Damp
Rising damp is caused by moisture being drawn up from the ground into the floors and walls and can be recognised for what it is from the direction that the damp is travelling in.
Rising damp can be treated by the installation of a damp proof course which acts as a barrier.
How To Get Rid Of Damp
Damp is most often indicative of a problem with the building. In most cases, therefore, it is the landlord who is responsible for putting things right.
Luckily both penetrating damp and rising damp are easy to treat. A pipe might need fixing, a hole in the roof might need patching up, the damp proof course might need looking at. It's as simple as that.
Dealing With Damp as a Tenant
Once you have spotted that damp is a problem you will need to speak to your landlord or letting agent immediately and request that whatever is causing it be fixed.
The sooner you do this the better. Dealing with damp quickly will help avoid further damage to the property and prevent other hazards such as mould from taking hold.
Damp can occur over a prolonged period of time and it isn't always visible. This means that it is often missed until it has already become a serious problem.
So, as a tenant you have a responsibility to be aware of these potential issues and report them as soon as you see the. This, really, is the best way to protect your home.
Likewise, if you are viewing a property and you see damp then let the letting agent or landlord know. Just because there is damp doesn't mean you shouldn't move in but you will want to know that whatever is causing it has been fixed before you take that step.
Finally, your landlord or letting agent should be carrying out an internal inspection of the house fairly regularly. This might be every 3 months, 6 months or sometimes just once a year.
Remember that these inspections are not all about you as a tenant but also about looking for problems like damp, which if left untreated could later impact the comfort of your home.
Having inadequate space or living in an overcrowded property not only makes it less comfortable to live in but can affect your health and safety by increasing the risk of infection and the likelihood of accidents.
Other factors that are important to consider, for your own comfort, are having enough natural light (which can impact mood) or the property being overcrowded to the point of being too noisy.
Then there are purely practical factors like there being enough bathrooms and toilets for there not to be unreasonable queues.
The three key elements to overcrowding in rented property tend to be:
- Bedroom sizes that are too small
- A lack of natural light
- Too few bathrooms or toilet facilities to go round
Your Rights as a Tenant
The first step to avoiding living in an overcrowded property is to make sure that any property you are looking at suits your needs before you take the plunge and move in.
Naturally, overcrowding is only going to be a problem when it comes to shared accommodation, also known as HMOs (houses in multiple accommodation).
It is important if you thinking of renting a room in shared accommodation that you ask the right questions. For instance, you will want to know how many people are expected to share facilities such as toilets, showers and kitchens.
It's also important that you view the property before you move in to make sure that there is enough natural light and that the bedroom sizes are sufficient for your needs.
If, during your tenancy, the property becomes overcrowded (with more people moving in) and space becomes an issue then you must raise the problem with your letting agent and/or landlord immediately.
There are health and safety requirements that landlords have to meet with regard to overcrowding but on occasion, a landlord may need to be reminded of their obligations.
If you feel your landlord is in breach of their responsibilities but doesn't show any sign of wishing to act on it then I suggest you read up on your rights as a tenant and find out what the best practice is for resolving the problem.
Feeling secure and safe in your home is paramount. You shouldn't have to worry about entry by intruders or feel insecure.
Unfortunately, homes are a common target for thieves and rented property is no different.
Making Sure Your Home Is Secure
Most modern doors and windows now are very secure. Double glazing, modern locks and solid front and rear doors all can make a house very well protected against intruders.
But, older doors and windows can also be safe and secure as long as:
- The locks are up to standard.
- The frames and glass are strong enough to protect from intruders.
As a tenant or potential tenant, there are a few things you should check to make sure that the property is as secure as it should be:
- Check the windows and doors to make sure they shut properly.
- Have a look for signs that might indicate that the property has been broken into before. These signs might include damage to, or cracks in, window and door frames
- And most obviously, you need to check the locks on key entry and exit routes to make sure they are in working order.
Potential for Accidents in the Home
Tripping and falling due to some uneven ground is a common hazard and rented accommodation is no different. Uneven floors within the property are a risk as are uneven paths and patios outside.
Higher-risk areas are showers, stairs and balconies.
Falling over poses a much greater risk to the elderly than it does for younger people but anyone can get seriously hurt simply by tripping up.
How to Minimise the Risk of Falling
Avoiding the potential for trips and falls is something that is best tackled through cooperation between you as a tenant, and your landlord. It involves the right balance of common sense, best maintenance practices and health and safety regulations.
Your landlord is responsible for ensuring that the property is safe...
But, it is important that as a tenant, you watch out for any potential hazards there might be in your home.
So, if you spot any issues such as:
- Uneven ground
- Loose stair rails
- Frayed carpet thread
- Or any other kind of trip hazard...
...you should make your landlord/letting agent aware of them immediately so that they can make amends.
Loose Plug Sockets
Old or damaged plug sockets (or any kind of faulty wiring) are electrical hazards that can cause shocks. These can lead to injury or even death.
How To Fix A Loose Plug Socket
The answer here is that you should not try and fix any kind of electrical fault yourself. This kind of work should only be carried out by a qualified electrician.
If you notice any problems associated with electrical wiring or plug sockets in your rented property, you should contact your letting agent or landlord immediately so they can arrange for an electrician to investigate and fix the problem for you.
Safety Requirements For Rented Accommodation
Gas appliances can be dangerous when not maintained. Gas leaks can be fatal.
Your landlord has a legal requirement to carry out a regular gas safety check. This needs to be done at least once a year.
What Tenants Need to Know About Gas Safety
To ensure that all the gas appliances are working correctly your rental home needs to have a yearly gas safety check. This needs to be carried out by a qualified Gas Safe engineer who will issue a certificate once the inspection has been done.
Your letting agent/landlord should arrange this and contact you annually so. It’s essential that you as a tenant should allow the engineer to access the property to do what needs to be done.
If you are in a property where there hasn't been a recent inspection you need to contact your agent or landlord and ask them when the last one was done and when the next one is due.
Rental Housing and Smoke / Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Since October 2015 landlords have been required by law to ensure that their rental properties have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms installed.
So, as a tenant, if your rented home doesn't currently have a smoke alarm or a carbon monoxide detector then you need to contact your letting agent or landlord immediately and ask them to get one installed.
As with damaged or broken sockets, all electrical items in your home can carry some risk.
Any items that are provided by your landlord should be maintained and all electrical installations within the property should be safe. This is required by law.
The Periodic Inspection Report
Many landlords periodically will carry out an inspection report but this isn't currently a legal obligation in all cases and with all rental property.
But, a lot of local councils require landlords to do this as part of selective or additional licensing schemes in some areas.
So, it may well be that your landlord - if your home falls within a particular licensing area - is obligated to regularly make an inspection.
To see if your property lies within one of these licensing areas you will need to contact your local authority and they will advise you further.
Houses In Multiple Occupation
It isn't always a legal requirement for you electrics to be periodically checked if you are in a standard buy to let. But if the house in which you live is an HMO (house in multiple occupation) then these checks are required by law.
For more information see: Renting out your Property - Gov UK
The Landlord's Obligation To Repair
The reality is that maintaining a healthy, safe home is the combined responsibility your landlord and yourself as the tenant. Where issues tend to arise, it is when one party fails to carry out the best practices to ensure that the home is maintained.
The above guide should give you an idea as to what the common problems and hazards are in a rental property. Hopefully, the solutions we've put forward will help you as well.
For more information please see this pdf from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
To quote this document:
“Even if your tenancy agreement is silent about repairs or says something different this cannot override the law.
Although hazards may result, because a property is in need of repair, in general, the council cannot directly get involved and force a landlord to comply with the repairing obligations.
You will need to go to the county court for that and to make any claim against the landlord for disrepair.
You should note the landlord is not required to carry out repairs where you or your family have caused the damage.
However, a landlord has a right to carry out repairs and you must allow access.
You cannot be charged for the repairs unless you caused the damage."
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
According to Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is always responsible for repairs to:
- The property’s structure and exterior
- Basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary fittings including pipes and drains
- The heating and hot water
- All gas appliances, pipes, flues and ventilation
- Electrical wiring
- Any damage caused by attempting repairs
For a complete list of all resources referred to and noted in this Guide, please see below:
- RLA – Residential Landlords Association
- Gov.uk - Private Renting- Your Rights & Responsibilities
- NICEIC – Regulatory Body For Electrical Contractors
- The Gas Safe Register - Gas Safe Register
- The National Grid - National Grid
- NHS – Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Gov.uk – Tenants Safer Under New Measures
- Electrical Safety First – Advice for Landlords
- Electrical Safety First – Periodic Inspections Explained
- Gov.uk – Renting a HMO
- Gov.uk (pdf) – How To Rent A Safe Home