LETTING & ESTATE AGENT

The housing health and safety rating system explained for landlords

The housing health and safety rating system explained for landlords

As a landlord, you have a duty of care towards your tenant and their health and safety at home.

While health and safety rules are generally known to apply to businesses, they also apply to rental properties. Your buy-to-let portfolio is a business, after all, and health and safety standards for rented homes should be taken seriously.

Keeping a happy tenant is one of the most important aspects of renting a property. Ensuring they are safe while living in your buy-to-let home is even more important.

If a tenant believes your property is putting their health and safety at risk, they can apply to the council for a housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) assessment to be carried out.  

And that could mean bad news for you as a landlord... let's look at the 29 categories of housing hazards assessed by a HHSRS inspection and the effects they can have:


1 Damp and mould

We wrote about the perils of damp, condensation and mould last week. These can cause allergies, asthma, effects of toxins from mould and fungal infections.

2 Excess cold

A healthy indoor temperature is 18-21 degrees Celsius, but tenants can be tempted to keep their heating bills down by switching the system off. As a landlord, advise them that keeping the heating running in the background during the colder months is the best way to avoid this and thus avoid things like flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, heart attacks and strokes, which can all be caused by the chill.

3 Excess heat

It's not just the cold that can cause health problems. High heat in a property can spark dehydration, trauma, stroke, cardiovascular problems and respiratory issues.

4 Asbestos

The potential effects of asbestos are well publicised. Asbestos can cause severe damage to lungs, while Manufactured Mineral Fibres (MMF) can also damage skin and eyes.

5 Biocides

These are used to treat timber and curtail mould growth, but can cause health issues from breathing in, swallowing or skin contact.

6 Carbon Monoxide

Again, the health problems of carbon monoxide poisoning are well documented when it comes to buy-to-let properties. Excess carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, disorientation, unconsciousness and breathing problems.

7 Lead

This might seem unlikely, but lead poisoning can be sparked by things like paint, water pipes, soil and fumes from leaded petrol. If present, lead poisoning can cause nervous disorders, mental health and blood production issues.

8 Radiation

Radon gas when airborne can cause lung cancer.

9 Uncombusted fuel gas

When escaping into the atmosphere within a property, this can cause suffocation.

10 Volatile organic compounds

Some organic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, become gaseous at room temperature and are sometimes found in home-based materials. This can cause allergies, eye irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness.

11 Crowding and space

A lack of space for living, sleeping and normal household life can cause psychological distress in tenants, plus an increased risk of poor hygiene and accidents.

12 Intruders

Stress and anxiety caused by poor home security can be a big health factor for tenants, including any injuries or anguish caused by an intruder gaining entry.

13 Lighting

Inadequate natural light, or artificial light, in a property can cause mental health problems such as depression, plus damage to the eyes.

14 Noise

Noise inside a property or within its boundaries can cause psychological damage from lack of sleep or general stress.

15 Domestic hygiene

Health hazards caused by poor domestic hygiene include pests and waste storage. This issue can cause stomach disease, infections, asthma, allergies and physical hazards.

16 Food safety

Poor provision to store, prepare and cook food can cause stomach disease, vomiting and dehydration.

17 Sanitation and drainage

The threat of infection from poor sanitation and drainage is high. This includes clothes washing facilities, where personal hygiene can affect mental health. Bad sanitation and drainage, meanwhile, can cause dehydration, headaches, bladder infections and legionnaires disease.

18 Water supply

Bacteria, parasites and viruses caused by water quality can cause dehydration, fatigue, headaches, bladder infection and legionnaires disease.

19 Bath falls

Bathing accidents can cause cuts, swelling and bruising

20 Level surface falls

Falls from the floor or a pathway including rises of less than 300mm can cause physical injuries to all areas of the body.

21 Falls from steps and stairs

This is where the rise is greater than 300mm and includes stairways, external steps or fire escape ramps. Again, the cause is physical injury.

22 Falls between levels

Inside or outside the property, falls between levels where the rise is greater than 300mm, such as balconies, landings or from windows, can cause major physical injuries.

23 Electrical hazards

Injuries from poor electrics can include electric shock and severe burns

24 Fire hazards

This part of the assessment includes risks associated with uncontrolled fire and smoke, which can cause burns, or death associated with smoke inhalation.

25 Flames, hot surfaces and materials

Burns or scalds can be caused by contact with a hot flame or fire, or some non-water-based liquids and vapours.

26 Entrapment and collision

Physical injuries can be caused by trapping body parts between building features, like doors and windows, while collisions can occur between tenants and windows, doors or low ceilings.

27 Explosions

This includes threats from a blast, such as a gas explosion, and refers to partial or total collapse of the dwelling as a result, causing major physical injuries or death.

28 Collapse or falling elements

Inadequate fixings could cause the dwelling to collapse or part of the building's fabric to be displaced, resulting in physical injuries.

29 Ergonomics

This refers to stress and strain injuries being caused by the building,s functional space, or lack of it.


HOW IS THE ASSESSMENT CARRIED OUT?

As you can see, the HHSRS hazards list is substantial and, as a landlord, you could be condemned for any single issue.

The local council will go through your buy-to-let and rate each hazard in a category from A to J. Any hazards rated A to C are category one hazards and pose a risk of serious injury or death. Those from D to J are classed as less serious category two hazards.


WHAT WOULD FALL INTO A CATEGORY ONE HAZARD?

Examples of category one hazards include:

  *  Exposed wiring

  *  Non functioning boile

  *  Cold rooms

  *  Leaky roof

  *  Mould

  *  Vermin and pests


WHAT HAPPENS IF THE COUNCIL FINDS A CATEGORY ONE HAZARD

The council will look at the threat such a hazard causes to residents and any additional risks if there are young children, disabled persons or elderly living at the property.

For a category one hazard, the local authority could either:

  *  Issue you with a demolition order

  *  Demand the property be cleared of residents immediately


For a category one or two hazard, they can also:

  *  Place restrictions on access to the property through a prohibition order

  *  Issue an improvement notice, demanding repairs be made within a certain time frame

  *  Undertake work themselves and charge it back to youServe a hazard awareness notice - this warns you but no further action is taken at the time


IF I FAIL TO COMPLY WITH THE ABOVE, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Put bluntly, make sure that you do!

If you fail to comply with a local authority notice, you can be prosecuted and fined thousands of pounds.

Since April 2017, local authorities have been able to fine landlords up to £30,000 for breaching notices stemming from an HHSRS assessment, proving they take these matters very seriously indeed.


GUIDANCE FOR LANDLORDS

Put simply, take your tenants seriously when they request repairs or maintenance.

A loose brick on some steps out of the property might not seem like an urgent repair, but failing to do so could see your tenant request an HHSRS assessment.

That loose brick could be deemed a category one hazard under 'falls from steps and stairs'.

Moreover, you could run into problems with your landlord insurance should you be served with an improvement notice, fail to make the necessary improvements and an accident occur.