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