LAST UPATED ON 17 AUGUST 2023

On face value, it may not seem that an Act of Parliament ensuring tenanted properties are fit for human habitation would have a significant impact on estate owners. Properties let out on farms and estates may not always be the most modern accommodation, but few would be considered uninhabitable by most definitions. 

Yet, Sophie Hall, Rural Surveyor at Carter Jonas, says the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 – which came into force in March 2019 – has the potential to catch some landlords out. “It applies to every landlord and covers everything from a one-bed city flat to a seven-bedroom mansion in the countryside,” she said. “Landlords who use agents will be compliant because they have to be to let the property. But there are a lot of private landlords out there who risk falling foul of the law amid a strengthening of rights for tenants.” Sophie says that most landlords have nothing to fear, but added that some will only realise they have not followed the correct procedure when they have an issue with a tenant.

RESIDENTIAL TENANCY COMPLIANCE

This encompasses a great deal but, in essence, requires the landlord to serve the correct notices and give tenants a significant amount of information at the commencement of the tenancy. It includes registering the deposit and telling the tenant where it is held. A policy on deductions from the deposit in the event of damage or breakages, for example, must be set out from the start. “Professional agents will have standard templates which can be used or modified but, if you don’t follow the correct procedure, you will run into difficulty if you try and evict a tenant or claim deductions at the end of tenancy,” Sophie adds.

RULES FOR RESIDENTIAL LETTING DEPOSITS

A deposit taken from a tenant is now limited to five weeks’ rent. Sophie said: “Historically some landlords will have taken about two months’ rent up front – more in some cases – but the rules have now changed.” Any landlords with sitting tenants who have put down more than five weeks’ rent must return any money that is now considered as overpaid.

GAS SAFETY RULES IN LET RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY

Gas appliances such as boilers and cookers have to be tested every 12 months, regardless of how many tenants occupy the property in that year. A gas safety certificate should be provided to the tenants each year. 

SMOKE AND CO ALARMS REQUIREMENTS FOR RENTED HOMES

The Landlord must test all alarms on the first day of the tenancy and it is good practice to re-test them once a year. Documented records of all tests should be made. “Many of our clients’ properties will have solid fuel appliances in the bedrooms,” Sophie said. “Even if they haven’t been used for decades, they must have a CO alarm in the room, unless you block the chimney so that a fire can’t be lit.” Smoke alarms must be fitted on every floor of the house. 

ELECTRICAL SAFETY RULES IN LET HOUSES

The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations came into force for new tenancies from 1 July 2020 and for existing tenancies from 1 April 2021. They apply to all residential tenancies (except for long leases of seven years or more) including ASTs and tenancies under the Rent Act 1977 and Rent (Agriculture) Act 1976, as well as farmhouses let under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. 

Under the new Regulations, landlords must: 

  • Arrange for a qualified person to inspect every fixed electrical installation at least every five years to ensure that Electrical Safety Standard BS7671:2018 is met.
  • Ensure that they receive a written report from the person conducting the inspection. This should include the findings and the required date for the next inspection.
  • Supply a copy of the report to each tenant within 28 days of the inspection. 
  • If requested, supply a copy of the report to the local authority within seven days of inspection.
  • Keep a copy of the report until the next inspection and give a copy to the person undertaking the next inspection. 

When setting up a new tenancy the landlord must also: 

  • Give a copy of the most recent report to the new tenant prior to them taking occupation.
  • If requested, give a copy of the most recent report to any prospective new tenant.

For HMOs, there is also a legal requirement to annually PAT test any electrical appliance supplied by the landlord. The rules are not yet as strict in non-HMO lettings, where the landlord is simply required to ensure that all electrical appliances are safe at the start of, and throughout, every tenancy. In practice, the only way to ensure this is to have a regular testing regime carried out by a qualified PAT tester.

LEGIONNAIRES DISEASE TESTING IN RESIDENTIAL LETTINGS

A Legionnaires risk assessment must also be carried out on let residential properties’ water supplies. The supplies in most residential properties are considered to be low risk, due to regular water usage and turnover. Landlords should also implement simple control measures to ensure the risk remains low, which include flushing out the system prior to letting the property, ensuring all water tanks have a tight-fitting lid, setting control parameters to ensure water is stored at above 60˚c, and removing any redundant pipework.
 

RULES FOR NOTICE PERIODS IN RESIDENTIAL LETTINGS

A Landlord can give two months’ written notice, known as a Section 21 notice, to the tenant to terminate the tenancy. In the most serious of cases, e.g. anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse, false statement, over six months’ rent arrears and breaches of immigration rules, there are shorter notice periods.

The Government has committed to abolishing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 as part of a wider reform of the residential rental sector. In the future, Landlords will only be able to serve notice on tenants on certain grounds including rent arrears, tenant’s employment by the Landlord has ended, the tenant has died, etc.
 

SEPTIC TANK REGULATIONS 2020

The latest Environment Agency rules for private drainage require that septic tanks no longer discharge to a watercourse, or to any other type of soakaway system than a drainage field. This is because wastewater is no longer considered clean enough to discharge into local water systems. 
 
Anyone with an existing septic tank which drains to a watercourse will now need to either: connect to a mains sewer; install a drainage field; or replace the septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant. You must have plans in place to complete the required works within a reasonable timeframe (circa 12 months). 
 
This is particularly important when considering the purchase of a house with a septic tank draining directly to a watercourse as you need to agree with the vendor who is responsible for its replacement or upgrade.
 

ASBESTOS REGISTER REQUIREMENTS IN LET PROPERTY

All those responsible for non-domestic premises, or common areas in domestic premises have a legal duty to manage asbestos. This usually involves creating an asbestos risk assessment and an asbestos management plan. These documents identify and record asbestos in the property and decide what actions need to be taken to deal with it. 
 
In standalone residential units it is recommended as best practice that landlords identify whether they think that there is any asbestos present and, if so, employ a specialist asbestos surveyor to produce a risk assessment and management plan. This can then be provided to tenants and any contractors working on the property to ensure that they are aware of asbestos. This allows the landlord to fulfil their duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect householders from any risks from work activities being carried out in their homes. Where this involves asbestos, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 will also apply.
 

For more information on any of the issues covered in this article, please contact Sophie Hall on 07775 562090 or sophie.hall@carterjonas.co.uk. Alternatively, get in touch with your local Carter Jonas office.

Find out more about our rural estate management services at carterjonas.co.uk/farm-estate-management

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Sophie is part of the rural team based in the Winchester office. Sophie advises estates and rural business across the south east on a wide range of issues, including rural property valuation, landlord and tenant matters and property management. She is a Chartered Surveyor, RICS Registered Valuer and Fellow of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers.

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