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Time to get your house in order

Landlords are facing the prospect of wider and more severe sanctions for failing to keep rental properties in a safe and habitable condition.

From yesterday landlords who fail to comply with an Improvement Notice or Prohibition Order to ensure properties are safe and habitable face unlimited maximum fines in the magistrate’s courts. Previously there was a £5000.00 cap. That cap has been removed.

Further, Improvement Notices and Hazard Awareness notices in relation to category 1 and category 2 hazards are a “relevant notice” for the purposes of the proposed new section 21A of the Housing Act 1988, which is set to come in imminently with the Deregulation Bill. If the Bill is passed in its current form the new section 21A will provide that if a tenant complains in writing to the landlord regarding the condition of a dwelling house, and the landlord serves a section 21 notice, and after the landlord has served the section 21 notice the local authority serves an Improvement Notice or Hazard Awareness Notice, that section 21 notice will be invalid.

For those readers in need of a refresher, Hazard Awareness Notices, Improvement Notices and Prohibition Orders are part of the inspection and enforcement mechanism contained in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System introduced by the Housing Act 2004. A local authority has the right to inspect residential premises for hazards.

There are 29 hazards, in 6 main areas:

  • Damp and mould, excess cold, excess heat
  • Pollutants including asbestos, CO, Lead, Radiation
  • Space and security, light (is there enough?) and noise (is there too much?)
  • Hygiene, sanitation, water supply including adequacy of food preparation areas.
  • Accidents – protection from falls, slips, trips on stairs, electric shocks, burns, scalds
  • Collisions – structural hazards, poor design, explosions, collapse.

An environmental health officer, usually, but not always, following a request from a tenant, can attend a property and inspect for hazards. Each hazard identified is given a score based on the likelihood of an accident happening combined with the probable harm if it does happen. Depending on the score a hazard will be either a “category 1” hazard or a “category 2” hazard.

Category 1 hazards are the more serious.   A local authority must take enforcement action. Depending on the seriousness of the hazard the first step might be to attempt to deal with the matter informally by sending the landlord a “minded-to” letter, giving the landlord a time-limited chance to remove the hazard before taking enforcement measures. If the landlord does not comply, the local authority is likely to serve

an Improvement Notice ( this requires works to be undertaken to remove or minimise a hazard); or

a Prohibition Order ( this closes whole or part of the dwelling, or restricts the number of occupants); or

an Emergency Prohibition Order (If the hazard is thought to pose an “imminent risk of serious harm to the health and safety of any occupiers” in the property, the local authority might make an emergency prohibition order).

An Improvement Notice must set out in detail what the hazard is and set out clearly what work needs doing and a date by which the works must be started and completed. A Prohibition Order must set out what works must be done  for the order to be revoked. Failure to comply with an Improvement Notice or Prohibition Order constitutes an offence.  On conviction the fine until 12 March 2015 was capped at £5000.00. It is now unlimited. The local authority is entitled to recover the costs of enforcement, including the cost of an improvement notice.

Category 2 hazards are the less serious. The local authority has a power to take action, but not a duty. It can issue a Hazard Awareness Notice but there is no power to enforce. However if the Deregulation Bill is passed into law, a Hazard Awareness Notice served on a Landlord may be sufficient to invalidate a section 21 notice if the other conditions of the proposed section 21A are satisfied.

You can read more about the fines here.

You can follow the progress of the Deregulation Bill here.

 

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