Holders of landlord insurance policies in a northern city are being urged to buck up their ideas as complaints from tenants reached a record high last year.
The beautiful city of York has for many years attracted tourists from all over the world, and students have flocked to the city to study there. As a result rented properties have been highly sought after and property investors have done their best to meet the demand. However, not all landlords have been conducting their business in a fit and proper way, and City of York Council say they received 170 complaints about residential landlords. Most of the complaints concerned health and safety issues but there were a small number of tenants who complained of harassment by the landlord and a handful of tenants claimed illegal eviction. The council also noted that emergency services were called in on three occasions to deal with a landlord’s “behaviour or neglect”. The council believe it has identified a dozen landlords who regularly cause problems and they are determined to root them out.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “We know standards in the private rented sector, compared to other tenures in the city, are poorer, as is the case nationally. However, there are many good landlords and letting agents, and private tenants are generally satisfied with the standard of their accommodation. We have found the majority of those landlords who don’t adhere to the law do so out of ignorance and we work with them to support them in raising standards. However, firm action is taken against those who flout the law or act irresponsibly.”
With an increase of something in the region of 50% in the number of rented properties in the city over a period of just a decade, the number of complaints will be seen by many as a sign of a place where landlords are generally doing a good job, and if the council only has to worry about getting tough with a dozen landlords then the city should soon be an even better place to live.
Private landlords are being urged not to attempt their own DIY fire risk assessments on any property they rent out. Rented property, from new builds to conversions, bed-sits to HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) all have their own particular fire safety requirements and some will be subject to specific regulations.
The warning is not aimed at experienced landlords so much, but at the number of reluctant landlords dragged into the sector who may not be aware of the complex regulations and safety requirements they must adhere to. Gas appliances and electrical equipment are both subject to strict regulations surrounding fire hazard and most need safety certificates if they are ensconced in a rented home. There are so many different regulations that those landlords who try to do it themselves run the risk of keeping an unsafe home for tenants.
Dorian Gonsalves, chief executive officer of a leading residential lettings specialist, said “Don’t even consider it – it could be fraught with danger. Few landlords understand the huge amount of legislation governing rented property these days. Fire safety issues have become so complicated, and legislation covers so many different regulations for different types of property in different parts of the UK, that it’s no area for amateurs. Seek the advice and guidance of a professional, because the stakes are too high to go-it-alone.”
Figures from the NLA (National Landlords Association) show that the number of its members who have been forced into letting because they cannot sell in the current climate has risen from 5% to 7% in the last quarter. In many cases these reluctant landlords take the plunge into the letting business with very little preparation. Many don’t realise that their property insurance and mortgage providers have to be informed of the change and few realise the legal implications they are taking on.
A report from a Government backed safety council reveals that misunderstandings between private landlords and tenants can result in people being exposed to danger from electrical appliances.
It is no secret that electrical problems are one of the main factors in property insurance claims from landlords, and are of course a main contributor to house fires. The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) say many problems arise because of confusion between the tenant and landlord over who is responsible for maintaining electrical appliances.
The ESC research involved interviewing hundreds of landlords and tenants and in many cases the results were surprising. 30% of landlords said they were not sure which electrical appliances they were responsible for ensuring the safety of, while the same question to tenants revealed 40% were not sure. The report went on to say that 1 in 5 tenants interviewed had reported faulty devices to their landlord and that 4 out of 5 could not recall discussing electrical safety with their landlord at the beginning of their tenancy.
The fact that 3 out of 10 landlords are unsure about where responsibility lies for electrical appliances in undoubtedly a concern and the ESC believe the figure represents the number of “amateur” landlords coming into the sector. An “amateur” landlord is, typically, someone who cannot sell their home and so has decided to rent it out. A spokesman for the council said: “It is certainly true to say private tenants are disproportionately affected: with 16 per cent of the UK population living in private rented properties, they account for 20 per cent of UK adults receiving an electric shock.”
It is imperative that new landlords acquaint themselves quickly with their legal obligations when it comes to health and safety issues. A complete list of legislation requirements can be found on Government web sites as well as those organisations that specialise in representing landlords.
In a case that will disturb all decent landlords with an interest in landlord insurance, a Warwickshire landlord has been given a massive £30,000 fine and a six month suspended jail sentence after one of the properties he rented out was described as looking more like a cave than a home.
Landlord Steven Boote was prosecuted after an inspector went to the property and found it was overrun with damp, mould and moss. The inspector put in his report that the property was the worst house he had seen in ten years of doing his job. The tenant lived with carpets that had become encrusted with mould an inch deep and the walls were all plastered with moss. The property has had no gas or hot water for many years and thirty buckets were positioned to catch all of the water dripping from the leaks in the roof.
Mr Boote was given a £30,000 fine including court costs and sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work after the court was shown pictures of the horrific state of his property. He was also charged with two counts of failing to carry out gas safety checks and failing to comply with an improvement notice which was issued to him.
Tenant David Whorlow, who has lived in the property since he was born, said “Living there was an absolute nightmare. I couldn’t have friends and family round and I was finding it really stressful. If I had walked out or moved then Boote would have got off scot-free from doing any repairs.”
Mr Boote who has over 40 properties bought the house four years ago but he neglected to carry out any repairs or important maintenance. Coventry Council made a surprise visit to the property in November 09 and found a number of health and safety violations which also included electrical hazards and inadequate cooking facilities. The costs issued are very high because they reflect the seriousness of the offences and also the disregard shown by the landlord to both the law and his tenant.