Good practice in the residential industry has always put safety first. There is now increasing legislation to ensure that this is the case and as a renter you should expect to be provided with the relevant documents to ensure your safety.
Each year a landlord is required to have the gas installations in a property checked. The checks need to include:
An organisation called CAPITA operates the ‘Gas Safe Register’ replacing the previous organisation known as CORGI. The checks must be undertaken by a registered Gas Safe engineer who will issue a certificate to confirm that the installation is safe or recommend any relevant remedial work to be done. If, for any reason, there is anything unsafe the engineer will normally isolate the unsafe area until it has been fixed and issue a warning notice.
The certificates will last a year and the landlord must retain records of the previous certificates for 2 years. The landlord must provide you with a copy of the certificate and, for tenancies that start after 1st October 2015, if the landlord has not provided you with a copy of the certificate, they cannot serve a valid notice for you to vacate the property.
The Health and Safety Executive can prosecute landlords who fail to undertake regular checks or action any remedial work needed. It is a criminal offence and can be punished by fines or imprisonment.
As annual gas safety checks are mandatory for rental properties (and are generally checked more frequently) they are arguably safer than most privately owned homes.
From the 1st October, 2015 regulations in England require smoke alarms to be installed on each floor of a rental property. If the property has open fires or log burners it should also have a Carbon Monoxide alarm in the room, although surprisingly, at the moment, this requirement does not extend to gas boilers.
The landlord is required to check that the smoke alarms are working on the first day of the tenancy and there will normally be a requirement in the tenancy agreement for the tenant to regularly check them too during the course of the tenancy.
The value of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms cannot be underestimated: not having a working smoke alarm makes the risk of dying in a fire at least four times greater.
By law your landlord must ensure that electrical installations and wiring are maintained in a safe condition throughout the tenancy but, unlike gas regulations, the landlord is not required to hold a specific certificate. However, the landlord would be liable should any electrical fittings or appliances within a rental property cause harm.
As electrical installations will deteriorate over time and regulations get upgraded, best practice recommends that an installation inspection is carried out every five years. This will check to ensure that the whole electrical system is up to standard, in working order and not being overloaded.
Similarly, with portable appliances (anything that has a plug on the end e.g. irons, toasters, microwaves etc.) the landlord needs to ensure that these are safe to use. Buying goods with the British Kitemark is crucial and under taking periodic Portable Appliance Tests (PAT tests) will ensure that they remain safe.
The furniture supplied in a rental property will need to meet minimum fire resistance standards (Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988). This doesn’t mean that they won’t burn if ignited but does mean that, unlike some materials from the past, they are not highly combustible and will burn in a more controlled way.
The furniture should have a safety label on purchase confirming that it is up to standard and a landlord should be able to confirm the same. The only other way to confirm if the furniture confirms would be the match test where the item would be ‘tested to destruction’!
The only furniture exempt from these rules is furniture that was manufactured before 1950.
There are a number of things you can do as a tenant to ensure that you remain safe in a property including the quick reporting to the landlord or the managing agent faults you become aware of. Unless you are suitably qualified and have consent from the landlord, you should not try to undertake any works yourself.
At the start of the tenancy, you should find out where all the shut off valves are in a property. In the event of a gas leak or an electrical fault being able to shut off the supply quickly will help keep you safe and isolate the problem. Similarly, with water supplies, being able to quickly switch off the supply will help limit any risks and also prevent further damage to the property.
The landlord should supply you with manuals for all the appliances in the property and you would be expected to understand how to operate usual domestic appliances.