A key date for all residential landlords in England to be aware of is 1st July 2020. On that date new electricity safety standards in the form of the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 come into force for residential lettings, as well as new legal requirements for the service of documents to relevant people.
Whilst the Residential Landlord’s Association estimates that over three-quarters of landlords already have a qualified person perform an inspection of the electrical installations in their properties, despite it not yet being a legal requirement to do so, there are still a substantial number of residential lettings with inadequate electrical installations.
What is required at present?
Currently, residential landlords are expected to provide a safe property at the start and throughout the tenancy. This includes making sure the electrical installation is not dangerous. It is therefore good practice for all residential landlords to carry out regular visual inspections of their properties to identify any potential issues with the electrical system.
Landlords who fail to do this may be considered negligent if the tenants are harmed or suffer damage to their own goods as a result of a faulty electrical system. For houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), landlords are required to have an electrical installation condition report (EICR) performed every 5 years. Whilst this is recommended for properties that are not HMOs, it is not presently a legal requirement.
What is changing and what’s the problem?
The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 place a continuous duty on landlords in England to maintain their property to the electrical safety standards and to have evidence of this. This means properties that are let must meet the 18th Edition of the Wiring Regulations and landlords must have a report from a qualified electrical engineer that confirms this.
This is likely to result in many landlords being required to carry out substantial alterations to properties as the 18th Edition does not appear to allow for qualified inspectors to simply declare installations are safe, even if they do not meet these new standards.
What do landlords need to do and when?
Landlords in England who create a new or renew an existing tenancy on or after 1st July 2020 must have an electrical inspection and a report on the condition of the property (EICR) carried out by a suitably qualified person. For the avoidance of doubt, renewals of tenancies will include statutory periodic tenancies that are created at the end of a fixed term by the tenant continuing to live at the property and pay rent.
For pre-existing tenancies, landlords will need to have an EICR performed before April 1st 2021 if they do not already have one. Even if landlords already have an EICR, the Residential Landlords Association believes the new regulations will effectively invalidate any pre-existing EICR that were carried out before the 18th Edition of the Wiring Regulations came into force in 2019.
What about Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)?
There is no legal requirement for landlords who provide portable electrical appliances, as part of a tenancy, to have them tested BUT the law does require the appliances to be maintained in a safe condition that will not cause harm to the tenant. Failure to do so can lead to landlords being sued for negligence. The new regulations are silent on this issue, although testing of portable appliances is sometimes specifically required as a licence condition. In any event, the Residential Landlord’s Association recommends portable appliance testing as best practice for landlords.
What if the electrical installation does not meet the 18th Edition of the Wiring Regulations?
If an EICR identifies that the electrical installation does not meet the requisite standard (which is likely to be the case for all properties built or rewired before the introduction of the 18th Edition of the Wiring Regulations) landlords need to have a qualified person either perform the work or investigate further within 28 days. This time limit can be shortened if the report recommends it due to safety concerns.
Once this has been done the landlord needs to obtain from the qualified person as quickly as possible written confirmation that the electrical safety standards are now met or that further remedial work is required. Within 28 days of the work or investigation being carried out, the landlord must provide the written confirmation and a copy of the report to all of the tenants and the local authority.
In the event of further remedial work being required, the steps above must be followed again.
Additional administrative requirements for landlords
The new regulations set out a number of different requirements around providing copies of the EICR to relevant people:
The EICR must be given to all of the tenants before they occupy the property.
When the EICR is replaced, the landlord must provide all tenants with a copy of the new report within 28 days of the inspection.
If a tenant requests a copy of the EICR, the landlord must provide them with one within 28 days.
If the local authority requests the EICR, the landlord you must provide them with a copy of it within seven days; failure to do so can result in penalties.
Any prospective tenants who request a copy of the EICR must be provided one within 28 days.
Enforcement action and penalties
Where a local authority has reasonable grounds to believe that a landlord is in breach of one or more of their duties under the regulations, they will issue a Remedial Notice requiring the landlord to remedy the breach or breaches within 28 days of the deemed date of service of the notice. The landlord may make representations to the local authority in respect of the notice within 21 days of the deemed date of service, in which case the deadline for the action required by the notice will be suspended until 21 days after the day on which the local authority informs the landlord that the suspension ceases to have effect.
If landlords fail to comply with the local authorities’ formal requests for remedial action, they can issue civil penalties of up to £30,000 per breach of these regulations. In addition, if the local authority is satisfied the landlord is in breach and they have the tenant’s permission to do so, they may perform emergency remedial work on the property and bill the landlord for any costs incurred.
A landlord will not be deemed in breach of their statutory obligations if they can demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the regulations, including circumstances in which tenants have prevented them from gaining access to the property.
What about the impact of COVID-19?
The introduction of the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 was announced prior to the Coronavirus outbreak and introduction of restrictions on people working in other people’s homes. It is likely this will have a significant impact on landlords being able to comply with the new regulations by 1st July 2020 as electrical engineers deal with a backlog of work. We anticipate this will be an adequate reason for not complying with the regulations immediately, provided landlords can demonstrate they have made suitable arrangements with a suitably qualified person to carry out the necessary inspection and any remedial work as soon as is practically possible.
If you are a landlord or tenant looking for advice on these new regulations, or are looking to purchase a buy to let property, please get in touch with Farleys’ residential property team on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry through our online contact form.