Due to the expansion of tertiary education in the UK, student landlords are a growing slice of the booming buy-to-let rental market. While it’s important for all landlords to be aware of their legal responsibilities and good safety practice when it comes to their rental properties, this is especially important when renting to younger people who may be insufficiently aware of potential dangers.
If you are a student landlord, minimising the risk of fire and other potentially lethal hazards should be a top priority. You should also be aware of the provisions of the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), and any duties you must legally carry out in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). At present, it isn’t a legal requirement for most HMOs to produce a Fire Risk Assessment prior to rental. However, the value of carrying out a professional risk assessment cannot be overstated as this will help to protect you in the event that you find yourself in court as the result of a serious incident at your property. Most importantly, conducting a risk assessment beforehand will reduce the chance of any incident occurring and may save the lives of your tenants. Here is a brief guide to what student landlords should be doing to ensure their properties are – to borrow a phrase – as safe as houses.
How to Carry Out a Risk Assessment
If you’re renting a standard construction property, you can carry out your own risk assessment or employ a professional to carry one out. When performing an assessment, anything that has the potential to cause harm or where harm could occur should be flagged up as a hazard. Carefully inspect the whole property by walking around. On your assessment sheet, write the property address, assessment date, who has completed the form and the date reviewed. Following this, you should assess all significant hazards as well as who is at risk – for example, tenants, visitors, neighbours or contractors.
After listing hazards and who is at risk, you should describe how the risk is presently being controlled – for example, by listing existing controls, safety systems and procedures. Finally, you should detail whether further action, and of what kind, is required. This will include any reasonable measures you can take to minimise the specific risk, such as adding extra vents to improve air circulation or adding extra electrical sockets to reduce the risk of overloading and shock caused by multiple sockets and extension leads.
Hazards to Investigate
The hazards identified in your risk assessment will depend on the property itself, but fire hazards are typically a chief consideration. For example, are smoke/heat detectors installed on each floor of the building and are they regularly tested? Can occupants exit quickly and safely without needing a key and do they know the procedure for contacting fire services? Are there a fire extinguisher, fire blanket and other emergency measures on site, and is all furniture fire retardant? By law, landlords must employ a registered engineer to carry out an annual Landlords’ Gas Safety Check on all gas appliances in the property, such as boilers or cookers. Although it isn’t a legal requirement, all electrical installation should also be subject to a periodic inspection every three to five years.
Other hazards that should be detailed in your assessment may include the risk of flooding or damp. For example, make sure tenants know where stop-cocks are located so they can turn off the water supply in the event of a leak. Any areas where people could hurt themselves by slipping or falling should also be flagged up. Perhaps a handrail needs to be installed, carpets nailed down securely or a safety mat put in place to minimise risk. Measures to protect against the risk of crimes such as burglary should also be highlighted. This will include whether the rental property has a burglar alarm, double glazing and window locks, a door safety chain and so on.
Discuss Hazards at Check In
Once you’ve completed a Risk Assessment, it’s a good idea to take time to go through all the details with your new tenants. Discuss the risks indicated in the assessment during check in and sign and date two copies of the report at that time. You can find more comprehensive information in the publication ‘Fire Safety in Housing’, produced by Local Authority Coordination of Regulatory Service (LACORS) and available to download for free. Although landlords may choose to perform their own Risk Assessment, hiring a professional to carry out an assessment is likely to highlight many hazards the landlord was unaware of. As such, a professional Risk Assessment will be invaluable for the peace of mind it brings.
Whether you choose to perform your own Risk Assessment as a student landlord or ask a professional to carry it out on your behalf, ensure you do everything you can to provide a safe and secure home for your tenants and others.