Is your rented home safe?

A report carried out for the Scottish Parliament in 2014 has shown that there were around 330,000 households in the private rented sector in Scotland. Around 290,000 of these properties were rented from a private landlord and 40,000 rented from family and friends. (Scottish Parliament Information Centre, 2014).

This article summarises some of the factors and risks affecting these ~330,000 private landlords and their tenants in Scotland.

Primary Legislation

The Repairing Standard, contained in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, covers the legal and contractual obligations of private landlords to ensure that a property meets a minimum physical standard. This includes provision for ensuring domestic services such as gas, electricity and water are properly installed and maintained to a safe standard. There are further provisions for smoke or carbon monoxide detention in the event of a fire or gas appliance fault.

The Health and Safety Executive have also stated that the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to Landlords:

Landlords, under Section 53 of HSWA are regarded as being self-employed and tenants fall into the class of “other persons (not being his employees)”.  If you rent out a property, you have legal responsibilities to ensure you conduct your undertaking in such a way that your tenant(s) are not exposed to health and safety risks.

Fire Safety at home

A Scotland Fire and Rescue Service report published In October 2016 details 5,071 accidental fires in Scottish households in the preceding year, 545 fires were in City of Edinburgh local authority area. Nationally these fires sadly resulted in 33 fatalities and 908 non-fatal casualties. In 25% of these incidents no smoke alarm was installed, in 14% a smoke alarm was installed but failed to operate.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 places a legal duty on landlords to install and maintain smoke detectors. The most significant reported cause of a fatality in a domestic dwelling fire was being overcome by gas, smoke or fumes – 19 deaths in the reporting period.

Landlords who let out furnished properties must comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations, to make sure that furniture is reasonably fire resistant. All furniture with upholstery covering or filling should have a label showing that it meets the regulations.

Electrical Safety

In the 2015-16 report, Scotland Fire and Rescue Service reported that 404 fires which were caused by the electrical supply to the home, this included faults on wiring, cables, plugs, batteries and generators.

Fixed Electrical Wiring

As of 1st December 2015, under sections 13(4A) and 19B(4) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, private landlords in Scotland will be required by law to ensure that their properties are electrically safe. Landlords are required to ensure that regular electrical safety inspections are carried out by a competent person, and that anything that fails to pass the inspection is replaced or repaired immediately. As a minimum, an electrical safety inspection must be carried out; before a tenancy starts, and during the tenancy, at intervals of no more than five years from the date of the previous inspection.

Electrical Appliances

Similar to the fixed wiring, fixed and portable electrical appliances  are also a big cause of fires in the home. The SFRS report cites 342 fires caused by electrical appliances, with the biggest culprits being washing machines, tumble driers and dish washers.

The electrical safety inspection mentioned above also extends to electrical appliances that are provided by the landlord for use by the tenant. Portable Appliance Testing (PAT Testing) is now a mandatory requirement for landlords letting out their homes.

Gas Safety & Carbon Monoxide

Gas Appliance Safety

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations place an explicit legal duty of landlords to get a gas safety check carried out at least once a year. The safety inspection involves checking:

  • the gas supply pipework
  • that all gas appliances are working safely
  • that all gas flues are working safely and are suitable
  • that gas appliances have adequate ventilation.

Although gas explosions are relatively rare, their affects can be completely devastating. Landlords must ensure that they only emply competent and registered gas engineers to carry out this inspection.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas. The gas is produced in high levels from appliances where incomplete combustion of a carbon-based fuel occurs. Incomplete combustion could occur in appliance installations that are defective, lack proper maintenance or have inadequate provision for combustion air.

The Scottish Government says that a ‘considerable number of CO incidents’ cause ‘fatalities’ and injury’ each year. However, there are no specific figures for Carbon Monoxide deaths in Scotland, Scottish Government statistics state that between 2009 – 2011, 122 patients were recorded in hospital as having had an episode of ‘toxic effect of carbon monoxide’. Health Protection Scotland has also stated that there were 54 reported CO incidents between 2002 – 2015, including 7 CO incidents in 2015 alone.

Since the 1st October 2013, it has been a legal requirement in Scotland to have a CO alarm installed in the same room as a new or replacement fixed fossil fuel burning heating appliance – this includes gas appliances.

Legionnaires disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and everyone is susceptible to infection. The risk increases with age but some people are at higher risk including those with other chronic health conditions and heavy smokers and drinkers. Legionella bacteria are widespread in natural water systems; however, the conditions are rarely right for people to catch the disease from these sources. Outbreaks of the illness occur from exposure to legionella growing in purpose-built systems where water is maintained at a temperature high enough to encourage growth. People contract Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling small droplets of water (aerosols), suspended in the air, containing the bacteria.

In Scotland, there are about 20-40 cases of Legionnaires’ disease a year. Landlords are responsible for the water systems in their properties and have a legal duty to ensure that the risk of their tenants being exposed to legionella is properly assessed and controlled.

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