Tips to help buy-to-let landlords avoid prison
Damp is one of the most common issues found in buy-to-let properties. A damp home can cause mould growth and health issues. Under the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which came into effect on March 20th, 2019, it is more likely that a damp property will be reason enough for a tenant to take a landlord to court. If you are found guilty, you could be fined or even put in prison.
What defines “unfit for human habitation”?
In our article “Buy-to-let landlords must be ready for 20th March 2019”, we discussed why the new law has been introduced and the factors that will be considered under it that might make a property unfit for human habitation.
Issues that may affect fitness for human habitation include repairs, stability, ventilation, water supply, natural lighting, drainage, toilets, etc. One of the areas of most concern is that of damp. Where dampness is considered a serious problem, a tenant can now sue their landlord.
The court will consider the condition of the property, and the occupants of the property. The definition of being unfit for habitation may change dependent upon the occupants – an older and frail tenant will have different needs to a young, fit tenant.
Could this landlord be prosecuted?
As recently reported in the South Wales Argus, a heavily pregnant mother is battling against a landlord because of damp and mould in her home. Despite the landlord having attempted to rectify the issue, Mrs Elizabeth Edwards has recently sent her three-year-old daughter to live with her grandmother because of the effect the damp and mould is having on the child’s health.
Mrs Edwards told the South Wales Argus that the problems are driving her crazy. She said that her daughter’s cough has improved while living with her grandmother, but that she is hesitant of bringing a newborn into the damp environment.
The landlord has said that they have been working with Environmental Health to resolve the issue and that they have undertaken remedial work such as installing more insulation and re-plastering.
Mrs Edwards remains dissatisfied. She says the dampness and mould returns, and that she is annoyed and depressed by the situation.
It’s not for us to say whether the landlord could be sued under the new law, but we would suggest that a landlord who finds themselves in such circumstances should seek legal advice sooner rather than later.
Should you be concerned about damp in your buy-to-let property?
Damp problems should be a big concern for all landlords. When they take hold, they can make homes look unwelcoming and smell musty. This will harm your ability to get and retain good tenants, and it will dent the amount of rent you can charge. Worse, damp could be an indication of a more serious issue, such as structural problems or lack of damp-proofing.
Finally, if your tenant reports issues with dampness or mould and you don’t act to put it right, you could be sued under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) law – and risk going to prison.
How do you prevent damp in a home?
One of the difficulties with preventing damp is that it is partly caused by people living in the property. Four people living in a house can cause more than 100 pints of moisture each week. That’s a lot of moisture for a home to deal with. To combat this, there are actions that a landlord can take. For example:
- Install double glazing
- Ensure adequate loft and wall insulation
- Install automatic ventilation to bathrooms and kitchens
- Make sure that washing machines and tumble dryers are correctly vented
There are also actions that a landlord or property manager should discuss with the tenant. A few simple ‘housekeeping’ behaviours will help to keep damp at bay. These include:
- Maintaining a warm and constant temperature
- If clothes must be dried indoors, then they should be dried in the bathroom with the door closed and windows open
- Using the ventilator hood in the kitchen when cooking
- Keeping extractor fans running in areas that are most likely to be damp (such as the kitchen and bathroom) for a few minutes after use
- Always wiping kitchen tops and tiled walls to prevent moisture from building up
- Using dehumidifiers in the most used rooms
- Opening windows once each day to allow air to flow and moisture to be dispersed
The bottom line
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 makes it easier for a landlord to be sued by tenants in a property in a poor state of repair, or with issues that could affect the health of the property’s occupants. Damp is just one of these issues.
If you haven’t done so already, we would advise that you (or your representative) conduct a property inspection to ensure that your buy-to-let property is fit for human habitation and that you ensure your tenant knows the new regulations and their responsibilities under them. By making it easy for tenants to report issues, and then ensuring that issues are dealt with in a timely manner, you shouldn’t run the risk of getting sued and going to prison.
Here at Ezytrac, we offer a property inspection service and all tenants can report repair issues easily using our repair reporting system. Isn’t it time you benefitted from the peace of mind you get from effortless property management? Contact us at +44 0 1522 503 717 to find out more.
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