The number of households occupied by private renters in England has steadily increased in recent years. Back in 2000, there were two million private renters and by 2022 that number had reached 4.61 million.
That’s a lot of tenants, which means a lot of legal responsibility for the estimated 2.6 million landlords operating in the country. Landlords, like anyone providing a service or running a business, have certain legal obligations to meet to ensure those 4.61 million households are in good condition, with safe and happy tenants.
Most landlords don’t intentionally violate the rules and few will skirt the legislation, however, it can be easy to fall foul of requirements and make mistakes if particular attention is not paid to the regulations. Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to the legal system, so landlords must be mindful of the intricacies and requirements, especially when it comes to landlord insurance and buy-to-let mortgages.
Landlords, periodic inspections and the duty of care
It is clearly stated in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 that landlords have a duty of care for their tenants and their properties. The property must be fit for human habitation from the beginning through to the very end of a tenancy. If landlords fail to meet the requirements, the repercussions can be costly.
Some landlords like to prepare before a tenant moves in, while others prefer to conduct additional regular inspections throughout the tenancy. Although the former is certainly getting off to a good start, between the beginning and the end of a tenancy a lot could go wrong.
That’s why some landlords conduct periodic inspections, ensuring that the condition of the property is tip-top. If it isn’t, they’re able to rectify any issues immediately and save themselves from the bother of deposit or rental disputes further down the line.
Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, landlords also have a legal obligation to keep the structure and the exterior of the property in good repair, keep installations for the supply of utilities in proper working order and the same is true for space heating and water heating, too.
Rather than wait to hear about potential defects, landlords should be proactive and conduct periodic inspections. Under the very same Act, landlords have a right to enter the premises to check the condition of the property.
The legislation in section 11.6 states: “In a lease in which the lessor’s repairing covenant is implied there is also implied a covenant by the lessee that the lessor, or any person authorised by him in writing, may at reasonable times of the day and on giving 24 hours’ notice in writing to the occupier, enter the premises comprised in the lease for the purpose of viewing their condition and state of repair.”
What that means in simple terms is that if the inspection is carried out at a “reasonable” time of day and 24 hours’ notice has been given, then a landlord has the right to inspect the property as they see fit.
The intention behind periodic inspections is not to invade the tenants’ privacy, but to help the landlord meet their obligations such as the requirements in their insurance policy, as well as helping them to keep on top of any maintenance of the property.
Inspections are more than necessary, they’re a requirement
Regular inspections are not just good for ensuring the best shape and condition of the property and checking that tenants aren’t breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement, they’re also a requisite for some landlord insurance.
Most policies will specify that an inspection should be carried out within a month of the tenant moving in. After that, inspections are required by some landlord insurance policies at regular intervals, like every six months or more.
Many policies also require that should the property be left vacant for an extended period, the tenant has an obligation to let the landlord know. Also, landlords are advised by their insurers to check the property on a weekly basis and keep written or digital evidence of the inspections. This could prevent any unforeseen issues from arising while the property is unoccupied.
A recent case outlined by the deposit protection provider mydeposits puts the necessity of periodic inspections into stark focus. In this instance, the tenant took an extended leave of absence from the property over winter without informing the landlord. As a result, the property was inadequately heated, causing the pipes to freeze and then burst, flooding the property.
The tenant claimed that the reason the pipes froze and caused the damage was due to the weather, rather than any negligence on their part. However, an inspection carried out by the agent on behalf of the landlord, backed up by written and photographic evidence, revealed the full truth and put the deposit dispute in the landlord’s favour.
Ultimately, the landlord had to replace the burst pipes and repair the damage, but they were able to claim on their insurance due to their record keeping, photographic evidence and regular inspections.
While it might seem like common sense to some, it’s an often overlooked part of being a landlord for others. Agents should pay mind to this, too, as they are best placed to advise their landlords and prevent any unwanted issues or disputes.
Aside from this, inspections also enable landlords and agents to spot maintenance issues before they become unmanageable. Preventative maintenance can save landlords and lettings agents a lot of money and a great deal of time, so being proactive and monitoring signs of wear and tear or abuse to any part of the building or its contents is strongly advised.
All in all, periodic inspections aren’t invasive and they’re not snooping. They show a great deal of care for the investment, the property as a whole, and the tenants that occupy them. This helps landlords build bridges with their tenants, showing that they’re willing to go the extra mile to ensure the property is in perfect condition.
Long-term reliable tenants are important in this day and age, so a simple inspection every now and then can help strengthen that relationship.
Balancing interests and protecting relationships
While the main objective of inspections is to assess the condition of the property, both internally and externally, periodic inspections are great for fostering positive relations with tenants, showing that the landlord and agent are committed to keeping the property safe and in good condition for the benefit of the tenant.
Additionally, they are a requirement for some insurance policies and buy-to-let mortgages, and they’re also vital when it comes to settling disputes. Having photographic evidence and documentation to hand if the need arises will be the difference between winning and losing such a dispute.