In late 2022, The Met Office issued a stark warning that 2023 will be one of the Earth’s hottest years on record. As it is the tenth year in succession that temperatures have reached at least 1°C above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900), many landlords are unaware of the correlation between extreme weather and their portfolio.
However, extreme weather can cause several property and health-related damages, and one that is often overlooked is the risk of Legionella. This article will outline the challenges of managing properties during extreme weather events while highlighting the responsibilities of a landlord or agent, including the completion of regular Legionella risk assessments.
Property damage caused by extreme weather
Landlords are responsible for maintaining a property’s exterior and structure under the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) as well as the Housing Act (2004). RSA Insurance states that it is mandatory for the landlord to undertake repairs if the property is damaged following extreme weather, such as a storm, if it puts the tenants’ welfare at risk. This includes the repair of things like fences, roofs, external walls, doors, windows, drains, guttering, and foundations.
As the summer months approach, so does the potential for significant property damage due to increased heat and rainfall. As landlords, it's essential to be proactive and prepared for these challenges.
Here we explore real examples of the havoc that extreme summer weather can wreak on properties and valuable advice for landlords to safeguard investments and mitigate potential risks.
Sunshine and roof damage
Heatwaves may be welcomed by most people as a chance to escape to the beach, but they do little to help buildings. In fact, they cause damage such as warped wooden window frames and cracked plastic or vinyl after the heat makes these materials brittle.
It is therefore important to carry out regular checks to keep your property in shape amidst hot weather and high levels of UV, especially as dried roof tiles and caulking can become loose in extreme heat. These can pose a risk to the safety of both tenants and bypassers, should the tiles fall onto the ground.
Asphalt shingles are particularly susceptible to cracks, too. Exposing gaps in the roof, leaks and moisture can become trapped and speed up how quickly a tile could loosen. Condensation will equally create water damage that’ll affect the property’s internal structure.
Landlords are advised to properly maintain roof ducts, as well as keep the attic space well-ventilated. In addition to this, installing vapour barriers to help prevent warm, humid indoor air from condensing by keeping it from touching the cooler outer layer can be a property saver.
Frequent maintenance checks are also one of the most important things any landlord or agent can do to keep on top of things. Doing so will keep you aware of any changes, however subtle, so they can be proactively managed before they become increasingly risky.
Sun damage and subsidence
Not only can weeks of dry and hot spells ruin the appearance of a property’s garden, but these extreme weather conditions can increase the chance of subsidence in a property. The Home Owners Alliance (HOA) says that subsidence occurs when the ground underneath a property sinks. As the ground shifts, the foundations of your house can become misaligned, which causes subsidence.
Rain followed by the absence of moisture in dry clay soil will also encourage the ground to expand and then contract and can make a property unstable and prone to cracking. These unsightly marks can take the form of 3mm (or more) wide cracks appearing internally or externally on an angle.
Other signs include gaps between sinking or sloping floors, doors and windows becoming misaligned or sticking as the frame warps, skirting boards coming away from the wall and wallpaper rippling at the wall and ceiling joints.
If regular inspections are not undertaken by the landlord or an agent acting on their behalf, things will only worsen. This could see landlords having to fund temporary accommodation for tenants until the rental property is made safe once again.
Flooding and water damage
It’s not all sunshine – the great British summer is known for its fair share of downpours and storms, as Storm Evert in the southwest of England in July 2021 showed. Some believe that a change in mindset needs to be adopted to help landlords prepare for water damage.
Building surveyor Ian Paton, of property firm Cluttons, warns that “The UK is on the whole ill-prepared for the event or effects of flooding … largely because flooding is not always associated just with rivers and must be considered from all sources, often resultant from surface water flooding due to agricultural practices, development and hard landscaping”.
The effects of these extreme weather conditions can include damage to property and emergency repairs. Following a heavy downpour or severe summer storm, it’s key to communicate with sitting tenants and arrange a convenient time for an inspection by the landlord or agent. Then, if any emergency repairs are required, they should be completed as soon as possible.
However, landlords can proactively limit the risk of damage and expensive repairs by taking steps before the season begins. Take the opportunity in between tenancies or during regular property inspections to monitor fence posts, assess window and door sealant, add storm collars, ensure all guttering is leaf free and check for loose or cracked roof tiles.
Summer is not the time to keep your head in the sand and hope that things improve. With older properties facing the biggest risk from summer floods, it’s worth noting that they can be shored up by installing flood defences in retrospect. Developers too, are taking steps to put flood defences into action should new housing be located near a flood plain.
All of these previous suggestions are worth following, as keeping on top of these potential issues helps to protect a landlord’s investment in the long run. There are also grants for flood repairs and resilience are available for all flood-affected areas of the United Kingdom.
Legionella risk during extreme summer weather
More important than the physical damages to a property after periods of extreme weather, are the dangers that these conditions pose to people’s health. Usually present in freshwater systems, Legionella is a bacteria that has the potential to become a fatal type of pneumonia when growing in human-made water systems such as taps, heaters, hot water tanks and showerheads.
The Legionella risk is worse in the summer months as Legionella bacteria find it easier to multiply when temperatures are generally higher at 20-45 degrees Celsius. This means that water temperatures should be kept either below this range for cold water taps or above when the flow reaches the hot water tap.
It is important to note that everyone has a real risk of catching Legionella’s Disease, although those with pre-existing conditions, smokers and the elderly are most susceptible. The tragic story of a Legionella death in a UK care home reminds landlords and agents of their responsibilities to avoid Legionella risks in the properties they let.
In our article “Legionella is not a risk that can be ignored”, we stressed that the Health and Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Conduct expects every landlord to carry out a Legionella risk assessment “if they are capable and competent of doing so themselves”. It made the point that, if the landlord is not equipped to conduct the assessment, they are expected to employ the services of a professional service to do it on their behalf.
To assist with this process, the HSE’s managing legionella in hot and cold water systems information recommends landlords to remove “dead legs/dead ends in pipe-work”, flush out infrequently used outlets including showerheads and taps weekly (at least) and clean and de-scale shower heads and hoses quarterly.
Carrying out thorough property inspections after a tenant moves out is also critical to ensure the risk of legionella doesn’t heighten. Empty properties with stagnant water in their tanks and pipes can breed toxic conditions that are ripe for Legionella’s Disease.
Manage the risk of Legionella’s disease with technology
Because landlords are viewed as running a business, they must legally meet their responsibility that the property poses no risk to tenants or any parties visiting them. This rule applies regardless of the type, size or number of bedrooms in the property.
For example, Legionella Control International relays the need for landlords and those managing properties to meet the conditions of health and safety laws such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) and also the L8 Approved Code of Practice (ACOP).
Landlords, therefore, have a duty of care to carry out Legionella risk assessments even if no certificates are required. Although as you’ll read on the HSE site, the frequency does depend on the water and heating system installed.
In order to support landlords with these critical checks, Inventory Base’s professional property reporting software and smart technology can help landlords and agents comply with this legislation.
Always refining how it can assist our users, Inventory Base enables you to create new report options, including Legionella Risk Assessments, which pays off in terms of protecting lives and assessing risks.
View our Legionella Risk Assessment guidance on InventoryBase Academy.
Let Inventory Base guide your practice
With extreme weather having the potential to place tenants’ lives at risk, damage your property and undermine your investment, Inventory Base can ensure that landlords are able to efficiently and easily manage and maintain their properties to keep everyone safe.
Book an Inventory Base demo today!