Your legal obligations and top tips
Maintaining your rental property in a good state of repair so that it’s always safe and comfortable for your tenants is your legal responsibility as a landlord. And while you should be carrying out regular checks, maintenance and repairs throughout the year, it’s especially important to make sure your property is in good shape ahead of winter.
Heavy rain, strong winds, snow and freezing temperatures can all take their toll on a property – for instance:
- Roof tiles can get dislodged
- Flying debris can cause damage to the fabric of the property
- Blocked guttering and drains can lead to water penetrating the walls or flooding at ground level
- Snow and ice can damage roofs, walls, paths and drives – and be dangerous for tenants
- Pipes can freeze and burst.
On top of that, there’s always the risk of power cuts, boiler breakdowns and water supply issues, which are much more of an inconvenience and risk to tenants in the winter than at other times of the year, with colder weather and fewer hours of daylight.
The good news is, there are plenty of steps you can take to protect both your property and your tenants ahead of winter. But before we delve into our round-up of pre-winter measures for landlords, what does the law say?
Your legal obligations
In terms of maintenance and repairs, there are 5 key laws to know about when preparing your rental for winter:
- Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, you have to keep:
- the structure and exterior of the property in good repair
- the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation and heating in good repair and proper working order.
- Under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, you’ve got to make sure your tenants’ home meets certain standards of safety and condition at the start of the tenancy and throughout it.
- You must have an annual gas safety check carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer and give your tenants a copy of the latest certificate before they move in, then within 28 days of each new check.
- A qualified electrician must inspect the full electrical installation every five years – more often if recommended on the last report. A copy of the written report must be given to your tenants before they move in and then within 28 days of a new check.
- Smoke alarms must be fitted on every storey where there’s living accommodation and tested at the start of each new tenancy. Any alarm that’s reported as faulty during the tenancy must be repaired or replaced.
In short, as a landlord, you’ve got to make sure that your tenants’ home is always safe and secure for them to live in and that their utilities and services stay in good working order. Those are the laws, but what more do you need to know about maintenance?
Here are our top tips for getting your rental ready for anything winter might throw at it!
Check the heating system
Having an energy-efficient heating system that’s in good working order is crucial to ensure your tenants can heat their home properly during winter and keep their bills affordable.
There are three key areas to check:
It’s important to know that the annual gas safety check is not the same as a service, which makes sure all the various parts are in good condition and working properly. So it’s advisable to have your boiler serviced each year to ensure it’s in the best possible condition before it’s put under pressure bearing in mind that your tenants might have it running 24/7. Ideally, a Gas Safe engineer may be able to do this in a single appointment, along with the gas safety check. If your boiler is under warranty, an annual service is likely to be required to keep this valid, so check the conditions.
If you can’t manage to schedule these professional inspections over the autumn, then you can make two checks yourself:
- Look for any cracks or signs of leaks, such as small pools of water or rusting around pipe joints.
- Make sure the pressure gauge is at the right level, according to the instruction manual – usually that’s between 1 and 1.5 bar. Low pressure means the heating won’t work properly and it’ll be more expensive for your tenants. To increase the pressure, open the valve on the filling loop until the pressure reaches the right level, then close the valve right away. If the pressure is too high, you probably need to bleed the radiators.
With the heating on, check that the radiators are warm all over. If they’re cold at the top, use a radiator key to open the valve and let the air out until water starts to appear, then shut the valve. It’s a good idea to show your tenants how to do this themselves.
If the base of the radiators is cold, it’s likely that you’ve got a build-up of sludge. Although you could tackle this yourself, it’s likely to be easier and less messy to call a plumber.
Around a third of all insurance claims over winter are for ‘escape of water’, and two thirds of those are caused by burst pipes (source: https://hfis.co.uk/knowledge/infographic-winter-escape-of-water/ ), so you must check that all your water pipework is properly insulated to protect it against the risk of freezing. If there is any exposed pipework, buy some lengths of insulation lagging – which you should be able to get in most hardware shops – cut it to length and simply wrap it around the pipe.
Check the exterior
The better condition the outside of your rental is in, the more chance it’s got of surviving the winter elements. So take the time to check these things, ideally with a general building contractor who can help identify any issues and make the necessary repairs:
- Roof tiles – make sure none are missing, loose or broken
- Flashing – check it’s properly in place
- Guttering – clear out any debris so rainwater can flow freely and make sure it’s complete and securely attached to the building
- Drains – clear them out so groundwater won’t build up
- Walls/brickwork – make sure there’s no missing or cracked mortar and there isn’t anywhere water could seep in
- Doors and windows – is the sealant watertight?
- Fences – check the posts are secure and panels are properly attached
- Trees – remove any broken or dead branches.
And if you’ve supplied your tenants with garden furniture, pack it away for winter so there’s no risk of it either suffering or causing damage.
Is the property secure?
Longer hours of darkness through the winter mean there’s more opportunity for burglars, vandals and other intruders to operate, so it’s no surprise that insurance claims for theft are highest in late autumn and early winter (source: https://hfis.co.uk/knowledge/property-claims-report/ ).
Prevention is always better than having to find a cure, so here are 3 things you can do to make it harder for criminals to approach the property unnoticed:
- Install motion-activated lights outside, at the front and back of the property. That will also make it easier for tenants to see their way as they come and go.
- Cut back any bushes and large plants around the property – particularly if they’re near to doors and windows – so there’s nowhere for potential intruders to hide.
- Have gravel driveways and paths that crunch underfoot, making it harder for anyone to creep up to the property. The added benefit is that there’s less chance of tenants slipping during freezing weather.
Ideally, you should have modern, double-glazed windows and doors, which are pretty hard to break into. However, that does rely on your tenants closing and locking them when they go out, so it’s worth reminding them to be particularly vigilant in winter.
Liaising with your tenants
Of course, you’ll need to arrange your pre-winter inspection with your tenants. You must get their permission to enter the property – and let them know that you might need to be there for a few hours. If you can make it at the same time as the gas safety inspection and/or boiler service, that means you don’t need to bother the tenants twice!
We’d also suggest you provide your tenants with the following, to help them deal with any potential issues:
- A torch and some emergency candles in case of a power cut
- Some free-standing electric heaters, in case the boiler breaks down
- A snow shovel and bag of grit/salt to help keep paths clear and safe
- If the area is at risk of flooding, some sandbags
- Clear instructions on where the stop cock and fuse box are and how to turn off the water and power.
Importantly, make sure they have a list of emergency contact numbers and know who to call, when.
Finally, speak to your landlord insurance provider to make sure you’re properly covered for all types of winter-related damage, including the cost of temporary accommodation for your tenants if the property becomes uninhabitable. It’s also worth considering taking home emergency cover, which will give you and your tenants access to 24-hour emergency contractors.
If you have any questions about getting your rental ready for winter, or you’re looking for a property management company, we’d love to hear from you! Just give us a call on 01244 316 338 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get right back to you.