Monthly Archives: February 2014

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By Judith Loeffler

Legionnaires RESIZED

 

Under the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)  landlords of residential accommodation have responsibilities for combating Legionnaires’ Disease requiring landlords to have a Legionella Risk Assessment carried out in residential rental properties.

Legionella bacteria can be caught by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water and they can cause pneumonia-like illnesses including legionnaires disease, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Legionella bacteria are widespread in the environment and they can also contaminate purpose-built water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers, hot and cold water systems and whirlpool spas. Whilst previous regulation only required risk assessments to be carried out for industrial facilities the revised regulation also requires for this to happen at residential rental properties – see HSE Approved Code of Pratice.

The required risk assessment needs to be carried out by a competent person and is to be repeated every year. The risk assessment will be based on a site survey of the water system to investigate water temperatures, storage tanks and water outlets. Based on this assessment the level of risk will be determined, best case it is a low risk requiring no further action, worst case it is considered high risk with further actions to be taken. The following factors increase the risk in a property:

  • There is a water tank in the property
  • The property has got a system boiler which is gravity fed from the tank as opposed to a combi boiler fed by mains pressure
  • There is an outlet in the property that is used very infrequently
  • There are elderly or ill people residing at the property

By Judith Loeffler

Damp RESIZED

 

Each winter reports from tenants on damp in properties spike, particularly this winter as tenants cut back on heating due to high energy costs. Apart from causing long term deterioration to the property, damp and mould can also cause health issues. So it needs to be addressed; the discussion is often who is responsible for addressing it – tenant or landlord?

Damp and mould are usually a result of penetrating damp, rising damp or condensation damp. From a legal point of view ‘it is necessary to assess the source of damp or mould before any further advice can be given as to who the burden falls upon to correct the defect.’ In a nutshell any damp caused due to structural disrepair eg leaks (possibly undiscovered), damaged brickwork etc needs to be addressed by the landlord, possibly via the freeholder if it’s external disrepair to a leasehold property. If there is no structural issue causing damp, if the property has adequate ventilation sources like fans in bathrooms, extractor hoods in kitchen and if the heating system is adequate, the landlord is likely to have shown duty of care (though what exactly ‘adequate’ means is always open for discussion).

Any damp caused by condensation due to the tenant’s lifestyle is the tenant’s responsibility. Tenants have a responsibility to act in a ‘tenant-like manner’ which includes using the heating system correctly, ensuring adequate ventilation and avoiding condensation. Condensation is likely to be made worse if heating is used intermittently, if clothes are dried in the property, if extractor fans are not used despite being there, if trickle vents are not opened, if curtains are constantly drawn or if items are stacked directly against walls and ceilings hence cutting off air circulation. We sometimes get enquiries whether our tenancy contracts should include clauses asking tenants to heat and ventilate the property adequately – this is covered by tenants’ responsibility to act in a ‘tenant-like’ manner and it is questionable whether it would be any more enforceable if another clause to this effect was added.

The bottom line is that, even if a landlord has fulfilled all his or her obligations, it is in each landlord’s interest to work with tenants to minimise any condensation issues as it has the potential to damage the property long term if not dealt with. Additional options landlords can consider are to 1. Fit additional vents ranging from the cheapest yet less effective airbrick or grill vent solutions (passive ventilation units) to the more expensive heat recovery units for single rooms or positive pressure units fitted in loft spaces, 2. Replace towel rails in bathrooms with higher output radiators, 3. Ensure all walls are treated with surface cleansers and anti-mould paint, 4. Replace washing machines with washer dryers, 5. Improve insulation to minimise cold walls in the property which is where condensation will form.

By Judith Loeffler

Water damage RESIZED

 

Over the last few months we had our fair share of experiences related to water penetration into properties we manage. The key question is of course: Who’s responsible, who will pay for the damage to the property affected by the leak? The bad news is there’s no easy answer though we thought it might be interesting to share our experiences.

In a block of leasehold properties it usually ends up being the freeholders insurance paying for the damage repair – whether this is the council’s insurance in a council block or the building insurance put in place by the block management agent. There tends to be lots of back and forth, often stretching over months, before this is settled with the unavoidable consequence of both tenants and landlords being dissatisfied over this period of time.

Sometimes it is the ‘affected’ landlord’s content insurance settling the cost of making good the damage, again a route most landlords try to avoid given potential effects on future premiums. If a tenant’s personal belongings are damaged from a flood from above then the ‘affected’ tenant’s content insurance could be consulted. However in our experience hardly any tenants have this type of insurance in place.

In the quest of avoiding insurance claims, legal routes often get explored, although there’s conflicting advice on whether negligence on behalf of the ‘offending’ property’s owner or occupier needs to be proven or not in order to make this a viable route. Differing views are being shared in the landlordzone discussion forum, a Guardian article expresses the belief that negligence needs to be proven, whilst Tom Entwistle, Resident Agony Uncle of the landlord & buy to let magazine, states in the April 2011 edition that the principle of strict liability might be applied in suing the owner or occupier of the ‘offending’ premises in tort.

In all the cases we have seen the best advice we can give is to 1. Not to ignore the issue whether landlord of the ‘offending’ or ‘affected’ property – it will not go away, it will get worse, 2. Keep up a good and honest flow of communication with your property’s managing agent, fellow freeholders if applicable, the block management agent and the tenants  and 3. Act pragmatically: No one likes becoming ‘innocently guilty’ especially when duty of care has been fulfilled and no one likes making insurance claims. Trying to go down the legal route is an option, though careful consideration should be given to whether the gain will be worth it, both from a time investment and a monetary perspective. To understand the likelihood of success will most certainly require seeking (and paying for) legal advice.

By Judith Loeffler

Rip off RESIZED

Most of last year the debate about fees charged by letting agents to tenants has been in the spotlight. Toward the end of last year the debate turned toward fees charged to landlords. The debate focuses on renewal fees for tenant find services and on maintenance cost mark ups for full management services.

Many agents charge a renewal fee to renew the tenancy with the initial tenant after the fixed term expires, which tends to be after 12 months. Most letting agents charge landlords for keeping the tenant they initially found. The online forum mypropertyguide estimates that the renewal fee charged is usually between 50% and 100% of the original commission when a tenant decides to renew their original tenancy.

Another topic that popped up again end of last year was the practice of some letting agents to charge mark-ups to landlords for repairs and maintenance work. Will Davies, Managing Director of Aspect: ‘ Basically, letting agents can milk their clients by charging them a fee to manage the property and then they take a commission from the maintenance companies they use so their clients end up paying more than they should on top of the charges they are already paying for the service.’

In light of this negative publicity we’d like to reiterate that at Castle Estates (South London)

  • we do not charge any renewal fees for our tenant find service
  • we do no charge any mark ups on repair or maintenance work to our landlords and we do not get any commission from any of the contractors we work with

Our belief is that providing best possible value to our landlords is the foundation for a long term partnership. Not having flashy high street offices lowers our cost base vs traditional agents which in turn enables us to provide some of the lowest management fees whilst providing high service levels at the same time.