In amongst the chaos caused by COVID-19, an important piece of legislation has been made which private landlords need to be aware of.
On 18 March 2020 the snappily-named “Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020” were made. The Regulations do not come into force until 1 June 2020, will apply to new tenancies granted from 1 July 2020 and to the vast majority of older tenancies from 1 April 2021. (There are some tenancy exceptions, the most relevant is the exemption where the tenant is sharing accommodation with the landlord).
So what is a landlord now expected to do? Put simply, a landlord will now be required to ensure that every electrical installation in a property is initially tested before any new tenant moves in for any new tenancies granted from 1 July 2020, or by 1 April 2021 for all existing tenancies. After that initial test, the electrics then need to be tested at least every 5 years, or more frequently if the electrician picks up any problems and recommends more regular inspections.
The inspection report needs to be carefully stored by the landlord. In a similar approach to the gas safety regulations, a copy of the electrical inspection report must be provided to the tenant within 28 days. That report may also be requested by the local authority (and must be provided within 7 days of a request being made), a copy must be provided to any new tenant before that tenant takes up occupation, and any prospective tenant also has the right to request a copy of that report. The landlord must also ensure a copy of the report is provided to the electrician when the next electrical inspection is undertaken.
If your electrician finds any issues with the electrical installations during an inspection, there is a timetable imposed on landlords to carry out the necessary remedial works, or to carry out further investigations – just 28 days. Ultimately, the electrics have to be deemed to be safe in accordance with the current wiring regulations.
Under the Regulations, the local authority will be the body to police this new law. The local authority will have the ability to serve a remedial notice on a landlord if it considers the landlord is in breach of the Regulations, in cases where urgent remedial work is not believed to be necessary. The landlord will firstly be given a 28 day notice to take the remedial action as directed by the local authority. In the event a landlord fails to comply with the remedial notice, the local authority may (with tenant permission) arrange itself for remedial works to be undertaken. Do however note that there is an appeals process, with landlords having the ability to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal of the Property Chamber, both in relation to the decision to serve a remedial notice itself and in relation to the recovery of costs (more of which below).
In cases where urgent remedial works are necessary, the local authority can authorise an electrician to go in with just 48 hours’ notice being given to the tenant to carry out works. The local authority must provide notice of its decision to act to the landlord within 7 days of such urgent works commencing.
It will come as no surprise that the Regulations carry financial implications. With regard to costs, the local authority may seek its costs of serving a remedial notice or the costs of carrying out works from the landlord, although landlords should note that any costs can be appealed to the First Tier Tribunal.
Further, the local authority also has the ability to impose a financial penalty for breaching the Regulations. The Regulations provide that the financial penalty could be up to £30,000 - but do note that the Regulations do provide that more than one penalty could be imposed in the event of a continuing failure. The Regulations do however set out a process which has to be followed by a local authority in the event it does seek to impose a financial penalty; landlords can challenge the imposition of a penalty, with the assistance of the First Tier Tribunal if necessary.
So what steps should you as a landlord be taking at this stage? If you anticipate you have a property that is going to become vacant and available for reletting after 1 July 2020, it is sensible to get an electrician booked in now to carry out the inspection. Finding a good electrician is difficult at the best of times; finding one in the current coronavirus pandemic may be even more tricky. With regard to existing tenancies, normal working practices should hopefully be resumed in plenty of time for checks to be carried out by April 2021, but again, with a lot of PRS properties to check, electricians will find themselves in short supply. Do also bear in mind that, if tenants refuse access, you may well need to seek an injunction from the Court, a process that can sometimes take time.
Therefore the best advice for landlords has to be to take these new duties on board quickly and take steps now to ensure you are able to comply.