The importance of winter repairs with new section 21 rules
Every winter, as the weather worsens, the risk of damage to property increases. The wind can lift roof tiles, rip off things like TV aerials and satellite dishes, and blow trees and debris onto your property. High levels of rainfall compounds any wind damage and means that if there are any spaces where water can get in, you or your tenants will soon find out! As temperatures drop, pipes can freeze and burst, then, as they rise at the other end of winter and snow melts in addition to rain, you have the risk of flooding as the waterlogged ground can’t take in any more. On top of all that, boilers can fail under the strain of heavy usage and overloaded plumbers may not be able to fix heating issues or water leaks quickly.
So as a landlord, it is essential to do all you can, before winter sets in, to ensure your property is in the best possible shape to withstand this onset of potentially severe weather. That is, and has always been, good practice and you may already carry out regular periodical checks, as we do on all the properties we manage. But since new legislation relating to section 21 came into force for all new or renewal tenancies beginning from the 1st of October this year, in England, there is an additional onus on you as the landlord to ensure your property is maintained to a good standard and repairs are carried out promptly and properly.
The new rules have been made to prevent landlords making what are commonly referred to as ‘retaliatory’ evictions. That’s where landlords who considered their tenants were hassling them about problems with their property issued a section 21 notice and if the tenants didn’t leave, they evicted them. Now, a section 21 notice could become invalid if your tenant complained in writing, you didn’t address the problem and make appropriate repairs and the tenant decides to get the council involved.
If the council agrees work needs to be done, they will send you a notice telling you to make the necessary repairs, at which point the section 21 becomes invalid. Obviously, if the council finds that no repair work is necessary, the section 21 will stand. It will also stand if the tenant did not put their complaint in writing or they complained after the section 21 notice was issued to them. There are three other situations in which the tenant will still be required to leave, regardless of the state of repair of the property: if they caused the problem themselves, if the property is for sale or if it has been repossessed.
So this new legislation means it’s now doubly important you make your winter checks and repairs and have contractors lined up for emergency callouts, because the last thing you want is an unhappy tenant making a complaint against you. If, in the worst-case scenario, a section 21 you served gets overturned and you still want to evict your tenant, you will have to wait 6 months before issuing another notice.
From our extensive experience of dealing with maintenance queries, we’d suggest you pay particular attention to these three areas as winter approaches:
- Heating. If your tenants complain they’re cold once the temperatures drops, that’s because either the property isn’t insulated properly or the heating system is inadequate, whatever it is, it is your responsibility to fix it. So have a Gas Safe registered engineer/plumber carry out your annual gas safety check towards the end of the autumn and make sure your boiler has a clean bill of health, or if electric heating a part ‘P’ qualified electrician. It’s also a good idea to ask them to bleed all the radiators and check they’re working properly and have a look at the shower systems and water pressure. Then, by yourself, go around all the windows and doors to make sure there are no draughts coming through.
- Water proofing. Make a thorough inspection of the exterior, checking for missing or loose tiles and failing flashing on the roof, cracks or missing pointing in any of the brickwork and make sure the guttering is clear. Check every room in the property for signs of damp, where water might be seeping in and that you couldn’t see from the outside. Take photos of everything you see and check any suspicious-looking damage against the original inventory in case it has been caused by the tenant.
- Electrics. If you haven’t had a Part-P qualified electrician conduct a domestic installation check in the last 3-5 years, it is a good idea to have one carried out, and make sure electrical items in the property, such as washing machines, tumble dryers and fridges have had their annual Portable Appliance Test. In Scotland from 1st December 2015 it will be a legal requirement to have an electrical inspection every 5 years. Winter is commonly a time when fuses blow and power cuts happen, so do all you can to ensure that the electrical systems in the property are up to standard and not susceptible to damage.
It’s also worth double-checking your landlord insurance to make sure you’re properly covered for flooding and other potential damage, including damage to contents. Importantly, make sure you have emergency contractors to hand – or your local branch details - so you can be confident your tenants’ problems will be attended to quickly and they have no cause to complain. Make sure they know what to do in the case of an emergency too.
The landlords portfolio insurance we offer at Reeds Rains is tailored to your requirements and we also offer home emergency cover, which gives you 24/7 access to approved tradesman and cover up to £500. More details can be found here or just pop into your local branch and speak to one of the team.
Similarly, if you have any queries about the new section 21 rules, simply pop into your local branch or call 0845 450 0865^ (calls cost 2 pence per minute plus your phone company's access charge) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.