Housing standards in the private sector
Part of the remit of Environmental Health is to deal with complaints from tenants about hazards in rented housing of all kinds, including Houses in Multiple Occupation (which are houses let as rooms or a houseshare where persons share amenities like the bathroom and/or the kitchen). We seek to improve standards and ensure that accommodation has risks to health and safety removed or minimised. We also endeavour to ensure that homes are suitable and safe for the number of people living there.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System is used to assess housing conditions. It looks at 29 different hazards in accommodation and provides guidance to help officers determine the real risk of actual harm from any one of them. The system produces a score which then enables the officer to assess the priority of each hazard. Hazards are Category 1 (high priority) and Category 2 (low priority). The Council has a duty to deal with Category 1 hazards and a power to do so with those in Category 2.
This risk assessment protocol can apply to privately owned homes and private/social rented accommodation - though most of our work involves rented accommodation.
Where action by the Council is required the officer will determine how to proceed with reference to the enforcement policy.
The Council has many options available to deal with hazards and will choose whichever is the most satisfactory for the circumstances where is it deemed necessary to do so at all. The formal options are the service of the following statutory notices;
- Hazard Awareness Notice - a formal notification of the issue to the landlord but requiring no further action
- Improvement Notice - a time limited notice requring works (can be suspended depending on the circumstances)
- Prohibition Order - of a dwelling - part of a dwelling (can be suspended depending on the circumstances)
- Emergency Prohibition Order - of a dwelling or part of a dwelling where there is an imminent risk of serious harm
- Emergency Remedial Action - where there is an imminent risk of serious harm
- Demolition Order or
- the Declaration of a Clearance Area
Dealing with complaints about rented housing
The Council deals with a variety of complaints including damp and mould, homes in disrepair, fire safety, lack of heat or hot water and overcrowding but before approaching the Council it is essential that tenants have first given the landlord an opportunity to address their concerns.
This is a real issue which some tenants can experience. It describes a situation where a landlord issues an eviction notice when a tenant makes a complaint, to avoid being required to undertake works. In order to be offered some protection from this by the law you should ensure that you follow the following guidance.
You must unless you have good reason, complain to your landlord in writing either by letter, text or email. You should set out the issues that you are concerned about, the effect that the issues are having on your family and if you know, what you would like the landlord to do about it. You should ask for an answer from your landlord, in writing explaining what his/her intentions are to investigate or act and you should set out a time frame within which he/she should respond to you. e.g. "Please let me know by DATE, what you intend to do to investigate/resolve these issues" You should ensure that your timeframe is realistic based on the real priority of the issue.
If you landlord fails to respond or provides a response that you are not satisfied with, then you can contact us for further assistance. If you have followed this procedure and the Council then serves a statutory notice (not including a Hazard Awareness Notice) you can be protected from any eviction notice that your landlord issues for a period of time.
Failure to follow this procedure could affect your security in the premises
Damp and Mould
If you are experiencing problems with damp and mould in your rented property then please follow the advice below before contacting your landlord as set out above.
Damp has 3 causes
Rising Damp - this is where a damp proof course is defective or missing and water seeps up from the ground into the property. It is usually characterised by a tide mark like brown line at low level on the outside walls. This could also be accompanied by black mould and or defective/blown plaster and/or white powder on the surface.
Penetrating Damp - this is where water has seeped in due to some other structural defect like a leaking pipe, or blown external render, missing defective pointing on brickwork. This shows up as brown patches where the water has come through the structure and as above may also have associated mould
Condensation - this is by far the greatest cause of damp and mould. It does not normally occur due to a defect in the structure of the building but is often the product of a cold and poorly ventilated home. If the humidity inside becomes too high then droplets of water are formed on cold surfaces, like you get on the mirror in the bathroom when you have a shower, and if those surfaces remain wet then mould forms.
It is important to use any means of ventilation that you have in your house to keep the humidity down to a reasonable level whilst also heating the home adequately. Heating the home keeps the surfaces warm which in turn reduces condensation.
Controlling Condensation is all about reducing the amount of water in the air inside the home and keeping the home warm. Normal daily activities like cooking, washing, drying clothes and boiling the kettle can all add to the humidity inside so;
- Use lids on cooking pots,
- Keep the kitchen and or bathoom doors closed when cooking/showering and use any extract ventialtion that you are provided with.
- Keep any trickle vents open even when you have your heating on,
- Do not dry your clothes inside if you have any alternative. If you have no alternative then you must understand that the water from those clothes will go into the air and may reappear later as condensation. A good compromise is to dry them in e.g. a bathroom with the door closed and the window open to try and direct the water outside.
- Make sure your tumble drier is in working order and if necessary vented to the outside air.
- Heat the property consistently.
There may be reasons why you can not follow some of the advice above for example because your heating is inefficent or expensive and so you are unable to keep the house warm or perhaps you do not have sufficient insulation or ventilation in your home. If this is the case then you should raise these issues with your landlord as described above - seeking assistnace from the Council later if you are unable to resolve matters
Where mould already exists then you can treat it with proprietary anti mould spray (from a hardware store) but it will return if you do not deal with the reason that it was able to form in the first place that is by addressing any issues of high humidity or poor heating/ventilation/insulation.
Certain extra laws apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO). There is a requirement for the Council to licence certain HMOs if they meet the following criteria:
- they have three storeys or more (including commercial use). Roof conversions and basements will be counted as storeys if used as living accommodation
- it is occupied by five or more persons (including children)
- it is occupied by people living in two or more households.
As a landlord of rented accommodation you are expected to keep the premises in a safe and habitable condition. As you will see from the guidance, the HHSRS explains that just because a property was designed or built in a certain way does not exempt you from improving it if the particular deficiencies have a health impact on your tenant. You are also expected to respond to your tenants complaints in a reasonable manner and to do what is is reasonable/ practical to remove hazards. If your tenant approaches Environmental Health and following an inspection an officer considers that that the service of one of the above notices is the best course of action (excluding a hazard awareness notice), then you will be charged a fee for the service of that notice.
The Council's policy for charging fo enforcement notices can be found here.
If, having been served with an enforcement notice, you do not comply then the Council will consider what further action will be taken. This can include any of the following courses of action,
- Prosecution in the Magistrates Court: a conviction would lead to a fine which can in respect of some offences be unlimited or
- Issuing a Simple caution: accepting a caution is an admission of guilt without a prosecution. If a landlord is offered and accepts a caution then they will not be prosecuted for this offence but it could be taken into account if any further court proceedings are taken in connection with other matters. If a landlord is offered and refuses a caution then they will be prosecuted because the Council will not offer a caution unless they feel that they have sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction in the Magistrates Court.
- Carrying out of the works in default; this means doing the work required by the notice, billing you for it and recovering the contractor and Council costs plus interest from you.