Here is a question to the blog clinic from Sheila who is a landlord.
I rent a small terraced house on an AST now in the second year. The tenant went to environmental health because there was damp in a corner of the bedroom. This was rectified by cleaning the gutter.
Env Health sent a letter saying that because downstairs is open plan, I need to put back doors to the sitting/dining room to the hall part.
There have never been doors there since I have had the property 10 years ago and nobody including this tenant have mentioned this.Most of the row of houses are like this. The property has double glazing and central heating and a double door in the hall part to separate the front door.
Is this mandatory to have to go to this expense to do this? Env health have now sent another letter saying they have noted this has not been done and giving me 14 days to do it.
I should start by saying that I am a lawyer not a surveyor and I do not have detailed knowledge of the building and similar regulations. Hopefully one of our readers will be able to comment on the more technical aspects.
However looking at it from a legal viewpoint, Environmental Health do not have the right to arbitrarily come in and order you to carry out changes to your property without a proper reason.
Housing Health & Safety Rating Surveys and the 29 hazards
As your tenant called them in because of the damp, I am assuming that they carried out a ‘Housing Health & Safety Rating Survey’. Under this they will have assessed the property for health and safety against 29 ‘hazards’. These range from excess cold to noise to electrical hazards to damp and mould issues.
If you do a search on the internet under Housing Health & Safety 29 hazards’ you will find several local authority websites with information about the hazards. Here for example is the list provided by >> Stafford BC.
If after assessing the property the Inspector finds that there are hazards, they have a duty to order the property owner to take remedial action if the hazard is classed as ‘category one’ and a power to act (ie they don’t have to) if the hazard is classed as ‘category two’.
If action is taken, this is normally done by serving an improvement notice on the property owner ordering them to carry out remedial works.
You don’t say if the Council have actually served a formal notice on you or if they are just asking you to do the work. If they have served a notice, then they are supposed to also provide you with information as to why they consider the action to be necessary (Housing Act 2004 s8).
If the Council have served a notice on you, then you need to take advice quickly as you have a 21 day period of time to appeal against it. However as you don’t specifically mention a notice I suspect that the Council have not served it yet, but are planning to do so if you do not carry out the works that they ask for.
I think you need to find out why they consider this work to be necessary. So far as I am aware there are no health and safety issues with open plan properties per se, so presumably there is something about the set up in your property which makes them consider it unsafe. You need to find out what this is.
It is possible for example that they consider the layout to be a fire hazard.
If the demand is unreasonable, you need to try to get them to change their mind so they don’t issue the improvement notice. You may want to consider getting some professional advice from a surveyor familiar with this legislation who can help you here.
If there is justification for their concern, there may be some alternative, less expensive option you can take, which you can suggest to them.
However if the improvement notice has already been served on you, you need to bring an appeal (if one is possible) within the 21 day limit.
If you want to use solicitors for this, it is important that you use a specialist property firm, such as Anthony Gold, as this is a fairly esoteric area of law and your average solicitor who does divorce or personal injury work is not going to know much about it.