A series of posts giving advice and guidance to private residential landlords during this coronavirus emergency period.
2. What to do about gas safety checks?
A large percentage of rented properties have gas appliances and are therefore subject to the gas safety regulations.
These provide for gas pipework, flues and appliances to be maintained in a safe condition and in particular for properties to be inspected by an installed registered with the Gas Safe Register every 12 months.
But how can that the reconciled by the need for us all to stay in our homes in the national effort to prevent infection and protect the NHS?
What the law requires
The law requires landlords to arrange for the check on an annual basis, although now checks during the last two months of the checking period will not affect the anniversary date for the checking.
Landlords then need to provide a copy of the certificate to tenants (and given to new tenants before they move in otherwise section 21 will become unavailable to them) and to arrange for any repair work to be done at their own expense. Although the cost may be recouped from the tenants later if the damage can be proved to be down to them.
These rules have not changed and it is a criminal offence for landlords to fail to comply. However, there are two potential excuses:
1 Tenants refusing to allow access
It is actually not uncommon for the tests not to go ahead as some tenants refuse to allow access.
The regulations do not address this, but the website of the Health and Safety Executive (which enforce the regulations) states in their FAQ “How far need I go if the tenant prevents access for a gas safety check”:
A landlord has to show that they took all reasonable steps to comply with the law. HSE recommends the following best practice in these circumstances and strongly advises that a record be kept of all correspondence with the tenants:
- leave the tenant a notice stating that an attempt was made to complete the gas safety check and provide your contact details;
- write to the tenant explaining that a safety check is a legal requirement and that it is for the tenants own safety. Give the tenant the opportunity to arrange their own appointment;
- HSE inspectors will look for at least three attempts to complete the gas safety check, including the above suggestions; however, the approach will need to be appropriate to each circumstance. It would ultimately be for a court to decide if the action taken was reasonable depending upon the individual circumstances.
So if the landlord can show that the tenant refused access – for example, because they were self-isolating – they will have a defence in the unlikely event that the HSE were to prefer charges.
2 No installers available to do the work
However, even if the tenants allow access, depending on where you are, you may struggle to find a gas inspector willing to do the inspection.
This situation is not contemplated by the regulations on but a practical basis if there are no installers available to carry out inspections, landlords cannot be held responsible for the inspections not being carried out.
Things to do:
- Write to your tenants
- Check to see when inspections will be possible
- Keep a record
1 Writing to your tenants
If you are writing to notify tenants that you will not be carrying out the inspection due to the lockdown and the fact that your installer is not able to carry out the inspection – you should ask your tenants to let you know immediately if there are any worrying signs – you could direct them to the Gas Safe Register advice page on carbon monoxide poisoning. If there is a serious problem this needs to be dealt with and you should be able to find an engineer in those circumstances.
After all, there is not much point in preventing Covid-19 transmission if the parties are then blown up in a gas explosion or die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
If an inspection is possible – for example, if you have a gas installer willing to carry out the inspection, then it will be up to your tenants to decide if they are happy for you to carry out the inspection. If they would prefer not, for example, if they are self-isolating, then ask them to confirm this in writing and keep it with your records.
2 Checking to see when an inspection will be possible
If you are unable to do the inspection at the moment, then check with your tenants from time to time. Once you have made three documented attempts to make an appointment you are safe from prosecution. But you should try to make an appointment as soon as possible after the lockdown has ended.
3 Keep records
Make a note of all your actions:
- Letters sent and received from tenants
- The dates and times when you checked the Gas Safe Register website to inform yourself, and
- Set down your reasoning for whatever you decide to do (or not do)
As discussed in the post on record keeping.
If for any reason a gas safety inspection has to be carried out during the lockdown period, it is essential that you
- practice social distancing,
- use personal protective equipment and
- wash hands frequently with soap or use alcohol hand sanitising gel.
The Gas Safe Register Covid-19 advice page is here.