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I am in need of some advice and I am pretty sure this is the right place to get it.
This is a long story so apologises in advance!
Back in March we conducted a property inspection on one of our managed units. The inspection highlighted quite a bad black mould and damp problem within the property. The clerk who conducted the inspection identified that the mould was not a structural issue but was caused by poor ventilation and no heating in the property.
We approached the tenant to see if there were any issues and they did confirm that they don’t have the heating on as they “can’t afford the heating bills” and they do never have the windows open.
I then had a conversation with the landlord who requested that we serve a Section 21, his reasoning was that if they couldn’t afford the heating the property was unsuitable, the longer the tenants were in there the more it would cost him in remedial works come the end of the tenancy and there was also overcrowding issues (two adults, two children – one boy, one girl) in a small two bedroom flat.
Section was served as requested, the tenants as anticipated went to the council. Not a problem that’s their prerogative.
As they were talking to the council the heating issue was obviously mentioned and we received a letter informing us that the council were going to conduct a property inspection. Again, we didn’t see an issue with this and our maintenance manager arranged to be in attendance for the inspection.
The inspection date came and the attending housing officer really laid into my maintenance manager, stating that we had neglected our duty of care, we had forced the tenants in heating poverty, and there was a whole multitude of things he stated we had done wrong. This was at the end of March, he said he would write to us with his findings.
As luck would have it, at the end of April we had a property become vacant and it was ideal for this tenant so we moved them into this property, it was a more modern property, within their budget and was a much bigger property.
Now the flat is vacant we arranged for a new EPC to be done (property is borderline D/E) so it passes, installed some gel rads to help with heating in the living areas, there are new windows been installed at the back of the property (the areas where all the damp and mould were) and has been redecorated ready for relet.
This morning, some three months after the guy from the council attended the property, we have received an email demanding that we produced a schedule of works, that we replace the heating system (currently night storage heaters) with a new more efficient system. The email states that if we do not produce a schedule of works and if we do not replace the heating system and we move someone into the property then he will start legal proceedings under the Housing Act.
If we never received any recommendations, if the property passes an EPC and works have been done to the property, and as a consequence the heating will be more effective can they really just demand we do this. Do they not have to provide us with recommendations of some kind?
Any help/advice would be appreciated.
Simply passing an EPC does not mean that there is not a hazard there. The HHSRS allows for action on the excess cold and damp and mould growth hazards. The UT has held that simply having heating is not good enough and if it is not reasonably cost effective then the excess cold hazard might still occur. Its hard to say much more without taking a proper look at all the paperwork (for which I charge!) but it is not true to say that night storage heaters are automatically ineffective and inefficient, it will depend on their age.
I would advise your landlord to get some advice and push back against the council but with the warning that it is likely that it will end up in an appeal so it might be worth looking at what options are available to improve insulation and low cost heating as this may be cheaper.
Thank you for the response, I understand the comment about the EPC and that yes there may be a hazard there. The single glazing was highlighted on the EPC which is why the landlord agreed to do that. The tenants heating bills were not high it was merely the financially they were renting at the top of their affordability and one of the tenants had reduced her working hours rather than they experienced overly excessive heating bills.
'but it is not true to say that night storage heaters are automatically ineffective and inefficient, it will depend on their age.'
TOTALLY AGREE WITH THE FIRST BIT, BUT NOT SECOND. OLD HEATERS CAN STILL BE FINE IF ALL PARTS WORKING. I HAVE OLD DIMPLEX FROM 1980'S AND FINE. HAVE RENEWED FEW PARTS. TROUBLE IS FEW UNDERSTAND HOW TO SET THE CONTROLS.
I think the mould issue has never been highlighted as a change in the tenant's financial situation, one tenant is working part-time rather than full-time hours. Their new household income means they were renting at the top of their affordability. The heating has been sacrificed over the winter and that is what has caused the mould. So there was an inspection done in September 2018 no issues, change in finances, property inspection March 2019.
It seems likely the council officer has concluded there is a category 1 or higher level category 2 hazard associated with excess cold and/or damp and mould.
There is no immediate offence associated with a category 1 or higher level category 2 in a single family let. As such, when referring to 'starting legal proceedings', the council officer may be referring to intending to serve an Improvement Notice or taking some other form of action. If an Improvement Notice is served, it will include a schedule of work and a timescale for completion. This is best avoided, where possible, as most councils charge a fee for serving such a notice, and you also loose the ability to serve a section 21 notice for the next 6 months.
The officer can't formally stop you reletting the property unless a Prohibition Order is served, which seems unlikely in the situation you have outlined. In the circumstances, I would suggest you write back to them constructively, explain the tenant has moved out, outline what improvements have been undertaken and ask if they have any further recommendations. In the meantime, you can decide if the damp and mould have been actioned and if the property is suitable to be relet.
Richard Tacagni MCIEH CEnvH
London Property Licensing
This information is intended as general advice and guidance. It is not legal advice and should not be taken or relied upon as such. No liability can be accepted for any reliance on the information published in this response. You may wish to obtain independent legal advice.
With all the hassle , why not just get the work done and be finished with it. By the time you take on the council etc it will cost you money and time so do the work get it rented and have done with it. Opportunity cost of leaving it empty and getting rent in. Sometimes these things make you mad but thats life and we all have to put up with council intervening some times.