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When renting out a property, it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the building in a safe and livable condition. This means providing the appropriate facilities for things like hygiene and food preparation, as well as safe utilities, structural stability and so on.

If a tenant in private or social housing feels that their home falls below minimum standards, they can ask their local council to inspect the property and judge it according to the HHSRS, the ‘Housing Health and Safety Rating System’.

In an instance where a hazard puts a tenant(s) at risk, a council can serve a notice to the landlord requiring them to bring the property up to standard. In an extreme case, a council could have the repair work done and then bill the landlord, or even demolish the property completely!

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What are HHSRS property hazards?

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System outlines a number of categories which a council will take into consideration when inspecting a property. Keep in mind that a single deficiency can contribute to a number of different hazards. For example, if a property suffered from extreme cold, the elements involved could also be contributing to damp and mould, and so on. 

The categories include:

  • Hygrothermal conditions - growth of damp and mould, excess heat or excess cold
  • Pollutants - asbestos, biocides (harmful chemicals used to timbers, pests and so on), carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products, lead (in old paintwork or plumbing), radiation (typically radon exposure), uncombusted fuel gas and volatile organic compounds
  • Psychological requirements - overcrowding, entry by intruders, lighting (natural and artificial) and noise
  • Protection against infection - domestic hygiene, pests and refuse, food safety, personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage and water supply
  • Protection against accidents - falls associated with baths, stairs or level surfaces, falls between levels, electrical hazards, fire, flames and hot surfaces, collisions and entrapment, explosions, position and operability of amenities, structural collapse and falling elements

Taking these elements into account, the council will rate any hazards in terms of how likely they are to cause harm. A ‘category 1’ hazard is one which poses a serious threat to the health of anyone living in or visiting a certain property. If a council encounters a category 1 hazard, it must take action.

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Reacting to category 1 property hazards

When a council carries out a HHSRS survey and determines that a property contains a category 1 hazard, there are a number of actions which it can take:

  • Hazard awareness notice - the landlord will be warmed that the council is aware of an issue with the property in question. It will not take action for the moment, but if nothing is done then the tenant can contact the council again
  • Improvement notice - the council will tell the landlord to carry out the repair or maintenance work necessary to reduce or remove the risk to the tenant’s safety. The notice will include a time limit for the work to be done. If the landlord fails to bring the property up to standard, they can be fined or even prosecuted
  • Emergency remedial action - if there is an immediate risk of serious harm, the council can undertake the necessary repair work and reclaim the costs from the landlord
  • Prohibition order - this will restrict access to certain parts of the property. It can also restrict the number of people living there or stop new tenants from moving in
  • Demolition order - in an extreme case, the council could order the demolition of the offending property

If a council’s environmental department does not take action against an offending landlord, the tenant can still take the landlord to court.

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