Heating Rented Properties - A Landlords Guide

Heating engineer
We had a call from a tenant asking what the legal requirement was for heating provision – her landlord was heating for 30 minutes a day and she said she was freezing. We also had discussions about 'All Inclusive' tenancies at our Landlords Breakfast this month. What do you have to do, what should you do – read on for suggestions on how to improve the comfort levels of your tenants without breaking the bank.

(Breaking news:  You may be surprised to find out what you are LEGALLY REQUIRED to do in this area)

What Is The Legal Position? 

Firstly, from a legal perspective, any property you let needs to have heating in all habitable rooms – it is debatable whether you need a radiator in a kitchen in the heart of a house but any room with outside walls really ought to have some capability to keep it warm. Similarly, bathrooms and shower rooms normally need a radiator or other form of heating but obviously this is going to be superfluous in an ensuite or say, an 'under stairs' shower room surrounded by heated rooms.(After sharing with PCC, they comment that 'this is not sound advice and all rooms need heating' – your challenge, if you choose not to agree with them, is to show that that any room that does not have its own heat source will never be at risk of 'excess cold' under the HHSRS definition).

These heating capabilities need to be working and if the tenant reports a fault, it is your legal responsibility to get it resolved as soon as possible. Target should be within 48 hours and if no heating is available, alternative heating should be provided. Obviously, there are going to be situations and/or times when you cannot make these targets – finding a new boiler and a plumber to fit it over Christmas for example, but in these cases you really need to go 'over and above' to make your tenant comfortable and if you cannot, you should be thinking about alternative accommodation, especially if young children are involved.

When is the best time to solve this problem? Answer – Before it happens. Have you got some spare portable heaters in a garage or loft somewhere, have you checked they work / have gas / whatever? (Be careful with portable gas heaters – there is a much-increased fire risk when using them). Have you checked your insurance cover in case you need to temporarily rehouse?

What Else? 

OK – so your properties have working heating systems, maintenance and gas safety certificates are up to date, you have a plan should it all go wrong at the worst possible time, what next?

Well, if you rent the whole property to one person, family or group and they pay all of the utility bills, you have probably done all that you need to do – though it is worth also considering whether you can help reduce the bills by getting the tenant/s off of prepayment meters, checking insulation is as good as it can be and that all doors and windows open and shut properly, extractors are cleaned and working and any carpets you provide are good condition with decent underlay.

Do's and Don'ts on 'All Inclusive' Heating

However, if you are paying the bills, which with HMO's and particularly, student lets, this really is the new standard and you are at a market disadvantage if you exclude any of the bills, then there are some do's and don'ts which we list here:

  • Do let your tenants control the heating, the lady who had to manage with 30 minutes heating a day was completely within her rights to take her landlord to court for inadequate heating. I know some landlords complain that they are independent tenants and if left to their own devices, they would leave the heating on all day. Well, if at any one time, one of them is in – working from home, watching TV or whatever, you probably need to let them heat the house at those times.
  • Do educate your tenants on how heating works and how to use it. We had a house where the thermostat was always set to 40 degrees. On investigation we realised that the lady who came in at 2am, decided her room was cold, and turned the thermostat up had no idea that there was a timer on the boiler and it had no effect until the next morning, when the whole house was blisteringly hot which was why she was opening her windows then...
  • Do check that your timer / room stat / controller is simple to use – if you can't explain how to set it to your tenant in 2 minutes or less, you probably need to upgrade to something newer. Do you really need a timer – most modern systems with digital or Smart thermostats have target temps for different times of day which are easy to use.
  • Do get your gas fitter to check the TRV's as part of the annual inspection. Most have pins or plungers which can 'stick' so even when the room is warm enough, the radiator continues to heat – uncomfortable for your tenants and expensive for you
  • Do check for cold spots, the lady who was cold at 2am had a room with a bay window and when we checked, the top of the bay provided absolutely no insulation. The addition of 100mm of Celotex and some modern (air tight) felt and flashing made a huge difference. An extra rad or a larger rad will often help too.
  • Do educate on what TRV's are and how they work. We have had hot houses with windows open all the time which was simply stopped once the tenants realised that with a TRV, you could set the heating to your own taste and preference
  • Do check radiators are big enough, a good TRV and a big radiator will allow even the most frost-averse to live in comfort without needing to roast the rest of the household
  • Don't use timers, especially in HMO's. If you have the heating on when you get up and it goes off when you go to work and then comes on for few hours when you get home, that may work for you but particularly in a shared house, people are unlikely to have the same routine so set a default 'warm during the day / slightly cooler at night' programme, leave the boiler on auto-run and make sure your tenants know how to change it should they require different timings
  • Don't offer 'All Inclusive' and then cap it. Most young people today grew up in warm, well insulated houses and when they move away from home, they expect the same. If you 'put an extra jumper on' when it is cold and only switch the heating on occasionally, that is your prerogative and probably reflects your upbringing – post war living in Victorian houses with single glazing or worse metal framed or louvre windows and coal fires are what many of us are used to, but we cannot impose our views on heating any more than we could ask tenants to use an outside loo at the end of the garden, times have changed
  • Don't try and restrict energy usage to keep the bills down. You are much better increasing the insulation, particularly around doors and windows and educating your tenants on how best to use the boiler, the control systems and the TRV's. People want to be 'green' but many need the education to know how to do that.


Disagree with any of the above or have alternative suggestions – do let us know, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Legal Input From PCC

And if you do disagree, please consider these comments I received from PCC after sharing a draft of this article with them:

If you haven't done so already, you might want to point out to your members the Homes (fit for human habitation) Act 2018 which from March this year will apply to all current periodic tenancies, more info in link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-act-2018/guide-for-landlords-homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-act-2018

As I am sure you are well aware, inadequate heating (or the control of) would be a hazard rated through the HHSRS as excess cold (and based on national average data, deficiencies with heating systems often end up scoring as Cat 1 Hazards), or even a damp and mould hazard.

In line with the new Homes (fit for human habitation) Act, a Cat 1 Hazard either at the start of the tenancy, or arising during the tenancy (with failure from the landlord to act promptly to rectify it) could lead to a landlord being taken to court by the tenant with the consequence of potentially having to rectify the problem and pay compensation to the tenant. I believe there are solicitors setting themselves as "no win, no fee" services to target tenants to take such action against their landlords (the newest form of compensation culture) so it would be good for your members to be aware of this if they aren't already. (This applies to all Cat 1 hazards, not just related to heating)

Again, I am sure you are very familiar with it, but the following are the preventative measures, and the relevant matters for assessing Excess Cold as a hazard under the HHSRS:

2.19 Structural thermal insulation should be provided to minimise heat loss. The level of insulation necessary is in part dependent on geographical location and exposure, position in relation to other dwellings and buildings, and orientation. South facing glazing can be used to increase solar heat gain and so save energy.

2.20 Heating should be controllable by the occupants, and safely and properly installed and maintained. It should be appropriate to the design, layout and construction, such that the whole of the dwelling can be adequately and efficiently heated.

2.21 There should be means for ensuring low level background ventilation without excessive heat loss or draughts. It should be controllable, properly installed and maintained, and appropriate to the particular part of the dwelling. There should be means for rapid ventilation at times of high moisture production in kitchens and bathrooms.

2.22 In multi-occupied buildings provision for space heating may be centrally controlled. Such systems should be operated to ensure that occupants are not exposed to cold indoor temperatures and should be provided with controls to allow the occupants to regulate the temperature within their dwelling.

2.23 For further information see in particular – Building Regulation Approved Document L1: Conservation of fuel and power in dwellings, and Approved Document F: Ventilation of buildings.

2.24 Matters relevant to the likelihood of an occurrence and the severity of the outcomes include:

a) Thermal insulation – inadequate insulation of the external envelope of the dwelling, including the presence of cold bridges.

b) Dampness – in such a position, and sufficiently extensive and persistent as to reduce the effectiveness of the thermal insulating material and/or the structure.

C) Settling of insulation – compression of the thermal insulating material reducing its effectiveness.

d) Type of heating provision – inappropriate or inefficient systems and appliances.

e) Size of heating system – systems and appliances inadequate for the size of dwelling.

f) Installation and maintenance of heating system – inadequately installed or maintained systems.

g) Controls to heating system – inadequate or inappropriate controls to the system or appliance.

h) Amount of ventilation – inadequate, excessive, or inappropriate provision for thorough ventilation.

i) Ventilation controls – inadequate means of controlling the ventilation.

j) Disrepair to ventilation – to the system or controls.

k) Draughts – uncontrollable draughts and those situated to cause discomfort.

Link to the full document (pages 59-62 cover excess cold specifically):

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/15810/142631.pdf

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