Why landlords need to know the role of the Environmental Health Officer
In 2006, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) came into force (under the Housing Act 2004), giving local authorities extended powers to target health and safety issues in rental properties. The HHSRS lists 29 key hazards that landlords are obliged to protect tenants against, including excess cold and heat, tripping, damp and mould growth, electrical hazards and even burglary.
Enforcing these obligations falls to Environmental Health Officers, who have the power to issue enforcement notices against landlords who fail to maintain health and safety standards and fine the worst offenders anything up to £30,000. So if one of your tenants were to complain to the council about the condition of their rented accommodation, an EHO would advise them what to do, visit the property if necessary, then contact you if works were needed to remedy the issue.
The important thing for you to understand is that EHOs are not simply there to police the PRS and issue fines; they are very keen to work with landlords to ensure that their buy to let properties meet the required standards. David Hobbs, an Environmental Health Officer with Nottingham City Council says, “We always try to work with landlords first and then use enforcement tools where we have to, but we prefer not to use them – they are a last resort. We want to advise and ensure landlords know what they’re doing and can provide a safe and healthy environment for tenants to live in.”
Following the Grenfell Tower disaster, fire safety has been thrust into the spotlight and this is something that is also covered by the environmental health department. As a landlord, you should already have carried out a fire safety risk assessment on your property but if you are in any doubt as to whether you are complying with regulations, your local EHO will be able to give you advice and agree what safety checks will be made if being managed by an agent.
Fundamental health and safety laws are nationwide, however, each local authority will have its own policy around the HHSRS, so it’s important that you get in touch with your local environmental health department to find out what issues they might currently be focusing on. Most councils will have information online, but you can also get specific advice over the phone or make an appointment for an EHO to visit your property.