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A Wet Thursday Evening with Environmental Health...

On a wet Thursday night, I recently listened to a short talk by an Environmental Officer from High Wycombe. So I thought I would share a little of what he said and my reflections.

On a wet Thursday night, I recently listened to a short talk by an Environmental Officer from High Wycombe. So I thought I would share a little of what he said and my reflections.

He explained how when he receives calls from tenants he tries to visit the property himself. He asks whether the tenant has contacted the landlord or the agent first. Surprisingly often they have not so he will ask them to do so. After all, there is not a lot we can do without knowledge of a problem.

When he visits a property he notifies the landlord, as he is required to do (with a minimum of 24 hours notice). The landlord does not need to be there. Although if I was a landlord or agent in these circumstances I would certainly want to be, demonstrating I take the matter seriously and will comply with reasonable requests.

He mentioned often the tenants state the landlord has completed work in the intervening time before he gets there. I think the tenant then feels slightly aggrieved, but at least the work has been done and that’s very much a positive in his mind. One less problem to deal with in a busy schedule I would think.

As an Environmental Health Officer, he always asks for a current gas safety record and copies of previous electrical inspections (although the latter is not mandatory, but is best practice we recommend). If needed he will ask for the previous gas records going back for the last six years (so hang onto these). It was quite interesting that he did not call on the Energy Performance Certificate from landlords, even though there is a legal requirement for these, but he felt it was more a trading standards issue that these were presented to tenants initially and advertised. But he did add, when we talked afterwards, that the EHO will cite these when looking at HHSRS criteria, such as warmth of the house.

HHSRS stands for Home Health and Safety Rating System, which is detailed nicely here by Northampton council's website. It's a 29 point assessment that Environment Health officers will use to look at a property under if they believe that it could be unsafe. They look at specific hazards such as excess heat/cold, electrical safety, gas safety, damp, vermin, blocked drains, rubbish, trip hazards and many others. The results are either category 1 (serious) or category 2. In the most extreme cases the council can demolish a building. More likely are improvement notices for serious concerns. And if landlords don't carry out the work, they can be enforced - you can see where many of these record fines for tenants living in poor conditions come from. There is a lot more detail to HHSRS and I have paraphrased what is an involved to give an overall picture.

Landlords need to take tenants concerns seriously (and the vast majority do), be aware of their repairing obligations and the scope of HHSRS under the 2004 Housing Act, something that as agents we can help guide you on.

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