Having a robust inspection regime is not just worthwhile and advised, it is an essential part of being a responsible landlord. This is particularly the case for landlords of HMOs – an increasingly large portion of the sector – who are subject to a stringent set of health and safety standards and licence conditions with potentially criminal consequences if they are found to have been breached.
Few people would deny that it is important to look after and protect your assets. Your car, for example, is required to have regular inspections and pass MOTs which must all be recorded in the vehicle’s logbook. Those of us who drive know that proactively checking the oil levels and the tread on the tyres can prevent a major headache if something goes wrong down the line. Nobody wants to be pulled over by the police for something entirely avoidable like a broken headlight.
However, just as many of us can admit that we don’t get around to inspecting the tyre pressure of our cars on the advised monthly basis, many landlords equally fail to inspect their rental properties regularly enough and find themselves in hot water as a result. If you own or manage a property and you aren’t inspecting often enough (or at all), you could be missing out on something vital which could cost you in the future and even end your career as a landlord. For HMO landlords, failure to inspect regularly or at all and keep records of their observations is a very common mistake which can make it very hard to defend any prosecution which may come their way.
Fortunately, these mistakes are easily rectified. It is straightforward and relatively inexpensive to establish an inspection regime that will keep you and your tenants safe and happy and ultimately save you money.
Keep your property safe and secure
Perhaps the most obvious reason that you should inspect your property regularly is to ensure that repair issues and health hazards are identified promptly. There is a common misconception among landlords that you are only obliged to undertake repairs and address safety concerns when they are reported by tenants and many landlords are surprised that they can be prosecuted for disrepair that they have not had a chance to rectify.
For HMO landlords, it is important to remember that you are required by the HMO Management Regulations and the conditions of your licence to ensure that your properties are safe and in good repair, regardless of when notice was given to you by tenants. Without a solid inspection regime, it is likely that you will be caught out eventually, particularly if there is a safety issue that neither tenant nor landlord has picked up on. This commonly includes fire safety hazards which are of particular concern to Councils in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.
Keeping an eye on your properties also allows you to make sure that you are keeping track of the nature and occupation of your property to ensure it is not being misused or unlawfully sublet by a tenant. No landlord wants to face the embarrassment of being told by Local Authority Housing Officer that their property has mysterious sub-tenants (not subject to the relevant checks), lodgers and unauthorised animals. If you wait for a tip-off from a neighbour or another tenant, it may already be too late – your property may have been pushed over the occupancy threshold to make it an unlicensed HMO, for example, or you may have become the unwitting victim of property fraud. Ignorance of the occupation of your properties is unlikely to provide you with a defence.
A well-managed property should have an equally well-organised set of records and notes covering issues raised by the tenants and known areas of risk and improvement. Local Authority enforcement officers frequently carry out surprise inspections on properties, particularly if they believe they are unlicensed HMOs or in areas with many such properties where they have reports of disrepair. If you are able to show that you have also been checking up on the property and evidence this with written notes of your observations, you are likely to be able to head off any concerns they have before any allegations can stick.
Detail is key. Whilst you are not expected to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every facet of your properties, having records showing that you are keeping tabs on problems as they arise is the only reliable way to prove that you are actively and effectively managing your property. To an enforcement officer who will only see the inside of your property, there is little to distinguish you from the insidious minority of rogue landlords. Being able to produce records of your inspections and actions is what can set you apart and show the complete picture of your effective management of the property.
Inspection notes should clearly set out different areas of the property and highlight factors such as their cleanliness, state of repair and issues to raise with the tenants or areas for action.
Avoid an unecessary trip to court
Prosecutions against Landlords of HMO and other licensable property are becoming ever more frequent, and the majority of these involve charges brought in respect of the HMO management regulations relating to disrepair and fire safety.
These offences are ‘strict liability’ offences, which often makes them very difficult to defend without a very strong ‘reasonable excuse’ defence. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine for each offence and will result in you having a criminal conviction against your name which could lead to real problems in your career. You may also see your name listed on the Rogue Landlord checker.
With a regular, well-recorded inspection regime, you are potentially providing yourself with a strong defence to any such charges and at the very least solid mitigation which may reduce any civil penalty you face. It can also save you the expense of legal advice and representation required if you are prosecuted.
Landlords and agents should always ensure that the relevant notice is given to occupiers and tenants before visiting the property to avoid any unnecessary issues. If a tenant consistently refuses you access to complete works and carry out inspections, this is all the more reason to keep good records showing when you attempted to inspect and evidencing what action was taken.
If you do find yourself in need of legal advice, it is best to consult a specialist in this increasingly complex field. HMO licensing and management prosecutions are potentially a very serious matter and you should seek high quality advice and representation as soon as possible.