‘Accidental landlords’ breaking the law

As the number of so-called “accidental landlords” remains high, AXA Business Insurance warns that many of them are simply not fulfilling their legal duties to maintain their rental properties and as a result are putting their tenants in potential danger and themselves at financial risk.

Key findings of research carried out among accidental landlords, ie) those who did not originally buy with the intention of renting out their property, or who are forced to continue renting out because they cannot sell at present, reveals:

* A third of those questioned by AXA get their boilers checked less than once a year, and 23%, only check every three years or less. Legally, a check is required every year;

* A similar number do not get other gas appliances checked every year, again, a legal requirement for rented properties. Statistics show that thousands of people end up in A&E every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and around 50 will die as a result of it;

* 65% of those with a chimney will get it swept less than once every three years – the National Association of Chimney Sweeps recommends cleaning once a year for smokeless fuel, gas and oil and more regularly for other types of fuel. In 2011-2012 there were around 6,000 chimney fires in England alone;

* Nearly a third check the electrics in their rented property less than once in three years, and while a professional check is recommended once every five years by the Electrical Safety Council, a “visual check” by the landlord is recommended much more regularly. Half of all domestic fires are caused by faulty electrics and one person a week dies in the UK because of an electrical accident;

* And only 50% of landlords get their fire alarms checked every year   As well as the regular checks required to keep the property safe, landlords are also obliged to make sure furniture is fire proof, fire extinguishers are provided and fire escapes are kept accessible for tenants.

Darrell Sansom, managing director of AXA Business Insurance said: “Accidental landlords are, as the name suggests, people who never really intended to take on a rental property. And it seems that many are not really aware of the responsibilities that come with the role, leaving themselves and their tenants extremely vulnerable. Things like gas and electrics are potential killers and need to be taken seriously.”

Meanwhile, the research showed that around half of accidental landlords were also neglecting other key areas of maintenance with drains, guttering and pipe insulation left unchecked for at least three years. And nearly two thirds had not had the burglar alarm checked for three years or more.   AXA warns that if failure to maintain any of the above is shown to be the cause of an insurance claim it could lead to that claim being turned down. And as 73% of those researched had less than £1000 in savings set aside for emergencies (and 18% had nothing) the consequences could have serious implications for landlords.   Sansom said: “As an insurer, we see the results of a failure to maintain properties and these can be devastating.   “We would urge all landlords to check out and understand their obligations and responsibilities to their tenants and how they need to insure themselves against the worst happening.”   The phenomenon of the “accidental landlord” has grown rapidly over recent years as the economy has depressed the housing market. AXA believes that around 70% of residential landlords rent just one property and that up to a third of these are “accidental landlords” who can’t sell their property or who “inherited” rather than planned the ownership of the property.

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