Anyone who lets residential furnished accommodation (such as houses, flats, bedsits, holiday homes, caravans and boats) as a business activity, needs to be aware of various consumer safety requirements. These legislative requirements are applicable to letting agents, estate agents and private landlords. Often letting agents, as well as landlords, are liable, if goods supplied with the tenancy are not of the standard required by law.
What does the law require?
In general terms, the law requires that goods are safe when they are supplied. This includes any goods supplied as part of a tenancy agreement or in let accommodation. Special safety rules apply to certain types of goods, and some of the main ones are detailed below.
The supply of goods can occur when the tenancy contract is made and/or when the tenant moves into the property and/or when goods are newly supplied or installed for an existing tenant.
Do I have to Carry out Specific Safety Checks?
A Gas Safe registered person must check gas installations, appliances and flues every 12 months, and a record of the check must be made available to tenants.
Specific checks are not normally required by law for other products. However, in many cases, you will not know whether the goods are safe unless you have them checked. You are responsible for the safety of the goods you supply, and it is therefore advisable that you carry out appropriate checks on all the goods in the property.
In some cases, you may wish to employ an expert to carry out checks for you (for example, an electrician to assess the safety of electrical installations and appliances). In addition to deciding what checks to do, you will also need to decide how frequently to repeat them - this may be different for a holiday property than for a long-term residential let.
Where you do carry out checks, or where you have them done for you, you should keep records. These records, as a minimum, should identify what goods were checked, what checks were done (and the results), who did them and when they were done.
Furniture: Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (SI 1988 No. 1324) (as amended)
Upholstered furniture included in lettings must comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. These Regulations impose the same stringent standards as apply to new and second-hand furniture in the shops.
The Regulations apply to the following:
- all types of upholstered seating - this includes chairs, settees, padded stools, pouffes, sofa beds, and padded headboards
- children's furniture, cots, carry cots, playpens, prams, pushchairs, high chairs
- garden furniture suitable for indoor use
- furniture in caravans
- mattresses and padded bed bases
- scatter cushions, pillows
The safety provisions require that:
- the upholstery must pass a specified cigarette test for flammability (not required for mattresses, bed bases, pillows and cushions)
- the filling must pass a specified ignitability test; there are some exemptions - filling materials for cushions and pillows - where the cover passes certain ignitability tests
- furniture with permanent covers (excluding mattresses, bed bases and insulated bags designed for carrying babies under six months) must pass specified match tests - in the case of certain natural fibre covers, if there is an interliner between the furniture and the cover, and the interliner passes specified ignition resistance tests, the cover itself need not pass the match test
Furniture made before the 1 January 1950, that has not been modified is excluded from the controls. Bedding, carpets and curtains are also excluded.
How to tell whether furniture complies - labelling
You should check to see that a permanent label is present as this is the best way to show compliance. Most furniture should have a label headed 'CARELESSNESS CAUSES FIRE' and which provides at least the following information:
- an indication as to whether the article of furniture includes an interliner (as described above)
- a summary of the measures, which have been taken to ensure compliance with the Regulations
Permanent labels are usually sewn, stapled or glued to the furniture and they can usually be found either under the main seat cushion or on the base of the furniture.
Mattresses and bed bases are not required to bear this type of label. However, compliance with the ignitability tests may be shown by a label stating compliance with BS 7177. This label has a blue border with white lettering and black cigarette and flame symbols.
Items not bearing any labelling may not conform to the Regulations, and you are advised not to include them in any letting until you have obtained evidence that they comply (for example from the manufacturer or original supplier).
Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016 (SI 2016 No. 1101)
The Regulations specify that all mains electrical equipment, new or used, supplied with the accommodation, must be in conformity with the principal elements of the safety objectives.
Wiring colour codes
The wires of a three-core mains lead are coloured as follows:
- earth - green and yellow
- neutral - blue
- live - brown
If you need to change a plug, lead or other connection, have it checked by an electrician. Incorrect wiring may cause electrocution or fire.
Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994 (SI 1994 No. 1768)
The Regulations specify that electrical appliances must be correctly fitted with an approved plug with sleeved pins. All plugs should carry the name and reference number of the approved body, normally BSI or ASTA. The plug does not have to be moulded on, but it must have the correct fuse for the appliance.
All sockets (e.g.. on mains extension leads) adaptors and similar devices must meet British or European Standards.
The distance between the bars and the strength of the guard are laid down in standards.
The fireguard is satisfactory if any vertical bars are 5mm or less apart. Otherwise, the guard must not have an opening with:
- a major dimension exceeding 125mm, a minor dimension exceeding 12mm and a diagonal dimension exceeding 126mm - or
- a major dimension exceeding 50mm, a minor dimension exceeding 20mm and a diagonal dimension exceeding 53mm
We advise you not to supply used electric blankets, as their history, usage and condition may be unknown.
How to tell whether electrical equipment complies
You must take all reasonable precautions to ensure that electrical equipment is safe and correctly labelled. It is strongly advisable to have the equipment checked by a qualified electrician before the start of each let. It would be good practice to have the equipment checked at regular intervals thereafter. You should obtain and retain test reports detailing the equipment, the tests carried out, and the results.
You should make a copy of the instructions for all electrical appliances available to the tenant.
Gas appliances: Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 (SI 1998 No. 2451)
There are requirements relating to the installation and use of gas appliances. The Health and Safety Executive enforces these. Further information can be obtained by contacting the HSE Safety Advice Line on 0800 300363 or by going to the HSE website.
Landlords must ensure that gas appliances, including LPG cabinet heaters, are checked for safety, including, where relevant, checks on the effectiveness of the flue, the ventilation, gas operating pressure and gas tightness. These checks should be carried out at least every 12 months, and records kept of the test dates, defects and remedial action taken. They must also make this information available to tenants and prospective tenants, and keep records for two years.
You should be aware that only businesses registered with the Gas Safe Register are permitted to carry out installation and maintenance of gas appliances. You should ask to see their current registration certificate, and you can find out more about Gas Safe and check whether the installer is a member on the Gas Safe Register call 0800 4085577.
Mobile cabinet gas heaters should only be used in rooms where there is sufficient ventilation.
All gas appliances should be provided with adequate instructions for their safe use. It is illegal to install any fixed fire, space heater or water heater of more than 14kW input into a room intended to be used as sleeping accommodation, unless it is 'room sealed'. If it is below 14kW, it must either be 'room sealed' or have an oxygen depletion cut out.
The HSE enforces the above but trading standards services enforce the following:
Gas Appliances (Safety) Regulations 1995 (SI 1995 No. 1629)
These Regulations require that all new gas appliances must be safe and come with instructions when sold.
Oil Heaters (Safety) Regulations 1977 (SI 1977 No.167)
These Regulations apply to paraffin heaters. Controls cover stability, flame extinction and labelling.
Construction Products Regulations 2013 (SI 2013 No. 1387)
The Regulations specify that if you are buying replacement glazing, safety glass must be used in critical locations, as follows:
- any glazing that is less than 800mm from the floor
- any glazing in a door which is less than 1500mm from the floor, or within 300mm either side of a door
Small glass panes (with a smaller dimension up to 250mm, and a total area up to 0.5m2) do not need to be made of safety glass if they are thick enough (six mm in most cases). However, if you are buying a replacement door, for example, with small panes, it is better to choose safety glass if it is available.
The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (SI 2005 No.1803)
All equipment and items not covered by specific regulations must comply with the General Product Safety Regulations 2005
The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 transpose Directive 2001/95/EC on general product safety into UK law.
The purpose of the General Product Safety Directive is to ensure that all products intended for or likely to be used by consumers under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions are safe.
The Directive pursues its principal objective of ensuring consumer product safety by:
specifying that products placed on the market or supplied by producers and distributors must be safe;
defining a safe product;
imposing obligations on producers and distributors consistent with marketing safe products;
laying down a framework for assessing safety;
requiring enforcement authorities to be empowered to take the action necessary to protect consumers from unsafe products.
You must ensure that all items you supply with the accommodation are safe. This will include supplying warnings and instructions with the items, where they are necessary, for the safe use of the items.
For example: mechanical lawn mowers, strimmers etc. must be provided with the necessary guards in place. Chairs and stepladders must be strong enough to support a person's weight. Glass in furniture should satisfy British Standards where applicable. Ironing boards, clothes dryers etc. should not have sharp edges that could cause injury in normal use.
You are advised to check all items at regular intervals to ensure that they are safe.
The maximum penalties vary, depending on the specific piece of legislation, but fines of up to £20,000, and a prison sentence of up to six months, can be imposed. If a product causes injury or damage, substantial compensation may be payable, whether or not criminal proceedings are brought.
About the Trading Standards Service
Our aim is to protect consumers and business from unfair trading. The law requires that landlords and their agents provide only safe items with accommodation. People who fail to do this not only put their tenants at risk but also gain business at the expense of reputable providers of accommodation.
There are costs involved in complying with these requirements, but it is worth remembering that the cost of non-compliance could be substantial.
Copies of the legislation mentioned on this page can be purchased from Her Majesty's Stationery Office or can be accessed at OPSI. Copies of the related Standards can be sourced through the BSI website at http://shop.bsigroup.com/
Please note: This information has no legal force and is not an authoritative interpretation of the law, which is a matter for the Courts. It is intended to help landlords and letting agents to understand in general terms, the main features of the legislation. The information is not a substitute for the legislation and you should refer to the text of the Regulations for a full statement of legal requirements and obligations. Where appropriate, you should seek your own independent legal advice.
For further information, please contact the Trading Standards Service, Public Safety and Regulation, City of Newcastle upon Tyne, Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8QH.
Phone: 0191 2116121