Protection for Tenants

Although the specific guidelines differ from England and Wales to Scotland, the legal obligations of landlords in the UK to provide safe residences for tenants are very similar.  Both the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (for England and Wales) and the Housing Act 2006 (for Scotland) mandate the installation and maintenance of water, electricity, gas, and other necessities for safe and healthy human habitation in rental houses, estates, and flats.   In order to assist landlords with meeting their legal obligations, the Electrical Safety Council provides an in-depth electricity safety guide both online  and in print.

Legal Requirements

In 2010, over 20,000 home electrical fires resulted in almost 50 deaths and more than 3,000 injuries in Great Britain. Twenty-two people died as a direct result of being shocked or burned by electricity in their homes. To help prevent deaths and injuries from electrical accidents, local and national regulations require landlords to insure a safe environment for their tenants.  This includes the proper installation and maintenance of all wiring and fixed and portable appliances--for example, water heaters, cookers, furnaces, boilers--in the structures they let.

In 2005, an addition to the Building Regulations called Part P further outlined the obligations landlords had for providing and maintaining electricity throughout the structures they rented out. One of the requirements was that all electrical installations and upgrades must be carried out by registered electricians certified to meet Part P requirements.  For more information on Part P, landlords can access the electricity safety guide available from the UK Planning Portal for England and Wales

In 2006, regulations in England and Wales added to the obligations landlords must carry out to provide safe rental residences by requiring increased electricity safety in common areas and passageways in the buildings they rent out.  This includes (but is not limited to) stairwells, gardens, parking areas, lifts, communal kitchens and bathrooms, swimming and other exercise facilities, and pathways. This regulation is called the Regulatory Reform Order 2005, intended to increase fire safety in England and Wales.  Landlords can assess the electrical risks to their rental properties by reviewing information provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Because data indicated a higher number of fire-related (many due to electrical accidents) injuries and deaths in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, a revised set of regulations were put into place in Scotland in 2006. Landlords are required to carry out regular fire risk assessments in accordance with directives available from the Scottish government. 

Fire Alarms

Even when electrical installations and maintenance regulations are followed to the letter, electrical fires may still occur.  This is why fire alarms are required in all let housing.  The type of fire detection and alarm system differs depending on what sort of building it is, however. While housing for multiple occupants requires both smoke and heat detection, a dwelling intended for single-family use only requires smoke alarms.  In either case, the fire alarm system should include an alerting method that can wake sleeping residents in time for them to evacuate the building.  To ensure that these fire alarm systems are functioning properly, regular testing must be carried out by a certified alarm specialist.  If the rental property has been vacant for any extended period of time, make sure to check the fire alarm system thoroughly since a prolonged loss of power can negatively affect the alarm system, rendering it unable to function properly.

Electricity as a Safety Tool

Though most of the focus on electricity is connected to the dangers it presents, electricity can also act as a safety mechanism by powering security systems and providing illumination on stairs, in parking structures, and in other areas where residents may be at risk. Another use of electricity to safeguard tenants, especially in multiple-occupancy housing, is emergency lighting.  Landlords need to make sure that adequate lighting is available for tenants to evacuate a residence that is on fire or otherwise a danger. This is especially important in large or complex buildings where confused or disabled residents are attempting to find an escape route in the middle of the night.  A periodic inspection and regular maintenance of emergency lighting is essential to promoting the safety of tenants.

The Latest Guidance

Electrical Safety Handbook, 4th Edition
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