Standards improve in British rental properties – but safety still falls short

Since 2014, a whole raft of new legislation has been introduced by the UK and devolved governments to improve tenants’ lives. Rental market insurer AXA has tracked progress over the past four years, and finds significant leaps forward in landlords’ professional standards*, but safety is still compromised in too many rentals.

19 September 2018

Posted in Product

Despite a broadly improving picture, the private rental sector still has catching up to do on important areas like fire and gas safety. Every rental property requires an annual gas safety inspection – but just 58 per cent have had this check in the past 12 months.

Four in ten tenants, meanwhile, say they do not have smoke alarms installed, despite landlords being legally required to fit them on each floor of a property. This is still a marked improvement on 2014, prior to the rule being introduced, when six in ten tenants lacked them.

British rental homes complying with safety rules

2018 compared to 2014 

Tenancy agreement

81 per cent (from 73 per cent)

EPC (provided)

33 per cent (from 19 per cent)

Current gas safety certificate

58 per cent (from 30 per cent)

Inventory of contents

41 per cent (from 36 per cent)

Smoke alarms (on each floor)

59 per cent (from 42 per cent)

Carbon monoxide alarms

34 per cent (from 27 per cent)

Two other key requirements are that landlords provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to tenants, and (in England and Wales) the Government’s ‘How to Rent’ Guide, which informs them of their rights and responsibilities.  As yet, only a third of tenants say they have seen the EPC (up from 19 per cent in 2014), and just 15 per cent of those eligible have received the Government’s mandatory guide.

AXA notes that landlords too compromise their rights with these omissions, as those who have not provided the guide, EPC and gas safety certificate cannot evict a tenant under a Section 21 notice.

While recent legislation has increased pressure on landlords to raise their game, there is still little awareness among tenants of basic rights and entitlements. This means vital consumer pressure to push standards up further is largely absent.

Three quarters of tenants did not know their landlord is legally required to ensure a minimum energy rating for the property, and a similar number were unaware of the requirement for EPCs and gas safety checks. Most – 89 per cent – said it was the tenant’s responsibility to keep any chimneys swept too (which is untrue – this is the landlord’s responsibility).

150,000 rental properties fall into outlawed category

Last year, AXA found that one in twenty rental properties were still rated F or G for energy performance (categories now outlawed from the rental market). This has now fallen to three per cent of properties in the, equating to 150,000 properties nationwide.

Seven in ten rental properties are now A-C bands for energy performance, but ‘cold hazard’ is still rated the number one health risk associated with living in private rented accommodation. Half of tenants surveyed said they feel their rental property negatively impacts their health: poor energy performance was quoted by 21 per cent. Most tenants in this group also cited damp or out-of-date heating systems at the same time.

Change is afoot, however, as AXA’s latest figures on energy-saving features in the private rental sector show that landlords are upgrading their properties at a rapid rate, with figures jumping on smart meters in particular.

Energy-saving features in rental properties

2018 compared to 2017

All windows double-glazed

78 per cent (from 73 per cent)

Smart meters installed

26 per cent (from 14 per cent)

Roof insulation

34 per cent (from 32 per cent)

Solar panels

2 per cent (from 1 per cent)

“Landlords are getting more professional, and we are seeing standards rise in British rentals, driven by legislation and desire of landlords themselves. We know that many start out as ‘accidentals’, and there is a big learning curve for them at the start, particularly as legislation changes so often. We find that both landlords and their tenants lag behind, so public awareness campaigns are vital to correct myths and promote new rules and standards. Gas and fire safety should be the priorities here: our research suggests that millions of properties are not compliant with today’s laws.”

Gareth Howell, Managing Director, AXA Insurance.

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*Figures are based on a survey of 2,000 UK tenants conducted in August 2018 by AXA Insurance.