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Electrical Safety – Repair of Rented Properties

Electrical safety is important, but unfortunately often overrated in rented properties. Unlike other safety checks, the law doesn’t require mandatory electrical safety checks for the most private property. This guide will talk about electrical safety and share with you some tips and tricks to help you stay safe.

Electrical safety is critical

Under section 11, from the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985, the landlord handles the maintenance of all electrical wiring.

The law was simplified in 1994 with the introduction of The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations. It makes landlords entirely responsible for the repair and maintenance of the electricity supply. Landlords and letting agents are required to check the safety of the electrical appliances that came with the property at regular intervals.

For landlords of HMO properties, it is mandatory to have an electrician perform an electrical safety check every five years.

An amendment to Building Regulations in 2005 made it a requirement for landlords to employ only fully qualified electricians for any work.

The UK has a fairly good electrical safety culture. Yet, more than 30 people die in electrical incidents and around 4000 are injured each year. More than 8000 fires occur as a result of faulty electrical wiring or equipment with millions of pounds worth of damages. Most of the electrical incidents happen from the misuse of the power grid or some appliance. However, a large portion also results from poor maintenance and incompetent DIY jobs.

Residents must be aware of:

  • Shock
  • Burns
  • Electrical explosion or arcing
  • Fire
  • Mechanical movements initiated by electricity

It’s important that tenants DO NOT attempt to repair electrical equipment, unless they are a certified professional!

What landlords must maintain as part of their electrical safety responsibilities

The landlord is responsible for any appliances that they supply within the property. That includes for instance cookers, microwaves, kettles, washing machines etc. The electrical system – i.e. the wiring in the property, all plug sockets and light fittings are also the responsibility of the landlord. All of these must be in full working order and be maintained to these standards.

The landlord must repair:

  • Faulty electrical wiring
  • Frayed and exposed wires
  • Unsteady currents, which cause flickering in plugged in appliances and devices
  • Power cuts in the property, that do not affect your neighbours
  • Broken power socket covers, where the plastic reveals the wiring
  • Loose power socket, which is not fixed effectively to the wall
  • Sparkling power socket when you plug an appliance in
  • Faulty fuse box that constantly trips the circuit
  • Burned out light bulbs or light bulb sockets
  • Faulty light switches
  • Malfunctioning electrical equipment that is property of the landlord (e.g. washing machine, boiler, etc.)

Furnished properties include electrical appliances that belong to the landlord. You can frequently find kitchen appliances such as a fridge, freezer, washing machine, dishwasher, and an oven. Additionally, there may be an electrical boiler in the property, including entertainment devices, such as a television and audio system.

What to look for when you make an electrical safety check

Both tenants and landlords (or letting agents), are advised to regularly perform basic electrical safety checks around the property.

Look for:

  • Light bulbs that don’t work or blink frequently
  • Switches that don’t work or make weak or unstable contact
  • Power sockets that spark when you plug something in or don’t work at all
  • Power sockets that output an unstable current (check with your phone charger)
  • Broken or burn plastic on light switches or power sockets
  • Dark yellow / brown marks around power outlets or light switches
  • Tripped fuses in the fuse box
  • Bare or exposed wires
  • Appliances that don’t work
  • Appliances that work partially or perform unexpectedly
  • Metallic surfaces that give out weak power shock
  • Loud buzzing or crackling sounds from power boxes and electrical appliances
  • Frequent power jumps or failures

electrical safety

All of the above items are symptoms for some appliance or part of the wiring not functioning as intended. If you observe any of them, contact your landlord and arrange an inspection to verify or clear the suspicion. Do not overlook the details, even if they seem harmless. If the equipment or network is malfunctioning, your safety is exposed to unpredictable hazard.

What tenants must maintain as part of their electrical safety responsibilities

Tenant owned electrical appliances are their own responsibility

Every electrical possession of the tenant is not a responsibility of the landlord. Tenant possessions must be repaired and maintained by the tenant.

Examples of tenant owned possessions are: hair blower, computer, kitchen blender, vacuum machine, electronic music instruments. The landlord is not required to maintain them in any way. Landlord insurance does not cover tenant possessions. Neither do they hold any liability for damages as a result of power failures.

Tenants caused damages to the electrical wiring or appliances are their own responsibility

The landlord or letting agent is only obliged to repair and maintain electrical wiring or appliances that have malfunctioned on their own, during normal use. If renters willingly or accidentally damage electrical equipment, then it would be expected of them to cover the costs of repairs or replacement. Normal use of the electrical equipment will be defined by the user manuals for each product, but you can really just use your common sense.

Renters must not:

  • Use electrical equipment against their intended purpose (for example, using a hair dryer to defrost a frozen refrigerator)
  • Store flammable or hazardous materials near electrical outlets
  • Clutter luggage near electrical outlets
  • Allow water, damp or moisture near and around electrical outlets
  • Dismantle electrical equipment
  • Attempt repair of electrical equipment (except if they are a certified electrician)
  • Modify electrical equipment
  • Overload the electric grid with too many plugged appliances
  • Leave unmonitored working electrical appliances, like the oven, or iron

Tenants must report all electrical issues in the property to the landlord and request repairs!

Tenants are responsible for monitoring and reporting all issues in the property to the landlord or letting agent. To be able to make effective repairs on time, landlords rely on tenants to relay the issues as they appear. Rather than wait for them to become a real problem, tenants should identify symptoms in the appliances and contact the landlord.

Never skip on any details and notify your landlord in writing about every potential issue. Keep in mind that it’s your safety that is threatened if you ignore an electrical problem.

How to request electrical repairs from your landlord

All repairs should be requested in writing. To be exact, verbal request are also legally valid, but it’s much harder to prove a verbal request in the court. Written requests however, are concrete proof because of the date when the notification was issued.

Make sure you outline the problem accurately. Stress if there is an emergency or a potential health risk. If the issue is severe, it’s best to call the letting agent in a few hours, or the next day and confirm they have acknowledged the notice of repairs.

They should reply in short time confirming to make the repairs and contact a certified electrician to make the repairs. After they have found a professional for the job, they must write back to the tenant and schedule a date. Electrical safety is critical, and disruptive to normal life. Tenants should be flexible about the repair date.

If the repair work has disrupted your regular life for an extended period of time, you might be able to claim rent reduction. For example, if an electrical boiler failed and short circuited the wiring in the bathroom, the repair of the entire section would take up to a week. Living for a full week without access to the bathroom and shower is a serious inconvenience. You might be eligible to receive a rent reduction following the repair.

What to do if your landlord is refusing to do repairs

If you’ve contacted your landlord about repairs, you must give them reasonable time to organise and schedule a date with the electrician. The landlord or letting agent should give you a status update, so you’re aware of how far the matter has progressed.

If you’ve sent a letter to request repairs, but have not received any answer whatsoever, try writing them a “letter before action”. In the letter, you should tell them you’re going to the Environmental Health Department. Unless, they organise the requested repairs ASAP.

If the landlord denies the repairs, or ignores your plea, you can seek assistance from the local Environmental Health Department. It’s a government body, part of your local council that deal with environmental issues and health issues in rented properties. When you summon them, the Environmental Health Department will do an initial inspection to confirm the damage. They will then serve an improvement notice to the landlord. It forces him to repair all the reported problems.

If the repair is critical, the Environmental Health Department can arrange the repairs on their own. When finished, they will bill.

Don’t allow your landlord to harass you if you try to send them a repairs notice. Bad landlords frequently try to scare their tenants from requesting repairs by serving them with a section 21 notice. Since 1st of October 2015, section 21 notice cannot be used if a landlord has been served with an improvement notice by the local council. If one is served after a complaint about repairs, the landlord might be guilty of retaliatory eviction. It is illegal and punishable by the law.

If you landlord tries to evict you, following a request for repairs (electrical or other type), seek legal help immediately!

Landlords who do not follow the law relating to electrical safety are in contravention of The Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 and The Consumer Protection Act 1987 and can face:

  • Invalid insurance
  • Up to £5000 in fines
  • Six months in prison
  • Court action from a tenant who is suing for civil damages
  • Manslaughter charges if a tenant dies as a result of poorly maintained / unsafe electrical appliances or system

Where to go for help

The Health and Safety Executive or HSE are responsible for enforcing the law relating to electrical safety. If you want to speak to someone about your landlord not adhering to their responsibilities, the HSE can help.

If you are at all concerned about the safety of the electrical wiring in your home and your landlord or letting agent refuses to take it seriously, you can contact Shelter’s advice directory here or ring 0808 800 4444. They will find you an advisor in your area who can tell you how serious the problem is and how best to proceed.

The online service of the Citizens Advice can also advise you how to move things forward; you can contact them here.

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This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.

We advise all tenants to act respectfully with their landlords and letting agents and seek a peaceful resolution to problems with their rented property. For more information, explore the articles in our All advice category.

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