Landlords are now required to ensure that rental properties reach an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of at least E before signing an agreement with either new or existing tenants. An E rating is very low indeed, though. As one renter found out, even a D rating can lead to big bills, if you’re not careful.
But are you careful enough to check the landlord’s details against Land Registry records before renting? Most people would say ‘no’ but we’re in touch with a renter who now knows why this matters.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill matters, too. And it’s one step closer to passing into law.
Fitness for Human Habitation
The 2016/17 English Housing Survey found that 38% of homes in the private rented sector had at least one indicator of poor housing. That’s 1.3 million rented homes which do not meet the decent homes standard.
We’re one step closer to securing the right to a decent home, though. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill passed the 3rd reading in the Commons without any further amendments, on 26th October. The Bill is expected to become law sometime in Spring 2019. It requires landlords to abide by the standards set by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and provides clear remedies for renters living with hazards or disrepair.
On that same day, Heather Wheeler MP, Housing Minister, who has expressed her full support for the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill, announced plans to overhaul related health and safety standards. She aims to further improve safety standards for the significant minority of private tenants living in unsatisfactory conditions.
As Alex Neill, Managing Director of Home Services at Which? commented in response
“Strengthening safety standards must be backed up by tougher enforcement action for rogue landlords and letting agents who are too often able to exploit loopholes in the system – allowing them to carry on providing unsafe accommodation for their tenants.”
A renter in distress over an enormous electricity bill reminded us how important it is to submit regular meter readings, even if you are paying for your energy supply via direct debit. And also, to try to economize on energy consumption.
This renter—let’s call him Milo—has been sharing the flat with two others, for about 18 months. Dan moved in at the same time as Milo. Gaspard joined them six months ago, replacing someone who moved out under very strained circumstances. All three love the flat and want to stay here. It’s spacious and modern, at a very good price for this location.
The building is only 12 years old and the flat has a D energy rating, according to the Energy Performance Certificate. Since April, landlords have been legally required to ensure that rental properties reach at least an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of E before granting or renewing a tenancy agreement. An E rating is very low indeed so really should not be too much to expect.
Still, D is a low rating for such a new building. It’s probably because the whole of one side of the living room, as well as part of the ceiling, is glazed. It looks spectacular but the flat never feels warm, even when the underfloor heating is on.
Milo takes responsibility for the electricity bill. He’s been paying £50 per month via direct debit, and collecting a portion of that from each of his flatmates. According to the estimated bills Milo received, £50 pcm was about right. Then, after a meter reading a couple of weeks ago, despite having paid £50 every month for 18 months, Milo received a bill for nearly £2000. These guys have actually been using over £150 of electricity per month.
It’s important to keep an eye on your actual energy consumption. If you’re likely to forget, plan ahead and put reminders to read the meter every two or three months in your diary. Submit regular readings and adjust your direct debit payments, to keep on top of your utility bills.
Milo said that he hadn’t been able to access the electricity meter because it’s housed in a locked cupboard. But meter cupboard keys cost about £2 and are widely available from local hardware stores, DIY chains, and online. If you call your utility supplier about this, they may very well send you a plastic key, free of charge. However you acquire it, if your name is on the utility bill, it’s well worth owning one of these keys.
Now, as well as increasing the direct debit to ensure that actual consumption is covered, Milo is trying to find ways to meet the outstanding debt. As two of the three renters moved in at the same time, it seems only fair that each should contribute one third of the sum. Gaspard, who moved in much later, should make the appropriate 10% contribution, too. Even if Dan and Gaspard pay up promptly, this still leaves Milo liable for the considerable shortfall, as well as his own portion. And their bills are unusually high, even for a D rated property
Ideally, the three will find ways to reduce their energy consumption. As there are no blinds on all that glass, it must be worth asking the landlord to consider installing thermal blinds (sometimes called ‘energy blinds’). These blinds, like thermal-lined curtains, can reduce your energy consumption by as much as 25%. Because of the quantity of glass, including roof panels, installation of blinds probably can’t be done cheaply but we must hope the landlord will be amenable. Otherwise, covering glass with clingfilm can help to keep in heat. It’s said that bubble wrap, placed flat side down against glass sprayed with water, works even better. In Milo’s flat, several rolls of clingfilm or bubblewrap would be needed, as well as a tall step ladder.
Where there are wall mounted radiators, rather than underfloor heating, it’s worth putting silver radiator reflector foil on the wall behind the radiator. Your landlord might be willing to pay for the rolls but if not, it’s quite inexpensive (about £6 per roll) and makes a real difference. You should also bleed your radiators to maximize their efficiency.
If you can, replace any halogen bulbs with LED bulbs. Although halogen bulbs cost more to buy, you save about £12 per bulb, per year. It’s hard to know whether to make the investment if you don’t know how long you’ll be living at the same address, but it’s worth considering.
By turning electrical and electronic appliances off at the switch when you’ve finished using them, you won’t waste energy or money. According to the Energy Saving Trust, between 9 and 16% of the electricity consumed in homes is used to power appliances in ‘standby’. This is a really easy saving to make. Also, try to charge your mobile phone at a time when you can unplug it as soon as the battery is full. This usually takes two hours. If you leave your mobile phone plugged in overnight, you’re wasting electricity, as well as degrading the battery.
In Milo’s flat, the underfloor heating is ineffective, and very expensive to run. The three renters might each consider investing in an oil-filled radiator, then. These heat up fast and, of course, radiate heat for some time after they’re switched off. Many have timers so can be set to switch off after, say, 90 minutes. Because some oil-filled radiators have wheels, they can be moved from room to room, as needed, so there’s no energy wasted through heating a room which isn’t in use.
Energy inefficiency might explain why Milo’s rent is quite low for this location and quality of the accommodation. Electricity is more expensive than gas, anyway, and a D rating is not very good. D is a typical rating for an older property, with no retrofitted energy-saving technology, but these properties usually include gas appliances. As well as stating the current rating, the EPC also lists estimates of how much it might cost to heat and power your home, excluding appliances like tv, games consoles and phone charging.
If you are responsible for paying the bills, you are entitled to choose your energy supplier but if your landlord has specified a preferred supplier, you should be willing to change the supply back after you have paid your final bill before moving out. Milo has checked on several comparison sites and it would seem that he is already with the cheapest supplier but if you are not, consider switching to get the best deal possible.
A renter in East London now finds himself in a horrible situation, through no fault of his own. Hamood moved down to London from Yorkshire earlier this year. Pleased to find a bright, modern, one bedroom flat via an agency, he signed a twelve month tenancy agreement without hesitation. Seven months later, his landlord appeared at the front door, threatening violence unless Hamood moved out immediately.
Shaken, Hamood contacted the lettings agency only to be told that they had nothing to do with his address. Details of their redress scheme membership are clearly displayed in their office and on their website, along with information about their client money protection scheme registration. Hamood had been furnished with all the relevant documentation (‘How To Rent’ booklet; Energy Performance Certificate and deposit protection paperwork). There’s no gas fuelled appliance in the flat so there’s no gas safety certification. Everything had seemed above board.
Now, though, the agent had terminated the contract with the landlord. An agent’s agreement with a landlord usually includes a clause stating that the relationship is ended automatically by dishonesty.
This landlord is actually a housing association tenant. When the housing association became aware that he was renting out the flat, not living in it, they initiated possession proceedings. The housing association tenant ‘the mesne tenant’, hoped to re-enter fast, to halt that process.
Sub-letting from another private tenant is not illegal. But if you rent your home from a council or housing association tenant, that tenant—your landlord— is highly likely to be sub-letting in breach of their tenancy agreement. It can be a criminal offence to sub-let social housing. In this case, though, Hamood would seem not to have committed any offence. He rented the flat in good faith; he was not aware of the facts.
The mesne tenant’s name and UK correspondence address were included in the tenancy agreement. Unfortunately, Hamood did not think of checking these details against Land Registry records because everything seemed to be in order. He now wishes that he had done so, of course, but this is a step most renters overlook.
The mesne tenant keeps trying to break into the flat. At the very least, this constitutes harassment with the intent to cause Hamood to give up his tenant’s rights or remedies, against s.1 Protection from Eviction Act 1977. It’s something that would typically be dealt with by the local authority and Hamood is in contact the local council tenancy relations team about it. The mesne tenant is threatening violence, though, so there’s also a criminal aspect. The police have been called to the address several times.
Although he’s frightened, Hamood is standing his ground. For one thing, he’s still trying to find out what happened to his deposit money when the landlord’s contract with the agency ended. He can’t rent a new home without that money, however much he may wish to.