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Property disrepair: Highlights from our recent webinar

At a glance

  • On 21 May 2020 we held a webinar for our housing customers on property disrepair, with insights provided by Paul Naylor from Trafford Surveyors, Matthew Hyam from BLM and Chris MacKenzie from the Zurich Risk Engineering Team
  • Escape of water - often a hidden problem - is an expensive and growing problem. 1 in 5 property claims involve escape of water. Reported damp problems result from condensation 90% of the time. Condensation is often due to tenant lifestyle – lack of ventilation, lack of heating, and drying clothes on radiators
  • On 20 March 2020 the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 progressed to its second phase requiring residential landlords in England to make the remainder of their housing stock fit for human habitation - and ensure it stays that way throughout the tenancy

Zurich’s May webinar on property disrepair issues was timely, as owners’ and landlords’ concerns turn to managing property stock, maintaining buildings and supporting tenants effectively during the pandemic.

Limited access and social distancing may impede or delay maintenance and repair but communicating with tenants and continuing with programmes of work is paramount. Landlords still have to meet standards and legal obligations, as well as manage property disrepair and damage.

Paul Naylor from Trafford Surveyors, a Chartered Surveyor and expert witness for claimants and defendants, shared his observations and experiences. Diagnosing damp and defining responsibility was a primary discussion point.

On a typical inspection a surveyor will gain as much information from the tenant as from the building. Whatever the type of property, tenant lifestyle accounts for many issues.

Black spot mould is a condensation clue. A quality professional moisture meter will indicate moisture levels, but the type of damp can only be diagnosed definitively by drilling through the inner leaf of brickwork and taking a sample of dry brick dust.

Many problems result from late reporting and not operating equipment properly. It’s up to a landlord to introduce regular inspections and open up communication with tenants to ensure timely hazards and disrepair reporting.

Zurich Engineering escape of water expert, Senior Risk Analyst Chris MacKenzie reiterated the importance of finding, reporting and repairing escape of water, in particular property leaks.

Escape of water is second only to fire in claims in value and is growing. Inadequately fitted plastic pipe joints, frozen pipes over winter, water supply seals breaking down, cistern wear and tear, pipes under high pressure, ageing boilers and more white goods, all contribute to the claims trend.

Matthew Hyam, Partner at BLM discussed the legal implications and greater disrepair claims potential of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.

The Act now covers all periodic tenancies of seven years and less. All private and social housing needs to be brought-up (and kept-up) to the standards of the Act and associated amended legislation before being let.

Landlords should align property condition, improvement works, and inspections to new standards. The scope of what constitutes a ‘relevant defect’ may widen, with extended obligations for maintenance and repair.

The Act brings new remedies for social and private tenants, including injunctions to compel works to be done and compensation claims. Disrepair claims are predicted to increase as tenants and claimant solicitors respond.

 

 You can help to minimise property disrepair risks by carrying out the following:

  • Educating tenants – tenants should know and understand:
    • What is expected of them – for example, they should clean and unblock sinks and shower trays, check for leaks from bathrooms, kitchens and white goods
    • How to use the property properly – including ensuring there is adequate ventilation, appropriate heating, that white goods are fitted correctly, preventing soil stack damage
    • The emergency response plan – for example, where the stop cock is located, how to access the emergency equipment cupboard in communal areas, who to contact, which contractors to go to
    • Their responsibilities – set these out in the lease agreement and include in the tenant handbook. Give tenants a list of dos and don’ts and essential actions. Talk them through these at the start of a lease, on renewal, and during inspections
  • Communicating with tenants – especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Implement a mechanism for reporting and sharing incidents and issues
  • Keeping up to date documentation on inspections, certifications, repairs, replacements, complaints and responses
  • Understanding obligations under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 and associated amended legislation
  • Identifying fraud – make sure your detection systems are effective. Fraud increases in times of economic uncertainty and high unemployment
  • Ensuring buildings that are part-occupied or unoccupied are safe and secure, and inspected regularly
  • Keeping up regular maintenance inspections, servicing and certification – even through COVID-19 restrictions
  • Bringing housing up to required fitness standards before letting
  • Developing a water risk management strategy
  • Using only preferred contractors
  • Managing supply chains – contractors should be qualified, certified, financially viable, and have appropriate insurances
  • Employing appropriate workmanship oversight
  • Purchasing approved quality products
  • Fitting isolation valves and humidity detectors

 

We’ve already provided a set of risk management tips specifically relating to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018:

  • Get familiar with the new legislation
  • Refresh void inspection procedures and documentation
  • Factor in fitness standards when property concerns are raised by tenants
  • Capture tenant responses on property concerns during maintenance visits
  • Minimise constructive notice risk by capturing tenant feedback on systems during property visits
  • Reconsider common part inspection regimes
  • Focus attention on damp, cause of damp and alleviate any problems promptly

If you have questions about the above or would like to know more, please contact your usual Zurich contact or you can contact us here

Image © Getty

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