With A Significant Increase In Energy Bills, Can Medway HMO Landlords Lock Down Their Heating Controls?

Hello Medway Property News Readers,

This is a topic that regularly comes up in conversation with the Medway landlords that I work with and as Medway’s leading HMO agent, it is probably no surprise that it is the topic of much debate!

As HMO landlords, we have all been there. It’s a warm ‘ish’ day in the summer, you walk into your property and find the heating on full blast. This only gets more challenging during the winter as the tropical inside temperatures may end up lasting round the clock.

The sting in the tail for this is how you, as the landlord, need to pick up the bill often at no additional cost to your tenants and with the energy bills having risen by around 50% and a further rise expect the Autumn, the increase for HMO landlords has been and could further be quite sizeable.

With heating bills for HMO landlords that let all-inclusive rooms being probably the next major expense after finance and management costs, the topic is certainly not one to be overlooked. 

So, this brings about the question of how to control the cost of energy in your HMO. Landlords certainly want their tenants to have a pleasant living environment (discounting the obvious rouge ones!), however, what are the rules when it comes to locking away heating controls in a box? Or even using a locked-down smart device such as TIME:O:STAT, Nest or Hive.

I know that this can be a relatively common practice, however whilst according to the Residential Landlords Association there are no specific rules about locking down heating controls the issue is not always as clear-cut.

The first point landlords need to consider is what the terms of the tenancy agreement are with their tenants. For example, if tenants have just a basic agreement without bills included, usually thermostats could be covered.

However, if bills are included as is standard with an HMO, there could be various actions taken against the landlord if tenants have no control because it is a basic right to be able to turn on heating and hot water. There are no specific rules regarding this, however not having control of the heating could be a breach of health and safety.

Housing conditions are governed by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) and, according to the conditions outlined, heating should be controllable by housing occupants. For example, in one instance tenants were left without any heating whatsoever when their landlady locked the heating controls in a box!

The point that I think many HMO landlords are not aware of is that locking down heating controls could lead to a breach of health & safety conditions. In addition to this, landlords could find an increased risk (and cost) caused by tenants using electric heaters (even if disallowed in the tenancy agreement).

I have been speaking with Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the PRS about this question and he has advised that:

“Whilst there is no law specifically prohibiting a landlord from locking away or boxing a thermostat, this goes against the guidance of Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the operating guidance of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) in which it states a tenant should have control of the heating.

In HMO properties where there is a centrally controlled system, the landlord is obliged to ensure the tenants are not exposed to excessive cold and can regulate the temperature in their own rooms e.g. there are controls on their radiators.

The issue of whether therefore a landlord is breaking the law is down to whether the property is cold or not and constitutes a “Category 1 hazard” under the HHSRS.”

As highlighted above, you will see how whilst the issue may not be clear cut, it does certainly represent a risk. My thoughts are that systems such as TIME:O:STAT, Nest, Hive and others have their place but it is a certainly good idea to have a temporary override function that gives some degree of control to occupants.

I would certainly not condone locking away all controls to the heating in a box so tenants are unable to access them! One key to this right is good management and, particularly when it comes to an HMO, instructing a management agent (such as Home Share) to look after your property can have significant value.

Here’s one point to consider. Although, as mentioned above, it’s commonplace for rooms to be let on an all-inclusive basis, not all landlords do this and it could be an interesting thought as to whether more landlords start letting rooms with bills separate. This could then mean meters in each room, however, there could be a separate conversation here about council tax!

I hope you found this article helpful! If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article or have questions about investing in HMOs within the Medway towns then please do contact me via LinkedIn and I will be more than happy to help.

Hasan

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