The laws, duties and responsibilities of a landlord towards tenants may seem a little ambiguous when it comes to matters relating to the maintenance of fire appliances and chimney flue sweeping. This is largley due to the absence of the use of words such as ‘chimney’ and ‘sweeping’ in most legal publications and guidance papers.
Instead, generic terms and words have been used in Government guidance publications such as landlords are responsible for ‘heating systems’, ‘ventilation’, ‘gas appliances’ and ‘flues’.
In reality, a solid fuel appliance, be that an open coal fire, a wood burning stove or in fact any appliance that gives off gas (and all fires produce gases) falls within the category of heating appliances that give off poisonous gases.
Therefore, when considering that the landlord of a rented property has a legal responsibility1 to maintain on behalf of the tenant the gas heating system in a rented property, including flues and ventilation associated with the gas heating appliance, the issue of who is responsible for maintaining fire appliances and chimneys (flues) to expel dangerous gases becomes less ambiguous.
The landlord has that responsibility.
A fire appliance (heating system) will obviously produces poisonous gases that will require a clear and unobstructed flue to carry those poisonous gases away from the property. The property will also require an adequate ventilation system such as air vents or airbricks that are of an appropriate size to serve the fire appliance.
A landlord’s legal responsibilities to their tenants are tough enough and the cost of meeting those duties and responsibilities can weigh heavy. A landlord has a lot of capital invested in a rented property and the last thing they would want is to see their investment go up in smoke as a result of a chimney fire. Or worse, to be the defendant in a criminal case of negligence where imprisonment may be a possibility.
The reality is tenants do not always use solid fuel appliances correctly and may, for example, throw that Saturday night take-
Entrusting their property investment to a tenant may be a risky venture for a landlord in certain circumstances. A simple annual sweep at a modest cost will greatly reduce exposure to the risk of a chimney fire through poor tenant usage.
Landlords should also pay particular attention to their propery insurance policies. A number of insurance underwriters stipulate in their policies that chimneys and flues should be adequately maintained. Failure to do so could render the insurance policy invalid in the event of a chimney fire.
A landlord may through misguidance or ignorance construct a rental / tenancy agreement with various clauses that attempt to transfer certain of their responsibilities over to the tenant. The tenant may well sign that agreement in order to secure the accommodation. However, landlords need to be aware that such signed contracts may not always be legally binding and may in fact be unlawful, since some of those clauses may be in breach of existing housing laws and tenant's rights.
Just because a tenancy agreement / contract is well written and contains impressive legal terms and jargon does not mean that established laws can be over ruled by it. The law is the law and only an Act of Parliament can amend an existing law, not a landlord's tenancy agreement.
Before constructing a tenancy agreement it is always prudent for a landlord to seek professional legal advice to ensure they protect both themselves and their investments.
Fuller details concerning adequate and appropriate ventilation is provided in Approved Document part ‘J’ of the Building Regulations.
1Landlords are required by law to have their tenants' gas appliances and flues maintained and annual safety checks carried out.
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