In this document the term ‘solid fuel’ means any fuel that is not liquid or gas e.g. wood, coal, mineral smokeless fuels, wood derived fuels, biomass, etc. The term ‘appliance’ means any device or fire manufactured to be used for heating within a domestic property which uses solid fuel, e.g. open fire, woodburner, pellet stove, biomass boiler, cooker, solid fuel boiler, etc.
The laws, duties and responsibilities of a landlord towards tenants can seem a little ambiguous when it comes to the maintenance of solid fuel fire appliances and chimney flue sweeping. The use of words such as ‘chimney’ and ‘sweeping’ are absent in most legal publications and guidance papers, in the context of a tenancy.
Instead, generic terms and words have been used in Government guidance publications, e.g. landlords are deemed responsible for ‘heating systems’, ‘ventilation’, ‘gas appliances’ and ‘flues’.
All solid fuel appliances, be that an open coal fire, a wood burning stove or a solid fuel cooker will give off combustion gasses (all fires produce poisonous gasses). All solid fuel appliances fall within the category of heating appliances.
The landlord of a rented property has a legal responsibility to maintain the gas heating system, including chimney/flues and ventilation associated with the gas heating appliance. Therefore, the issue of who is responsible for maintaining solid fuel appliances and the chimneys/flues that expel dangerous gasses becomes less ambiguous.
A solid fuel fire appliance (heating system) will obviously produce poisonous gases that will require a clear and unobstructed flue to carry them away from the property. The property will also require an adequate ventilation system such as air vents or air bricks that are of an appropriate size to serve the 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 lot of capital is invested in a rented property and the last thing a landlord wants 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 this can result in chimney fires or carbon monoxide hazards. Entrusting their property investment to a tenant may be a risky venture for a landlord in certain circumstances. The modest cost of a simple annual sweep by a trained professional will greatly reduce exposure to the risk of a chimney fire or dangerous incident through poor tenant usage.
Landlords should also pay particular attention to their property 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 claim.
A landlord may, through misguidance or ignorance, construct a rental/tenancy agreement with various clauses that attempt to transfer certain 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 these type of clauses could be in breach of existing housing laws and tenants’ 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 a landlord should seek professional documented legal advice to ensure they protect both themselves and their investment.
The combination of lockdown and cold weather means people are at home using their fires for many more hours per week. Unfortunately for some, this will result in a potentially dangerous chimney fire.
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In case you hadn’t noticed(!) - Christmas is coming. It’s that traditional time of year when our heads spin with a massive list of Things-To-Do. And whatever we tick on that list, there’s always another thing to think of, and another, and so on.
Radio 4 presenter Steve Carver’s documentary on the run up to Christmas following a Cambridge Chimney Sweep!