Decent Homes Standard
In order to be decent a home should be warm, weatherproof and have reasonably modern facilities. The Government has defined a dwelling that meets the 'Decent Homes' standard as one that:
- Meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing – i.e. it must be free of the most serious (category 1) hazards under the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System;
- Is in a reasonable state of repair;
- Has reasonably modern facilities and services; and
- Provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort (i.e. it's not too cold).
It's worth noting that the government's definition of a 'dwelling' includes the structure, associated outbuildings, gardens, yards and/or other amenity space, and means of access.
General standards for all rented property
The standards are applicable to all rented property and are designed to help meet the requirements of both the Housing Health and Safety Rating System under the Housing Act 2004.
Please note there are also specific standards which apply to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) - see the article on HMOs for more details.
State of Repair
A dwelling should be maintained in a reasonable state of repair. In practice this means that all the building elements in the property must be functional and perform as intended. Some disrepairs will have more of an effect on the health and safety of the occupiers than others but even if there are no health effects now, the disrepair will cause the building to deteriorate and eventually cause more serious problems. It is, therefore, obviously a matter for commonsense to put right what is failing.
The Decent Homes definition says a building will fail if: One or more key building components are old and, because of their condition need replacing or major repair; or two or more other building components are old and, because of their condition need replacing or major repair. A building component can only fail to satisfy this criterion by being old and requiring replacing or repair.
Key building components are those which, if in poor condition, could have an immediate impact on the integrity of the building and cause further deterioration in other components. They are the external components plus internal components that have potential safety implications and include: external walls; roof structure and covering; windows/doors; chimneys; central heating boilers; gas fires; storage heaters; plumbing; electrics.
This standard can affect the assessment of all HHSRS hazards under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004.
There should be space heating appliances provided in every habitable room so that an ambient temperature of 20 degrees Celsius can be obtained inside the room when the outside temperature is -1 degrees (after one hour of operation).
The heating should be fixed, rather than moveable and consideration must be given to the affordability for the occupiers. (Provision of thermal insulation is important – see below). Heating should be controllable by the occupants.
Examples of suitable installations include gas fired central heating, electric storage heating, electric direct radiators, oil fired central heating, warm air systems, modern eco friendly combined heating systems, underfloor systems or programmable LPG/solid fuel central heating.
Gas fires should not be installed in sleeping rooms unless they are fitted with a balanced flue – i.e. NOT traditional gas fires. Portable Paraffin or LPG heaters are NOT permitted because of risk from fire and potentially hazardous combustion gases which are produced.
As heating costs rise and occupiers need to set aside more of their budget for heating, landlords need to consider the relationship between heating costs and the way their building is used. Lack of heating can lead to other problems like mould and dampness, both of which are difficult to put right. Affordable heating that keeps the occupiers warm and happy is a vital factor in building health and tenant satisfaction.
This standard is assessed under the 'excess cold' HHSRS hazard. When deciding if a heating system is sufficient, temperatures will be measured to decide if the minimum, as described above, can be achieved.
Washing and toilet facilities
Suitable and sufficient washing and toilet facilities should be provided within a suitable room. All baths, showers and wash hand basins must be capable of providing a constant supply of hot and cold water as applicable.
Tiled splashbacks to be provided for areas adjacent to baths, to areas above wash basins and to the walls of shower enclosures.Washable, impervious floor coverings to be fitted in all bath/shower rooms and WC compartments. For unfurnished accommodation, the provision of floor coverings is not applicable.
Mechanical extract ventilation is strongly recommended to reduce condensation, mould growth and odours.
Washing and toilet facilities are assessed under the HHSRS personal hygiene and sanitation hazards.
A kitchen of suitable design and size should be provided and equipped with reasonably modern facilities to enable occupants to safely store, cook and prepare food.
The minimum requirements are: Sink/drainer with adequate supply of hot and cold water; a cooker, with 3 rings min. plus oven and grill; food preparation area with a minimum 1000mm work surface; a minimum of 4 electrical socket outlets at working height;1000mm base/wall unit for equipment and dry goods; a suitably sized refrigerator with a freezer compartment; tiled splashbacks to be provided for areas adjacent to working areas of the kitchen; washable, impervious floor coverings to be fitted in all kitchens (except for unfurnished lettings); additional socket outlets to be provided for washing machines, fridges and freezers.
Layout is very important to ensure the kitchen can be used safely without hazards from scalding, hot surfaces and fire.Cookers should not be sited close to doorways and should have work surfaces fitted on either side.
Kitchen facilities are assessed under the HHSRS food safety hazard and flames and hot surfaces.
Clothes washing and drying facilities
There should be space and plumbing for the occupiers to site a washing machine with an appropriate power socket adjacent.
There should be somewhere to dry clothes, preferably both outside and inside, but this is a practical consideration. Internal clothes drying space could be an airing cupboard but where there is no airing cupboard in the house it is important to consider how clothes will be dried inside to minimize condensation - drying clothes internally without adequate ventilation can lead to mould.
Washing and drying facilitie are assessed under the HHSRS domestic hygiene hazard
Gas appliances must be properly maintained and an annual Gas Safety Certificate as required by the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 (as amended) must be obtained from a Gas Safe registered installer.
A copy must be given to the tenants and if requested made available for inspection by the enforcing authority. Only balanced flue appliances may be considered for use in lounges or sleeping rooms, including bedsits, due to the risks associated with incomplete combustion and carbon monoxide poisoning.
If supplied, landlords should also fit a CO detector in the room.Assessed under the HHSRS carbon monoxide and explosion hazards.
The electrical installation must be safe and in good condition. This can be certified by engaging a competent electrical contractor(belonging to an appropriate professional organisation) who is Part P registered(current Building Regulations Part P applies) to report on the condition of the installation and issue a report (which may detail defects to be remedied if necessary) and a certificate (on completion of those works).
Test certificates usually last for 5 years. It is not mandatory for landlords of private rented accommodation to maintain a current electrical safety certificate, but it is advisable, so the landlord can demonstrate that the installation is in good condition.
In the event that the electrical system appears unsatisfactory or there is not a current test certificate available, councils may require an inspection and report under the terms of Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 (HHSRS) so that enforcement action can be taken.
Assessed under the HHSRS fire and electrical safety hazards.
There must be suitably positioned and sufficient numbers of lighting points and power socket outlets. In general this would mean at least two double sockets in bedrooms, three double sockets in living rooms and four double sockets in kitchens with a minimum of four at working height. Additional sockets may be required for bedsitting rooms or study bedrooms as there is likely to be more personal electrical equipment used by the occupant.
Landlords must manage the use of extension leads/socket outlets/adaptors to ensure installations are not overloaded and that such leads/extensions are separately fused.
Assessed under the HHSRS fire and electrical safety hazards.
Portable electrical appliances
Portable and movable electrical appliances supplied by the landlord should be maintained and examined on a regular basis and should be checked for safety by a competent person.
Fire resisting furniture
All furniture and furnishings must meet current Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1998 standards.
Dwellings should meet recommended fire safety standards.
A basic minimum for single family type occupancies would be a good quality working battery operated smoke alarm installed on each floor– usually on the landing level of the staircase or suitable circulation space on each floor.
Optical smoke detectors are now available in battery-operated form, and this type of detector reduces the incidence of false alarms. Some detectors can be purchased with long life batteries. Each detector should be tested weekly by the occupier and the batteries changed at least once a year or when a low battery warning sounds. Detectors should also to be tested on changes of tenancy, records of such testing and battery changes to be maintained.
Problems with battery operated detectors can occur when batteries are removed or lose power. Sound levels must be sufficient to wake a sleeping occupier. Landlords must take responsibility for smoke detection in their rented property – it is not the tenant’s responsibility.
The standard recommended in British Standard 5839 Part 6 2004 Grade D,category LD3 (Fire safety in dwellings) is for detector sounders that are powered by the mains electricity supply; this allows several detectors to be interconnected so that when one detector activates, all units sound thus allowing audibility levels to be maintained throughout the house. This is the current Building Regulation standard for new buildings.
Dwellings over three storeys or more, and single family houses or flats over shops have higher standards for smoke detection depending on whether the house is pre 1991 or older construction. You should consult your local fire safety officer for further details.
If there are serious fire safety issues within single occupancy dwellings then these can be assessed under the terms of Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004(HHSRS) and action taken to eliminate Category 1 and 2 hazards as appropriate.
Self-contained flats converted from a single dwelling are generally subject to the higher standards of fire safety that are set out in the section on HMOs.
Natural lighting and ventilation
There should be suitable and sufficient means of natural lighting and ventilation from openable windows to all habitable rooms (usually living rooms and bedrooms). Natural lighting should be at least 1/10 th of floor area and natural ventilation should be 1/20 th of the floor area.
Bathrooms and kitchens should have suitable mechanical extraction to reduce condensation, mould growth and odours. Extractors should be connected to the light switch and equipped with an overrun facility.
Assessed under the HHSRS lighting hazard and damp and mould.Refuse storage and disposal
Appropriate refuse storage facilities should be provided within dwelling with suitable access to disposal facilities. Refuse containers to be located away from habitable rooms.
Where dwellings do not have a yard or garden to store refuse bins, suitable bins should be provided to permit storage without causing odours or attracting vermin or pests.
Landlords should encourage residents to recycle refuse.
Assessed under the HHSRS domestic hygiene, pests and refuse hazard.
Entry by intruders
The dwelling should be capable of being secured against unauthorised entry without compromising the means of escape in the case of fire.
Security locks should be provided with a thumb turn on the inside of the door so that occupiers do not need a key to exit the premises to a place of safety.
Glazing in entrance doors and surrounds should be security glazing.Shared entry doors, such as of blocks of flats, should be fitted with door entry systems and entrance/exit doors should be self closing to avoid unauthorised access.
Assessed under the HHSRS entry by intruders hazard.
Structural thermal insulation should be provided to minimise heat loss. Insulation measures appropriate to the construction of the property should be installed. For example, loft insulation to all loft spaces to be a minimum 200 mm thickness.
Landlords should aim for this standard of loft insulation, particularly if existing loft insulation is absent or less than 50mm which is the 'trigger level' in the Decent Homes standard. Increasing insulation benefits tenants and landlords. Warm homes can prevent damage by dampness and mould growth. Tenants can benefit from reduced fuel costs.
Cavity wall insulation should be considered (if there are cavity walls that can be insulated effectively). Include for provision of insulation to hot water cylinders, draught proofing of doors and windows, while maintaining adequate ventilation(windows should not be sealed shut).
Energy Performance Certificates are now required for all rented housing. A landlord must provide this certificate prior to the commencement of a tenancy to show the level of thermal performance to enable prospective tenants to determine how expensive the property will be to keep warm.
This is assessed under the HHSRS excess cold hazard.