Kirstie Goulder

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Thermostat Control: The Hot Debate

Property Guardianship / 08 November 2019

You may have seen this trending on Twitter earlier this week.

The housing question “Can my landlord lock my thermostat in a box?” went viral earlier this week. We consider the position further below.

Alex lives in a house in multiple occupations (commonly known as an “HMO”) with around 6 or 7 other people. He has been living in the property since early August 2019 renting from a private landlady. His monthly payment of £700 includes utility bills: a popular arrangement for multi-occupant housing.

Last weekend, Alex discovered that the hot water had been turned off in the property. On flagging this issue to his housemates on a WhatsApp group, he learned this was because the landlady had visited the property to install a clear thermostat cover over the Google Nest thermostat, controlling the property’s heating and hot water supply. Many social media users have deemed the landlord’s actions to be “against Alex’s human rights”.

What are the landlord’s legal obligations when it comes to heating and hot water?

The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (which we wrote about earlier this year), requires that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. This includes providing heating and hot water. Excess cold, excess heat and inadequate water supply are expressly listed as matters which could cause a property to be deemed “unfit”. Landlords must, therefore, ensure that the hot water supply and temperatures in the property are adequate.

The position with locking the thermostat in a box, out of the control of the occupants, is less clear. Whilst there are no rules around boxing off thermostats, as a matter of good tenancy management, we encourage landlords to speak to their tenants first before taking such action. Boxing off a thermostat is common in situations where the tenant is paying a basic agreement where bills are not included, so they can track usage.

Potential repercussions

A tenant’s recourse will depend on the effect of the thermostat being covered and whether a “hazard” is caused, such as excess cold or possibly extreme heat. Unreasonable extremes in temperature may represent a hazard over which a local authority can take action against the landlord. This may also prevent a landlord from serving a section 21 notice for 6 months.

Practical tips

With increasingly extreme weather conditions and rising utility bills, we appreciate that as a landlord you will want to do all it can to keep costs down. However, it is important to ensure your property is compliant, not least to keep your tenants happy.

Kathryn Gilbertson, Partner and Head of Regulatory is recognised as a “leading light” in the field of health and safety law. We can help you with practical checklists and procedures to help to ensure any private rented sector property is compliant. Similarly, if things go wrong, we have significant experience in responding to any notices. Please do get in touch.

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