Letting agents – what your landlords need to know about ventilation

The issue of ventilation in buildings is a complicated one. Agents need to understand what the law requires and must be able to manage landlords’ expectations when it comes to commercial realities.

Commercial properties – the law

As a rule of thumb, with commercial property, it can be legally acceptable to make the tenant responsible for repairs and maintenance. This obligation can be extended to plant and equipment such as air-conditioning facilities.

Commercial properties – the reality

Making a tenant responsible for maintenance and repairs generally only works if a tenant leases all, or at least most, of a building. If a building is shared, then there generally needs to be some kind of third-party to manage communal facilities. If the landlord doesn’t want to do this themselves, then they will need to use a management company.

Even if they do let a building to a single tenant, it may be difficult to force the tenant to pay for expensive repairs and maintenance. Tenants will simply take a business decision on whether to pay for the repairs or to move to another building. This means it may be more pragmatic for landlords to absorb the upfront cost and recoup it in rent.

Residential properties – the law

With residential properties, the landlord must ensure that the building meets health and safety requirements. This generally means that the landlord is responsible for ensuring good ventilation.

Residential property – the reality

The issue of ventilation in residential properties is probably a case study in the phrase “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink”. In other words, landlords can give their tenants all the tools they need to ventilate a property, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually use them.

In the real world, it tends to be best to use a “belt-and-braces” approach. In other words, landlords must try to put in as many automated condensation-management features as they can. At the same time, educating tenants on what they can do to avoid condensation. Landlords could also consider making it a contractual requirement for their tenants to ventilate the property to the required standard.

Protecting against condensation

In the real world, tenants aren’t likely to want to open windows when it’s hot inside but cold outside. This means that landlords need to think about offering them other options to deal with condensation. Consider fitting a hood in the kitchen and using a self-contained shower cabin in the bathroom.

Also, landlords should consider advising tenants to only air-dry their clothes in the bath or shower. Air-drying clothes is one of the biggest causes of condensation, but it’s also one of the most understandable. Both launderettes and tumble dryers are expensive and it’s not always possible to dry clothes outside, especially not in autumn and winter.

If none of this works, then landlords might want to think about treating the symptom rather than the cause. They could invest in some dehumidifiers for tenants to use to clean and dry the air after cooking, or a tumble dryer for drying clothes.

Dominic Little is the managing director of Chill Air Conditioning.

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