A Warning for Residential Landlords
The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
The new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 came into force on 4 April 2016, bringing with it a raft of changes to the country’s health and safety regime. This article examines an issue that has escaped much of the public debate around the Act to date, namely, the duties and obligations that it imposes on the owners of residential rental properties.
Work undertaken at rental properties
Under the new Act, landlords are classified as a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking, or “PCBU”. This means that they have the primary responsibility under the Act for the health and safety of workers at their properties, and for ensuring that other people are not put at risk from work being carried out at their properties.
In practical terms, this means that landlords who engage contractors to carry out work at their properties will have an obligation to ensure that the contractor, and anyone else at the property (such as the tenant), is not put at risk from that work. Contractors will also have a duty to ensure that their work at a home does not put anyone else at risk. Both landlords and contractors are obliged under the Act to work together to ensure that work is carried out in a safe way.
It is important to note that the obligation on landlords extends only to things that are within their power to control. A landlord who engages an electrician to do work at a rental property, for example, would not be obliged to personally test the work that had been completed. In many cases, where specialist knowledge is required, it would be impossible for a landlord to do so. Rather, the obligation would be to ensure that the electrician was competent and qualified to do the work in question. The electrician himself or herself is responsible for ensuring their work is carried out safely.
Professional Property Manager
Using a professional property manager may be a helpful way of ensuring that these issues are handled appropriately, but landlords should be aware that this will not excuse them from their responsibilities under the Act. Landlords should therefore ensure that their property managers have procedures in place for managing their health and safety obligations under the Act, and to ensure that these are actually being followed in practice.
There are limits to residential landlords’ obligations, and in particular they are not responsible for the actions of tenants while those tenants are living in the property. A landlord would not, for example, be responsible for the actions of a tenant who fell off a ladder while undertaking work on the property of their own accord. Tenants themselves, as occupiers of rental properties, are not classified as PCBUs and therefore do not owe any duties, even if they engage someone to do residential work.
Given the vastly increased penalties under the Act for non-compliance with its requirements, we would strongly urge residential landlords to consider whether they are meeting their obligations and to seek advice from us if they are unsure.