My tenant is elderly, do I have a duty of care?
As a landlord, you are responsible for your tenant’s safety in your property, but are you more responsible for an elderly tenant?
It’s worth noting here that age doesn’t mean infirmity. Just because you have an older tenant doesn’t mean they need extra support or that you need to worry about them at all!
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However, it’s understandable that you might worry about your tenant, regardless of their age, especially if they are disabled. However, if they are older and you notice that they don’t have much of a support network or they seem unwell to you, you may wonder what you should do to help – or even if it’s up to you to do anything.
How much is a tenant the landlord’s responsibility?
As a landlord there are clearly defined boundaries regarding your responsibilities:
- Gas Safety. A legally required check that ensures the safety of the gas in your property, which you need to update every 12months
- EICR. Another legal requirement that checks the safety of the electrics in your property, but this only has to be done every 5 years
- EPC. The last legally required certification you need, which checks how energy efficient your property is. At the moment, you have to have a minimum rating of E, but this is likely to go up to C by 2025. You’ll need to update this every 10 years, but if you’re currently at E or D, you’ll need to make some changes to your property and get a new EPC proving you’re at C
- Fire Safety. While you don’t have to provide certificates to prove the fire safety of your property (your EICR and Gas Safety certificates will go a long way to proving this!), it’s important that you make sure that there is a fire alarm on every floor, that they are in full working order and that there is a carbon monoxide alarm in every room with a solid fuel burning appliance
- Deposit protection. You must protect your tenant’s deposit within 30 days of receiving it via a government approved scheme, you also need to send them the prescribed information about this protection, so they are fully aware of what has been done with their deposit
All of these legal requirements are designed to protect both the landlord and the tenant, by ensuring that the landlord is providing a property that is both safe and fit for human habitation. There are further responsibilities, like responding to any issues in the flat, whether this is a leak or a boiler breakdown.
But to a certain extent, once you have taken care of all of the above, your tenant is then responsible for their home. They need to replace the batteries in the fire alarm; open windows if drying clothes inside to prevent mould; and lock up to ensure the safety of their possessions while they’re out.
What if you notice that your tenant can’t cope?
However, you may notice that your tenant is not coping. Perhaps you see that the property is not as well cared for as it has been, or that your tenant doesn’t seem to be taking care of themselves.
While you are not legally obligated to check in on them, ethically it is your responsibility to make sure that they’re ok, especially if they could be putting themselves and neighbours at risk in some way, like leaving the gas on.
This can be tricky, as you don’t want to cause offence and upset your tenant, but you do have a few options:
- Speak to the tenant. Your first port of call should always be your tenant, so have a chat with them about how they’re feeling and how they think they’re coping. Try to keep this as light as possible, as you don’t want them to feel that they’re under interrogation! But it’s good to check in and see how your tenant feels about their living situation, as they are likely to be more aware of changes in their needs than you. This could open up a conversation about the need for them to move out and downsize
- Do what you can. If you notice that your tenant is struggling with heavier chores around the house or picking up shopping, you could offer to help with this. However, really consider this before you offer to help, as you are not a qualified carer and may end up doing more harm than good. But simple things like changing the batteries in a smoke alarm, so they don’t need to climb up a ladder may be just the little bit of your help your tenant needs
- Speak to an outside organisation. If your tenant is elderly, you may have contact details for their family, so you can get in touch in case of an emergency. However, contacting family without your tenant’s consent is a breach of trust that could cause an irretrievable breakdown in your relationship with your tenant, so we don’t recommend this. If, after talking to your tenant, you are still concerned about their ability to care for themselves, we recommend calling an organisation like Age UK, who will be able to advise you on how to approach this potentially difficult situation
Does a landlord have a duty of care for their tenant?
As we said above, you have a legal obligation to ensure the safety and comfort of your property, but beyond that there is no legal requirement for a landlord to care for their tenant.
As long as your tenants are taking care of your property and not doing anything illegal in it, then what goes on in your property is your tenant’s business.
However, landlording is a people based business and you should care about your tenants and their welfare. Part of this is because you want to secure your investment and make sure that your payments will continue reliably. But a bigger part of it is that your tenants are people too and if you are worried that they’re struggling in any way, you should step in to help.
Whether that is because you suspect abuse or they are struggling to make ends meet financially or you suspect they are no longer safe to live alone, there is always something you can do to ensure their safety and wellbeing. While it may not be your legal obligation, it is your ethical one.