Safety concerns in County Durham homes due to expired gas and electricity certificates

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Durham County Council has pledged an investigation into hundreds of HMO County Durham homes over health and safety concerns.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are properties that are shared by at least three unrelated tenants sharing a bathroom and kitchen. The majority of student housing in Durham fall under this category. However, HMOs only have to be licensed if they contain five or more beds.

HMOs are required to have regular gas and electricity safety checks with gas safety checks being done annually and electrical checks carried out every five years with a certificate being provided within 14 days.

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, there are 864 licensed HMOs in Country Durham. 115 of these have let their gas safety certificates expire and 285 have an expired electrical inspection certificate. In August, 193 had both certificates expired – over 20% of all HMOs in County Durham.

These records are updated every three months, with the most recent update taking place in November.

According to Durham University’s estimates, there are up to 8,614 bed spaces in private rentals in DH1. Assuming a student house has an average occupancy of 5, this suggests that there are over 1,700 student houses in the DH1 postcode – almost double the total HMOs recorded in the Local Democracy Reporting Service across the whole of County Durham.

“Students should not have to live in houses that play fast and loose with basic standards of safety and pose a risk to their health”

president of durham students’ union, dan lonsdale

In a statement to the BBC, Durham Students’ Union President, Dan Lonsdale, said: “Students should not have to live in houses that play fast and loose with basic standards of safety and pose a risk to their health.”

He further said that this indictive of the other poor conditions found in many student housing such as “mould” and “mites,” calling the expiration of electrical inspection certificates and gas certificates “the tip of the iceberg.”

Palatinate also reached out to the Durham Tenant’s Union for comment. They stated that the incident is “disappointing but not surprising,“ and that “these certificates are meant to serve as a bare minimum guarantee of safety, […] it is damning that they are not being properly completed by landlords.”

They continued to say that “years of cuts to councils and pro-landlord legislation has made it incredibly difficult for councils to enforce sanctions when landlords break the few rules they have to follow, and more needs to be done to hold them to account and to break their power over tenants.”

Head of Community Protection at Durham County Council, Joanne Waller, pledged further investigations into every property with an expired certificate, saying those that breach legislation or licence conditions will face “appropriate actions.”

She said that “landlords of HMOs are required to have gas appliances checked by a suitably qualified engineer every year, and electrical appliances checked every five years. It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure this requirement is met.”

It is “extremely concerning that so many HMOs in Durham seem to be missing vital safety certificates”

durham city mp, mary foy

The government have confirmed that local authorities, such as Durham County Council, have the power to fine landlords up to £30,000 if they are found to have broken the law.

Mary Foy, MP for the City of Durham, has written a letter to Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, to urge further action. She expressed that it is, “extremely concerning that so many HMOs in Durham seem to be missing vital safety certificates and in fact the certificates they need to even operate as HMOs. We can’t wait for a tragedy to occur before this issue is dealt with.”

She further wrote that “it is shocking that we are now in the position where Durham County Council is playing catch up on enforcing such critical issues as gas and electrical safety.”

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