Understanding the New Landlord Safety Rules in Scotland

Clan Gordon has hit out at the latest changes to safety regulations that private landlords must comply with or risk prosecution.

The government-issued Repairing Standard Guidance sets repair requirements for landlords in Scotland’s private sector with the latest revisions due to become law on 1 March 2024.

But Jonathan Gordon, Managing Director of Clan Gordon letting agent, which manages more than 650 rental properties across the city, describes the latest regulations as having ‘major flaws’.

Mr Gordon says two of the requirements – to replace lead water pipes and install electrical safety equipment – have either changed with not enough time to get the work done or are unclear on precisely what work needs completing to meet the criteria.

Clan Gordon is now lobbying the Scottish Government to push back the deadline so landlords can get clarity on the rules, which also include new requirements on food preparation spaces, fixed heating systems and common doors.

New guidelines are ‘a logistical nightmare’

Mr Gordon said: “There are two major problems with the new guidance on lead pipework – guidance which was not even in the first iteration of the guidance when it came out in March 2023.

“They state that water supply pipes in privately rented homes need to be free of lead from the boundary stopcock to the kitchen tap. In a house, that’s something you can often easily identify and changing the pipes doesn’t cause a lot of disruption. However, legislation says there must be no lead solder or fittings either, which means, because lead solder continued to be used legally until 1987 and illegally after that time, you still can’t be sure it is lead-free because lead solder looks identical to lead-free solder.

“In tenement buildings built prior to 1970 the communal main risers – the vertical pipes that allow fresh water to rise from lower floors to upper floors – will invariably be made from lead. So, replacing these will be a logistical nightmare.

‘No grants available to help with cost’

“They’re often embedded in bathroom walls which would mean ripping those out in every property and running a new mains riser up the stairwell. That’s a significant, disruptive, time-consuming job, with no local council grants available to help with the cost. Who can get that done in four weeks?

“Our view is that landlords, especially in older tenement buildings, are heavily penalised by this new rule. We feel the rules on lead in water should be part of the Tolerable Standard so that all owners are required to comply. Not only is the government trying to get landlords to solve a problem affecting the whole community, but they are making it unlikely to have any impact on the amount of lead as it will be virtually impossible in most tenements to get common agreement. Our clients already find it almost impossible to get common agreement on important shared repairs such as leaking roofs or unsafe stonework let alone an expensive improvement like this.”

Further clarity needed on water testing procedures

Mr Gordon has also challenged the testing procedures for lead in water. Previous guidance asked tenants to not use their water supply for 30 minutes before drawing a sample for testing. But re-issued guidance removed this stipulation and instead says to follow instructions from the testing labs which typically recommend a period of 12 hours with no usage before taking the sample.

He added: “Quite apart from the fact that they can’t practically ask everyone in a tenement block to not fill a kettle or flush their toilet for 12 hours, if the tester has previously used the old guidance and drawn a sample after 30 minutes, there is a chance it has given a false result and will need retesting.

“So, tenants looking to protect their children from the harmful effects of lead may take false comfort from the standard and not filter their water or take other precautions they otherwise might have.

“No matter what process we follow to try and ensure clients’ properties are compliant with the standard, surely the Scottish Government must accept that this is impossible to achieve in a few weeks? Scottish Water is unable to take samples in bulk due to workload. The council-owned lab is closed for two weeks in February.”

New guidance on electrical circuit breakers

The new guidance also compels landlords to install one or more residual current devices (RCDs) in properties to reduce the risk of electrocution and fire. RCDs quickly shut the power supply down if they detect a problem.

Mr Gordon, a qualified chartered surveyor, said: “It is good to have some fresh guidance on RCDs as the rules were very vague on them before. However, we have spent the last six months checking 600-plus electrical safety certificates to determine which properties don’t have the single RCD which was the specified requirement in the original guidance.

“But with four weeks to go, the guidance changed to say that, as a minimum, there must be one RCD on the socket circuits. This means we must go back through the 236 properties that were ‘compliant’ by virtue of having at least one RCD, to try and discover which of those don’t have an RCD on the socket circuit specifically – and have that actioned by 1 March.

“Even that’s not clear though – it seems to be down to whichever electrician you bring in to decide whether you’re compliant.

“No-one is saying these regulations are not a good idea but it’s essential that standards and guidance are clear and unambiguous. Although the re-issued guidance is now less ambiguous, the government must accept that the date the standard comes into effect must be moved from 1 March 2024.

“I do hope that future changes to these standards will follow a sensible consultation exercise which includes the relevant experts. In the meantime, we will continue to lobby government on these flawed and unworkable rules.”

If you are looking for a supportive letting agent prepared to advocate on your behalf to ensure compliance, schedule a call with one of our property management experts.