As the introduction of new energy efficiency regulations moves closer, landlords are being urged to check the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings of their rental properties.
From April 1 2018, landlords will no longer be able to agree new lets or renew tenancies for properties with an EPC rating below an E-.
The legislation will be extended to all non-exempt domestic rental properties from April 1, 2020, including pre-existing tenancies.
Estimates for the number of rental properties that are currently rated below an E- range from one in six to one in 12.
A legal expert is now urging landlords to improve EPC ratings in 2017 in order to avoid 'huge problems' next year.
"I have serious concerns that many landlords may be completely unaware that their properties could fall below the new minimum legal requirements for energy efficiency standards in England and Wales," says Danielle Hughes, solicitor at law firm Kirwans.
Landlords found to be letting 'sub-standard' property after April 1 next year could be fined up to £5,000 for non-compliance. Offending landlords will also be required to bring the property up to the required standard.
Hughes confirms that the legislation covers self-contained flats and bedsits within properties which already have an EPC.
There are a number of exemptions, which include buildings officially protected as part of a designated environment or because of their special architectural historical merit, temporary buildings with a planned timed use of two years or less, residential buildings which are intended to be used less than four months of the year, and standalone buildings with a total usable floor area of less than 50 square metres.
Online letting agent Urban's Landlord Knowledge Survey - which canvassed the views of almost 4,000 buy-to-let investors - recently revealed that as many as 20% of participants are unware of existing EPC regulations and 17% are unaware of the changes taking place in 2018.
“Some properties may only need a couple of tweaks to bring them in line, while others may require substantial works, which come at a cost," says Hughes.
"Landlords have to balance this work against the risk of them being in breach of the legislation and facing a criminal conviction and penalty fine."
Hughes says landlords can ensure they are compliant by undertaking a careful assessment and setting an appropriate plan of action over the next 12 months.
"Planning now will also have the obvious benefits of spreading the cost and making sure that the relevant third party contractors are available to undertake any necessary work," she adds.
“Before scheduling a visit from a Domestic Energy Assessor, landlords should spend some time looking at the different methods of improving their property’s energy efficiency rating and chose which is right for them.”
Hughes suggests that improving heating, insulation and lighting and installing double glazing and draft-proof doors and windows are five of the most effective ways to increase a property's EPC rating.