Serving gas safety certificates correctly

A recent court case has highlighted the importance of serving gas safety certificates correctly. While things turned out in the landlord’s favour on this occasion, it shows how much of a headache these seemingly minor administrative duties can cause if landlords don’t carry them out to the letter.

What actually happened?

Tenant Patricia Rouncefield moved into a property in February 2017. The flat had a valid gas safety certificate when she moved in, but she wasn’t given a copy of it until November of that year.

In May of 2018, her landlord, Trecarrell House Ltd, attempted to evict Ms Rouncefield with a Section 21 notice. She argued that they couldn’t do this because they hadn’t issued a valid gas safety certificate before she moved in, as they were required to do. The judge initially dismissed this defence and granted the possession order, but an appeal subsequently came out in her favour – ruling that failure to provide a gas safety certificate at the correct time was not something that could be remedied, so the landlord couldn’t evict her using Section 21.

A further appeal, which concluded on 18 June 2020, ruled in favour of the landlord. The judgement was that failing to provide a gas safety certificate before a tenant moves in doesn’t invalidate a Section 21 notice, so long as the valid certificate is provided at some point before the Section 21 is issued.

There was a separate question about whether the February 2018 gas safety certificate was issued to the tenant after the inspection, and this remains disputed. 

What does the ruling mean for landlords?

Broadly, it’s good news for landlords, because it means they’re not completely up the creek if they forget to provide the tenant with the gas safety certificate at the correct time then later want to regain possession of their property. Under the original appeal ruling (and a previous ruling in a different case), a landlord could have been unable to ever issue a Section 21 notice, simply on account of an administrative oversight that potentially took place years earlier.

This could have been a huge problem for landlords wanting to sell, renovate or move back into their property, and could also potentially have left landlords considerably more out of pocket in instances where tenants had stopped paying rent.

What other points are worth considering?

The important thing to remember in this case is that the property did have an up-to-date gas safety certificate – though the landlord didn’t provide it to the tenant at the correct time. It’s not clear whether things would have come out in the landlord’s favour if the property had not been certified gas safe before the tenant moved in.

The case is also set in the context of much wider discussions around the abolition of Section 21 evictions. The government remains committed to this, but reiterated in June that the legislation will not be rushed. Industry bodies have pointed out that many Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions are actually in response to rent arrears or other issues, but that landlords use Section 21 because it’s the quickest (and often the cheapest) way of regaining possession. Improving the alternative methods of regaining possession will hopefully form a key part of the new Renters’ Reform Bill. 

What are the correct processes for serving gas safety certificates?

Interesting as this case is, of course, the best thing would have been for the landlord to issue the gas safety certificate correctly in the first place.

Gas safety inspections need to be carried out at least annually, though under new rules introduced in 2018, you can get the inspection done up to two months before the previous certificate expires while still preserving the same renewal date. The inspections must be carried out by a registered Gas Safe engineer.

Existing tenants should be given a copy of the new certificate within 28 days of the inspection, and new tenants should be provided with the current certificate before they move in. This is usually presented in a package of paperwork that also includes things like the energy performance certificate (EPC), the government’s checklist for renting, and deposit scheme information if applicable. If you run a house in multiple occupation (HMO), you may have to submit the gas safety certificate to the council, either on demand or routinely as part of your licence admin. 

The latest ruling will be a relief to many landlords, but it also shows how much trouble can potentially be saved by making sure that paperwork like gas safety certificates, EPCs and now electrical installation condition reports (EICRs) are provided to the tenant at the right time.

Disclaimer: Ezylet is not qualified to give legal or financial advice. Any information shared in the above blog is an opinion based on personal experiences within the property rental sector, and should never be construed as legal or professional advice.

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