The death of DIY

Need to fix a tenant's wiring? Better call the professionals, says Chris Partridge
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The Independent Online

Ever-tightening safety legislation is forcing cost-conscious landlords to turn to the professionals. It could mean the end of the time-honoured route to riches by buying a wreck and doing it up for renting.

But it is not only buy-to-let landlords who are rejecting DIY - the overall market dropped by four per cent last year, cutting profits at B&Q by two thirds. Everyone, it seems, is now into GSI (Getting Someone In).

The most important new regulations are on electrical safety, known as Part P. It is no longer acceptable for landlords to do any electrical work beyond trivial stuff like replacing a single socket with a double, without getting official approval of the new installation. Suitably qualified electricians can certify their own work, but everyone else has to get the OK from local authority inspectors at a cost of at least £80.

Chris Town, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, knows the problems well - he is both a landlord and a qualified electrician himself. "I did a course this week to allow me to certify my own work, but for ordinary landlords to become qualified electricians would be quite an experience because the regulatory bodies check up on you every year," he says. "It is as stringent now as Corgi is with gas."

Landlords who think they can just do the work and claim it was like that when they bought the property may be in for a shock, Town says. "Coincidentally, they have just changed the colour codes for mains cables, so new work will be easily identifiable. An electrician who failed to notify authorities of some new work recently was fined £16,000."

Many DIY landlords flout the law where the size of the project seems minimal, Town says. "Any structural alteration may need planning permission and building-regulations approval, which people generally ignore for small jobs," he says. "Although they have not made plumbing a notifiable installation yet, that is only a matter of time."

Landlord awareness of the building regulations is not helped by the DIY superstores that stock all the equipment and materials for major building works without any indication that their use may be illegal, Town says. Perhaps electrical cable should have a health and safety warning printed on it.

Because landlords are in business, they can be caught by regulations that apply to professionals but not to ordinary householders. Even simple chores, such as taking rubbish to the council tip, are subject to controls. "Not many landlords know that removing rubbish that tenants leave behind when they move out counts as trade waste, and is illegal to move without a waste transfer licence," Town says. "If you move it in a car you will probably get away with it but if you have a van you may be stopped by a roadside check and prosecuted."

It is enough to make a landlord think of getting in a letting agent and passing all the problems on to them. Needless to say, Malcolm Harrison of the Association of Residential Letting Agents agrees heartily. They know the regulatory minefield and can guide buy-to-let landlords through it, he says: "Forty-five per cent of landlords go through regulated agents, which tend to cover their backs by insisting on the work being done properly and with the relevant certificates."

Often, letting agents have to pick up the pieces when a landlord's DIY goes horribly wrong. Mark Kraven of Faron Sutaria in Notting Hill Gate recalls: "We had some tenants who asked the landlord to organise someone to clear the leaves and get a cracked pane.

"The landlord decided to clean and fix it himself," Kraven says. "His hand slipped and he fell through the roof and ended not only with a broken wrist but also costs coming to just over a grand!"

Nik Madan of the estate agent John D Wood believes that a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but too much knowledge may be positively bonkers. "A landlord we had was not keen on forking out £60 a year for the inspection of each gas installation so he got a Corgi qualification so he could certify himself," Madan says. "The ventilation was not up to scratch so he had to condemn his own installation. His tenants couldn't move in for two weeks."