Seven deadly sins of rural property management
"The ownership of country houses, land, farms and estates whilst a privilege and hugely enjoyable, does have certain issues which are serious and need to be dealt with, otherwise there is a risk of criminal prosecution or potential negligence claim."
The ownership of country houses, land, farms and estates whilst a privilege and hugely enjoyable, does have certain issues which are serious and need to be dealt with, otherwise there is a risk of criminal prosecution or potential negligence claim. We are all human and fallible therefore it makes sense to identify the key areas and consider how to diarise the appropriate action. Thus, we felt it was helpful to compile a list of ‘seven deadly sins’, this is not meant to be comprehensive and of course there is a lot more to good estate management than compliance, but we hope this acts as a useful aide memoire for areas which should be regularly reviewed.
Public and Employees Liability
Whilst this is a standard part of many insurance policies there is now widespread concern that £5m is no longer sufficient to cover serious personal injury claims. The consequences of a claim exceeding this amount are significant with the insured potentially having to cover the balance. Therefore, we now recommend that Estates consider increasing this level to £10m or more – especially where there are shooting activities, open days or other events which might increase risk or bring the general public into the main house or onto the properties.
Gas Safety Certificates
All gas appliances (boilers, cookers, heaters etc) in tenanted properties must be inspected annually by a Gas Safe Registered engineer. Not having a Gas Safety Certificate is a criminal offence, enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, as the consequences are potentially fatal. Whilst it is not a legal requirement to have an annual Gas Safety Certificate for your own property it seems strange not to do so for your own house and family. It is also important to check your contractor is Gas Safe Registered for the appliances you have instructed them to work on – they will be able to produce the necessary evidence for this if they are suitably qualified.
Electrical Safety Certificates
As a Landlord you are required to provide properties with safe electrical systems and appliances (if provided) but there is no legal requirement for an annual safety certificate. However, it is impossible to know if the property is safe without having the electrical systems checked by a registered competent person and any recommended alterations to the system carried out. We advise that this should be done every five years in order to ensure the system is safe and reduce (or hopefully remove) the risk of serious electrical shock or fire.
Tree Safety Surveys
It is inevitable that at some point a tree will fall over or a branch will break; but you are at risk of criminal prosecution in the event of a tree causing damage or injury to another person or their property. A Tree Safety Survey demonstrates a proactive and competent approach to minimising this risk as a qualified arboriculturalist will have checked trees are not in a dead, dying or dangerous condition. Trees which are closest to roads, footpaths and public rights of way (which pose the greatest risk) will be given the highest priority. The trees should then be checked regularly by a competent person and the report updated frequently by an expert.
Health and Safety Policy Statements
Whilst it is not a legal requirement to have a health and safety policy in place for domestic staff it is essential that garden and estate staff can rely on a robust health and safety policy and it seems sensible to include domestic staff within such a review. We generally recommend that an external consultant be instructed to carry out the initial review and draft policy statements but after this the day to day management can often be done in house. It is important to realise that an appropriate health and safety policy can actually save time, as well as prevent injuries, in addition to ensuring the property owner can demonstrate what steps were taken to minimise or remove risks.
Many insurance policies require chimneys to be swept at least once a year – especially where the property is thatched. In let properties tenancy agreements often require the tenant to carry this out but ultimately it is for the property owner to ensure the chimney is swept. Whilst a properly maintained property with an open fire, wood burning stove, gas/oil boiler etc should not require a carbon monoxide detector it is advisable for one to be fitted to ensure that occupants are safe as problems can remain undetected until it is too late.
The scope for pollution on rural property from petrol/diesel/oil/septic tanks (not to mention diffuse pollution from agricultural activities) is enormous with numerous historic tanks and treatment systems in place – often close to waterways and sometimes designed (historically) to overflow. Causing water pollution is against the law and the cost of any fine and/or environmental clear up following a pollution incident can be extremely high. Whilst insurance can be taken out this is often subject to regular checks being carried out and, as always, prevention is far better than cure.
Good practice and effective management are essential for the proper running of houses and rural estates and the necessary administration need not be complicated. It might be an automated diary system, a regular audit or a combination of the two. Savills assist many clients with all aspects of this, including cost benchmarking.