Tackling maintenance with technology

Mark Lowe of Pinacl Solutions discusses how housing associations can avoid costly disrepair claims with IoT technology

Claims for disrepair are on the rise, with some solicitors seeing disrepair claims doubled compared to last year. With the average disrepair claim ranging from £5,000 to £50,000, this is a real concern for many social housing providers. A new act will see landlords, of both social and privately rented housing, be held accountable of the living conditions in their properties or risk facing legal action. The Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act was given Royal Assent meaning it will be made an Act of Parliament, amending the Landlord and Tenants Act 1984. Currently, social tenants have no means to compel their landlords to carry out work, while private tenants are required to rely on council environmental health teams.

The new act will give tenants the right to take landlords to cour if the property falls below legal standards and seek an injunction to carry out work and damages. The law doesn’t introduce new standards but is a way to enforce those in the 1984 act, which includes damp caused by poor design and infestations. In 2017, the Government introduced powers to local authorities to enable them to tackle landlords who let unfit properties. These powers include fixed financial penalties of up to £30,000 and banning orders. Therefore, it is important for landlords to be aware of the living conditions inside their properties if they want to avoid legal action and hefty fines. In a minority of cases, tenants are claiming as a last resort due to genuine disrepair, but the majority of claims begin with unscrupulous ‘claim-farming’ tactics, common in the personal injury sector but now increasing in other legal areas.

Utilising technology

So how are housing associations protecting themselves against these ‘claim-farmers’? Technology can be the solution. There are many solutions that offer housing associations the ability to better manage their property health, but there are a few features that you need to look out for to ensure you are covered. New solutions allow housing associations to better document their housing management. The introduction of ‘house MOTs’ is one such unique underpin – for example, Tempus, derived from Pinacl and mould causation specialists Cornerstone features the latter’s proactive MOT system.

This key survey process is similar to a health or vehicle MOT in that it is a recognised planned or periodic assessment. The MOT is designed to provide a moisture related survey of a structure whereby, following a detailed exterior and interior assessment with any advisories noted and acted upon, a Certificate of Condition can be issued. Poor record keeping is the largest evidential failure and allows for easy picking for eagle-eyed lawyers. Look out for systems that allow you to automatically upload MOTs and Certificates of Condition, and provide the ability to keep date stamped notes about any work that has been undertaken or any communication that has been given to the tenant. This will prove essential to fight against disrepair claims.

A good solution will also offer the option for training and improving awareness on given issues – for example Cornerstone’s expertise in mould and moisture mechanics means Tempus can provide access to experts and provide training for maintenance and property teams. It can also provide likely causes of problems depending on the readings that are predicted, and provide guidance on how the housing association or landlord can action, depending on the severity of the alarm. We know from our research that around one in 10 properties have an urgent need for damp intervention which would require renovation running into tens of thousands of pounds if not detected early and acted upon. By implementing an intelligent property management system, this could help better manage your housing stock and notify your assets team to potentially problematic dwellings.

With an average family of four producing up to 14 litres of water vapour in just 24 hours, the likelihood of damp and mould is high if action isn’t taken and with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act in full force, landlords are at risk of costly legal battles, even if the tenant can be proven to be at fault. A recent study found that out of tenants who reported damp and condensation to their landlord, only 49 per cent of cases were given help, with an average wait time of 84 days to rectify the issue.

Consequently, up to 2 million renters have developed an illness as a result of living in an unfit property. However, the study also found that 20 per cent of tenants do not use the trickle vents in their double glazing, and 36 per cent admit to putting more clothes on instead of switching on the central heating, demonstrating it can indeed be tenant’s behaviour that causes these issues. Systems like Tempus record and monitor the factors that influence and drive mould, to produce data and factual alarms directly pertinent to the monitored property and adjusted to the prevailing seasonal external conditions.

The aim of remote monitoring and the associated software is to accurately report the internal conditions and, through careful consideration of the detailed influencing factors, predict resultant conditions in high risk areas in the property, such as behind furniture adjacent to north facing external walls. The system accurately reports and analyses the atmospheric conditions inside the property and aligns this data to conditions known to support and sustain mould development, with the system triggering alarms when such conditions persist. An efficient and highly advanced system should take into account several different factors which drive mould growth within a property and how the nature of the construction, its location and the occupation influence these factors.

Mark Lowe is business development director at Pinacl Solutions