Cottage turns out to be majorly inefficient plus boiler fitted we can’t afford. Advice needed

Hi All,

We’ve been so uncomfortable this winter we really need some advice on how best to resolve the lack of heat and insulation at the cottage we are renting.

When we looked around the property almost a year ago we didn’t think to tap walls or count radiators. Our spacious 2 bed cottage turned out to have just four radiators and there isn’t one in the large open plan living space of bathroom downstairs. There’s a heated towel rail but it doesn’t distribute heat. There’s a small fan heater c.1980 on the wall, it helps but takes ten mins to heat the cold room.

Since I’ve updated the bathroom decoratively, removed tiles and replastered I’ve discovered half the wall is hollow and merely a piece of plasterboard. It’s hollow behind with a cavity of 6’ and it’s dripping wet behind and black with mould growing on gloss paint applied to the inside of the limestone external wall. So, there’s no insulation at all. Before I filled a hole a draft of wind passed my legs as I sat on the loo! The floor is concrete with a lino on top. The floor has a huge hole in it and there’s a piece of chip board making up the water tank cupboard floor where it’s hollow right down into the buildings foundations below.

The walls throughout are a single skim on top of limestone. The outside had no damp proof coursing so rising damp is causing mould in the living room, it’s growing considerably behind the kitchen worktops and making its way up the walls. The floor in the living room is stone but it isnt heated - with no radiators in there the floor with the wet stone walls combined makes the space unbearably cold. The landlord has instructed us to wear ‘good slippers and to rely on the log burner’ for heat. The log burner tbh doesn’t do much to fight the cold temp.

Above the bathroom you go upstairs and there’s a landing again with no radiator. It’s the size of a single bedroom. The condensation is so bad the windows are covered in water and makes the outside view invisible. Black mould grows on the window frames. Overall upstairs there’s a gross damp smell - assume it’s the damp stone and single skim/lack of insulation. We have thick interlinked curtains and wool blankets and wall tapestries but it doesn’t help with living upstairs. There’s no insulation under the floorboards, we realise this because the old torn carpet was removed when the landlady fitted a new boiler just a week or two after we moved in. The boiler is the next story…

We didn’t know when we looked at the property and signed the agreement that a new boiler would be installed. We weren’t told the old one wasn’t working either. A 9kw electric boiler has been installed and the first one broke and then we had to wait for the second to replace it. We had no heating for a while which the landlord compensated us for. However, the engineer who fitted the system said to discuss it with our landlord because the system is really expensive. We wrote to them and outlined everything the engineer said and expressed that we couldn’t afford the calculated cost he helped us work out. The landlord argued and wasn’t open to changing the system even though it kept breaking down. With little evidence to back up their claim they just told us it wouldn’t cost very much however, we’ve just received our first electric bill for the boiler and it’s nearly 350.00 for the first month alone. I’m going to send a screen shot of the statement and we think we’ll turn the system off and avoid using it and resort to oil radiators to plug in instead. I asked for an EPC rating in an email but it was ignored. Does anyone have any advice for this situation?

We can’t afford to move, it’s all been way too stressful during covid and we are just getting our businesses going. Ideally we just need the cottage issues addressed. It would be great to at least have a warm bathroom.

Thanks in advance.

The EPC has to be made available to potential tenants at the VIEWING stage for this very situation. If you only moved in a year ago, and were never shown an EPC, then you should have a strong position to make a claim. Did you have sight of it or not? I am not sure how this property was advertised but often it is included as one of the photos of the property. On the other hand, if they did give you one and it was poorly rated like a G, then you won’t have much of a case as it is evidence that you knew what you were signing up to.

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this place sounds as if it needs major work. I have lived in an old mill with stone walls .it took a lot of work to insulate it . You say you have a woodburner. I also had one .Fantastic heat . I had to leave the lounge door open. Use dry pallet wood, I used to collect old pallets free and cut them up. Electric is way too dear. No EPC is a major problem for your landlord Suggest you move

Hi Graham,

Thanks for your response. We were never shown an EPC. Naive, we didn’t even think of it and hadn’t ever had one before having rented warm flats in London since forever.

On the advert it states ‘NO EPC as listed.’ I don’r recall seeing this before which is strange. I asked the landlady a month or so ago if info on the new boiler cost she was sending over would include the EPC and she ignored by comment.We are genuinely worried about asking as we can’t afford to move and worry she’ll get funny. But we are freezing. Tricky position.

The landlord is obliged to give you a copy of the EPC at the start of the tenancy and has broken the law by not doing so. If the cottage is listed then it may be exempt, but otherwise you should download the EPC from the online register. If its below an E then the landlord has broken another law by letting it to you.

You can get the local Environmental Health team involved by contacting the Council. They can inspect and force the landlord to act. If the landlord refuses to help now, you should definitely do that.

So what the landlord is saying is that the building is listed or protected in a conservation zone and hence they don’t need to get an EPC for it and can rent it out in whatever energy-consuming condition it is in without improvements. Read this, in particular the “when is an EPC not required” section, and then check with the council whether or not the property actually is listed, normally you can do this quickly by looking at nearby planning applications or on rightmove at the details of other nearby properties for sale:

If it really is listed / conservation zone then I guess not much you can do in terms of the energy efficiency, the mould might be a different case. This listed status could also explain why there is no gas connection and you have to use an electric boiler, for which £350 is probably not unreasonable as the cost has shot up and you need to compare it to the cost of gas plus electricity, not electricity alone.

Assuming that the property is genuinely exempt, which could be checked, that doesn’t absolve the landlord of their responsibilities under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, (HHSRS). The property must have adequate heating and the Council can enforce this, so as I said, start with demands to the landlord and escalate to Environmental Health if necessary.

It seems to me that you will get nowhere with this, so might be time to call it quits, chalk it up to experience, and move on, life is too short. Your objection is that the heating is inefficient, not insufficient, so you won’t be able to do anything under HHSRS because the landlord can easily switch on all the heating, light the log burner and show that the house hits the minimum temperatures, the problem is the cost, but as it is exempt from EPC then you won’t be able to do anything as it is EPC that governs efficiency and cost. The only thing might be the mould but I am guessing that if the mould was solved you still wouldn’t want to live there. The landlord can use the listed status to delay and frustrate ad infinitum, so do you really care that much? Lots of other places around that probably suit you better.

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You can check if it does have an EPC, or whether other buildings around do, here: Find an energy certificate - GOV.UK

On reflection, I agree with Graham above. The issue will be the cost of heating not the absence of it.