Responsibility for the maintenance of gas, electricity, communal aerials etc., changes at different points from being the suppliers responsibility to a common responsibility, and then to an individual responsibility. But perhaps the greatest problem arises when individuals fail to take care of their own installations.

Gas

The gas pipes, up to the emergency control valve (ECV) to your flat, are the responsibility of the gas supplier. Between the main supply in the street and the supply to your building will be the inlet isolation valve which authorised persons are allowed to use. Your meter should be near the ECV.

All installation pipework beyond the ECV, such as that leading to a cooker, boiler, or water heater, is the responsibility of the owner.

If you have any work done to gas pipework or appliances within your home, it must be performed by a Gas Safe registered installer or engineer.

If you smell gas, turn off the supply at the ECV if possible, open all the doors and windows, ensure that no sources of ignition are used, and call the National Gas Emergency hotline on 0800 111 999.

Gas flues

All the gas appliances in your flat – boiler or gas fires – produce potentially noxious gases in use and these must be vented outside the flat. The flues which do this may be vertical (using a chimney) or horizontal (a pipe knocked through a wall). Check that horizontal flue outlets have not damaged the structure when they are knocked through walls.

Flue liners can fail, so get them checked regularly for:

  • failure of the liner
  • improperly sized flues
  • insufficient draught for complete combustion or to expel combustion gases
  • water vapour condensing in the flue, potentially causing dampness
  • build up of combustion particulates on the liner that may have a corrosive effect

Some gas appliances draw fresh air from the room, so you must ensure that some fresh air gets in to replace the air that is used by the appliance.

Electricity

Electricity comes into your building via a service cable to the distribution board and overload protection. From this, there will be a landlord supply unit, providing the supply for close lighting etc. Internal supply cables (laterals) rise and branch off to each flat’s meter. From the meter to the flat, installations are the owner’s responsibility. Connected to the meter will be the meter tails. These lead to a fuse board or consumer unit, containing the main switch to shut off power throughout the flat, and fuses or miniature circuit breakers (MCBs) which protect the various electrical circuits within the flat.

If you get any electrical installation work carried out, you must get the work checked by a registered electrician.

Water supply

The water supply will come to your property via a stopcock or toby (where it connects to the street mains). The supply creates the rising main, and branches off to each flat, normally to a stopcock. You should know where this is, so you can turn your water off in an emergency. Look by your kitchen sink.

The rising main may still feed a cold water storage tank in the loft which supplies hot water cylinders, wash basins, and other sanitary appliances.

Burst pipes

Burst or leaking pipes may be due to damage, fatigue, or freezing. Internally, look out for obvious signs of dampness or water, and sounds of hissing or dripping. Prevention is the best cure for freezing damage, so keep heating on low and insulate pipework, especially in unheated spaces.

If a burst does occur, turn off the incoming supply at the stopcock (see above), turn on all the cold water taps (but not hot water) to drain down remaining water in the system before contacting a plumber for an emergency repair. If the problem continues, you may have to close off the water at the incoming toby in the street. You need a water key to do this. It’s good to have a communal water key and for everyone to know where it is. The key only needs to be given a quarter turn to switch off the water.

Externally, areas of flooding and ponding, or greener areas of grass, may indicate a leak from the incoming water supply.

Legionella

If you do not keep you water tanks clean, you may create the right environment for Legionella bacteria to flourish. This is a potentially fatal infection. Landlords, even people renting just one room, are legally responsible for controlling Legionella. You could be found guilty of a criminal offence if you do not do so.

You should arrange regular inspection of water storage tanks and cleaning, where sludge, rust, or other debris has accumulated.

Who pays?

Pipes from the toby to the where the pipes enter the flat are normally common repairs. After that, pipes are an individual responsibility.

Noise from service pipes

Service ducts are often only boxed in with plasterboard or ply panels, with no additional noise insulation. There are two main options here:

  • cover the existing duct with mineral wool batt and apply a second boxing of two layers of plasterboard
  • remove the existing duct covering, wrap the pipes with 50mm of mineral wool, then rebuild the duct with two layers of high density plasterboard

Water hammer

Water hammer is a high pressure shockwave that occurs in water pipes when a tap or valve suddenly stops the water flow, causing pipes to shudder and make a banging noise. Whilst the noise is annoying, over time the shockwave can damage pipework, causing them to fail. Ensuring pipework is well-secured and supported, valves are in good condition, or fitting a water hammer arrestor valve may help to prevent this occurring.

Gaps around pipe runs

Gaps where pipes or ducts pass through the floors need to be fire protected to ensure fire does not melt plastic pipes and pass through floors. Plastic pipes above 60mm diameter that pass through floors should have intumescent fire collars around them to seal the pipe void in the event of a fire. Intumescent material expands in the event of a fire and seals any gap.

Close lighting
Door entry systems

This consists of, at the street end:

  • a self-closing mechanism on the door
  • intercom panel
  • electric strike to release the door

In the flat:

  • internal handset/video link
  • release button

There will often be a service button to allow refuse collectors and postmen easier access during set hours.

Electricity for the intercom and electric strike will come from the landlord’s supply.

Better security is provided if the close door opens outwards, as this means the door cannot be ‘booted in’. Magnetic locks also get around the problem of mechanical failure or people damaging the locking mechanism.

Communal aerials and satellite dishes

Communal aerials and satellite prevent the need for a multitude of fixings to chimneys and disfiguring satellite dishes.

The communal aerial will be powered from the landlord’s supply, but it is now possible to get solar power systems to power satellite dishes.

Installation of a communal aerial system is an improvement and will need agreement from all owners. Once installed, maintenance is a common responsibility.

Why ventilate the close?

You may have a natural ventilation system in your close – warm, moist air rises and gets vented out, allowing fresh air to enter. If the warm moist air cannot get out, it will condense on the skylight, causing condensation dampness.

This is why it is important to be able to open your close windows.

Communal ventilation stacks

When some flats were modernised 20 or 30 years ago, communal ventilation stacks were provided to remove damp air from bathrooms and kitchens. Many of these have fallen into disuse as the mechanical fans needed to run them broke down. But check that no flats have attached their own fans to the stacks.

Professional help recommended?

Although the work may appear straightforward, ensure your builder or tradespeople have the skills for the job. If in any doubt, get professional help to specify and organise the repair.

Who pays?

Check each service element above to see where responsibility for each service transfers from the providers to the owners.

For other services, maintenance of the parts which serves the whole building is a common responsibility. If the part serves only some flats then it may be mutual responsibility. Any branch serving only one flat is individual.

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