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Leasehold earth connection: who’s responsible?

V Thein wrote in to ask:

If a leasehold flat is not connected to the incoming earth, who is responsible for connecting it: the landlord or the leaseholder?

This is not as straightforward a question as it might appear, because it depends to an extent on what sort of earth connection is possible. This in turn depends on where the property is, and how the mains supply reaches it.

Types of earth connection

There are three types of earth connection commonly in use for domestic installations in the UK:

TN–S (earth neutral separate): This is probably the most common installation, where the distributor (the electricity company) provides separate earth and neutral connections back to the substation.

TN–C–S (earth neutral combined/separate): In this variation on TN–S, the electricity supplier provides a combined earth and neutral connection, but separates them at the point where they enter the domestic installation. This type of installation is also known as PME, or Protective Multiple Earthing.

T–T (earth to earth): In this type of installation, the electricity company does not provide an earth connection at all—usually because the distributor cannot guarantee the connection back to the substation, for example where the power cables are run overhead to the property and there’s a risk of the earth becoming disconnected somehow or even getting stolen. Earthing has to be provided locally by connection to the ground, using earth rods, earth plates or perhaps underground structural metalwork where this exists.

So who’s responsible?

In the case of the first two types of installation, responsibility for providing an earth connection to the consumer unit (fusebox) lies with the electricity company, and there should already be an earthing block present.

In the case of the T–T earth connection, responsibility lies with the consumer, not with the electricity supplier. So unless the terms of the lease explicitly state that the landlord is responsible for ensuring the electrical supply, the presumption has to be that the leaseholder (ie the person who’s actually consuming the electricity) is responsible for it—and thus for ensuring that the earth connection meets BS 7671, the IEE Wiring Regulations. Having said that, it’s quite common (especially in the case of council housing) for the landlord to be responsible for all communal wiring, but for the leaseholder to be responsible for the wiring which serves only their own part of the building.

If you’re in a leasehold flat, then your best bet is probably to check first of all to see what your lease says, if anything; and then to check with other leaseholders to see what their earthing arrangements are. If their earth connections are supplied by the electricity company, then in all likelihood yours should be too and you should take it up with the company. Otherwise, it may be that there’s a communal earth plate or rod (or set of rods) and it may be as simple as getting an electrician to provide a connection to the communal earth wiring.

NB: electrical work of this nature MUST be notified to your local authority’s Building Control Department and the work certified by a Competent Person. In the case of a leasehold flat, with the obvious potential liability towards other leaseholders as well as the freeholder, we STRONGLY recommend that you get a firm that’s a member of a Competent Person scheme to do the work.