HOMEOWNERS planning to cash in when Royal Ascot comes to York have been warned they could be jailed if they forget vital home safety checks.

People hoping to line their pockets during the festival by renting out their homes risk breaking the law, and may even wind up behind bars if they fail to follow strict guidelines, safety experts warned today.

British Gas issued the alert after hundreds of homes in the York area flooded the letting market ahead of next June's five-day showcase.

But the gas company said any welcome windfall could turn sour unless letters secured a gas safety certificate.

In a worst case scenario, residents who fall foul of the law risk being jailed for manslaughter or being hit by a huge fine, if temporary tenants are caught up in a gas or carbon monoxide scare.

Chris Bielby, head of quality and standards at British Gas, said: "People who rent their homes out - even for just one week a year - may be unaware of the fact that this makes them a landlord.

"They are therefore bound by legislation which says that they must have a Landlords' Safety Record to cover any gas appliances in the dwelling."

He added: "The law says all gas appliances in a property which is let out for money must be checked for safety once a year and a Landlords' Safety Record produced for the tenants or displayed in the property.

"Gas appliances must also be maintained in a safe condition."

Mr Bielby said that although the risk of an incident occurring was "extremely unlikely", particularly in hot weather, it was not worth risking a conviction for the sake of a relatively small outlay starting at about £20.

British Gas said Landlords' Safety Records are available, following an inspection, from any CORGI registered engineer.

British Gas also recommends that a full service of all appliances is carried out as well as the safety check. Failure to produce a Landlords' Safety Record can lead to a fine. In cases where a tenant dies as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty gas appliance, the landlord could be convicted of manslaughter.

David Hopwood, branch manager of Countrywide Residential Lettings, York, said legally he had to inform all landlords about the gas safety certificate.

"Every property that's rented out needs one," he said. "If it does not have one we would not rent it out. We're advising people to get one even if it's for one day or one year - it's the law."

Updated: 09:49 Tuesday, June 15, 2004