New legislation designed to safeguard the standard of residential rental properties has recently come into effect, holding landlords to account for the state of accommodation let to tenants.
Updated guidance under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.
Whilst there are no new legal obligations for landlords under this Act, it provides tenants with more power to seek redress directly through the courts if landlords fail to meet their current responsibilities concerning property and safety.
Lettings properties should be ‘fit for human habitation’ from the beginning of and throughout a tenancy.
This legislation comes at a time when reports of poor standards of lettings properties are rife, with ‘rogue landlords’ providing substandard living conditions and tarnishing the sector UK-wide.
It is hoped that by providing tenants with more power, over and above those held by local authorities to tackle poor and illegal practices by landlords and letting agents, standards will be improved across the board.
If a landlord fails to comply with the Act
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) states that if a landlord fails to comply with the Act, then tenants may be able to take them to court for breach of contract.
If the court finds that the landlord has not provided their tenant with a home that is fit for habitation, there are two things that may happen. The court can:
● make the landlord pay compensation to their tenant
● make the landlord do the necessary works to improve their property
It’s also worth noting that while the Act allows tenants to take direct action against landlords without having to go through their local authority, local authorities still retain the power to make use of their own enforcement tools in addition, as well as assist the tenant.
“Empowering tenants to hold their landlord, including registered providers such as housing associations, to account”
– Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government
When is a property deemed unfit for human habitation?
Section 10 of the Landlord and Tenants Act 1985 says that the following issues should be considered when determining whether a property is fit for human habitation:
- Damp and mould growth
- Excess Cold
- Excess heat
- Asbestos and MMF
- Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Volatile organic compounds
- Crowding and space
- Entry by intruders
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
- Food safety (inadequate provisions)
- Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
- Water supply
- Falls (baths, between levels, level surfaces and stairs)
- Electrical hazards
- Flames, hot surfaces etc
- Collision and entrapment
- Position and operability of amenities etc
- Structural collapse and falling elements
- In relation to a dwelling in England, any prescribed hazard
The house or dwelling is regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is therefore not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.
When can you use the Act?
If you entered into your tenancy on or after 20th March 2019 then you can use the Act immediately.
If you entered into your Tenancy Agreement before 20th March 2019 then you cannot use the Act until after 20th March 2020 unless you have signed a new tenancy agreement or your tenancy becomes a monthly rolling contract.
There are also some exemptions to the act, including if the ‘unfitness’ of a property has been caused by a tenant themselves. If you are a lodger under a licence to occupy you may not be able to use the Act.
If you are a landlord, it’s worth reviewing all of your properties to ensure that you are meeting all of your requirements, and if not, seek to make the necessary changes as soon as possible.
If you are a tenant and believe that your property is not fit for purpose, whether or not you have brought this to the attention of your landlord or local authority already, you’re welcome to get in touch with our disputes team for further advice.