Uninhabitable Premises. My tenanted property is flooded. What are my legal obligations in this situation? Am I obliged to re-house my tenant? Must my tenant continue to pay rent?
Landlords are under a general obligation to supply property in tenant able condition for the tenant to inhabit – see Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) covered by the Housing Act 2004.
However, circumstances can arise due to say fire or floods where a property in otherwise good tenantable condition may become uninhabitable in whole or in part during the tenancy.
Ideally, every residential tenancy agreement should have a clause which says that rent, or fair proportion of it, is not payable if the property becomes uninhabitable, in whole or in part, unless the damage is caused by the actions of the tenant.
There also needs to be a clause giving either party the right to terminate the tenancy at short notice if the property is likely to be uninhabitable for any length of time.
Landlords / agents should also ensure that there is adequate insurance cover for this sort of situation. Most landlord policies will provide for loss of rent payment whilst a property is affected, or for a certain specified period of time, and some will pay for affected tenants to be re-housed.
Landlords should check their policies on these points – it may well be worthwhile paying a little more in premiums to ensure you are adequately covered, as premiums are tax deductile.
However, due to the increasing incidence of flooding, and especially where a property is known to be at risk, it is likely that insurance companies will be increasingly reluctant to provide full cover in these situations.
In the case of an obligation to provide alternative or temparary accommodation, this is something of a “grey area”. On the one hand there’s an assumption that the landlord has taken on the responisibility to house the tenant/s for the duration of their tenancy, as long as they fulfil the tenancy conditions. On the other hand landlords cannot be held responsible for an “Act of God”. Force Majeure is normally a legitimate reason for non-performance of a legal contract and again ideally the tenancy agreement should address this.
Landlords may feel a moral obligation to re-house, but they are not charties and indeed their own financial situations may not allow it. Also, it may not be possible to find alternative accommodation in some areas of flooding.
If the landlord finds himself with adequate insurance cover which allows for loss of rent and/or alternative accommodation cover, then fine. Alternatively, he can try to find alternatives whilst still insisting on collecting the rent, or arrange for rent to be paid directly to the new landlord.
Agents need to bear in mind FSA regulations prevent them form making a claim or form handling if they do not have the appropriate registration.
Note: never rely totally on these standard answers. Before taking action or not, always seek professional advice with the full facts of the case and all documents to hand. LandlordZONE.co.uk