There are only a few days to go before “The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018” comes into force on 20 March 2019. The government has now published detailed guidance notes for landlords, tenants and local authorities – se below.
The Act covers England and Wales but in practice the changes apply only to England. The Act amends the existing “fitness for human habitation” rules in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
The Act covers all tenancies of less than seven years in length in both the social and private rented sectors and includes periodic tenancies and the legacy pre-1988 regulated tenancies.
According to the 2015/2016 English Housing survey, the number of properties with a Category 1 hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), which is defined as a “serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety” are: Social: 244,122 and Private: 794,600
The Bill updates a clause in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requiring all rented homes to be ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start of the tenancy and to remain so throughout. The clause was outdated due to its reference to antiquated rent levels (£80/year in London, £52/year elsewhere).
In determining whether a house is ‘unfit’, the Bill incorporates the hazards enshrined in the Housing HHSRS and now adds them to the 9 original fitness categories. The updated “fitness standard” includes some issues not currently covered by a landlord’s legal repair responsibilities, including damp caused by design defects (for example lack of ventilation) rather than just disrepair, and infestation, such as rodents, insects, bed bugs etc.
Recent fire tragedies which have prompted this revision of the legislation provide a stark reminder of the dangers of unsafe accommodation. Lack of proper standards and enforcement have clearly demonstrated the terrible consequences of letting properties which are intrinsically unsafe.
What is Unfit for Human Habitation?
A rental property will be considered “unfit for human habitation” if there are serious defects in any of the following: General Repair, Stability of the building structure, Freedom from damp; Internal arrangement; Natural lighting; Ventilation; Water supply; Drainage and sanitary conveniences; Facilities provided for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water.
In almost all circumstances the landlord will be held responsible for the condition of the rental property, apart from where it can be shown that damage or disrepair has been caused by the tenants’ behaviour.
Currently many councils across England claim that their housing and environmental health officers are overstretched. It’s a long and time consuming process so their efforts to investigate and evidence poor conditions in all instances often fail to bring all rogue landlords to book – to take legal action.
This legislation therefore is designed to give tenants living in poor conditions a practical route to improve conditions themselves without relying on local authority resources. Tenants, both private and social, will be empowered to take their landlord to court where the property is not fit – they will be able to apply directly to the court for an injunction to compel a landlord to carry out works, or for damages (compensation) for the landlord’s failure to keep the property in good repair.
The legislation is in-line with the government’s consumer rights agenda and its commitment to intervene in markets that are failing consumers. To take their own enforcement action tenants may use an independent surveyor’s report or they may apply directly to the court using their own evidence, such as photographic evidence or disrepair.
The majority of private landlords who responsibly fulfil their duties will be unaffected by this new legislation. However, landlords should be aware that spurious claims can be contentious and without good evidence, such as an independent inventory at the start of every tenancy, they could find themselves vulnerable to a false claim.
The government (MHCLG) has published detailed guidance notes for tenants, landlords and local authorities on the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.