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Tenants can sue landlords for cold or damp homes under new laws


New rules that came into force in March allow tenants to sue landlords for issues like cold and damp. A broken heating system or poor ventilation that leads to damp conditions could now leave landlords in hot water. If the property owner doesn't carry out the required repairs or doesn't complete them within the right timescale, the tenant will have the option to take them to court. If this happens, the judge will then be able to issue an injunction which compels the landlord to the necessary repairs.

Why the changes?

Cold and damp aren't just inconvenient, uncomfortable and unsightly. Both can lead to health problems and aggravate existing health problems, particularly in the young, elderly and vulnerable. It can aggravate allergies and even cause flare-ups of skin conditions like eczema. Moulds can also cause asthma attacks, which can be fatal in some cases.

How many people live in unsafe accommodation?

According to the housing charity Shelter, there are over 1 million homes in the UK which are not fit for habitation but that are tenanted. This means that there could be over 2.5 million people living in unsafe conditions. In 1985, a new law came into play that made it the responsibility of the local council to check that conditions were satisfactory.

Due to ongoing cuts to public services and local councils, checks on properties have been infrequent and sometimes even non-existent. This has left tenants with no recourse and unscrupulous or absent landlords have been more than happy to take advantage of this loophole. As any homeowner will know, damp and cold aren't conditions that will go away on their own, so conditions are only getting worse as time goes on.

What do the new rules say?

The new legislation is called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act will replace the 1985 law. The purpose of this new law is to make landlords accountable for the homes they own and give tenants legal recourse in the event that conditions aren't livable.

The law will require landlords to ensure that their properties are up to scratch before they are let, but also maintain standards throughout the lifetime of the tenancy. For the first time, the law will also cover defective design rather than just properties falling into disrepair. This can include anything from poor ventilation and heating problems to infestations of insects or vermin.

This could impact the buy-to-let market significantly as landlords will need to ensure properties don't have any underlying issues before they add to their portfolio. With more people renting than ever before and the buy-to-let market driving up the prices of properties, it could serve a significant blow to landlords earnings.

The new law is far more extensive than anything that has come before it. It can include any of the following:

  • Repair issues
  • Stability and structural problems
  • Damp
  • Internal layout
  • Natural light quality
  • Ventilation
  • Drainage and sanitary provisions
  • Water supply issues
  • Food preparation facilities
  • Waste disposal facilities
  • Hazards that fall under the Health and Safety Rating Ruling

There is a new clause called the Grenfell Clause which will also allow tenants to take action against the landlord over common areas in buildings. This will empower anyone to take action and won't require the cooperation of everyone in the building. This is one section of the legislation that Shelter was keen to push through.

What can landlords do?

If landlords are aware of any issues affecting their properties, the best course of action is to make arrangements to have them changed or repaired. In cases where the damp is an issue, damp companies like Tapco HomeDry can help to identify and fix the root cause of damp. Rather than waiting for tenants to complain, it's best to be proactive.

Regular inspections of properties are essential in order to be able to spot issues. In some cases, educating the tenant about how to properly ventilate a property can help to stop issues before they become more damaging and complex. In the case of older properties, regular inspections are essential.

How long do landlords have to do repairs?

It all depends on the severity of the problem. In cases where there is a risk to life, health or security, the issue needs to be resolved in 24 hours. For issues that will impact the comfort and convenience of the tenant, the landlord will have three days to make the repairs. All other issues will need to be addressed within 28 days. The new rules will not only give tenants the option to take action if work isn't carried out but also if work isn't carried out quickly enough.

With the number of people living in rented accommodation at an all-time high, these are welcome changes for tenant advocacy groups like Shelter.  According to the charity, over 1.85 million tenants have faced issues with landlords not meeting the above timescales in the past four years.


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