The 2018 Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation Act) 2018 came into force on 20th March 2019 and aimed to ensure NEW rented accommodation is fit for human habitation.
This short article is to inform landlords how to be compliant and the consequences of flouting their legal obligations.
The act is an amendment to sections 8-10 of the 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act, with the addition of new sections 9A, B and C.
Who can use the Homes Act?
From the 20th March 2019 the tenants who can use the Homes Act are:
Tenants who sign a new tenancy agreement for a property (either the property they currently live or a new home). Tenants whose tenancy becomes a periodic tenancy on or after this date, including tenants who sign tenancies of shorter than seven years. From the 20th March 2020, the Tenants who can use the Homes Act are:
Tenants who have a secured, a private periodic tenancy can use the Homes Act regardless of when their tenancy began. Tenants who are still on the fixed term of a private tenancy that began before 20th March 2019 cannot use the act until the end of that fixed term.
What has changed with this legislation?
New section 9a inserts a covenant between landlord and tenant that the property is and will remain habitable.
Why is the act necessary?
The government wants to support the majority of reputable landlords against being undercut by those who flout their responsibilities. This act supports the majority of landlords who provide decent and well-maintained homes. It makes it clear the landlords must ensure their property is suitable for human habitation from the beginning and throughout the tenancy.
What makes a property unfit for human habitation?
Although an inhabitable property has not been defined in the act or in case law, the courts will at some point have to judge on a case to decide whether it is fit for human habitation. The criteria are based on the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005, which are broadly covered in the areas below. If a building is considered to be neglected, unsafe or has an unstable layout. Poor ventilation that can lead to serious damp issues or mould growth needs to be prevented. The property should be sufficiently heated, without being too hot or cold. There needs to be an adequate cold and hot water supply whilst drainage and lavatories need to work effectively. The property must be hygienic, so it should be free from pests and be provided with safe waste disposal and a safe environment to prepare, cook and clean up food. There should be no hazards from asbestos, manufactured metal fibres or biocides (chemicals used to treat mould) as well as no risk from lead or gases such as carbon monoxide, radon gas (radiation), volatile organic compounds or uncombusted fuel gas. The property should be secured against intruders and be compliant to fire safety regulations with no electrical hazards or risk of explosion. The property should also have a suitable level of natural light and acceptable noise levels. It needs to avoid being crowded and have enough space, so there is no risk of falls (from showers, stairs, surfaces or between levels) and no risk of collision, entrapment, physical strain from operating amenities (such as opening doors) or structural collapse/ falling elements.
What happens if landlords fail to provide a habitable home?
In the circumstance where the property is deemed unfit for human habitation, the tenant has the right to take court action against the landlord for a breach of contract. This may result in a court order being issued that requires the landlord to take action to reduce or remove hazards and potentially compensate them for having to live in a property unfit for human habitation. Health claims may be enforced when a tenant has experienced mental or physical health problems caused or worsened by the issues within the property.
What are the exceptions to the criteria?
Problems caused by tenant behaviour – any irresponsible or illegal tenant behaviour will likely revoke the landlord having to fix any problems as they may be a result of tenant behaviour. 'Acts of God' – events that are beyond the landlord's control such as fires, storms and floods Possessions of the tenant - anything not in the inventory at the beginning of the tenancy or belonging to previous tenants do not need to be repaired by the landlord. If the landlord hasn't been able to get permission from certain other people. How can landlords protect themselves against the Homes (Fitness For Habitation Act) 2018?
The most important thing for landlords to be is diligent. Ensuring a pre-let condition report is undertaken by a qualified person before the property is let should be your first step, including an inventory of all furnishings and their condition. When drawing up a contract for tenants, ensure there is right to undertake periodic inspections written into it and that these are followed throughout the tenancy. Any complaint a tenant has that is within your control, should be requested in writing and acted on, you should also respond in writing, informing the tenant of the action taken and the timescale needed to address the matter. Keep accurate, high quality records including reports/ inventories from qualified independent agencies, invoices for works and inspections, energy bills and provide copies of any reports to your tenants which should be signed for. Ensuring you provide your tenants with a safe, habitable home is essential, as it prevents issues occurring, so is keeping yourself protected against any claims you may face because of the Homes Act.".