When providing rented accommodation, landlords are responsible for ensuring that the property is of a reasonable standard. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (“the Act”) sets out new responsibilities which requires landlords to ensure that the property, including common parts, is fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout.
Whilst you would perhaps hope that landlords would always ensure their accommodation is “fit for human habitation”, this is not always the case and as such this new legislation has sought to extend protection for tenants to ensure they do not live in unsafe properties.
The Act seeks to address issues such as:
- serious damp problems; unsafe layout,
- insufficient natural light and ventilation,
- problems with the supply of hot and cold water,
- leading to issues with hygiene,
- drainage and/or difficulty in preparing and cooking food,
- instability of the building; and
- general neglect.
The Act also cross-refers to the 29 ‘hazards’ set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005, as these are matters that the Court will take into account when determining whether the property is unfit for human habitation. Those hazards include exposure to house dust mites, damp, mould or fungal growths, exposure to low or high temperatures, a lack of adequate space for living and sleeping, a lack of adequate lighting, exposure to noise and electrical hazards/exposure to electricity.
These obligations already apply to those tenancies granted on or after 20 March 2019, however from 20 March 2020 almost all tenancies will be covered, including historic ones.
As ever there are exceptions and defences available for landlords, including where the problems are caused by the tenant’s behaviour, acts of God, the tenants’ own possessions or where the tenant has not provided consent for the landlord to complete the necessary works (so long as evidence can be provided by the landlord of reasonable efforts to gain the necessary consents and permissions).
If a landlord is found to be in breach of the Act, they may be ordered to pay compensation to the tenant and/or to undertake works, including improvement works, to the property. No limit has been prescribed on the level of compensation, therefore we urge landlords to be mindful of this.
Advice for Landlords
At Swinburne Maddison, we act for registered providers of social housing as well as private landlords and tenants so we understand the complexities involved in Landlord and Tenant disputes.
Where possible we advise landlords to review their housing stock urgently and take pre-emptive steps to address any disrepair issues. They should consider carrying out condition surveys to ensure that all properties in their ownership or managed by them are compliant with the Act.
By acting promptly and continuing to review or update processes and enforcement policies, this will help to avoid pitfalls, and it is essential that a record of reports and complaints is kept as these will be imperative in instances where a claim is made.
If you are a registered provider of social housing or a private landlord and would like further information on these important changes coming into force through the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, please contact Partner and Head of Property Litigation, David Low, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 0191 384 2441.