The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force on 20 March 2019. The Act aims to ensure that all rented accommodation is fit for human habitation. The Act seeks to strengthen tenants’ means of redress against landlords who do not fulfil their legal obligations to keep their properties safe. The Act applies to the social and private rented sectors.
The government expects standards to improve as tenants will be empowered to act against their landlord where they fail to adequately maintain their property.
Who does the Act apply to?
The Act applies to tenancies shorter than 7 years that are granted on or after 20 March 2019. From March 2020, the Act applied to all periodic tenancies, therefore inclusive of contracts that were signed before 20 March 2019. Further, the Home Act only applies to tenants in England.
Once the Act came into force on 20 March 2019, landlords with properties let on existing tenancies had 12 months to comply. For any new tenancies that start on or after 20 March 2019, the Act will apply immediately.
What exceptions are there?
The landlord will not be required to remedy problems that are caused by the tenant’s behaviour. Further, events such as fires, storms and floods which are beyond the landlord’s control are not included in the remit of the Act. If the issue is caused by the tenant’s own possessions, the landlord will not be expected to remedy the problem.
What are the criteria for ‘fitness for human habitation’?
The courts will decide whether a property is fit for human habitation by considering the matters set out in section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, these are weather:
- The building has been neglected and is in a bad condition.
- The building is unstable.
- The building has a serious problem with damp.
- The property has an unsafe layout.
- There is not enough natural light or ventilation in the property.
- The property has a problem with the supply of hot and cold water.
- The property has issues with the drainage of the lavatories.
- There are 29 further hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005, the most significant ones including noise, asbestos, food safety and water supply.
Ultimately, it is at the court’s discretion as to whether the property is fit for human habitation. The court may decide that the property is unfit for human occupation.
How long does the Landlord have to rectify the issue?
The landlord is deemed responsible from when he or she is made aware of the hazard by the tenant. The landlord will then have a reasonable amount of time to deal with the hazard, dependent upon the circumstances. If there is an issue in the common parts of the building, the landlord is made immediately liable and therefore, the landlord should bring this to freeholder’s attention immediately.
When fixing the issue, the landlord should give at least 24 hours’ written notice to the tenants before entering the property. The visit should be within ‘reasonable’ hours. However, in an emergency the landlord may be entitled to enter the property on shorter notice.
What happens if the landlord does not comply?
If the court finds that a property is not fit for human habitation, then the court may require compulsory improvement to the condition of the property and compensation to the tenant.
Audley Chaucer can advise you on all aspects of property law. Please contact John Szepietowski of Audley Chaucer for an initial discussion.