Pippa Lee and Lyssa Reeve, in our Dispute Resolution team, explain how to determine if a property is fit for human habitation and the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.
On 20 March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) came into force.
Although there are no new obligations imposed on landlords under the Act, the Act is designed to ensure that landlords are meeting their existing obligations in maintaining rented accommodation to a standard that is fit for human habitation.
The intention of the Act is to give tenants the ability to seek redress against landlords who do not fulfil their legal obligations, without having to rely solely on their local authority taking action.
The Act implies a term into most private and social tenancy agreements that the landlord must ensure that their property meets certain standards and is fit for human habitation at the commencement of the tenancy and throughout the term of the tenancy. If a landlord is in breach of this term, their tenant has the right to issue proceedings against them in court for breach of contract. If the court is satisfied that the property is unfit for human habitation, it can:
- Make an order requiring the landlord to take action to remedy the issue (specific performance) and/ or;
- Make an order requiring the landlord to pay the tenant compensation.
The Act does not specify a limit on the level of compensation that can be awarded to tenants and so the outcome of cases brought under the Act in the coming months and years will be of interest to landlords. The amount awarded will be at the discretion of the judge, after having considered the evidence relating to the condition of the property.
Tenants will also still have the option available to them to ask the local authority to serve an improvement notice on the landlord and to use its enforcement powers to ensure that the landlord remedies the issues.
Landlords should note that if they are found to be in breach of the Act or the local authority have served an improvement notice, their ability to serve the tenant with a ‘no fault’ Section 21 Notice to bring the tenancy to an end will be limited. For more information about Section 21 Notices, please see our earlier blog article.
How will the courts determine if a property is fit for human habitation?
Whether a property is fit for human habitation will be determined by the courts on the basis of the evidence provided to it by both the tenant and the landlord and considering the legislation such as the section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and the hazards in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005.
To avoid action being taken by their tenants, landlords should take steps to remedy issues as quickly as possible if reported by the tenants and they should also carry out regular inspections to ensure that their properties are free from hazards which make them unfit for human habitation. Examples include:
- A serious problem with damp in the property;
- A problem with the supply of hot and cold water;
- The property having an unsafe layout;
- A problem with drainage; and
- Issues with facilities for the preparation and cooking of food.
Does the Act apply to my tenancy?
The Act will apply to all new secured, assured and introductory tenancies for a term of less than 7 years entered into from 20 March 2019. This includes tenancies which become periodic tenancies, or are renewed for a further fixed term, after that date.
From 20 March 2020 the Act will apply to all periodic tenancies and so landlords will need to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation. There are a few exceptions, such as agricultural tenancies, but most tenancies will ultimately be affected by the provisions of the Act.
For the majority of landlords who let out well-maintained homes, the Act will not have an impact on them. However, it is still best practice to carry out regular inspections and deal with any tenant complaints swiftly.
For further information or legal advice, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0118 951 6800.
This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.