The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) which came into force from 20 March 2019, aims to ensure all tenancies in England are ‘fit for human habitation’. But how does it affect landlords and tenants? We look at what rights tenants get under this new legislation and what steps landlords can take to protect themselves.
What does this Act change?
Before this Act, landlords were only required to keep properties ‘in repair’. However, if the property was not in ‘disrepair’ (ie nothing was actually broken or damaged) but just in a very poor condition, then landlords did not have an obligation to improve the condition and tenants had very little recourse. Only the Local Authorities could take action. This new Act is looking to close this gap by implying an obligation in every tenancy that the dwelling:
- is ‘fit for human habitation’ at the time the lease is granted
- will remain ‘fit for human habitation’ during the term of the lease.
What does ‘fit for human habitation’ mean?
Generally, the Act aims to ensure that rented homes and flats are safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. These include any issues connected to:
- the building has been neglected and is in a bad condition or is unstable
- serious problem with damp
- it has an unsafe layout
- not enough natural light or ventilation
- problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- problems with the drainage or the lavatories
- difficulty in preparing or cooking food and cleaning
Other issues include: excess cold or heat, radiation, lead, uncombusted fuel gas, crowding and space, entry by intruders, noise, food safety, electrical hazards, fire and fire safety, personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage.
You can find the 29 hazards listed on the Government website.
Does the Act apply to my tenancy?
The Act applies only to tenancies in England and not lodgers or other licences to occupy. If you have signed a tenancy agreement contract on or after 20 March 2019, the Act will apply to you.
If a tenant has signed their contract before 20 March 2019, they will have to wait until 20 March 2020 before the Act applies to the tenancy agreement. However, there is an exception where your tenancy becomes a monthly rolling contract. For example, a tenancy which has become a monthly periodic tenancy after 20 March 2019 can be caught by the legislation by virtue of the tenancy ‘renewing’ every month.
What should private tenants do?
You can take your landlord to court if the Act applies to your property and it is not ‘fit for human habitation’. The court could order the landlord to carry out repairs to address the problem and it may order the landlord to pay compensation and legal costs to you.
Before you make a claim, you need to identify the problem, consider whether it makes your house or flat unfit to live in and check if there might be a reason why your landlord has not resolved the issue. If your landlord does not respond, in a reasonable time, you can use the Act to bring an action against the landlord. You can find more guidance on the Government’s website.
Even if the Act does not apply to you, but you have any of the issues mentioned above, you can contact your Local Council and they can take action on your behalf.
What should private landlords do?
Even though this Act is aimed at ‘rogue’ landlords who fail to provide the minimum standards for their tenants, even ‘good’ landlords should take more precautions. As there is a possibility for tenants to take you to court, here are a few practical steps you can take now:
- allow enough time before your next tenant moves in to make sure the property is ‘fit for human habitation’
- make regular inspections and be careful to check the condition of the property, especially between two tenancies
- keep detailed records of any inspection visits as well as repairs and maintenance work done to the property which might include photos as well
- keep all correspondence with tenants and follow up on any complaints they make
Keep in mind that the requirement included in the Act applies not only to the dwelling let to a particular tenant, but also any parts of any building it forms a part of, in which you have an interest. This includes the common parts of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) (such as the kitchen or bathrooms) or block of flats owned by you.
Ask a lawyer if you have any questions.