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Fitness for human habitation

This information only applies in England.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 became law to ensure all residential property rented out is 'fit for human habitation'. Previously, landlords were only usually required to keep property 'in repair'. Now tenants can act directly to make sure the property they rent is fit for human habitation.

The Act implies an obligation in every new tenancy that the dwelling:

  • is ‘fit for human habitation’ at the time the lease is granted, and

  • will remain ‘fit for human habitation’ during the term of the lease

These obligations only apply to tenancies in England and not lodgers or other licences to occupy.

From 20 March 2020, every tenant who has a secure or assured tenancy, a statutory tenancy, or a private periodic tenancy, is covered by the Act regardless of when their tenancy began. Anyone still on a fixed term of a private tenancy that began before 20 March 2019 cannot rely on the Act until the end of the tenancy’s fixed term.

Previously, only tenancies signed before 20 March 2019, were exempt from these rules until 20 March 2020. However, an exception existed where a tenancy became a monthly rolling contract. This meant that a tenancy which became a monthly periodic tenancy after 20 March 2019 could be caught by the legislation by virtue of the tenancy ‘renewing’ every month.

'Fit for human habitation' means the property must be safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. These include, but are not limited to, any issues connected to:

  • neglect of the building or the building is in a bad condition or is unstable

  • serious problem with damp

  • 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

  • any 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.

A tenant can take the landlord to court if the property is not ‘fit for human habitation’. The court could order a landlord to carry out repairs to address the problem or it may order the landlord to pay compensation and legal costs.

The tenant would first need to consider whether the problem makes the house or flat unfit to live in and check if there might be a reason why the landlord has not resolved the issue. 

Before taking action, tenants should notify landlords of any defects that arise in the property during the tenancy. They should then be allowed a reasonable time to fix this.The reasonable time to fix the issue will vary based on the severity of the issue. If the landlord does not respond, in a reasonable time, the tenant can use the Act to bring an action against the landlord. You can find more guidance on the Government’s website.

Even if the legislation does not apply to a tenancy, but the tenant has any of the issues mentioned above, they can contact their Local Council and they can take action on their behalf.

As the law gives tenants more power to take landlords to court a few practical steps private landlords can take to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation include:

  • allowing enough time before the next tenant moves in to make sure the property is ‘fit for human habitation’

  • making regular inspections and checking the condition of the property, especially between two tenancies

  • keeping detailed records of any inspection visits as well as repairs and maintenance work done to the property which might include photos as well

  • keeping all correspondence with tenants and following up on any complaints they make

The requirements of the law apply not only to the dwelling let to a particular tenant, but also any parts of any building it forms a part of, in which the landlord has 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 the landlord.

Local authorities do not usually enforce this law, but it allows tenants to bring court actions directly against the landlord without first involving the council. A judge can decide whether a property is unfit for human habitation based on the evidence provided. However, informal letters from the council may be useful to a tenant who is looking to take action.

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