The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force in March 2019 – but what does it mean in real terms for landlords and tenants?
The new legislation came into effect on 20 March 2019 for brand new tenancies and renewals. All remaining tenancies that are already in existence will be included by 20 March 2020.
About the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018
The new legislation is designed to ensure that all rented accommodation is fit for human habitation and strengthens tenants’ means of redress against the minority of landlords who do not fulfil their legal obligations to provide a property in a state fit for human habitation, and maintain it in that way.
Under the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 , the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is amended to require all private sector landlords to ensure that their properties, including any common parts of the building, are fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout. The Act states that there is an implied agreement between the tenant and landlord at the beginning of the tenancy that the property will be fit for human habitation, and failure of the landlord to comply will allow a tenant to seek compensation through the courts with potentially little or no evidence.
What do landlords need to do to comply with the Homes Act 2018?
There are numerous requirements to consider when dealing with the fitness element of the legislation. It covers the following:
- The building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
- The building is unstable
- There’s a serious problem with damp
- It has an unsafe layout
- There’s not enough natural light
- There’s not enough ventilation
- There is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- There are problems with the drainage or the lavatories
- It’s difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
- The 29 hazards under the Housing Act 2004, which can be found on the Government’s website here
It is ultimately for the courts to decide whether or not a property is fit for human habitation. A Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment is not necessary. However, a landlord might choose to carry out an assessment if they want to establish whether a serious health and safety hazard is present.
The court may also decide on unfitness without expert advice. For example, if there was no heating in habitable rooms in the property, an expert opinion would not be necessary as the property would evidently be unfit. Another example would be substantial trip hazards evidenced by photos provided by the tenant.
What does the new legislation mean during the tenancy?
In respect of fitness issues during the tenancy itself, the landlord is considered responsible from when they are made aware of a hazard by the tenant. However, any hazard located in common parts of a block of flats or a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) would make the landlord immediately liable.
The landlord will then have a reasonable amount of time to deal with this hazard, which will depend on the circumstances. For example, if the tenant complained about a boiler breaking down, it would be expected that the landlord will send an engineer within 24 hours of the report being made. If it was unable to be fixed there and then, a period of time awaiting a part would be deemed to be reasonable.
Once the landlord has been made aware of a hazard, and is not actively attempting to remedy this hazard, the tenant would be able to take their landlord to court. It is then for the court to decide whether the landlord dealt with the hazard in a reasonable time.
Landlords should therefore rectify any damages that they are responsible for as soon as possible. If a tenant tells you about a problem that is in a common part of a building, you are strongly advised to bring it to the freeholder’s attention as soon as possible and keep evidence of such a contact with the freeholder (also include future contact).
What happens if the tenant does not allow landlords into the property?
In the case of repairing a property to make it fit for habitation, the landlord should give at least 24 hours’ written notice to the tenants and the visit should be within ‘reasonable’ hours. For most people, this means not too late at night, and not too early in the morning, but it may also depend on other factors that are unique to the tenant such as unusual work patterns.
In an emergency the landlord may be entitled to enter the property on shorter notice. If their tenant will not give them access, landlords should keep a record of all attempts they have made to contact the tenant. It maybe beneficial to contact the local council and make them aware of such a problem in gaining access to resolve a repair issue.
Currently there are no specified limits on the level of compensation that can be awarded under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, and this is at the discretion of the judge having considered the evidence. As this is brand new legislation, we await court decisions to give us an understanding of how this will work in reality.
The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 has significant implications for landlords and it is crucial that landlords are well prepared. For more information and advice, please contact the lettings team at Foxes on 01202 299600, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.foxes.co.uk