All Rented Properties must be Fit for Human Habitation by 20th March 2020.
For new tenancies, since March 20th 2019 a new law has been in force, under which landlords must ensure their rented property is safe, healthy, and free from things that might cause serious harm. In other words, fit for human habitation. This applies at the start of the tenancy and they must maintain that condition throughout the tenancy. This is the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018
The Act covers many problems with property condition, including:
- A neglected property in bad condition
- An unstable building
- A serious damp problem and/or mould growth
- Unsafe layout
- Lack of natural light
- Inadequate ventilation
- A problem with hot and cold water supply
- Excess cold or heat
- Problems with drainage or toilets
- Inadequate facilities for cooking food or washing up
- The presence of carbon monoxide
- Inadequate security
There was a period of grace for landlords to comply for existing tenancies pre-dating 20 March 2019. Landlords be aware that from 20th March 2020 the Act applies to all tenancies.
This law applies to landlords and tenants of social or private rented properties in England where the tenancy is for a fixed term of less than 7 years. This means it will apply to most Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs).
Tenants can pursue court proceedings against their landlord if their rented house or flat is not ‘fit for human habitation’. The court can make the landlord carry out repairs or remedy health and safety problems. The court can also make the landlord pay damages to the tenant. The amount payable will vary depending on how long the problem has existed, and whether it caused any mental or physical health problems.
Are there any exceptions?
- If the problem is caused by the tenants behaving irresponsibly or illegally, the landlord may not be responsible for fixing it.
- If the problem is due to a so-called “Act of God” such as a storm or flood, the Act won’t apply.
- If the repairs related to the tenant’s own possessions or furniture that belonged to previous tenants.
- If the landlord cannot get started with repairs because they are waiting for permission from others, for example from the owner of the building that contains the flat, or for planning permission.
To successfully claim, the tenant must establish to the court not only that there are outstanding repairs, but that the problem is so bad that the property is not fit for that particular tenant to live in.
Does this mean tenants can’t complain about repairs to their local Council?
No. Tenants still separately have the option to report repair problems to the environmental health department of the local authority, who will assess condition under the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System. They will take their own action against the landlord if they consider there are problems which need putting right. The Act gives tenants an additional route to tackle problems with the condition. If tenants use both routes, they might use the Environmental Health report as evidence in their own claim.
What if the landlord can’t get access to do repairs?
Landlords are sometimes frustrated by problems gaining access to inspect or carry out repairs. If you are a landlord or agent in this situation, keep careful records of all reports of repairs and each attempt to give notice and attend the property. If the tenant pursues a court claim but the landlord can prove the tenant did not report the issue or the landlord tried but failed to get access, that might be a defence to any claim. Bear in mind that this defence would not work for communal areas in HMOs. For inspection or repair visits, give the tenant the notice required in the tenancy agreement or otherwise, reasonable notice, and propose to attend at reasonable times. Seek advice if refused entry.
How quickly does the Act require me to do repairs?
There is no fixed time within which the Act requires landlords to do the repairs. They should be done in a reasonable time. That can vary according to the time of year, for example, heating issues are more urgent during winter. Remember also that a court would look at how to fit the property was for that tenant to live in, so a court may consider repairs for less healthy or less mobile tenants more urgent.