On 20th March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 took effect for new and renewed tenancies. It requires all landlords and letting agents to ensure that a rented home is fit for human habitation at the start of a tenancy and remains so throughout the full term.
The law extends to existing tenancies from 20th March this year.
For most landlords, whose properties are already of a good standard, this amendment to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 won’t have made any difference, however, some will have had to invest in making improvements to comply if their property has come up for rent in the last 12 months. It should be noted that there are no new obligations for landlords; this is simply a clarification of the law to ensure the property is of the required standard from the outset of a tenancy.
A benefit to landlords is that new provisions within the Act make it easier to gain access to properties that need repair, meanwhile, tenants will find it easier to take landlords to court if a property is not in a fit state.
As managing agents, we inspect all our landlords’ properties to ensure they satisfy the latest requirements. However, if you self-manage, currently have a tenant who moved into your property before 20th March last year and you haven’t inspected the property in that time, it’s vital you do so when you can to identify any issues.
A review of what’s required under the Homes Act
You must ensure the property meets the criteria for ‘fitness for habitation’, which include:
- there is no problem with damp
- there is enough natural light
- the property is well ventilated
- there is a good working supply of hot and cold water
- it is easy for tenants to prepare and cook food or wash up.
The advice from ARLA Propertymark is to use the 29 hazards of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) as a basis for checking the property. The government website has a document that provides full information and a guide hazard scoring form can be found on page 43, at the end of Annex B.
The penalties if you break the law
If a home is found to be hazardous, and the issue is not resolved, tenants have the right to take direct legal action in the courts for breach of contract.
Currently, there is no limit on the level of compensation that can be awarded to the tenant – it is at the discretion of the judge, who will take into account the perceived harm inflicted on the tenant,
the longevity of the issue and the severity of unfitness in the property. You may also be ordered to pay the tenant’s legal costs.
There are a number of specified circumstances under which the landlord or letting agent will not be held responsible, such as:
- the problem has been caused by tenant behaviour or the tenants’ own possessions
- the problem has resulted from an event completely beyond the landlord’s control, e.g. storms or floods
- the tenant is not an individual, e.g. local authorities or educational institutions.
A full summary can be found on the GOV.UK website.