Fitness for Human Habitation: Is Your Rented Property Acceptable?

Is your rented property fit for human habitation?

It is estimated that 2.5-3 million people, including children, live in unsafe conditions (Shelter 2017). The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (“the Act”) aims to ensure that all landlords provide and maintain homes to an acceptable standard.

From 20 March 2019, landlords are required to ensure that their properties are not just in ‘repair’ but are also ‘fit for human habitation’.

The standard required will depend on the circumstances of each case and is not defined in the Act but various factors will be taken into account, such as freedom from damp, natural lighting, drainage, water supply, facilities for food preparation and ‘any prescribed hazard’. This catches any risk of harm to the health or safety of an occupier from a deficiency in the property or as set out in regulations. Some examples could include damp and mould growth, excess cold/heat, water supply and falling on stairs etc.

Although the property must be fit for human habitation at the outset of a tenancy, it must remain fit for human habitation throughout the tenancy. This means it is vital for landlords to take a proactive approach in managing their properties.

Which tenancies are affected?

The Act applies to any home or dwelling let to a tenant by a social or private landlord under a tenancy agreement of less than 7 years. This includes all leases granted on or after 20 March 2019. Landlords of periodic tenancies that are in existence on 20 March 2019 will have one year to ensure compliance with the Act. Landlords must ensure that those properties are fit for human habitation from 20 March 2020 and will remain fit for human habitation for the duration of the tenancy.

What action can a tenant/Local Authority take against a Landlord?

If a tenant believes that their property is not fit for human habitation, they can issue a claim in the courts for an injunction requiring the landlord to take action and/or a claim for damages against the landlord.

The Local Authority may also take enforcement action against the landlord, even if the tenant has also issued proceedings. The Local Authority may issue an improvement notice or an emergency remedial action notice, which would then prevent the landlord from issuing the tenant with a section 21 notice to help protect the tenant against retaliatory eviction.

What steps should Landlords take to ensure they comply with the Act?

The standard required for each property will be fact specific and it will take time for case law to develop to establish the extent of a landlords’ obligations. However, we would suggest landlords take the following steps to ensure compliance with the Act:

1.   Undertake regular inspections of properties and the common parts;

2.   Keep accurate records of inspections and any works carried out, with photographs as and when necessary;

3.   Deal with complaints from tenants quickly – it is likely that a landlord will be required to carry out remedial works within a ‘reasonable’ period of time (though the Act is not clear whether this is the case). What is a ‘reasonable’ period of time will depend on the circumstances and will ultimately be up to the Courts;

4.   Keep on top of legislative changes – it is possible for a property to become unfit as a result of new regulations relating to the condition of the property, without there being any physical changes to the property itself;

5.   Seek advice – if in doubt about a complaint from a tenant or a notice received from the Local Authority, seek advice without delay.

At Kitsons we can provide you with advice and guidance in relation to your tenancy matters.

We offer competitive rates and fixed fees for the drafting of notices and issue of possession proceedings.

Please contact Hayley Prideaux for further information and guidance.

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    About the author

    Hayley PrideauxSolicitor

    Hayley is a solicitor in our Litigation team.

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