The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 has today come into force for tenancies in England. This Act brings some important amendments to the law and residential landlords should ensure they are aware of their obligations. The government has recently published guides for both landlords and tenants which can be found here.
What is the new law?
This Act supplements existing legislation designed to maintain and enforce standards of rented residential property, both when the tenancy is granted, and throughout the tenancy.
To whom will it apply?
This is an obligation implied in to all new Assured Shorthold Tenancies created on or after 20 March 2019. The obligations cannot be avoided by landlords, no matter how the tenancy agreement is worded.
The Act will apply to all existing fixed term tenancies that become periodic after this date. The Act does not apply to properties in Wales, though Wales is covered by separate legislation (the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016).
Existing periodic tenancies will have a 12 month grace period before the Act will apply from 20 March 2020.
What is meant by ‘fit for human habitation’?
There is a list of categories in which fitness for human habitation will be assessed. If the property is deemed defective in any one of the categories either at the start of the tenancy or during the tenancy, then it will not be fit for human habitation and the tenant can bring legal action directly against the landlord to take action, and or compensation.
The categories are:
- freedom from damp;
- internal arrangement;
- natural lighting;
- water supply;
- drainage and sanitary conveniences;
- facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water;
- any “prescribed hazards”.
A list of the prescribed hazards can be found here.
The landlord is responsible for rectifying any unfitness from the moment the landlord has had notice of the above, and a reasonable (undefined) period follows for the rectification to occur. Any unfitness arising from the landlord’s retained parts, or where the property is an HMO, the landlord is deemed to be on notice from the moment the unfitness arises.
The landlord will not be responsible for the unfitness where it is caused by:
- The tenant’s failure to behave in a tenant like manner;
- Damage or destruction by fire, storm, floor or other inevitable accident;
- The tenant’s belongings;
- Works which if carried out would put the landlord in breach of any obligation imposed by legislation;
- Works or repairs requiring the consent of a superior landlord where consent has not been obtained following reasonable endeavours to obtain it.
What does this mean for me?
This Act need not change much for the majority of responsible landlords, although it would be prudent that they carry out a review of their properties to manage the risk of legal action from their tenants. For the minority of landlords who currently fail to provide safe and secure housing for their tenants, their tenants are now empowered to bring legal action directly against them.
Prior to 20 March 2019, landlords were already obliged by section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 to repair certain parts of the property that are in actual disrepair, including the structure, and facilities for providing heating and hot water. This obligation did not cover for example providing insulation to a poorly insulated home, unless the poor insulation was a product of disrepair – e.g. a broken window mechanism.
The new legislation removes this potential defence to a tenant’s claim for disrepair. Furthermore, now tenants have the right to take action directly against their landlord, where previously they had to rely on action being brought by the local council.
The introduction of this Act continues the government’s trend towards enhancing tenants’ rights in private rented property. It remains to be seen how the legislation will be interpreted by the courts, but it is of course safest for landlords to ensure they comply fully.
How we can help
Our specialist team is fully up to speed with the new changes and can assist landlords and tenants alike.