The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force on 20 March 2019. It requires both social and privately rented dwellings to meet certain living standards throughout the term of the tenancy and not just at the outset.
What does the Act say?
Rather than imposing dramatic new obligations on landlords, the Act amends and extends existing statutory rights for tenants. It implies a new landlord covenant into all residential tenancies entered into in England on or after 20 March 2019 and granted for a term of less than 7 years that the rental dwelling:
Is fit for human habitation at the time the tenancy is granted or, if later, at the commencement of that tenancy; and
Will remain fit for human habitation during the term of the tenancy.
It should be noted that the obligation extends to all parts of the building of which the dwelling forms part which are owned by the landlord, such as any communal areas.
If a landlord breaches this covenant, it will have a reasonable period of time in which to remedy the breach (the tenant being required to grant access), but should it fail to do so a tenant will have the right to take legal action to obtain a Court order compelling the landlord to take remedial action and/or for damages to be awarded.
There are, of course, limits on what works a landlord can be compelled to do. For example, the Act does not reach so far as requiring landlords to repair damage intentionally or negligently caused by tenants or to carry out works which are the responsibility of a superior landlord.
What does “Fit for Habitation” actually mean?
Unsurprisingly, the Act does not give a clear definition of what is actually meant by a property being fit for human habitation.
Previous legislation provided that, when considering fitness for habitation, Courts should consider factors such as repair, stability, damp, lighting, ventilation, drainage and water supply. The Act adds to this list by requiring the Courts to also consider ‘any prescribed hazard”, which will in turn require reference to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. These include considerations such as excess cold or heat, asbestos, noise, crowding, hygiene and safety.
A further, perhaps more subtle change introduced by the Act is that the statutory limit on landlords to keep rental properties ‘in repair’ is replaced by the obligation to keep rental properties ‘fit for habitation’. This change means that a landlord can no longer seek to ignore structural or historical defects on the basis that they may not constitute disrepair.
How will the Act affect Landlords?
The Act is not intended to punish the majority of landlords who are already fully compliant with their statutory obligations and keep their rental properties in good condition. Rather, the intention of the Act is to target rogue landlords (see our article here) who seek to take advantage of their tenants.
All landlords should, however, be aware of their new obligations and the possibility of tenants exercising these new powers. It would be sensible for landlords to review their existing rental portfolio and to take appropriate professional advice from a surveyor or solicitors in the event of any concerns.
How will the Act affect Tenants?
The Act will no doubt be a welcome development for tenants as they will now have further powers available to them in respect of sub-standard dwellings.
As and when tenants enter into a new lease on or after 20 March 2019, they should inspect their dwelling and raise any concerns, in writing, with their landlords so as to put them on notice that there is a potential issue to investigate and remedy. If those concerns are not appropriately addressed, tenants should seek legal advice.