Making sure homes are fit for human habitation
From 20 March this year, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 will come into force for periodic tenancies in England.
The Act came into force last year, applying to all new tenancies since March last year, including renewals. It gives tenants the right to take legal action when landlords fail in their duty to provide safe homes. This is in addition to the powers which local authorities already have to enforce minimum standards.
The Act does not change the standards which landlords are expected to meet in provide safe homes for their tenants. Landlords can also not be held responsible if the condition of the property has been caused by the tenant’s actions.
1. Landlords need to ensure that properties are ‘fit for human habitation’ at the beginning of a tenancy, and maintained in a suitable condition throughout the tenancy. This includes both the individual tenant’s accommodation, and any common parts of the building.
2. Fitness for human habitation is defined as ensuring the property is free of serious hazards which would mean that the accommodation is not reasonably suitable for occupation of the tenant. This includes:
- Internal arrangement
- Natural lighting
- Water supply
- Drainage and sanitary conveniences
- Facilities for preparation and cooking of food, and for the disposal of waste water
- Hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
3. Tenants do not always have to have informed the landlord of hazards in the property. If the property is a joint tenancy, tenants will be expected to have notified landlords of any defects in the interior of the property. However, if the property is let on an individual room basis, tenants do not necessarily need to inform landlords of any issues in communal areas. It’s therefore important that landlords of houses in multiple occupation ensure that they make regular inspections of the property.
4. If there is a repair required, the landlord is required to fix the issues within a ‘reasonable time’. This isn’t specified in law, and will depend on the circumstances of the repair – the level of hazard, the impact on the tenant.
5. If landlords do not provide a fit home, the Act provides tenants with the right to take court action for breach of contract. This provides an alternative to seeking enforcement through the local authority – although it does not prevent the local authority from taking action, too. If the court finds in the tenant’s favour, they can require the landlord to:
- pay compensation to the tenant – with no limit on the amount which can be awarded by the judge. Landlords may also be required to pay the tenant’s costs
- do the necessary works to improve the property.
For more information about the impact of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, we have produced a guide, which you can access here.