Fitness for Human Habitation guidance released
The new act, which will brought into force on 20th March 2019, will amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that any property let by a landlord (private or social) is fit for human habitation when a tenancy is granted and remains so for its duration.
Who and what is covered by the Act?
As outlined in the guidance, the Act will apply to:
- tenancies shorter than 7 years that are granted on or after 20 March 2019 (tenancies longer than 7 years that can be terminated by the landlord before the expiry of 7 years shall be treated as if the tenancy was for less than 7 years)
- new secure, assured and introductory tenancies (on or after 20 March 2019)
- tenancies renewed for a fixed term (on or after 20 March 2019)
- from the 20 March 2020 the Act will apply to all periodic tenancies that started before 20 March 2019; landlords will have 12 months from the commencement date of the Act before the requirement comes into force.
What exceptions are there?
The landlord will not be required to remedy unfitness when:
- the problem is caused by tenant behaviour
- the problem is caused by events like fires, storms and floods which are completely beyond the landlord’s control (sometimes called ‘acts of God’)
- the problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
- the landlord hasn’t been able to get consent e.g. planning permission, permission from freeholders etc. There must be evidence of reasonable efforts to gain permission
- the tenant is not an individual, e.g. local authorities, national parks, housing associations, educational institutions.
The requirement includes the dwelling let to a tenant and all parts of any building it forms a part of, in which the landlord has an interest. For example, the common parts of an HMO or block of flats owned by the landlord.
It will extend to all existing tenancies which meet this criteria, including periodic tenancies and legacy regulated tenancies.
What does fit for human habitation mean?
The courts will decide whether a property is fit for human habitation by considering the matters set out in section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. These are whether:
- the building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
- the building is unstable
- there’s a serious problem with damp
- it has an unsafe layout
- there’s not enough natural light
- there’s not enough ventilation
- there is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- there are problems with the drainage or the lavatories
- it’s difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
- or any of the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005.
The Act goes on to say: “the house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable in that condition”.
What happens if a property is unfit for human habitation?
If the courts find that a property is not fit for human habitation, and it is the landlord’s responsibility, then they may require one or both of the following:
- compulsory improvement to the condition of the property
- compensation to the tenant.
There are currently no specified limits on the level of compensation that can be awarded, and this is at the discretion of the judge having considered the evidence.
Factors which will be taken into account include the perceived harm that has been inflicted on the tenant, the longevity of the issue and the severity of the unfitness in the dwelling. You may also be ordered to pay the tenant’s legal costs.
What will happen the landlord wins?
If you do win the case in court, your tenant might have to pay some costs, however this will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The NLA’s position:
The NLA welcomes the Act and has supported its passage through Parliament. Most landlords should have nothing to worry about in respect of the new Act. A reasonably maintained property should not be deemed unfit. Only landlords of properties suffering serious disrepair issues should be affected, and these should be resolved irrespective of new legislation.
Tenants continue to have the option to complain to their local authority where there are issues with their property. This Act does not affect this right, but provides tenants with an alternative avenue to raise disputes.
As with any new regulations time will tell exactly how it is interpreted by the courts, and whether there are unintended consequences. We will be monitoring the implementation of the Act to assess whether vexatious cases are being brought against landlords.
What you can do
If you have any questions about property standards, NLA members can contact our Advice Line for free on 020 7840 8939, Mondays to Fridays, 9am-6pm, and Saturdays, 9am-1pm.
We will shortly be publishing an in-depth briefing for all members to use and access.
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