New law requires landlords to ensure homes “fit for human habitation”
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (“the Act”) becomes law on 20th March 2019 and requires landlords to ensure that all rented homes are fit for human habitation.
The Bill was originally introduced by Karen Buck MP in June 2015 but failed to make progress through Parliament. Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017, the Bill was revived and supported by Shelter and organisations such as Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and National Landlords Association (NLA).
The Act implies the term into tenancy agreements that “the property is fit for human habitation and will remain so during the tenant’s occupation”. This means landlords or agents acting on their behalf will need to ensure that this is the case. It will apply to all new tenancies or leases after 20th March 2019, including renewed fixed term tenancies. Landlords renting properties on existing periodic or secure tenancies will be given 12 months form this date to comply with the requirements of the Act. It applies to the common parts of a building owned by a landlord, i.e. in an HMO or stairs and lifts in a block of flats. Importantly, the implied term cannot be contracted out of by a landlord.
Perhaps the significant difference which the Act makes is that it allows a tenant to take legal action against their non-compliant landlord for breach of contract. And if successful, a court could award a tenant damages or order the landlord to take remedial action. Tenants will actually be able to take enforcement action themselves instead of relying on their local authority to do so.
Some critics see the Act as yet more regulation on landlords whilst others argue “fitness for human habitation” is a basic expectation and existing standards have not actually changed. The Act provides that when considering ‘unfitness’ regard should be had to the nine factors set out in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 as well as those identified by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). These include a broken/dangerous boiler, excessive heat/cold, fire, damp/mould growth, noise, carbon monoxide, asbestos, crowding and space and entry by intruders. A landlord does not have to carry out works where a property is unfit for human habitation because of a tenant’s failure to use the dwelling in a tenant-like manner or as a result of a natural disaster i.e. a flood.
The reality is the majority of landlords should not find compliance with the provisions of the Act too onerous given that they should already be meeting expected standards. The full text of the Act can be found at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2018/34/enacted.