Are you compliant with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation Act) 2018?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which came into force on 20 March 2019, applied to new tenancies only. From 20 March 2020 it was extended to all private and social periodic tenancies that existed before 20 March 2019.

The Act did not actually introduce any new obligations for landlords; instead it requires landlords to ensure that they are meeting their existing responsibilities with regards to property standards and safety.

Note that this Act extends to England and Wales but its practical changes are only for England. Wales has had its own fitness consultation.

So, why do we need this Act? What does it do? And what do you, as a landlord, need to know about it to ensure that you are compliant?

 

Why do we need the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018?

We all know that the number of people living in rented homes is rising rapidly – a fifth of the UK population now lives in privately rented accommodation; double the number who were dependent on the private rented sector (PRS) ten years ago. The types of households in the sector has also evolved over the years, with a record number of families now renting as home ownership declines.

With more and more people reliant on the PRS, the Government is taking steps to ensure that all rented accommodation is fit for human habitation and to strengthen tenants’ means of redress against the minority of landlords who do not fulfil their legal obligations to keep their properties safe.

This issue gained greater political momentum in the wake of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, where tenants had complained about safety conditions but their calls fell on deaf ears.

Homes (Fitness for human habitation) Act 2018.

 

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Overview of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 - what does the Act do?

Under this Act, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is amended to require all landlords (private and social) to ensure that their properties, including any common parts of the building, are fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout.

The Act also provides an additional means for tenants to seek redress and take direct legal action by giving them the power to hold their landlord to account without having to rely on their local authority to do so. In empowering tenants to take direct action against landlords who fail to adequately maintain their property, the Government hopes to level the playing field for the vast majority of good landlords, by ensuring that they are not undercut by those who flout their responsibilities.

The Government, supported by organisations such as Shelter and the National Residential Landlord Association (NRLA), hope that the Act will not only help tenants directly but will also have a positive impact on raising conditions more generally by educating landlords.

The vast majority of landlords are already fulfilling their duties and will be unaffected by the Act as it does not introduce new standards or additional regulation. It simply gives tenants the ability to enforce existing standards that landlords are expected to meet.

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What does ‘fit for human habitation’ actually mean?

In determining whether a rented dwelling is ‘unfit’, the Act incorporates the 29 hazards enshrined in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) and adds them to the nine serious defects in any of the following:

  • Repair – the building has been neglected and is in bad condition
  • Stability – the building is unstable
  • Serious problems with damp
  • Internal arrangement – it has an unsafe layout
  • Natural lighting – there is not enough natural light
  • Ventilation – there is not enough ventilation
  • Water supply – the is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
  • Drainage and sanitary conveniences – the are problems with the drainage or lavatories
  • Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water

Plus:

It is for the courts to decide whether the dwelling is fit for human habitation. A HHSRS assessment is not necessary and the court may also make a decision of unfitness without expert advice. For example, if there were no plumbed sanitary conveniences in the property an expert opinion would not be necessary as the property would evidently be unfit.

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Who does the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 apply to?

The Act covers all tenancies less than seven years in length in both the private and social rented sectors. When it was implemented in March 2019, the Act applied only to new tenancies, including renewals. From 20 March 2020, it applies to all private and social periodic tenancies that existed before 20 March 2019.

There are some exceptions, for example the landlord will not be required to remedy unfitness when the problem is caused by tenant behaviour or ‘acts of God’ and the Act does not cover people who have ‘licences to occupy’ instead of tenancy agreements, such as lodgers or property guardians.