In 2019, the Homes (Fitness For Human Habitation) Act 2018 (“the Act”) introduced new obligations on residential landlords in relation to the condition of their rental properties. This only applied to new tenancies created after 20 March 2019. However, as of 20 March 2020, this now extends to all residential tenancies.

The Act means that landlords must make sure that their properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy, and further that they remain that way until the end of the tenancy. It also gives tenants more means of redress against landlords who do not keep their properties safe.

Our property disputes team acts for landlords in disrepair claims. Let’s look at how the Act will affect landlords going forward.

“Fit for human habitation”

So what does fit for human habitation mean? In deciding whether a property is fit for human habitation, a court will consider the following:

  • Has the building been neglected? Is it in a bad condition?
  • Is the building unstable?
  • Does the property have a serious damp issue?
  • Is the layout unsafe?
  • Is there enough natural light?
  • Does the property have enough ventilation?
  • Are there any problems with the toilets or drainage?
  • Is the supply of hot and cold water suitable?
  • Are there suitable cooking and washing up facilities?
  • Are there any “prescribed hazards”? These are things such as damp, excess heat or cold or asbestos.

If a home fails one or more of those test, a court will likely consider it “unfit for human habitation”.

Landlords’ obligations under the Act

Landlords must check that their rental properties are fit for human habitation before letting them out. If tenants make their landlord aware that something for which he is responsible has fallen into disrepair, he should repair it; thus ensuring that the home remains fit for human habitation.

Exceptions

There are exceptions to the landlord’s obligations in the Act. Landlords do not need to remedy “unfitness” when:

  • the issue is caused by the tenant
  • it is caused by an ‘Act of God’. This includes things such as storms and floods beyond the landlord’s control
  • the problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
  • the landlord has requested consent (e.g. planning permission or from the freeholder) and this has not been forthcoming. Landlords must provide evidence that they have made reasonable efforts to gain permission

Tenants’ remedies

So what are the consequences if landlords fail to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation?

Under the Act, tenants may apply to court for compensation. They could also apply to Court for an injunction requiring their landlord to make the property fit for human habitation. In some circumstances, a Court might order both compensation and an injunction. There are no specified limits on the amount of compensation a Court might order a landlord to pay. Each case will be assessed on its own merits.

Landlords will not be able to serve s21 notices to evict their tenants if they have not complied with certain legal responsibilities.

The local authority also has enforcement powers if it receives a complaint from a tenant.

Our property disputes team advise landlords on disrepair issues. Contact us today on 0800 988 7756 or fill in the enquiry form.