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Social Housing Speed Read – The Fitness for Human Habitation Bill passes its second reading

The Homes (Fitness for Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill ('the Bill') has unanimously passed its second reading in the House of Commons. The next step for the bill will be to go to committee for scrutiny and discussion, although there is no fixed date for this yet.

What is the Bill?

The Bill is a private members bill brought forward by the Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck. The new Bill proposes to create a duty on all landlords to ensure their properties are ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start of the tenancy and thereafter.

Unusually for a private members bill, the Bill has the support of both the Labour party and Government. Dan Wilson Craw, Director of Generation Rent has said the cross-party support for the Bill is a “brilliant achievement”. This suggests that the Bill has a very good chance of becoming law.

The Bill has also received vast amounts of public support from organisations such as Shelter, Generation Rent, Citizens Advice and also the Residential Landlords Association, the National Landlords Association and the Association of Residential Letting Agents.

What does the Bill propose?

At the moment Landlords only have to repair a property when it’s broken or damaged, the duty therefore being to keep the property out of ‘disrepair’. Currently, a ‘category 1 hazard’ in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) (direct threat to health and safety) is prevalent in 795,000 privately rented tenancies and the English Housing Survey (EHS) found in 2015 that 28% of rented homes failed the decent home standard in 2015. The Bill therefore extends the responsibilities of Landlords to cover the condition and safety of the property, as well as keeping it in good repair.

The Bill intends to:

  • Amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require residential rented accommodation to be provided and maintained in a state fit for human habitation. This will be done by extending its obligations to cover most landlords and to modernise the fitness for habitation test. The current legal definition of ‘fitness’ is found in section 10 of the 1985 Act and will be amended so that, in addition to the nine factors already listed (repair, stability, ventilation etc.), the duty will also apply to a category 1 HHSRS hazard.
  • Amend the Building Act 1984 to make provision about the liability for works on residential accommodation that do not comply with Building Regulations.
  • Give tenants the ability to commence civil action against their Landlord’s if their home is unsafe and does not meet the requirements.

The duty to ensure property is fit for habitation will apply to the same types of tenancy named in section 11 of the 1985 Act, namely residential tenancies in the social and private rented sectors with the exception of long leases. The Bill will imply into all English tenancies of less than 7 years a term that the Landlord will make certain the property is fit for habitation at the start of the tenancy and throughout. Once enacted it will apply to all new social and private tenancies and will then apply to existing tenancies after one year.

David Smith, Policy Director of the Residential Landlords Association has said “Tenants have a right to expect that homes are fit for habitation […] good Landlords already provide this. This Bill therefore reinforces what Landlords should already be doing.”

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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