Social Housing Speed Read – The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018
25th March, 2019
In this week's Speed Read we revisit the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill 2017-2019, which last week came into force as the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 ("the Act").
Click here to view the Act.
From Bill to Act
Originally introduced as a private members Bill by Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, cross-party support, including from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Shelter, and the Residential Landlord’s Association, ensured the Bill was approved by Parliament and received Royal Assent on 20 December 2018. The Act officially came into force on 20 March 2019 and currently only applies in England.
What does it do?
The key change introduced by the Act is the duty imposed on residential landlords to ensure residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state which is fit for human habitation at the outset and during the term of the tenancy. This encompasses the residential rented property itself but also the rest of the building (communal parts) in which the landlord has an interest.
This was a requirement under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 but only applied to properties let for a rent of less than £250 per year, which effectively meant it did not apply. The Act removes this rent limit so that the duty now applies to all residential tenancies granted for a term of less than seven years. Previously landlords were only required to keep properties in repair, a much lower threshold for the property condition.
The duty will apply to all new tenancies commencing on or after 20 March 2019, and to all existing tenancies from 20 March 2020.
The Act enables tenants to take legal action against their landlord where their property is deemed unfit, including seeking an injunction requiring the landlord to make the property fit for human habitation. Should a landlord fail to rectify any issues within a reasonable period of time following notification of defects, tenants may also seek damages for any period of the tenancy.
When is a property considered unfit?
In determining unfitness, the court will take into account the factors listed in Section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, including repair, freedom from damp, natural lighting, etc., as well as any Category 1 hazards under the Housing Health Safety Rating Systems in the Housing Act 2004.
Expert evidence can be provided by an environmental health officer or a surveyor.
If it is concluded that the landlord is responsible for the unfitness of the property then they will have to carry out works to bring it up to the requisite standard and likely be liable to the tenant for damages which will be assessed by the court.
If it is found that the unfitness of the property is due to the tenant, caused by their actions or their lifestyle (“failing to act in a tenant-like manner”) then the landlord will not be held responsible. The landlord is also not responsible for any repairs or works which require third party consent (e.g. Head Landlord, Planning Authority etc.) which is sought and not given.
What impact will this have?
Social landlords in particular are likely to face arguments with tenants over improvements to aspects of properties such as insulation, ventilation and heating. Condensation is likely to be a major source of new claims under the legislation; although it will need to be fairly extensive/severe to be considered a Category 1 hazard, and the tenant’s lifestyle will still be factored in when Landlords are defending claims.
Those responsible for asset management should audit their stock and bring forward any improvement works that might address insulation, ventilation and heating systems. Capital works now might prevent high spending on damages claims going forward.
Landlords should also ensure that their surveyors and agents are updated on the legislation and the new requirements it imposes, to ensure that all properties they have responsibility for do not fall foul of the new requirements.
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.
For further discussion of the Act, John Murray will be providing a legal update on housing disrepair claims and the new legislation you need to know about at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Repairs and Maintenance 2019 conference.
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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